Archive for February 2, 2019

40 years to Iran’s Islamic Revolution – Jerusalem Studio 393

February 2, 2019

 

 

Israel, Syria and the world through Iranian eyes

February 2, 2019

Source: Israel, Syria and the world through Iranian eyes

Smadar Perry has an illuminating conversation with an well-placed academic in Iran, who shares his thoughts on – and interest in – Israeli society, as well as the true powerbrokers of the Middle East, his own country and America’s reversal on the nuclear agreement.
“Let’s put our cards on the table,” he says. “Even if you keep bombing, blow things up or try something else, you won’t be able to oust the Iranian forces, call them ‘experts,’ call them ‘advisers,’ or simply ‘Quds.’ I believe that in Israel you know exactly what is going on, exactly who is in Syria. You have maps, you exchange information with foreign sources, and I assume you also have agents there. In any case, neither side is going to give in. I assume that Israel will continue bombing, so we will be more careful and there will be surprises from our side.”

What kind of surprises?

“I really don’t know, and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell,” he answers. “I really love my country.”

The speaker is a very senior figure in Tehran’s political and academic life, who holds an important university post. The dialogue between us takes place on the explicit condition that not one of clue as to his identity is revealed, and certainly not in an Israeli newspaper. So what can I say? He has an excellent reputation in his country, and he cultivates a wide professional and personal circle of friends. His wife comes from a privileged family, and they have three children. The eldest, surprisingly, in studying in the United States and comes and goes on family visits to Tehran, without any problems or fear of arrest. “Don’t forget that our upper echelons studied in higher education institutions in America or Europe,” he says in fluent English. “I studied in the United States and returned immediately after. I assume my son will finish his studies and will not stay a moment longer.”

The unnamed Iranian academic is an impressive man by all accounts, a fascinating interlocutor who knows just what he can say and what to omit.

Syrian foothold

“Look,” he says, analyzing the situation to Israel’s north, “there is a close daily relationship between certain elements in Iran and senior Syrian army personnel, and you cannot bring in people or deliver shipments without prior coordination. So it’s not right to say that Syria is ‘Iran’s playground,’ or that things are happening on the ground without consultations with the Syrian commanders. It is certainly true though that the level of coordination is diminishing because of the fear of leaks to the Israeli side. Those in the know in Iran are taking into account that you’re keeping a very close watch on Syria.”

Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in Idlib, Syria
Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in Idlib, Syria

“But what do you want with a failing state like Syria?” I ask. “You don’t even have a common language or mutual interests.””Who cares about the internal situation there?” he quickly replies. “We need a foothold inside Syria, to have entry channels, bases of power. Even the cautious dialogue we have with the Russians is very important. Ask me who is stronger in Syria, the Iranians or the Russians, and I will tell you that the Russians are stronger, but we are the allies that Assad trusts.”

Once again, the Iranian street has awakened, and over the past year they still pinned their hopes on the West, after a wave of demonstrations that followed the collapse of the rial. They included harsh slogans against the regime, criticizing their involvement in Syria, Gaza and Lebanon.

“Within Iran, there is a clear division of roles and powers: The people are not permitted and are unable to follow the events in Syria. There is simply a process that goes over their heads, between Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force, and his group of senior commanders, and the office of the Supreme Leader Khamenei. Suleimani, who is a very powerful and fascinating figure, has direct access to the leader’s office, and it is there that he decides on affairs in Syria, among other things.”

And what about the Russians? “There is almost total separation between the Iranian forces and the Russian forces inside Syria, and the Russians are primarily located next to the seaports. The Iranians, shall we say, are increasing the Syrian army, but also taking care of other interests. Please note that there is a language barrier – the Russian don’t speak Persian or Arabic at all. And yet, they manage. They have either learned the language or speak English. ”

The Russians, he immediately hastens to add, are very careful not to approach us or disturb the Iranians there. “Each side keeps to its own territory.” How much of the information ultimately arrives at the Syrian president’s palace? Now he laughs. “I believe that Bashar Assad has sent people to spy on both the Russians and the Iranians. Everyone gathers information on everyone else, for no side can afford to be taken by surprise.”

Syrian President Bashar Assad with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi  (Photo: Reuters)

Syrian President Bashar Assad with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi (Photo: Reuters)

My interlocutor shifts the conversation to he topic of Saudi Arabia. “What has been happening there since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is very good for Iran, and we believe the time is coming when Saudi Arabia will try to make an unofficial move in our direction. By the way, it is true that the number of executions in Iran is greater, but there has been no international outcry about this like there was in the case of the Saudi journalist,” he says with satisfaction.

