Archive for March 8, 2018

Massive Iranian Missile Buildup Sparks Fear of ‘Second Holocaust’

March 8, 2018

Growing concern Trump admin will cave to Iran, legitimize missiles capable of hitting Israel

Iran launches a "Persian Gulf" ballistic missile


Iran is undertaking a massive buildup of its ballistic missile program, sparking fears of a “second Holocaust” amid sensitive international negotiations that could see the Trump administration legitimize Iranian missiles capable of striking Israel, according to multiple sources familiar with ongoing diplomatic talks.

As the Trump administration and European allies continue discussions aimed at fixing a range of flaws in the landmark Iran nuclear deal, sources familiar with the progression of these talks say the United States is caving to European demands limiting restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program.

While the Trump administration went into the negotiations with a hardline stance on cutting off Iran’s ballistic missile program, it appears the United States is moving closer in line with European positions that would only regulate a portion of the missiles.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the ongoing talks told the Washington Free Beacon U.S. officials have been backpedaling on key demands originally proposed by President Trump in order to preserve the agreement and appease European allies who are eager to continue doing business with Tehran.

Senior Trump administration officials recently told the Free Beacon the United States is prepared to abandon the nuclear deal if European allies fail to address what it views as a range of flaws in the nuclear deal that have enabled Iran’s missile buildup and allowed it to continue critical nuclear research.

However, it appears the United States is losing ground in the talks, moving closer to the European position, which includes what insiders described as only cosmetic changes to the nuclear deal that fail to adequately address Iran’s massive missile buildup.

“If Trump doesn’t take control of these negotiations, he will be to Iranian missiles what Obama was to Iranian enrichment,” said one veteran foreign policy official with direct knowledge of the ongoing negotiations in Europe. “Combined, Obama and Trump’s negotiators could end up giving us a bipartisan Iranian nuclear weapon capable of bringing a second Holocaust. What does it say that Donald Trump’s negotiators have a weaker position on Iranian missiles than the United Nations?”

Speculation the Trump administration will cave on the missile issue has been fueled by off-record meetings between Trump administration officials and foreign policy insiders, as well as recent comments by the State Department that only “long-range” missiles are currently up for discussion, according to sources who spoke to the Free Beacon.

The State Department would not comment on the current state of the talks, but told the Free Beacon the ballistic missiles issue remains on the agenda.

This includes “preventing Iran from developing or testing a long-range ballistic missile,” according to a State Department official.

This does not appear to include shorter-range missiles that could strike Israel.

A White House National Security Council official also declined to discuss the current state of the negotiations, only telling the Free Beacon, “talks are ongoing.”

One senior congressional official with knowledge of the efforts to crackdown on Iran’s missile program expressed shock at how the administration’s negotiating position has evolved.

“Give me a break,” said the source, who was not authorized to speak on the record about the sensitive discussions. “Is the U.S. negotiating position really going to be watered down from the standard laid out in UNSCR 2231,” the United Nations Security Council resolution banning Iranian ballistic missile work.

“We need to address the Iranian ballistic missile threat as it appears today, and ensure Iran does not have a free pass to potentially test and acquire ballistic missiles that can be used to rain nuclear bombs down on Riyadh and Jerusalem,” the source said.

As discussions of the deal continue, the U.S. intelligence community has issued a wide ranging warning about the progress Iran has made in its ballistic missile work, which is among the largest stockpile in the region.

Iran currently “has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East,” according to the U.S. director of national intelligence, who recently highlighted the issue in an annual threat assessment.

“Tehran’s desire to deter the United States might drive it to field an ICBM,” or intercontinental ballistic missile, which is capable of carrying a nuclear payload, according to the DNI. “Progress on Iran’s space program, such as the launch of the Simorgh SLV in July 2017, could shorten a pathway to an ICBM because space launch vehicles use similar technologies.”

Iran has used billions of dollars in cash windfalls it received as part of the nuclear agreement to pursue ballistic missile research and construction, according to the U.S. intelligence community.

“Iran continues to develop and improve a range of new military capabilities to target U.S. and allied military assets in the region, including armed UAVs, ballistic missiles, advanced naval mines, unmanned explosive boats, submarines and advanced torpedoes, and anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles,” the DNI warned. “Iran has the largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East and can strike targets up to 2,000 kilometers from Iran’s borders.”

