Archive for June 2020

PM Netanyahu Meets US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook 

June 30, 2020

 

 

9 Iran-backed fighters killed in 2nd raid in Syria in 24 hours — monitor 

June 29, 2020

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Source: 9 Iran-backed fighters killed in 2nd raid in Syria in 24 hours — monitor | The Times of Israel

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Israel ‘likely responsible’ for strikes near Iraqi border that came hours after similar incident killed 6 other Tehran-backed fighters

Explosions are seen in the skies over Damascus as the Syrian military fires anti-aircraft weapons at incoming missiles during an attack attributed to Israel on February 6, 2020. (SANA)

Airstrikes targeting positions of Iran-backed militias in eastern Syria killed nine fighters on Sunday in the second such raid in 24 hours, a war monitor said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Israel was “likely responsible” for the strikes near the Iraqi border.

The strikes took place in Al-Siyal desert in the Albukamal countryside, east of Deir Ezzor, the monitor said.

They came hours after a similar raid killed six other Tehran-backed fighters, raising the total toll to 15 killed in 24 hours, according to the monitor.

The fighters killed in the early Sunday raids were mostly Iraqi nationals, according to Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman.

There was no official comment from Israel.

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state media are reporting Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force chief Esmail Ghaani recently visited Albu Kamal in east .

Images from the Tasnim news agency

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Israel has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011. It has targeted government troops, allied Iranian forces and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah.

It rarely confirms details of its operations in Syria, but says Iran’s presence in support of President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah is a threat and that it will continue its strikes.

On Saturday, airstrikes also blamed on Israel hit positions belonging to regime forces and Iran-backed militias near the border with Iraq, the Observatory said.

Four Syrian nationals were among the six fighters killed in that attack, the monitor added.

In this Nov. 5, 2016 photo, Gen. Esmail Ghaani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran. (Mohammad Ali Marizad/Tasnim News Agency via AP)

The strike came hours after semi-official media in Iran reported that Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps head Esmail Ghaani had visited Iranian troops in the area and had spoken out against Israel and the US.

Ghaani took over as the head of the hard-line paramilitary force earlier this year following the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.

During the visit, Ghaani accused Israel and the US of propping up the Islamic State terror group, according to Reuters.

Saturday’s raids came only days after Israeli strikes in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor and the southern province of Suweida killed seven fighters, including two Syrian soldiers, according to the Observatory.

The uptick in attacks has prompted concern among Iran-backed forces in east Syria that Israeli agents may be among their ranks, the monitor said.

These forces have arrested four people on suspicion of providing intelligence to Israel, the war monitor reported on Sunday, shortly before the latest raids.

This photo released by ImageSat International on May 13, 2020, shows apparent construction on an underground weapons storage facility on a military base suspected of being controlled by Iran in eastern Syria’s al-Bukamal region. (ImageSat International)The al-Bukamal region in Syria is seen as critical to Tehran’s effort to establish a land corridor from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, and out to the Mediterranean Sea in order to more easily move weapons and fighters throughout the Middle East.

The al-Bukamal region in Syria, near Iraq, is seen as critical to Tehran’s effort to establish a land corridor from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, and out to the Mediterranean Sea in order to more easily move weapons and fighters throughout the Middle East.

In May, private Israeli satellite imagery analysis firm ImageSat International released photos it said showed that Iran was constructing a new underground weapons storage facility at the Imam Ali base in the al-Bukamal region of Syria, which is believed to be run by Iranian forces.

According to the image analysis company, such tunnels are likely meant to store Iranian missiles en route to Tehran’s proxies throughout the region.

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Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

 

Blast near Tehran blew up secret tunnels and missile production sites – DEBKAfile

June 27, 2020

Source: Blast near Tehran blew up secret tunnels and missile production sites – DEBKAfile

Satellite photos published by AP on Saturday, June 27, show the big blast at Parchin Friday occurred at the site of an underground tunnels system and missile production site hidden in mountains east of Tehran. Officials first claimed it was caused by a gas leak in the “public area” of the Parchin military base, where Iran had in the past been suspected of conducting high-explosive tests for nuclear warheads.