“I enjoy watching President Trump try to get close to them, while the media and the Democrats find more and more evidence that makes it clear he should keep his distance. This gives me a glimmer of hope that in the end the Americans will have to turn to the Iranians and begin a relationship with us.”

What about the possibility of an open confrontation between Iran and the IDF on Syrian soil?

“Firstly, there is no immediate reason for war. Secondly, both sides are more comfortable continuing what they are already doing. You will continue to strike from the air, and we will continue to establish ourselves inside Syria. Here and there Russian forces have comments regarding our presence, and we know how to deal with that. You also get comments from them, and are careful not to release it when you do. As it seems you have lost the upper hand in your Russia connections. Note that the Russians tried to distance us from the Israeli border a few months ago, but since then they have not mentioned it. Sometimes our side changes the deployment of forces, such as what happened on the Syrian Golan. Or, for example, we carefully go out with the Iranian experts and take care that they will not be recognized on the ground.”

Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei at a military parade

Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei at a military parade

I ask him what he knows about Israel, and his eyes widen.

“I know who your politicians are, listen to reports about your military plans with great interest, but I am most interested in learning about life in Israel, how the society is structured, Sephardi versus Ashkenazi,” he says, exhibiting an impressive amount of knowledge. “Adults and young people, trends, culture, even your legal world fascinates me.” He does not see a big difference between young people in Iran and young people in Israel.

“In Tehran, like in Tel Aviv, we like contemporary music, good food and parties, and I more and more recognize a desire to shake off the old generation. The young girls, for example, go out in the street dressed modestly, and when they go to parties and private events it turns out that underneath they were wearing modern clothes.”

The grey man

According to my interlocutor, about a quarter of Iran’s population officially belongs to the conservative stream, while another quarter, mainly young, are affiliated with the liberal and rebellious stream. “Among them are the ‘gray ones,’ some of whom favor the old-fashioned, traditional one, and some who follow the new, albeit with less flamboyance. They hold demonstrations against the establishment that are mainly related to the harsh living conditions, but that does not mean that the demonstrators are part of the modernists. They are protesting against terms of employment and salaries. ”

What stream do you belong to? It is an obvious question.

“I would say that I am religious-modern, in the gray realm. I pray, I follow the commandments of religion, without becoming extreme, and keep in close contact with my children and their contemporaries, but I also have an open line to the other side too.”

My interlocutor tells me that it is allowed to be critical of the regime in Iran to criticize: “All of them, except for Supreme Leader Khamenei or the senior commanders of the security services,” he says.

The establishment, he explains, has total control and ensures that no one takes them by surprise. “There are informants everywhere. I believe they even know where and when the young people’s secret parties take place and only make arrests only when they cross the line.” In his eyes, the regime’s hand does not rest too heavily on the shoulders of its citizens. “Yes, in Iran they jail people who brutally fight against the system, but many times they are released quietly, with a commitment not to repeat the act that led to their arrest. Yes, there are also innocent people in prisons. In general, you are likely to be thrown in jail if you are seen as a threat to the regime. It’s just as bad as being a drug dealer.”

A protester against the regime on the streets of Tehran (Photo: AP)

A protester against the regime on the streets of Tehran (Photo: AP)

Meanwhile, Iran’s balance of power has shifted again. President Hassan Rouhani and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif have suddenly vanished. You don’t see or hear from them and Supreme Leader Khamenei is essentially saying, “I told you so.”

My companion concedes that “not everything is good in Iran, and there is great disappointment, especially among the young people, and the feeling that the move with the Americans (the Iranian nuclear deal) has failed.”

Now it’s the turn of the military commanders to set the tone, I say.

” I completely agree with you. The regime is keeping (Rouhani and Zarif – SP) in its pocket for a situation in which there are developments in the dialogue with the American administration. Look, Trump’s announcement that he was renouncing Obama’s policy and banning anyone doing business with us, was a painful slap in the face, It’s true that Iran can handle the sanctions, but life is much more difficult. It is not a good situation. ”

Looking West

Instead of the United States and European countries, he explains, we got China. Oil exports to China stand at 700,000 barrels a day, about a third of the country’s oil.

“But I do not like them,” he admits. “We have no common language, they have no interest in trying to solve our problems in the world or in really getting close to us. The just want to do business at a good price and to get some sort of foothold. I prefer the Americans, and I believe they will come, on their own terms.”

He breaks off for a moment, to quote a passage from a poem written by the Iranian poet Azita Ghahreman (who now lives in Sweden):

We stand back to back

to contemplate darkness

and the chirping of rain,

the rain eases

a new season dawns

we turn our heads

to contemplate Spring

but find we no longer know one another.

