Archive for November 7, 2019

2020 potentially ‘unfavorable from security perspective’ – TV7 Israel News 06.11.19 

November 7, 2019

 

 

Iran nuke standoff heats up with new IAEA, ship attack disputes

November 7, 2019

Source: Iran nuke standoff heats up with new IAEA, ship attack disputes – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

“We believe that this is an attack organized by one or more states, since two other Iranian flagged [very large] tankers were similarly attacked in the same approximate area.”

BY YONAH JEREMY BOB, TZVI JOFFRE
 NOVEMBER 7, 2019 08:23
Damage is seen on Iranian-owned Sabiti oil tanker sailing in the Red Sea, Oct. 2019

The Iranian nuclear standoff continued to heat-up on Thursday with a special IAEA meeting called to discuss two new Iranian violations of the 2015 nuclear deal and a letter from Iran complaining that not one, but three of its oil tankers have been attacked in the Red Sea.

The special IAEA meeting comes after an IAEA official was temporarily detained and her travel documents seized by the Islamic republic in a shocking violation of international protocol for treatment of its inspectors.

Tehran said that it had concrete suspicions regarding the IAEA official, though it eventually released her.

It was unclear if Iran had apologized for the incident, but the IAEA meeting was expected to issue a sharper rebuke than usual.

In addition, the IAEA special meeting is supposed to address Iran’s failure to explain the discovery of nuclear materials at the Turquzabad site which the Mossad discovered in 2018 and which the IAEA confirmed in February, though it has been slow in discussing the issue publicly.

Also on Thursday, Iran warned that commercial shipping routes in the Red Sea are unsafe and that three of its tankers have been attacked off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the past six months, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Islamic Republic has only publicly announced one attack on an Iranian tanker in the Red Sea, when they claimed that the Sabiti tanker was hit by two missiles.

Iranian MP Abolfazl Hassanbeigi blamed Israel, the United States and Saudi Arabia for the attack on the Sabiti tanker. None of those countries admitted to the attack, but there were indications from some officials that some combination of the countries had a roll in it to respond to Iranian attacks on US-allies tankers.

“We believe that this is an attack organized by one or more states, since two other Iranian flagged [very large] tankers were similarly attacked in the same approximate area” and with “ similar damages to the ships,” wrote Iran in a letter to the International Maritime Organization about the attacks.

“A major concern in this respect is that the organized and directed pattern of these attacks within a short time and similar locations have rendered the Red Sea as an unsafe route for ships to adopt for their voyages,” added the letter.

The other two Iranian tankers attacked were the Happiness 1 in April and the Helm in August, according to the letter. The first attack occurred before the US ended waivers from sanctions against Iran in May as well as before multiple Saudi and Emirati tankers were targeted by acts of sabotage largely blamed on Iran, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Since the first attack occurred prior to May, the narrative is less clear about how or why the US would have been involved, though it is possible that other complexities could have led to the attack by the countries aligned against Iran or that there was some other cause, such as piracy or even a technical malfunction which Iran is hiding.

It was unclear why Iran was choosing to reveal the other attacks now having kept them quiet.

Possibilities could include Iran has already been embarrassed by the public attack on one of its tankers so there was no longer a reason to try to keep the other incidents quiet or an attempt to rally moral support for its cause by claiming that its attacks on others’ tankers were more of a response than a newly-initiated round of conflict.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 

As Iran’s Fordo nuclear site goes active again, risks rise 

November 7, 2019

Source: As Iran’s Fordo nuclear site goes active again, risks rise | The Times of Israel

Tehran’s decision to reactivate the secret underground uranium enrichment facility is meant to pressure the US to repeal sanctions, but could potentially provoke an Israeli strike

In this photo released on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019 by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, a lift truck carries a cylinder containing uranium hexafluoride gas for the purpose of injecting the gas into centrifuges in Iran's Fordo nuclear facility. Iran will start injecting uranium gas into over a thousand centrifuges at a fortified nuclear facility built inside a mountain, the country's president announced Tuesday in Tehran's latest step away from its atomic accord with world powers since President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal over a year ago. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

In this photo released on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019 by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, a lift truck carries a cylinder containing uranium hexafluoride gas for the purpose of injecting the gas into centrifuges in Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility. Iran will start injecting uranium gas into over a thousand centrifuges at a fortified nuclear facility built inside a mountain, the country’s president announced Tuesday in Tehran’s latest step away from its atomic accord with world powers since President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal over a year ago. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Ten years ago while flanked by the leaders of Britain and France, then-President Barack Obama revealed to the world that Iran had built a “covert uranium enrichment facility” amid tensions with the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program.