The gas storage area sits near what analysts describe as Iran’s Khojir missile facility. The explosion appears to have struck a facility for the Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group, which makes solid-propellant rockets, according to one analyst cited by the news agency. Large industrial buildings at the site visible from satellite photographs also suggest missile assembly being conducted there.

Last year, the US Defense Intelligence Agency said Iran overall has the largest underground facility program in the Middle East, which “supports most facets of Tehran’s ballistic missile capabilities, including the operational force and the missile development and production program.” Iran has said that the cause of the explosion, which sent a huge fireball over Tehran and charred wide areas of scrubland, is under investigation.
The last major blast at a missile base near Tehran in 2011, that killed Revolutionary Guard’s missile program chief Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, was initially described by officials as an accident although Israel was suspected.

DEBKAfile reported earlier:

A large blast at the big Parchin military facility associated in the past with nuclear warhead development was claimed by Iran’s defense ministry spokesman as occurring at a gas storage facility in the public area of the site – not the military base. 30km outside Tehran. The explosion on Thursday night, June 25, sent orange flames and plumes of smoke shooting high in the sky. The spokesman said the fire had been extinguished and there were no casualties.
At around the same time, half of the Iranian city of Shiraz was blacked out by an explosion at the local power station. The two incidents – both under investigation -raised panicky concern on social media of a possible attack on the country.

The nuclear watchdog has for years been denied access to the Parchin military facility to investigate past allegations that it was used prior to 2004 for the secret testing of high explosive components for a nuclear warhead, which Tehran just as consistently denied.

Subsequently, on April 30, 2018, an archive seized by Israel in Tehran revealed that the Parchin site was a key part of Iran’s ongoing nuclear weapons research and development program. This archive contained documentary evidence that in 2003 Iran was operating a nuclear weapons program, codenamed the AMAD Plan, which aimed to build five nuclear weapons and prepare an underground nuclear test site. Parchin was a key part of that program, used for a specialized, difficult to develop, neutron initiator to start the chain reaction in a nuclear explosion. Some of the equipment is believed to be held ready for later use, potentially when Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with the six world powers expires.
Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency claimed its inspectors were still denied access to two sites suspected of nuclear activity on the grounds that Iran’s military facilities are out of bounds to external inspection.

 

Ex-Mossad head to ‘Post’: No one will stop Iran from going nuclear 

June 27, 2020

Source: Ex-Mossad head to ‘Post’: No one will stop Iran from going nuclear – The Jerusalem Post

INTELLIGENCE AFFAIRS: Ex-Mossad head Shabtai Shavit talks about post-nuke Iran, annexation, the CIA, China and counterintelligence.

FORMER DIRECTOR-GENERAL of the Mossad Shabtai Shavit speaks in Tel Aviv in 2017. (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
FORMER DIRECTOR-GENERAL of the Mossad Shabtai Shavit speaks in Tel Aviv in 2017.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Nothing will stop Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, so Israel must work on a menacing deterrent capability to keep the Islamic Republic in check even beyond its eventual attainment of them, former Mossad director Shabtai Shavit has told The Jerusalem Post.

Speaking to the Post about the English version of his book Head of the Mossad (University of Notre Dame Press), which will be out in stores in September, Shavit covered a wide range of other issues, including annexation, cooperation with the CIA, US-China quantum technology competition and counterintelligence.

In the book, he describes how he knows the Iranian people up close from living in Iran in the mid-1960s for 18 months, and from how he cooperated with Iranian intelligence (pre-Islamic Republic) while in Kurdistan in 1973.

Regarding Iran, he said, “I speak as an intelligence man and not as a politician. My starting point – an intelligence officer cannot make assumptions – is to be ready for the worst-case scenario, that down the road they’ll develop nuclear weapons.”