“Did you understand that?” he asks. “In my opinion, this is the precise essence of life in Iran: At one point you are up and one point you are down. You have to preserve your optimism at all times, look around you and look for solutions.”

“And do you see yourself in it?”

“My situation is good within Iran, I have full freedom of movement, my family is well placed and I can contribute to the poor.”

Most importantly, he adds, Iran is a beautiful country. “As you move away from the center of Tehran, you come across breathtaking beauty and warm, wonderful people. My children flee Tehran at every opportunity, go skiing in the winter and visit cafes and markets in the spring and summer. If only we were a little more Western, it would be perfect.”

 

Nearly all of Iran’s advanced nuke centrifuges failing, top expert says 

February 2, 2019

Source: Nearly all of Iran’s advanced nuke centrifuges failing, top expert says – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

David Albright is as concerned as ever about Tehran plotting to obtain a nuclear bomb and emphasizes the need for Israel and the West to stand watch.

BY YONAH JEREMY BOB
 JANUARY 30, 2019 19:00
AN IRANIAN ballistic missile on display in Tehran.

Nearly all of Iran’s advanced centrifuges used for enriching uranium potentially towards a nuclear bomb are failing, one of the world’s leading nuclear weapons experts revealed to The Jerusalem Post this week.

Many have been worried that if Iran succeeds in developing advanced centrifuges, the machines which spin rapidly to enrich uranium, it could “sneak out” a nuclear weapon in a matter of weeks without being detected.

The expert, David Albright, is a former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Action-Team inspector, head of the Institute for Science and International Security think tank on nuclear weapons and is close to CIA, Mossad and IAEA officials.

David AlbrightDavid Albright

His update on the issue closes off one of the many concerns about the nuclear deal – which is ironic since he is generally viewed as a hawk on Iran.

But it is significant, Albright explained to the Post, in order to invest resources in tracking the other very real threats to watch out for regarding Iranian centrifuges and Tehran’s potential for developing nuclear weapons.

There have been a range of debates about Iran’s nuclear program and the loopholes in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – known as the Iran nuclear deal, which the US withdrew from last May – which could allow the Islamic republic to continue advancing towards a bomb without violating the agreement.

One of the hottest issues has been that the deal allows Iran to continue experiments on advanced centrifuges.

In a nutshell, advanced centrifuges like the IR-8 are potentially 16 times more powerful to enrich uranium compared to the simple IR-1 centrifuges that Tehran possessed prior to the 2015 deal.

“The IR-8 has been a failure,” Albright said. “The centrifuge uses carbon fiber bellows, which involve carbon fiber tubes connected by a movable part, the bellows. They go into the shape of a banana when they hit a certain speed. You need to make them bendable. The bellow must be flexible, but they are made of carbon fiber so there are lots of problems with them cracking,” he said.

If the IR-8s worked properly, they could spin at a much faster rate and enrich uranium more rapidly.

Even with Iran’s less advanced IR-1s, inspectors have found that 20%-30% of them regularly fail. This may be why it took so long for Tehran to get suspicious about its centrifuges failing upon being infected with the Stuxnet computer virus in 2009-2010.

Despite this failure, Albright said that Iran works hard to make a public showing that it is succeeding.

In September, Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi made waves worldwide, when he announced that a new facility to produce advanced centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear plant had been completed.

To the untrained eye, the centrifuges in the background of a photo of Salehi seemed to bolster the seriousness of his claims. But to the trained eye, Albright said that the show was totally superficial, and if anything, exposed Iranian failures.

He said that the centrifuges were easily identifiable as IR-6’s – due to their single rotor tube and the absence of a bellow – all of which have failed to date.

Yet, after describing all of these failures, Albright is as concerned as ever about Tehran plotting to obtain a nuclear bomb and emphasizes the need for Israel and the West to stand watch.

He said that Iran has had success with the IR-2m centrifuge, which is three to four times more powerful than the IR-1 model, and that the Islamic republic regularly discusses its future aspirations to build tens of thousands of centrifuges.

Since Iran “can never do that at a cheaper price than what they can buy” from Russia for civilian nuclear uses, its desire for a larger volume of centrifuges “makes no sense at all” for anything other than a nuclear weapons program.

Albright noted that inspectors found slots for 3,000 IR-2m centrifuges in one of Iran’s facilities. However, he warned that the inspectors never clarified whether Tehran had built and concealed such a large quantity of higher-quality centrifuges, or whether its scientists only got to the point of making the slots, but not producing the machines themselves.