This endangers Israel and is fueling concerns the Trump administration will fail to constrain the program at a time when Iran is increasingly threatening the Jewish state with a strike.

While United Nations Security Council resolutions currently ban Iran from conducting ballistic missile work, the Islamic Republic has openly flaunted the ban and vowed to never stop its buildup.

In 2013, the Obama administration and Congress agreed that Iran should not be able to test fire any ballistic missile exceeding 500km, or about 310 miles. That benchmark eventually increased to 2,000km, or 1,240 miles, following opposition by Iran.

Legislation proposed by Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.) includes a “zero tolerance” clause on Iranian ballistic missiles, meaning that all sanctions waived as part of the nuclear deal would snapback if Iran tests any ballistic missile. Supporters have described the legislation as the “gold standard for how to fix the Iran deal when it comes to ballistic missiles.”

With concerns mounting that the Trump administration will walk back its support of a full ballistic missile ban, insiders worry that Israel will suffer the consequences.

“Trump will be legitimizing Iranian missiles that can wipe Israel off the map,” said one insider with knowledge of the talks and the administration’s evolving position. “What does it say that Donald Trump’s negotiators have a weaker position than [Democratic leader] Harry Reid and the United Nations?”

Omri Ceren, a managing director at The Israel Project, a DC-based educational organization that has worked closely with the administration on Iran issues, told the Free Beacon that any fix that does not fully ban ballistic missiles is a failure.

“Congress and the Israelis are on the same page about this. The only acceptable fix to the Iran deal is one that prohibits all nuclear capable ballistic missiles, which is what the relevant U.N. resolution says anyway, if the international community would ever bother to enforce it,” Ceren said. “House Republicans even explicitly laid out those expectations in recent legislation they advanced.”

The Odd Couple: Why Iran is Backing the Taliban

March 8, 2018

Stratfor Worldview March 8, 2018

Source Link: The Odd Couple: Why Iran is Backing the Taliban

{The friend of my enemy is my enemy. – LS}

In the conflict in Afghanistan, there are few stranger bedfellows than Iran and the Taliban. The former is the spiritual hub of Shiite Islam, while the latter is a vociferously anti-Shiite Sunni fundamentalist movement. Changing circumstances, however, have brought the onetime foes into a kind of partnership. Whatever its ideological differences with the insurgent outfit, Tehran has every reason to maintain its tactical partnership with the Taliban — while also keeping its ties to the Afghan government.

Kabul’s New Coast

As a regional heavyweight, Iran has long been involved in Afghan affairs. The Islamic republic, for instance, has recruited fighters from Afghanistan’s Shiite Hazara community and from its own 3 million-strong Afghan refugee population to fill out the Fatemiyoun Brigade it has fighting alongside government forces in Syria. Tehran and Kabul also have pursued extensive economic cooperation, especially on the Chabahar port on Iran’s Arabian Sea coast. In May 2016, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signed an agreement with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to develop the port, a $31 billion project.

For Iran, Chabahar is critical to diversifying the country’s port access beyond Bandar Abbas, which currently processes 85 percent of its seaborne traffic. For landlocked Afghanistan, the venture represents an opportunity to break its reliance on Pakistani ports. India, meanwhile, wants to use Chabahar to ease its economic inroads into Central Asia by bypassing archrival Pakistan. Rouhani, flanked by Afghan and Indian officials, formally inaugurated the first phase of the project — which has languished in developmental limbo for many years — in December 2017, two months after the first Indian shipment arrived there.

The Enemy of My Enemy

But even as Iran’s leaders work with their counterparts in Kabul over Chabahar, Tehran is also reportedly offering clandestine support to the Afghan government’s most potent enemy, the Taliban. The main reason for Iran’s backing is the rise of the Islamic State’s Khorasan chapter in Afghanistan. Unlike the Taliban, whose chief aim is to reconquer Kabul, the Khorasan group is part of a transnational jihadist movement that threatens Iran, too. (An Islamic State cell, in fact, carried out the coordinated attacks in the country’s capital that killed 17 people in June 2017.) The Islamic State has been active in Afghanistan since 2015. And while it maintains a presence in 30 of Afghanistan’s 399 districts, mainly in the country’s eastern Nangarhar province, the group has yet to seize control of any territory. The Taliban have clashed with the newcomers in the past few months in Nangarhar and northern Jowzjan province.

