As Trump exits, the full Mossad story on normalization comes into focus

Posted January 23, 2021 by davidking1530
Categories: Uncategorized

Interesting behind-the-scenes info.

https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/exclusive-as-trump-exits-the-full-mossad-story-on-normalization-into-focus-656108

MOSSAD DIRECTOR Yossi Cohen. (photo credit: FLASH90)

As the administration of president Donald Trump exits stage left, it’s time to take stock of the four normalization deals that Israel has already signed.

But there is a crucial piece of the story that has not been emphasized.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, although the July-to-December 2020 wave of deals provided the historic photos, the turning point moments were back in 2017 and 2019, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Also, though, it has not yet signed an agreement itself, the key party was always Saudi Arabia.

Much of the de-emphasis of these points has to do with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen – whose acts were mostly shrouded in mystery until a major speech in July 2019 – who was leading the Israeli push by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

There have been multiple narratives about who really got the ball rolling between Israel, the US and the UAE, and about when was the critical turning point.

Of course, part of the complex answer is that each country in the Israel, UAE, US triad played its part.

Also, each of the countries that came afterward made its own contributions which helped form the order of who would be “in” during the Trump era and who would play “wait and see.”

But to properly understand what happened in 2020, Israeli intelligence sources would say that it is imperative to understand the behind-the-scenes role of Cohen and the Saudis and what happened in September-November 2017, and in July 2019.

TRADITIONALLY, CLANDESTINE developments with countries with which Israel has no diplomatic relations fall under the realm of the Mossad.

In that respect, the Post has learned that Cohen especially distinguished himself from his start in January 2016 by not only marking goals, but establishing a unit to focus on the normalization goal.

Reports of Cohen’s travels to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco and other countries without diplomatic relations with Israel started coming in the middle of his term, but he was on the travel circuit even earlier.

There were precursors like former National Security Council chief Yaakov Amidror and former Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold. There were also other Israeli intelligence figures, who are conventionally less involved with foreign countries, who got involved in the game in important ways in recent years.

One interesting departure from Mossad dominance of the normalization trend related to Sudan and Morocco.

Cohen was virtually the sole key figure paving the early path which led to normalization with the UAE, and which brought the Saudis to actively support the trend, even as they themselves have not formally crossed the line.

He was also the early middleman for Sudan and Morocco.

But at an undefined point leading up to normalization with those countries, National Security Council chief Meir Ben Shabbat, represented by “R.” or “Maoz,” a Shin Bet agent on “loan” to the NSC, took a critical role in finishing those deals.

Ben Shabbat, Maoz and, according to reporter Barak Ravid, a British-Israeli lawyer named Nick Kaufman, who had connections with the Sudanese because of his expertise in dealing with some of their International Criminal Court issues, helped smooth over a range of rough patches along the way.

Cohen would not deny that Ben Shabbat and Maoz made contributions to those normalization pushes and helped save them at various points when the US and Sudan hit temporary walls.

However, the Post has learned that even once Ben Shabbat and R. were working the Sudan and Morocco angles, Cohen’s view would be that he was still the “project manager” for the normalizations, and that he merely “subcontracted” out aspects of implementation.

In Cohen’s narrative, his direct involvement in planning the meeting between Netanyahu and chairman of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan Lt.-Gen. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan in Uganda in February 2020, as well as being physically present there, shows that he had gotten most of the key work done before subcontracting out later implementation measures.

Further, even as Ben Shabbat, Maoz and their team helped put out fires down the stretch, Cohen still had his hands at least partially on the wheel with additional meetings, one of which with the deputy chairman of the Sudanese Sovereign Council, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, was widely reported in August 2020.

Reports throughout the second half of 2020 noted Cohen hopping around the Gulf and elsewhere.

IN SOME ways, sources would say, this would lead to a new perspective on the July-December 2020 normalization wave.

Conventional wisdom is that no wave was coming until July 2020, and that there might have been no wave if UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, senior adviser to the US president Jared Kushner, his aide Avi Berkowitz, Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and a variety of other players had not suddenly scrambled to a magic formula, which then paved the way for the other three normalization deals.

While recognizing each contribution to the Abraham Accords, Cohen’s narrative would be entirely different.

His version of events would look back to his major July 2019 speech at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya conference.

In that speech, he said, “The Mossad has identified at this time a rare opportunity, perhaps the first in the history of the Middle East, to reach a regional understanding that would lead to an inclusive regional peace agreement,” he said.

He added: “This creates a window of opportunity that is perhaps one-time only.”

While his speech made headlines, nothing immediately came of it. In fact, nothing came of it for another 13 months, and most viewed it as just giving out talking points which Netanyahu and a variety of other ministers were periodically issuing.