All of these pieces of evidence form “a strong argument against [the truth of] Iran saying it has a civilian nuclear program,” he added.

The nuclear weapons expert said that these pieces of evidence led the US, France, England and Germany to agree in early 2018 that if “Iran scaled up its enrichment program, that would be viewed as a military program,” and a way to say that Iran had violated the agreement – and sanctions, therefore, needed to be re-imposed.

Albright said that Tehran’s behavior surrounding advanced centrifuges, even with their failures, has left even the Europeans “feeling that they want to make nuclear weapons.” He hopes that this will eventually lead the EU to take a tougher stance on Iran.

 

Iran unveils new cruise missile on 40th anniversary of revolution

February 2, 2019

Source: Iran unveils new cruise missile on 40th anniversary of revolution | The Times of Israel

Defense minister showcases ‘Hoveyzeh,’ allegedly a high-precision weapon capable of carrying a large payload for up to 1,350 kilometers

Hoveizeh, Iran's new cruise missile, is seen during an exhibition in the capital Tehran on February 2, 2019.(Atta Kenare/AFP)

Hoveizeh, Iran’s new cruise missile, is seen during an exhibition in the capital Tehran on February 2, 2019.(Atta Kenare/AFP)

Iran on Saturday unveiled a new cruise missile amid events marking 40 years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The missile, dubbed Hoveyzeh, was described as a high-precision weapon capable of flying at low altitudes and able to carry a significant payload. Iran’s Press TV reported it has a range of 1,350 kilometers (840 miles).

“The Hoveyzeh missile is the symbol of self-belief and an important defense achievement based on today’s technological progress in the world,” Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami said in Tehran.

It shows “no obstacle can hinder the Iranian nation’s determination and will in the defense field,” he said, noting statements by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that the nation “will decisively respond to any kind of threat at the same level.”

View image on Twitter
Ovain Ali@AliiOvain

Iran has been known to exaggerate the capabilities of its weaponry, and there was no independent confirmation of Tehran’s claims.

The Ministry of Defense published a video purportedly showing the launch of the new cruise missile.

In the 37-second video on the ministry website, the launch was shown from different angles with the projectile finally hitting somewhere in the desert.

Embedded video

Tasnim News Agency

@Tasnimnews_EN

unveiled surface-to-surface cruise missile dubbed that is manufactured by Defense Ministry’s Aerospace Industries Organizationhttps://tn.ai/1937241 

Iran’s ballistic missiles program (cruise missiles are in a different category) has been met with mounting concern in the West. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently accused Iran of testing a medium-range ballistic missile capable of “carrying multiple warheads,” which he said could strike “anywhere” in the Middle East and even parts of Europe.

The program was among the reasons cited by US President Donald Trump for leaving the 2015 nuclear deal last year and reimposing crippling sanctions.

The deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said Thursday his country has developed a “strategic capacity” to destroy Israel. On Tuesday, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, warned that terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah were prepared to unleash an “inferno” on the Jewish State.

Speaking at a space tech conference, Shamkhani spoke of “hundreds of kilometers of tunnels dug underneath [Israelis’] feet, and the resistance forces in Gaza and Lebanon have missiles with pinpoint accuracy and are ready to respond to any foolish Israeli behavior with an inferno.”

Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani in Tehran, Iran, January 17, 2017. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

The comments followed a series of reciprocal taunts by Israeli and Iranian leaders in recent weeks amid rising tensions on the Israeli-Syrian border between IDF and Iranian forces.

On Wednesday Iran announced that it is producing large amounts of yellowcake, a precursor to enriched uranium, and has shipped two batches of the material to a uranium conversion facility.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the Islamic Republic was ready to increase its production of yellowcake to 300 tons per year over the next five to six years, and had shipped 30 tons of yellowcake from the Shahid Rezaeinzhad Industrial Complex in the central province of Yazd to a conversion facility in Isfahan province, according to Iranian media reports.

Salehi said that the new facility was at full capacity, that Iran was extracting uranium from a mine in Yazd province and other still-unidentified mines, and had discovered large amounts of the material in the country through aerial surveys.

Yellowcake is a uranium concentrate in powder form and an early step in uranium processing. It is produced by mining uranium ore from rocks and separating the uranium from the rocks by bathing them in acid. The yellowcake can then be converted, enriched to raise its purity, and then used for weapons or energy production.