“They are an empire, and they think of themselves as an empire. They believe they will bring light to the nations. They look down on Arabs. They never forgave the Arab conquest and that Arabic was forced on them” and all of the actions to erase their Persian heritage.

Shavit explained further that even as the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War had no victor, Iraq clearly did better, and then-Iranian supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini said ending the war was “like drinking poison.”

Khomeini had been ready to “send children into battle with explosives… all of these examples show the culture and ethos of Iran as a power that went through very hard times and wants to get back to what it was.”The former Mossad chief noted Iran is a subcontinent in terms of its size, which could fit much of Europe inside it, with a huge population of more than 80 million people of 35-36 different racial backgrounds.

Complimenting Iran, he noted that “they were able to find common ground” as a nation-state, adding that even current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei comes from a minority racial background descending from Azerbaijan.

He said Iran learned from Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against it during the Iran-Iraq War that it needed to obtain all nonconventional weapons, including nuclear.

Shavit commented, “I have no doubt that Iran is continuing to work today, as we speak, to develop nuclear capabilities. They are doing it clandestinely to avoid provoking the US and the rest of the world.”

“They are advanced… they will decide, on the basis of their overall progress and situation, when it is that they want to hold a press conference to say ‘we have it.’ They could do it even before a nuclear test. When it happens, I don’t think anyone will go attack them. Did anyone do anything when North Korea made its announcement?” he said.

Incidentally, Shavit dismisses Israel’s strikes on the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programs as not relevant to the far more formidable Iranian adversary.

He stated, “The world learns to live with it…. We need to prepare for the day Iran says they have it. I don’t say this so we should attack preemptively; rather, so we should have deterrence. They should know it is not worth” making trouble for Israel.

The Post asked Shavit if he was referring to the 80-200 nuclear weapons that Israel possesses, according to foreign sources.

While Shavit is always extremely careful not to disclose classified information, he made it clear he was referring to broadcasting to Iran that the onslaught Israel could unleash on them would be far worse than anything they could use to attack Israel.

Similarly, Shavit thought that the key to dealing with Hezbollah is to try to maintain an indefinite ceasefire, but make it clear to Hezbollah that if it attacks Israel in any way, it will face a decisive strike – and to constantly maintain the capabilities for such an onslaught.

Annexation

Shavit is a puzzle when it comes to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On one hand, he vocally opposed the Oslo Accords. On the other hand, he has loudly opposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s push for annexation of 30% of the West Bank, as provided for in US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

The Post asked Shavit about partial annexation, such as annexing only the Gush Etzion bloc or Ma’aleh Adumim, which the Blue and White Party reportedly favors.

“I don’t want to go down that path. That road is secondary in importance,” he said, deflecting the specific question.

Shavit wanted to explain his perspective on all of the big picture issues.

He said, “I was not against Oslo ideologically. My opposition was procedural. The problem was that there was insufficient background work on all of the military and diplomatic implications. [Shimon] Peres… dragged [Yitzhak] Rabin and Israel into Oslo. The internal process leading to Oslo was not democratic.”

Regarding annexation, Shavit expressed concern that “we will sentence ourselves to being a minority” in terms of demographics and continued democracy.

Also, he warned that Israel would face sanctions – and “we can’t handle such a price.”

The former chief spy said, “I come from an organization whose emblem is ‘outsmart your adversaries.’ We shouldn’t bang our head into the wall.”

Elaborating, he said that if it takes a long time to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict, “okay, so it will take a long time. Who says that Bibi’s [annexation] push has to happen right now, when there is a second corona[virus] wave and an economic crisis?”

Next, Shavit noted that Trump “tried to get 20,000 people to [a rally] in Tulsa,” with estimates that only around 6,000 came, and that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe “Biden is ahead in all of the polls.”