A point Cohen made in the speech saying the Mossad had set the stage for “a renewal of ties with Oman and the establishment of Foreign Ministry representation” was even met with a public rejection by Oman.

Yet, sources would indicate that in Cohen’s view, this speech was actually the key point.

He was not pontificating with generic hopeful aspirations or guessing, the way some other ministers might have been who were hearing things secondhand.

Cohen was delivering a hard-nosed assessment of the future which he knew firsthand to be on the way.

He could not predict the exact timing, but he knew that he had helped convince the Saudis as well as the UAE that normalization was the way forward, and that they would find the right moment.

The reason he could make that speech in July 2019, the Post has learned, is that ironically, even as they have not yet officially crossed the normalization line themselves, the Saudis were the key, and were committed.

In that sense, Israeli intelligence sources have indicated that a real turning point was the reported visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Tel Aviv in September 2017.

BY NOVEMBER 2017, this had led to a historic interview by then-IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot with a Saudi media outlet in which he proclaimed that Israel was now sharing classified intelligence on Iran with Riyadh.

In this light, insiders like Cohen could see the building of momentum for the events of 2020, even if they were far from inevitable, long before the general public caught on.

Then why didn’t Cohen make the July 2019 speech back in 2017?

Sources indicated that the plan was to get the other countries on board so it would build like a wave.

Saudi support in late 2017 laid the groundwork for the Mossad to have greater success in building that wave over the next 18 months, including visits by Netanyahu and other Israeli ministers to various countries.

The current Mossad chief might even say that the months when normalization happened were when it had to happen. This was because it was all part of a general vision of achieving certain common goals within the Trump administration’s framework for the Middle East.

No one knew who would win the US election in November 2020, but everyone knew that US President Joe Biden (then the Democratic challenger) had a strong shot.

From this perspective, the normalization wave had to start no later than around September, and July was about the latest it could start if time would be left for a series of countries to each make a splash by joining.

But the Palestinians needed to be given a chance first to accept the Trump administration’s peace plan, which kept getting delayed by Israeli elections, until it was finally unveiled in January 2020.

From then until July 2020, with a boost of cooperative activity between Israel and the UAE in March relating to the coronavirus, the question was timing.

Also, from that perspective, as crucial as the Kushner-Friedman-Berkowitz group, Otaiba and Ben Shabbat, “Maoz” and his team were, the big leaps forward were already made by the Mossad with the Saudis by 2017 and were getting revved up by the time of Cohen’s July 2019 speech.

Undeniably, the US, UAE and Ben Shabbat’s team helped put out major fires and used out-of-the-box thinking to create new opportunities.

The Mossad would be happy to share credit with the full cast. Certainly, the Trump administration’s approach of making deals between Israel and its neighbors at all costs created opportunities that would not have otherwise existed.

In addition, not every prediction Cohen made has come true.

After naming Oman in 2019, he was on record again in fall 2020 that Oman would sign a normalization agreement with Israel, and that still has not yet panned out.

Still, some of the key US actors saving, salvaging and signing the Abraham Accords in 2020 were not even in office in 2016, and in 2017 were still learning the lay of the land – this while the Mossad was already paving the road.

But, by and large, if many of Cohen’s seemingly audacious 2019 predictions about normalization have come true, it could be because, as a director and producer, he was already holding much of the script.

Iran’s President Rouhani Celebrates Departure of ‘Stupid Terrorist’ Trump

Posted January 21, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news conference in the capital Tehran, on February 16, 2020. - Iran's President Hassan Rouhani ruled out resigning and vowed to see out his term, even as he admitted he had offered to step aside twice since being elected. Speaking ahead of a …
ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images

FRANCES MARTEL20 Jan 20212,8845:52

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani celebrated the departure of outgoing American President Donald Trump by calling him a “stupid terrorist” and urging now-President Joe Biden to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal his former boss, President Barack Obama, negotiated.

Rouhani accused Trump of engaging in “state terrorism” for his decision to approve a drone strike against Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, a foreign terrorism unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Iran’s IRGC is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization and Soleimani was personally believed to be responsible for hundreds of American deaths and thousands of severe injuries. Iran is the worst’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism.

As a presidential candidate, Biden said that he would not have approved the strike on Soleimani.

In addition to targeting Soleimani, the airstrike eliminated Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the head of the Iraq-based Hezbollah Brigade, an anti-American militia. The two were meeting in Baghdad, where Soleimani often visited to maintain ties with Iran-backed terrorists in the country.

In his remarks Wednesday, Rouhani defined the attack on Soleimani, not Soleimani’s years of violence, the true terrorism, and expressed hope Biden would revert to policies more friendly to Tehran.