In addition, the Taliban are currently staging around two attacks a week in three districts of Farah province, along the border with Iran, according to a recent BBC study. Although direct evidence of Iranian support for the attacks hasn’t surfaced, previous cross-border attacks in Farah suggest that Tehran may be backing the latest offensives there. In October 2016, for example, the Afghan military fought off a three-week Taliban siege in the province, during which they killed four alleged Iranian commandos who were battling alongside the group. Iran reportedly also provides the insurgents arms, including AK-47 assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

The Taliban, in turn, have demonstrated an interest in cultivating deeper ties with the Islamic republic as well. In 2016, the group’s leader at the time, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, visited Iran allegedly in an effort to diversify his group’s sources of support. Mansoor was killed in a U.S. drone strike after he crossed into Pakistan’s Balochistan province in May of that year. But five months later, the Taliban appointed an envoy to Iran in a further sign of its increasing engagement with Tehran.

Iran Hedges Its Bets

Supporting the Taliban offers Iran a way to counter the Islamic State’s expansion to its east, and Tehran will feel justified in backing the insurgents so long as the transnational jihadist group has a presence in Afghanistan. Beyond counterterrorism, though, Iran wants to maintain contact with the Taliban to be in their good graces if they eventually assume a role in the Afghan government. Even the United States, which has been battling the Taliban for more than a decade and a half, has admitted that a power-sharing deal in Afghanistan likely would involve the Taliban. In that case, Iran will be well-placed to expand its reach in the South Asian country, having kept its ties with both the Taliban and the government’s NATO-backed components.

Iran isn’t the only regional power following this strategy. Countries such as Pakistan and Russia also have intervened in the war-torn state to safeguard their interests. While Islamabad continues to support the Taliban’s leaders, Moscow reportedly has sent fuel shipments by way of Uzbekistan’s Hairatan border crossing for the group to resell. (Russia’s alleged support for the group is a remarkable policy reversal given that the Taliban are the descendants of the mujahideen who fought the Soviets in their 1979 invasion.)

Though there’s no love lost between Iran and the Taliban, the circumstances of the day oblige Tehran to act pragmatically to ward off the Islamic State. The jihadist group’s activity in the country, moreover, provides Iran with a useful pretext to maintain a presence in its long-unstable eastern neighbor. As Iran and other foreign powers use the Taliban to their own ends, the group will keep up its violent insurgency, making it hard for the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan after more than 16 years of war.

US, IDF troops train to protect Israel from ballistic missiles together 

March 8, 2018

Source: US, IDF troops train to protect Israel from ballistic missiles together | The Times of Israel

US general says Juniper Cobra exercise, which simulates a large-scale missile attack, could look similar to actual deployment of American troops to Israel in time of war

HATZOR AIR BASE — Thousands of American and Israeli soldiers are preparing for the real possibility that they will have to fight “shoulder to shoulder” against a massive ballistic attack on the State of Israel, officials from both countries said Thursday.

On Sunday, the two militaries launched the nearly-month-long Juniper Cobra exercise, which will simulate such a missile barrage. The biennial drill is this year’s premier exercise for the US European Command (EUCOM) and one of the most important for the Israel Defense Forces, with approximately 2,500 soldiers from each army taking part.

“For more than four weeks, they will train shoulder to shoulder, the same as we will fight in times of crisis. It’s not just about an exercise,” Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch, Israel’s air defense commander, told reporters on Thursday.

Israeli air defense commander Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch, right, shakes hands with Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, head of the US delegation to the 2018 Juniper Cobra air defense exercise in March 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel considers ballistic missiles, specifically precision-guided ones, to be one of the most significant threats facing the Jewish state, in the form of the Hezbollah terrorist group’s massive arsenal of short- and medium-range rockets, as well as the intercontinental ballistic missiles that Iran is working to develop.

American, Israeli troops deploy a radar array during the 2018 Juniper Cobra air defense exercise in March 2018. (US Army)

During Juniper Cobra, the countries’ top air defense systems — for Israel the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Patriot and Arrow; for the US the Aegis, the Patriot, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and TPY-2 radar system — will be tested in the exercise, though for the most part only in computer simulations, officials said.

The majority of the exercise will take place in the Israeli Air Force’s Hatzor base, located in central Israel, east of the city of Ashdod. During the exercise, the base, which is ordinarily home to two F-16 fighter jet squadrons, will act as a menagerie of sorts for Israeli and American missile defense systems, with open lots filled to the edges with launchers, radars and mobile command centers.