A decade later, Iran’s Fordo facility is back in the news as Iran prepared Wednesday to inject uranium gas into the more than 1,000 centrifuges there, to pressure the world after US President Donald Trump withdrew the US from Tehran’s nuclear deal.

The resumption of nuclear activity at Fordo pushes the risk of a wider confrontation involving Iran even higher after months of attacks across the Middle East that the US blames on Tehran. Israel, which has carried out pre-emptive airstrikes on its adversaries’ nuclear programs in the past, also is repeating a warning that it will not allow Iran to have atomic weapons.

Tehran, which maintains its program is peaceful, is gambling that its own maximum pressure campaign will be enough to push Europe to offer it a way to sell Iranian crude oil abroad despite US sanctions

Activity at Fordo, just north of the Shiite holy city of Qom, remains a major concern for nuclear nonproliferation experts. Buried under a mountain and protected by anti-aircraft batteries, Fordo appears designed to withstand airstrikes. Its construction began at least in 2007, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, although Iran only informed the UN nuclear watchdog about the facility in 2009.

“As a result of the augmentation of the threats of military attacks against Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran decided to establish contingency centers for various organizations and activities,” Iran wrote in a letter to the IAEA.

Satellite images, however, suggest construction at the Fordo site as early as between 2002 and 2004, the IAEA said. In August 2002, Western intelligence services and an Iranian opposition group had revealed another covert nuclear site at the central city of Natanz. Iran also “carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device” in a “structured program” through the end of 2003, the IAEA has said.

This Nov. 1, 2019, satellite image provided by provided by Maxar Technologies shows the Fordo nuclear facility, just north of the holy city of Qom in Iran. The resumption of activity at Fordo pushes the risk of a wider confrontation involving Iran even higher after months of attacks across the Middle East that the US blames on Tehran. (Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies via AP)

While Natanz is large enough for industrial-scale enrichment, Fordo is smaller and can hold only 3,000 centrifuges. That led analysts to suspect Fordo could be used as a facility to divert and rapidly enrich low-grade uranium, although the highest reported enrichment reached there went to 20%.

“The size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program,” Obama said at a 2009 Group of 20 meeting held in Pittsburgh in announcing the facility to the world.

Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers saw the country agree to stop enrichment at Fordo and convert it to a research facility. However, President Hassan Rouhani’s announcement Tuesday that uranium gas would be injected into centrifuges there again makes it an active nuclear site.

The IAEA continues to monitor Iran’s nuclear program through surveillance cameras and site visits. Tehran also insists it will keep enriching up to 4.5%, which remains far below weapons-grade levels of 90%.

In this June 6, 2018 frame grab from the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, three versions of domestically-built centrifuges are shown in a live TV program from Natanz, an Iranian uranium enrichment plant, in Iran. (IRIB via AP, File)

Resuming work at Fordo has worried Israel, Iran’s regional archenemy.

“We will never let Iran develop nuclear weapons,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech Tuesday night. “This is not only for our security and our future; it’s for the future of the Middle East and the world.”

Israel, which has its own undeclared nuclear weapons program, has struck first in the past to stop its enemies from obtaining atomic weapons. In 1981, Israeli warplanes bombed a nuclear reactor being built by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. An Israeli airstrike similarly destroyed a secret Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.

The Obama administration convinced Israel before the 2015 nuclear deal to hold off on conducting such a strike on Iran. It remains unclear how Trump would respond to such an Israeli plan, though he has roundly supported Netanyahu in the past.

Any potential strike also faces the challenge of actually reaching the facility. Fordo sits an estimated 80 meters (260 feet) under rock and soil. That would require a weapon like a US “bunker-buster” bomb, a 30,000-pound explosive known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. Israel is not known to have a similarly powerful conventional weapon.

An F-16I fighter jet of the Israeli Air Force’s 119th Squadron prepares to take off during an operation to bomb a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor on September 5, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

There’s also the possibility the US and Israel could reach the facility another way. The Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to be a joint US-Israeli creation, caused thousands of Iranian centrifuges to destroy themselves in the late 2000s.

The one route that doesn’t seem likely at the moment to resolve the growing crisis over Fordo is diplomacy. Europe so far has been unable to offer Iran any way around US sanctions, despite a planned trade mechanism and a floated French offer of a $15 billion line of credit. Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues its sanctions campaign against Tehran, which on Monday saw it add members of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s inner circle. Iran already says it will take further steps away from the deal in January.

“The decision to expand nuclear activities at Fordo is Iran’s most serious violation of the nuclear deal to date,” the Eurasia Group said. “”If it does not sense meaningful pushback from the international community, there is little reason to doubt it will continue to push the envelope further in January.”

 

Joint Medical Drill Boosts Israel’s Ties with Nato 

November 7, 2019

 

 

The Lebanon Protests: Views from Beirut and Policy Implications

November 7, 2019