“We had [never before] seen a US president explicitly announcing that he had assassinated a senior military commander who was a guest in a third country,” Rouhani said, according to Iran’s state-run PressTV. “With what this stupid terrorist did, ‘state terrorism’ was inscribed on the forehead of the United States. Today is the end of the political life of the individual who violated international law and [US] obligations for four years.”

The removal of Soleimani from the battlefield — coupled with years of Trump-era sanctions on Iran in response to the Islamic regime’s destabilization activities in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and other regional countries — significantly limited Iran’s ability to operate during Trump’s term. Iran’s economy is also in a dire state, largely due to the regime’s Obama-era spending on adventurism in other parts of the Middle East, prompting multiple waves of protests calling for democracy.

Despite this reality, Rouhani declared Trump’s policy to contain Iran’s belligerence a failure.

“It has become evident to our nation and the whole world that the policy of economic terrorism and maximum pressure has failed 100 percent,” Rouhani said, referring to the U.S. sanctions. “Of course, the Iranian people suffered under the pressure and economic war, but they endured [the hardships] and, through resistance, did not allow the enemies’ goals to be realized.”

Discussing the expected policies of President Joe Biden, Rouhani expressed more flexibility than the regime had prior to his inauguration when officials insisted they would not renegotiate the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran Nuclear Deal. The deal greatly expanded Iran’s economic reach and did not prevent it from ultimately returning to its illegal nuclear weapons program. Much of the windfall from that deal, brokered when Biden was vice president, ended up funding terrorist activity in places like Syria and Iraq. President Trump withdrew from the deal during his tenure, leaving Iran committed in the deal with the remaining European states and China.

Iranian officials prior to his inauguration suggested that Biden would enact an “unconditional” return to the agreement. Rouhani instead suggested that “the ball is in Washington’s court” and that Tehran would be willing to listen.

“If they (American statesmen) sincerely return to the law and show their honesty in practice, we will also fulfill our own commitments,” Rouhani said. “Trump is gone but the JCPOA is alive. All the attempts of American extremists, regional reactionaries and the Zionists were for the JCPOA to die, but today the JCPOA is alive. Trump and his dark record are history, but the JCPOA is still alive.”

“Today, thanks God, Trump’s black page will be closed forever, and we say thanks God when any oppressor is overthrown,” Rouhani said, addressing a cabinet meeting in Tehran on Wednesday.

Other Iranian officials also expressed an apparent eagerness to return to the nuclear deal Wednesday, contradicting repeated insistence that Iran would not consider a renegotiation of the agreement.

“We make decision [sic] and take reciprocal action considering Biden’s moves vis a vis the nuclear deal. We have repeatedly demanded the US to return to the nuclear deal and this return should be complete and without preconditions, that is to say, no issue related or unrelated to the nuclear deal should be put forward for discussion,” Takht Ravanchi, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, said this week.

To punctuate the end of the Trump era, Iranian officials announced sanctions Wednesday against several senior Trump administration officials, including Trump himself, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and former National Security Advisor John Bolton. The individuals sanctioned — meaning they are limited in traveling to and doing business in Iran — appear on the list for “committing terrorist crimes, promoting and supporting terrorism … and for violating basic rules and fundamental principles of international law,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry claimed.

The government of China similarly sanctioned Pompeo and other high-ranking Trump officials Wednesday, minutes after Biden became president.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

Iran says it is producing half a kilo of 20% enriched uranium every day

Posted January 19, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized


Country’s nuclear agency chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, says it will resume adhering to nuke deal’s terms if ‘other parties’ do so

By TOI STAFFToday, 11:02 am  0

This photo released November 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

This photo released November 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Monday that the country was producing almost 500 grams of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity a day, after beginning to do so earlier this month in breach of the 2015 nuclear accord.

Salehi told the Khamenei.ir website, the official site of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, that nuclear scientists “are producing 20 grams every hour, meaning that practically, we are producing half a kilo every day.”

Salehi said that if other parties to the deal return to it, “we will return to our undertakings too.”

He called for the removal of US sanctions against the Islamic Republic imposed due to its nuclear program and other rogue activities such as its ballistic missile program.

Uranium enriched to 20% is a short technical step away from weapons-grade 90% enrichment. The foreign ministers of the European signatories to the deal — Germany, France and Britain — warned Saturday that the Iranian activity “has no credible civil justification” and have called on Tehran to adhere to the accord.The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi delivers his speech at opening of the general conference of the IAEA in Vienna, Austria, September 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

The countries pressed Iran to back off its plan to develop uranium metal, calling it “the latest planned violation” of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something Iran insists it does not want to do.