Towards the end of Juniper Cobra, an Israeli short-range Iron Dome interceptor missile and long-range Patriot interceptor missile will be launched, along with an American Patriot missile, Haimovitch said.

American, Israeli troops deploy a Patriot missile defense battery during the 2018 Juniper Cobra air defense exercise in March 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

While the Israeli brigadier general lauded the exercise and the “deep and strong relationship” between the two counties that it represents, details about what specifically this year’s Juniper Cobra would be simulating were relatively scant.

“We will be practicing real scenarios, complex, multi-directional threats. Both close and far away,” Haimovitch said.

The official patch for the 2018 Juniper Cobra air defense exercise in March 2018. (US Army)

The words “Iran,” “Hezbollah” and “Hamas” went entirely unheard as American and Israeli military officers discussed air defense exercises, even though the type of missile attack against Israel being simulated would most likely be carried out by Hezbollah and Hamas, with the backing of Iran.

Instead, officials would say only that they were training against attacks by “state and non-state actors.”

The types of missiles that the militaries were preparing against also went unspecified, even as Israeli officials regularly single out the threat of Iranian precision-guided missiles being manufactured for and transferred to the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon.

A Hezbollah fighter stands behind an empty rocket launcher, May 22, 2010. (AP/Hussein Malla)










The Iran-backed terrorist group is believed to have 100,000 to 150,000 rockets and missiles in its stores, with the capability of launching over 1,000 per day in the case of war. This too went largely undiscussed, though Haimovitch acknowledged that the militaries were preparing for “large-scale salvos and more accurate rockets.”

His counterpart, Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, the head of the US Third Air Force command and the head of the American delegation to Juniper Cobra, said the armies “will be ready for whatever threat, whenever it may happen.”

According to Israeli and American officials, the purpose of the Juniper Cobra exercise, which has been running since 2001, is twofold: share and swap knowledge on missile defense and improve ties between the two militaries in order to develop a common understanding in the case of war.

A convoy of American and Israeli vehicles move supplies ahead of the 2018 Juniper Cobra air defense exercise in March 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Showing the depths of the American-Israeli cooperation, Clark noted that not only had he developed a friendship with his counterpart Haimovitch, but that their families had developed a relationship as well.

“As I walk around our camp, I see Israeli and American forces sitting side by side in our operations center, operating equipment, eating togetheer in the dining facility. It’s a great opportunity for us to build that glue that will make interoperability work,” he said.

American, Israeli troops deploy a Patriot missile defense battery during the 2018 Juniper Cobra air defense exercise in March 2018. (US Army)

While Israel often touts its self-defense abilities, the United States has in the past stepped in to provide assistance in wartime. Haimovitch noted that in the case of missile defense, this happened during the 1991 First Gulf War when the US deployed Patriot missile defense batteries, which at the time were far more rudimentary, after Saddam Hussein launched a number of Scud missiles at Tel Aviv, killing three people, injuring scores more and damaging several buildings.

“If the conditions arise and we are requested by the government of Israel, then we will be deployed to assist in the defense of the State of Israel. We would deploy forces much in the way they’re deployed in this exercise,” Clark said.

Haimovitch described the assistance from the US military as “another tool in the toolbox” of the IDF.

“It’s another method among a lot of activities and events to help us be ready once the orders come,” he said.

American, Israeli troops take part in a the 2018 Juniper Cobra air defense exercise in March 2018. (US Army)

The 2018 Juniper Cobra exercise was divided into three main parts, Haimovitch said. The first few days saw the American and Israeli “boots on the ground” prepare for the drill. The following two weeks will mostly focus on tabletop and computer-based simulations of a large-scale ballistic missile attack and the response by the air defense systems. The final portion will include the live-fire exercises of the Patriot and Iron Dome systems.

The David’s Sling missile defense battery, which was declared operational in 2017 and so did not take full part in the 2016 exercise, will participate in this year’s exercise, but will not be fired.

Israeli Air Force Lt. David Segal, who serves in a David’s Sling battery, told reporters on Thursday that the system received positive reviews from the American troops, who “only have good things to say about it.”

The David’s Sling missile defense system seen at the Hatzor Air Base, Israel. Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Col. David Shank, of US EUCOM’s 10th Army air and missile defense command, described it as an “extremely capable missile defense system.”

The David’s Sling is designed to intercept medium-range missiles, such as the Iranian Fateh 110 and Syrian M-600, which are believed to be in the arsenals of Hezbollah.