US President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal in May last year but the other signatories — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran — have all agreed to try to keep the pact alive on their own. Trump insists the original agreement did not go far enough in curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and wants to renegotiate the JCPOA with stricter terms. In the meantime Washington has imposed heavy sanctions on Iran that could weaken the ability of the remaining parties to maintain the deal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

Hizballah’s takeover of Lebanese government bolsters Iran in Syria against US and Israel – DEBKAfile

February 2, 2019

Source: Hizballah’s takeover of Lebanese government bolsters Iran in Syria against US and Israel – DEBKAfile

The cabinet Said Hariri has formed in Beirut after a nine-month stalemate is a façade. The most powerful portfolios have gone to pro-Iranian Hizballah and its allies.

In presenting his lineup on Thursday, Jan. 31, the Sunni prime minister apologized to the Lebanon people for the long delay in forming a government. He omitted to mention that the World Bank had threatened to transfer to Jordan the $4bn loan allocated last year to Lebanon unless a government was set up in Beirut.

He said only, “All the problems are known and the cause of the corruption and waste and administrative deficiency are also known,” and went on to promise “bold reforms” which remained unspecified. Neither did he refer to the breakdown of public services across the country, including medical care, water and power supplies and the garbage pilling up in the streets. But most glaringly, Prime Minister Hariri’s message to the nation failed to spell out who really ruled the country and into whose hands it had fallen.

In the wake of vicious civil wars, Lebanon’s Shiites, Sunnis and Christian Maronites ruled the country in uneasy equilibrium. However, in the last couple of years, four men were able to grab the centers of power, dominated by Hizballah’ secretary general Hassan Nasrallah. His partners are President Michel Aoun, a Christian who is loyal to Tehran, Damascus and Nasrallah; Foreign Minister Gebrane Bassile, the president’s son-in-law, who is Nasrallah’s obedient pawn, especially on the international stage; and commander of the Lebanese national army Gen. Joseph Aoun, whose every decision is governed by the president and the Hizballah leader. The prime minister did not admit that he is in the same boat.

Israel’s Northern Shield operation for destroying Hizballah’s cross-border tunnels from Lebanon into Israel was one element in a masterplan devised by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with Washington to break up this formidable foursome. He presented the plan to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when they met in Brussels on Nov. 3.

He explained that catching Hizballah red-handed for plotting an invasion of Israel was to have brought the Lebanese president and army chief under international pressure and, combined with Israel’s military operation, forced forced them to break ranks with Hizballah and deal with its dangerous tunnel project. Netanyahu further explained to Pompeo, that Hizballah’s weakened state after the destruction of its tunnels and legitimacy at home and abroad would substantially bolster the US-Israeli campaign for driving its master, Iran, out of Syria and the strengthen the impact of US sanctions on the Islamic regime in Tehran.

Pompeo was convinced and told the Israeli prime minister to go ahead with Operation Northern Shield with Washington’s support. It was launched the following day, Nov. 3.

But then, on December 19, when the operation was well underway, President Donald Trump bowled everyone over on Dec. 19 by his decision to pull US forces out of Syria. As a result, the White House, with the support of Defense Secretary at the time Jim Mattis, ordered Pompeo to hold off the planned economic and diplomatic measures for forcing the Lebanese president and army chief to take action against Hizballah and its tunnels. Trump decided against antagonizing the Lebanese army on the ground that it could be useful in smashing Islamic State remnants still present in Syrian regions bordering on Lebanon.

The upshot of this episode was that Israel went against the tunnels without US backing, while Washington forfeited a major lever against Iran and Hizballah in Syria and Lebanon.

All that was left to Washington after this episode was for US Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing Marshal Billingslea to warn Hizballah on Jan. 31, after a two-day visit to Beirut, not to use the new government as a cash cow for terrorist operations. This warning, however, will only make Hassan Nasrallah a bit more careful. He will make sure to put a dense smoke screen in place to camouflage the moneys flowing from the ministerial portfolios, two thirds of which are under his and his allies’ control, in support of his nefarious activities.

When he dictated the lineup, Nasrallah grabbed the following portfolios: Treasury for Ali Hassan Khalil, member of the Shiite Amal movement and a trusted Iranian friend; Defense for Elias Bou Saab, a close crony of President Aoun and the Hizballah leader; Health, which commands large sums and grants from foreign sources, to Dr. Jamil Jabak; and Interior to Raya al-Hassan, the first woman to serve in a Lebanese government. Although a member of Prime Minister Hariri’s party, she is close to Hizballah.

With Nasrallah in charge of Lebanon, Iran’s influence in Beirut is safely assured and provides Tehran with strong backup for deepening its roots in Syria in the face of Israeli and US efforts at removal.