“Iran has no credible civilian use for uranium metal,” they said in a joint statement. “The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications.”

On Thursday, the IAEA said Iran had informed it that it had begun installing equipment for the production of uranium metal. It said Tehran maintains its plans to conduct research and development on uranium metal production are part of its “declared aim to design an improved type of fuel.”

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Iran reacted to the European statement Sunday by saying it had informed the UN nuclear watchdog nearly two decades ago of its plans for the “peaceful and conventional” production of uranium metal. It also said it provided updated information to the agency two years ago about its plans to produce silicide advanced fuel.

The statement said uranium metal is an “intermediate product” in the manufacture of uranium silicide, a fuel used in nuclear reactors that is safer and has more power capability than uranium oxide-based fuel, which Iran currently produces.

The three European nations signed the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran — which prohibited research and production of uranium metal — alongside the US, Russia and China.

US President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal, in which Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. After the US then ramped up sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development.

US President-elect Joe Biden, who was vice president when the deal was signed during the Obama administration, has said he hopes to return the US to the deal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.You’re serious. We appreciate that!

France says Iran building nuclear weapons capacity

Posted January 17, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

French FM warns Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ tactics only increased risk posed by Tehran; comments come after Iranian announcement of advancing research on uranium metal production

By TOI STAFFToday, 1:56 pm  5

The Bushehr nuclear power plant outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour, File)

The Bushehr nuclear power plant outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour, File)

France’s Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian on Saturday said that Iran was aiming to acquire nuclear weapons capacity with its breaches of the 2015 nuclear agreement, and only a full return to that deal could prevent Tehran from achieving its goal.

Speaking to the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, Le Drain accused the outgoing United States leadership of exacerbating the crisis with Iran and pushing Tehran to advance its nuclear program.

“The Trump administration chose what it called the maximum pressure campaign on Iran. The result was that this strategy only increased the risk and the threat,” Le Drian said.

“This has to stop because Iran and – I say this clearly – is in the process of acquiring nuclear [weapons] capacity,” he warned.

Le Drian said it was urgent to “tell the Iranians that this is enough” and to try to bring both Iran and the United States back into the accord.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and his Lebanese counterpart Nassif Hitti, hold a news conference following their meeting at the Lebanese foreign ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, July. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

The landmark 2015 deal between Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions has been largely in tatters since US President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

The Iranian government has signaled a readiness to engage with incoming president Joe Biden, who takes office on January 20 and who has expressed willingness to return to diplomacy with Tehran.

“Tough discussions will be needed over ballistic proliferation and Iran’s destabilization of its neighbors in the region,” Le Drian said.

The comments came after Iran told the UN nuclear watchdog last week that it was advancing research on uranium metal production, saying it is aimed at providing advanced fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.File: In this photo released on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, a truck containing a cylinder of uranium hexafluoride gas leaves Ahmadi Roshan uranium enrichment facility in Natanz to the Fordo nuclear facility for the purpose of injecting the gas into Fordo centrifuges (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

European powers on Saturday voiced deep concern over the plans, warning that Tehran has “no credible civilian use” for the uranium.

“The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications,” said the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, the so-called E3, in a joint statement.

Uranium metal can be used as a component in nuclear weapons. Iran had agreed to a 15-year ban on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys” under the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in 2015 with world powers.

“We strongly urge Iran to halt this activity, and return to compliance with its JCPOA commitments without further delay if it is serious about preserving the deal,” said the ministers.

The Iranian breaches of the deal have included exceeding the stockpile limit on enriched uranium, enriching beyond the permitted purity level, and using more advanced centrifuges than permitted.

Iran recently informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of its plans to increase enrichment to 20 percent, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.Part of the Arak heavy water nuclear facilities, near the central city of Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of Tehran, Iran, Jan. 15, 2011 (Mehdi Marizad/Fars News Agency via AP, File)

A decision to begin enriching to 20% purity a decade ago nearly triggered an Israeli strike targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities. Tensions abated only slightly with the 2015 deal, which saw Iran limit its enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Iran says all of its breaches of the 2015 deal’s limits are reversible, but insists that the US has to come back to the deal and lift sanctions first.

European nations have warned that Iran’s moves risk “compromising the important opportunity for a return to diplomacy with the incoming US administration.”

Last week the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said that there were “weeks” left to salvage the nuclear deal.

Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at the Reuters Next conference that Tehran was advancing “quite rapidly” toward enriching uranium to 20 percent, as it has announced it would, in breach of the accord. He said the IAEA has assessed Iran will be able to produce some 10 kilograms a month.