This year’s exercise, with its nearly 5,000 participants, will be the largest Juniper Cobra, beating out the 2016 drill, in which some 3,200 soldiers took part, by a wide margin. It also appears to be larger than the 2012 joint US-Israel Austere Challenge ballistic missile exercise.

Not all of the 2,500 US troops taking part in Juniper Cobra are physically present in Israel; a portion of them are participating from American bases in the United States and EUCOM’s base in Germany, Clark said.

Officials said that planning for the 2018 exercise began shortly after the end of the 2016 Juniper Cobra. As such, they said, the recent developments in the region — notably the February 10 clashes between Israel, Iran and Syria — did not have a direct impact on the types of scenarios being simulated in the exercise.

In addition to the missile defense exercise, the US troops will also participate in several drills outside of Juniper Cobra, like a medical drill simulating the response to an accidental gas explosion on an army base.

Turkey Threatens Exxon Mobil & The US 6th Fleet Off Cyprus

March 8, 2018

by Tyler Durden Thu, 03/08/2018 – 06:10 Zero Hedge

Source Link: Turkey Threatens Exxon Mobil & The US 6th Fleet Off Cyprus

{With friends like this, who needs enemies? – LS}

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım threatened not only hydrocarbon survey ships of oil giant Exxon Mobile but also the US 6th Fleet is participating in a naval exercise in the area 7-18 March 2018.

As reports, Yildirim said:

“The Republic of Cyprus would not be allowed to get away with selling the energy resources surrounding the island,” Yildirim said on Wednesday. With reference to the turkey-occupied North part of Cyprus, he added “the natural riches surrounding the island of Cyprus is the common wealth of all the people who live on the island.”

And he threatened that:

“This and other provocative activities that create faits accomplis will be responded to in an appropriate fashion.”

It was a clear message even to the US Fleet as some media have linked its presence off  Cyprus to the Exxon survey, saying the Fleet was going to protect the Exxon Mobile survey vessels.

Last month, Turkish war ships threatened to sink drilling ship commissioned by Italy’s ENI and ultimately managed to block the process as the Italian diplomacy did not dare to put the lives of their fellowmen at risk.

A day earlier, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reacting to U.S. Sixth Fleet heading to East Mediterranean, said , “while European states’ boats abandoning refugees to death, we try to rescue every innocent’s life. You can only make it there with your Sixth Fleet, aircraft carrier.”

Yildirim underlined that any underground riches surrounding the island should only be extracted with the permission of both the island’s administrations.

“Any work in which one of these interlocutors is not part of the deal will be evaluated by us as a threat to the sovereign rights of North Cyprus,” he said.

Turkey has been illegally occupying 40% of Cyprus since 1974. It is only Turkey that recognizes “North Cyprus” as ‘state’, while the rest of the world considers as an “illegal” …something with no sovereign rights at all.

Meanwhile, in Cyprus…

One wonders just how far Turkey is willing to push Washington…


Iran’s Khamenei says won’t negotiate with West over regional presence

March 8, 2018

by reuters Thursday Mar 8, 2018 6:59am via The Foreign Desk

Source Link: Iran’s Khamenei says won’t negotiate with West over regional presence

{Nothing surprising here. Just a reminder of what we’re dealing with. – LS}

LONDON (Reuters) – Iran will not negotiate with the West over its presence in the Middle East, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, days after the visiting French foreign minister sought to discuss Tehran’s role in regional conflicts.

Jean-Yves Le Drian traveled to Tehran on Monday with a brief to reaffirm Europe’s support for a nuclear deal that opened Iran’s economy while echoing U.S. concern about Tehran’s missile program and its influence in the region.

“European countries come (to Tehran) and say we want to negotiate with Iran over its presence in the region. It is none of your business. It is our region. Why are you here?” Khamenei was quoted as saying by his official website.

Khamenei said Iran would only negotiate on that issue with other states in the region.

“We will negotiate with America, when we wanted to be present in America,” he added.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to pull out of the nuclear deal unless three European signatories help “fix” the accord by forcing Iran to limit its sway in the Middle East and rein in its missile program.

French President Emmanuel Macron has criticized the program and raised the possibility of new sanctions.

Tehran supports Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the government’s war against rebel forces, including groups backed by the West, and is an ally of Israel’s enemy Hezbollah in Lebanon.