Agencies contributed to this report.

E3: Iran making uranium metal, a nuke component, has ‘grave military’ potential

Posted January 17, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Britain, France and Germany say Tehran has ‘no credible civilian use’ for the material, which it says it is now researching in breach of nuclear deal

By AGENCIES and TOI STAFF16 January 2021, 4:16 pm  6

File: An Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2007 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

File: An Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2007 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

BERLIN, Germany — European powers on Saturday voiced deep concern over Iran’s plans to produce uranium metal, warning that Tehran has “no credible civilian use” for the element.

“The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications,” said the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, the so-called E3, in a joint statement.

Uranium metal can be used as a component in nuclear weapons. Iran had signed up to a 15-year ban on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys” under the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in 2015 with world powers.

“We strongly urge Iran to halt this activity, and return to compliance with its JCPOA commitments without further delay if it is serious about preserving the deal,” said the ministers.

Their call came after Iran told the UN nuclear watchdog on Wednesday that it was advancing research on uranium metal production, saying it is aimed at providing advanced fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.File: In this photo released on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, a truck containing a cylinder of uranium hexafluoride gas leaves Ahmadi Roshan uranium enrichment facility in Natanz to the Fordo nuclear facility for the purpose of injecting the gas into Fordo centrifuges (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

In a response to the foreign ministers’ statement, Iran’s atomic energy organization urged the IAEA to avoid creating any “misunderstanding,” adding that it had not yet “presented the design information questionnaire (DIQ) of the uranium metal factory” to the watchdog.

This would be done “after carrying out the necessary preparations and… within the deadline set by law,” the organization said, in reference to a five-month deadline set by the Iranian parliament in December, mandating Tehran to ready the factory.

It said it hoped the IAEA would not cause further “misunderstanding in the future, by refraining from mentioning unnecessary details in its reports.”

The landmark 2015 deal between Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions has been largely in tatters since US President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions.

The Iranian government has signaled a readiness to engage with President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on January 20 and who has expressed willingness to return to diplomacy with Tehran.

The Iranian breaches have included exceeding the stockpile limit on enriched uranium, enriching beyond the permitted purity level, and using more advanced centrifuges than permitted under the deal.

Iran recently informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of its plans to increase enrichment to 20 percent, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.A graphic shows the scientific process of uranium enrichment to weapons-grade level (Phil Holm/AP)

A decision to begin enriching to 20% purity a decade ago nearly triggered an Israeli strike targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities. The tensions only abated with the 2015 deal, which saw Iran limit its enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Tensions have increased since the assassination in late November of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

In the aftermath of the attack, which Iran blamed on Israel, hardliners in Tehran pledged a response and Iran’s parliament passed a controversial law calling for expanded nuclear activity and for an end to IAEA inspections.

The law also demanded Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization “operate a facility of metal uranium production” within five months.

Iran says all of its breaches of the 2015 deal’s limits are reversible, but insists that the US has to come back to the deal and lift sanctions first.Part of the Arak heavy water nuclear facilities, near the central city of Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of Tehran, Iran, Jan. 15, 2011 (Mehdi Marizad/Fars News Agency via AP, File)

European nations have warned that Iran’s moves risk “compromising the important opportunity for a return to diplomacy with the incoming US administration.”

Earlier this week the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said that there were “weeks” left to salvage the nuclear deal.

Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at the Reuters Next conference that Tehran was advancing “quite rapidly” toward enriching uranium to 20 percent, as it has announced it would, in breach of the accord. He said the IAEA has assessed Iran will be able to produce some 10 kilograms a month.

Report: Biden team already holding talks with Iran on US return to nuclear deal

Posted January 17, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized


Channel 12 says officials in the incoming administration have updated Israel on the deliberations, as wary Jerusalem pushes for a broader accord

By TOI STAFF16 January 2021, 9:13 pm  5

Left: US President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 14, 2021, in Wilmington, Delaware (AP Photo/Matt Slocum); Right: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, Dec. 9, 2020 (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Left: US President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 14, 2021, in Wilmington, Delaware (AP Photo/Matt Slocum); Right: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, Dec. 9, 2020 (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Officials in the incoming Biden administration have already begun holding quiet talks with Iran on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, and have updated Israel on those conversations, Channel 12 News reported Saturday.

The network gave no sourcing for the report, and no details on what was allegedly discussed.

US President-elect Joe Biden has indicated his desire to return to the accord, while Israel is pushing for any return to the deal to include fresh limitations on Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terror and destabilization around the world.

On Wednesday, Walla News reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is assembling a team to strategize for the first talks with the Biden administration on Iran’s nuclear program.

The team will include officials representing national security elements, the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the military, the Mossad spy agency, and the Atomic Energy Commission, the report said, citing unnamed sources in the Prime Minister’s Office.

US President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Friday, Jan. 8, 2021 (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Netanyahu is considering appointing a senior official to head the team and to serve as an envoy in talks with the US on the Iranian nuclear program, the report said.

A possible candidate to head the team is Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, the report said.

Channel 12 reported Saturday that Cohen was in Washington this week to meet with officials in the outgoing and incoming administrations.

US President-elect Joe Biden is expected to take a more conciliatory approach to Iran than the Trump administration and has said that if Iran returns to the terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement, he too would rejoin, removing the crushing economic sanctions that have wreaked havoc on the Iranian economy over the past two years.

The US president-elect has indicated that he wants to negotiate more broadly with Tehran if Washington returns to the deal, notably over its missiles and influence across the Middle East. Iran has said it could welcome the return of the Americans to the agreement, but only after they lift sanctions. It has rejected negotiation on other issues.

Former US president Barack Obama, with Biden as his vice president, signed the Iran nuclear deal with world powers in 2015. The Trump administration withdrew from the accord in 2018 and pressured Iran with crippling economic sanctions and other measures.Then-US secretary of state John Kerry talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna, January 16, 2016 (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP, File)

Obama signed the agreement despite fierce protest from Israel, and had a rocky relationship with Jerusalem and Netanyahu, while the premier and Trump have been in lockstep on most Middle East policy issues.

The prospect of the US reengaging with Tehran has drawn warnings and alarm from Netanyahu and his allies.

Last week, speaking alongside US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in Jerusalem, Netanyahu warned against the US rejoining the nuclear agreement, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“If we just go back to the JCPOA, what will happen and may already be happening is that many other countries in the Middle East will rush to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. That is a nightmare and that is folly. It should not happen,” Netanyahu said.

Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi said Wednesday the incoming US administration must not “appease” Iran, and warned Tehran the Jewish state will not tolerate its military presence in Syria or its development of nuclear weapons.

Likud’s Tzachi Hanegbi attends an event at Kedem in the West Bank on September 5, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

In one of the most forceful statements recently made by an Israeli official, Hanegbi, considered an ally of Netanyahu, threatened that Israel could attack Iran’s nuclear program if the United States rejoined the nuclear deal.

Iran and the Trump administration have engaged in an ongoing exchange in recent months as President Donald Trump’s tenure draws to a close and Iran marked the one-year anniversary of the US assassination of its general Qassem Soleimani.

The back and forth has included threats, military maneuvers, legal action and escalating Iranian violations of the nuclear deal. Israeli and Iranian officials have also exchanged threats in recent weeks.

Channel 12 said Saturday that during his meetings with top Trump administration officials, Mossad chief Cohen was given the impression that there was no plan to attack Iran during the final days of the administration.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly accused Iran of harboring al-Qaeda terrorists on Wednesday.Mossad chief Yossi Cohen speaks at a Tel Aviv University cyber conference, on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

Iran resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent last week, well in excess of the threshold set out in the nuclear deal and a short jump from the level of enrichment needed to produce weapons.

Further complicating the Biden administration’s plans to reengage with Tehran were two high profile assassinations this year in Iran that were attributed to Israel. Top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was gunned down outside Tehran in November in a hit Iranian officials blamed on Israel. In August, Israeli agents killed al-Qaeda’s second-in-command in Tehran at the behest of the US, according to a New York Times report.

Message to Iran: The submarine and naval force the U.S. set to the Persian Gulf

Posted January 16, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

  • A nuclear-powered submarine with hundreds of precision, long-range cruise missiles, operating from the elite Navy SEAL and Harpoon and Tomahawk missiles. Against the backdrop of threats of Iranian retaliata and the shooting on their behalf to Baghdad, the Americans have sent a clear message in recent days
הצוללת (צילום: indra beaufort/U.S Navy)
The naval force sent to the Gulf | Photo:indra beaufort/U.S Navy

Tensions after the elimination of the father of Iran’s nuclear program, Mohsen Fahrizadeh, threats by Iran to retaliate for the anniversary of the assassination of General Qassem Suleimani and the firing of pro-Iranian militias at the American embassy in Baghdad, have all prompted the U.S. Navy in recent days to make an unusual announcement.

The Navy said in an unconventional statement that a nuclear-powered submarine and dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles had been sent to the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. The Navy’s statement said the submarine was sent out of “a commitment to allies in the region and a willingness to defend against any threat at any time.” They also mentioned a name that she was accompanied by a pair of guided-missile boats.

The submarine sent to deliver the message to the Iranians is the Georgia. A nuclear-powered submarine that is 170 meters long and weighs over 17,000 tons. By comparison, an Israeli dolphin submarine is less than 2,000 tons.

The entrance of the giant submarine with about 150 crew members came 24 hours after the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo,condemned another rocket attack on the international region in Iraq and warned of the consequences.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1341684979852595201&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mako.co.il%2Fpzm-military%2FArticle-b71a29faf1c8671026.htm&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=550px

There is no doubt that this is a forceful threat by the Americans to the Iranians. The Georgia can carry up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles each carrying a warhead weighing about half a ton to a range ranging from 1,300 to 1,700 kilometers, depending on the model’s underspecies.

It’s an accurate missile that’s very difficult to intercept capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Another important point to note, this submarine can carry 66 operators from the elite Navy SEAL unit for both covert and noisy missions.

The American submarine didn’t go in alone. Along with her, a pair of “Ticonderoga” missile ships also entered. Vessels threaten when each such ship has 120 Mk 41 missile launch compartments. From each one you can launch Tomahawk, Harpoon and more missiles like them there are dozens on board. As it seems the message aimed at the Iranians is sharp and clear.

ספינת קרב אמריקאית משגרת טיל טומהוק (צילום: צבא ארצות הברית)
U.S. battleship launches Tomahawk missile | Photo: U.S. Army

Iran Expects Biden’s ‘Unconditional Return’ to Obama Nuclear Deal

Posted January 16, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

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President Barack Obama, standing with Vice President Joe Biden, delivers remarks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, July 14, 2015, after an Iran nuclear deal is reached. After 18 days of intense and often fractious negotiation, diplomats Tuesday declared that world powers and Iran had …
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

SIMON KENT15 Jan 20214,0132:23

Iran expects the next U.S. administration under President-elect Joe Biden to unconditionally return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal as originally negotiated by President Barack Obama, Iran’s Ambassador to the U.N. said Friday.

Majid Takht Ravanchi revealed a confident Iran has already received positive signals from the inbound Biden administration.

“We have heard from the Biden team a number of positive remarks regarding the JCPOA and the return of the United States to its obligations based on it,” Iran’s U.N. envoy told the semi-official IRNA news service.

He further said “it’s too early to judge exactly what the next dwellers of the White House will do,” but added Tehran “is not in a rush” and Biden will be given time to align his policies with those of Iran.

As Breitbart News reported, U.S. President Donald Trump kept a campaign promise back in May, 2018, when he announced his decision to withdraw from the flawed Iran deal.https://content.jwplatform.com/players/g9aDZ7pt-o73dHpYz.html

“This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” Trump said at the time. “It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.”

Trump’s decision signaled a major blow to the Obama administration’s 2015 signature foreign diplomatic agreement which eased sanctions in return for cuts to Iran’s nuclear program.

The president also denounced the Obama administration for sending billions of dollars to a “regime of great terror” including vast sums of cash, pointing out that money went to further sponsoring terrorism and violence in the Middle East.

As a sign of its confidence in a compliant Biden administration, Iran announced its plans to enrich uranium to 20 percent at its underground Fordo site earlier this month, a move Israel has warned proves the Islamic Republic is seeking nuclear weapons.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=sunsimonkent&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-1&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1346523762192240646&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.breitbart.com%2Fmiddle-east%2F2021%2F01%2F15%2Frelieved-iran-expects-bidens-unconditional-return-to-obama-negotiated-nuclear-deal%2F&siteScreenName=BreitbartNews&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=550px

Friday’s announcement by Tehran is not the first time it has tried to reheat the JCPOA agreement.

It announced in September, 2019, it would honor the nuclear deal if it could sell its oil on the open market or get “$15 billion over four months,” as Breitbart News reported.

Trump firmly rejected the proposal.

Iran’s largest warship boosts its Red Sea naval buildup

Posted January 15, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized


 
Iran warships posted to Red SeaIsraelS|audisUS targeted

The Iranian navy’s largest warship Makran, a logistics vessel which carries 7 helicopters, and the missile carrier Zereh have been posted to its fleet in the northern Indian Ocean, the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait and the Red Sea, the Tasnim news agency reports. The two new warships were unveiled and delivered during a two-day Iranian exercise in the Gulf of Oman.

“We are once again in the Red Sea region,” said Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagher reporting on the ongoing buildup of warships on Wednesday. State TV said the 121,000-metric ton Makran is Iran’s largest military ship at 228 meters (748 feet) long, 42 meters (138 feet) wide and 21.5 meters (70 feet) tall. It is claimed to support combat ships in the fleet, can travel for nearly three years without docking and carry information collection and processing gear. These features are not independently confirmed. Video footage released by the military showed helicopters carrying commandos to the Makran as part of the exercise.

Newsweek this week ran images of advanced Iranian Shahed-136 “suicide drones” deployed to Houthi-controlled northern Yemen. They are estimated to have an effective range of 2,000 to 2,200 km. Israel, Saudi Arabia and US bases are well within range.

Israel military sources say the IDF has identified the peril posed by Iran’s “second circle” of aggression in Yemen and Iraq. The IDF has been conducting war games since December simulating attacks from the south from a variety of hardware, whether by missiles, drones or other remote guidance weapons. Patriot and Iron Dome anti-missile batteries have been moved to its southernmost town, the Red Sea port city and resort of Eilat.

Its backing for the Yemeni Houthi insurgency has won Iran a strategic foothold against Israel and Saudi Arabia, over and above Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Its naval buildup puts Tehran in position to blockade this vital sea lane.

Iran routinely uses Yemen’s Houthis for cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia. Its current naval buildup will threaten the kingdom’s Red Sea coastline and western oil route as well. Iran’s use of its “second circle” of aggression against American allies in the region is one more item for the incoming Joe Biden presidency to tackle in any renewed nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic.

Report: IDF drawing up plans to strike Iran’s nuclear program

Posted January 15, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized


Newspaper says IDF chief has asked for options to derail atomic production, day after Likud minister warned Israel could attack Islamic Republic if US rejoins nuclear deal

By TOI STAFF14 January 2021, 7:09 pm  5

A new F-35 fighter jet at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel, on July 14, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

An F-35 fighter jet at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel from the United States on July 14, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces is drawing up plans for an attack on Iran’s nuclear program, the Israel Hayom daily reported Thursday in a front-page article.

The newspaper said that IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi has asked for three alternate proposals to derail Tehran’s program, without elaborating on them. It only indicated one of the proposals is a military strike, noting that such a plan would require a significant budgetary boost for the Israeli military.

Iran resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent last week, well in excess of the threshold set out in its landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and a short technical jump from the 90% level of enrichment needed to produce weapons.

The Israel Hayom report came a day after Likud minister Tzachi Hanegbi, considered an ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, threatened that Israel could attack Iran’s nuclear program if the United States rejoined the nuclear deal, as US President-elect Joe Biden has indicated he plans to do.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with Tzachi Hanegbi during a Likud Party faction meeting at the Knesset on February 8, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“If the United States government rejoins the nuclear deal — and that seems to be the stated policy as of now — the practical result will be that Israel will again be alone against Iran, which by the end of the deal will have received a green light from the world, including the United States, to continue with its nuclear weapons program,” Hanegbi said in an interview with Kan news.

“This of course we will not allow. We’ve already twice done what needed to be done, in 1981 against the Iraqi nuclear program and in 2007 against the Syrian nuclear program,” he said, referring to airstrikes on those two countries’ nuclear reactors.

Former US president Barack Obama, with incoming US President-elect Joe Biden as his vice president, signed the Iranian nuclear deal with world powers in 2015. The Trump administration withdrew from the accord in 2018 and pressured Iran with crippling economic sanctions and other measures.

Obama signed the agreement despite fierce protest from Israel, and had a rocky relationship with Jerusalem and Netanyahu, while the premier and Trump have been in lockstep on most Middle East policy issues.

Biden is expected to take a more conciliatory approach to Iran and has said that if Iran returns to the terms of the nuclear agreement, he too would rejoin, removing the crushing economic sanctions that have wreaked havoc on the Iranian economy over the past two years.Then-US President Barack Obama, standing with then-Vice President Joe Biden, delivers remarks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, on July 14, 2015, after a nuclear deal with Iran is reached. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

The US president-elect has indicated that he wants to negotiate more broadly with Tehran if Washington returns to the deal, notably over its missiles and influence across the Middle East. Iran has said it could welcome the return of the Americans to the agreement, but only after they lift sanctions. It has rejected negotiation on other issues.

Iran and the Trump administration have engaged in an ongoing exchange in recent months as the Trump administration draws to a close and Iran marked the one-year anniversary of the US assassination of its general Qassem Soleimani.

The back and forth has included threats, military maneuvers, legal action and escalating Iranian violations of the nuclear deal.

Further complicating the Biden administration’s plans to reengage with Tehran were two high profile assassinations this year in Iran that were attributed to Israel. Top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was gunned down outside Tehran in November in a hit Iranian officials blamed on Israel. In August, Israeli agents killed al-Qaeda’s second-in-command in Tehran at the behest of the US, according to a New York Times report.