“In January, if Biden gets to the White House – can Israel stand against the US?” Shavit asked, referencing Biden’s recent statement that annexation would choke the peace process.

Exasperated, he said, “We need to be forward-looking…. For his [Netanyahu’s] legacy, I, as a citizen, need to pay a long-term mortgage” of having to deal with numerous threats and problems that annexation would bring?

Mossad working with hostile actors/countries

Shavit was questioned about whether he had ever been in a position similar to that of current Mossad director Yossi Cohen, who in recent years has acted as a middleman to ensure Qatar continues to bankroll Hamas (so Hamas does not go to war with Israel).

“There is nothing new under the sun. What was will be, and what is happening now has been before. But back then, no one knew or saw. Only those who needed to know knew,” said Shavit smiling.

Shavit implied the Mossad had been involved in all kinds of below-the-radar communications and activities with the Palestinians, Jordan and Syria.

More specifically, he said, and describes in the book in greater detail, when prime minister Rabin “wanted to understand what [former Syrian president Hafez] Assad would really give for peace, he sent me to the king of Morocco to ask him to check with Assad. We just didn’t write about it.”

Problems with NSA and with Shin Bet coronavirus surveillance

In his book, Shavit writes that the National Security Agency in the US has 35,000 employees with an annual budget of $11 billion, dwarfing all of its counterparts, besides perhaps its Russian and Chinese ones. He adds that it can intercept all traffic that passes through fiber-optic cables worldwide and digitally “rob” any laptop.

“The NSA has such powerful capabilities – we are sitting here, and if they flag us for coverage, they can ‘sit’ with us in the room. Do you want to live your life in a world like that?” he asked.

Questioned about whether he sees any connection between his concerns about the NSA and the ongoing current debate about whether the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) should be involved in tracking coronavirus-infected citizens, he said “they are connected. I don’t like the use of the Shin Bet for [tracking] coronavirus[-infected citizens],” noting that even Shin Bet director Nadav Argaman opposes the program.

Continuing, he stated, “The decision of those running the country creates a dynamic…. Today, they say it will be used only very selectively. Then there will be a second time, then a third time, then it already gets legitimized.

“This tool was developed for a very limited purpose: to fight terror. This will change it into a routine working tool for the prime minister, and it is against the basic principles of democracy,” he said.

Speaking of the prime minister, when questioned how he would handle having both a prime minister and an alternate prime minister to potentially report to, he said, “I am glad that I don’t need to deal with this dilemma,” while noting traditionally the Mossad chief reports only to the prime minister.

Cooperation with the CIA

Today, Shavit said, “geographic borders are no longer meaningful. Intelligence today requires many deals and lots of global cooperation, like in every other discipline where there is now global cooperation. There are exchanges of intelligence information, in-person meetings” and other partnerships.

However, in the past, he said, “the Americans were always very protective about intelligence, assets and capabilities.”

Without revealing classified specifics, he recounted that one time “I wanted to get some American technology…. But there is always give and take. He [a CIA official whom he was not permitted to name] said ‘what is in it for me?’

“I said ‘the intelligence which I collect, I will give you for free – fair?’ He said ‘no. You come and tell me the intelligence target which you are able to get access to, and then I will provide the technology.’ I said ‘Okay.’ I was the small humble Mossad versus the giant CIA,” said Shavit.

Next, “I suggested an operational target. We did all of the preparation for the operation…. They eventually provided the technology, but with their people. Our people carried them on our backs.”

So “I didn’t get anything out of it. The intelligence was split between the sides. They used the technology,” implying the CIA got the better part of the deal. “I understood this was the situation, so the next time I invested my own resources” for technology.

Quantum technology race with China

Regarding the quantum technological arms race, Shavit said, “The Chinese are developing both quantum computing and communications capabilities for both defense and offense,” and it seems they are racing ahead of the US in this area.

Experts predict that quantum technology will leap past today’s cyber and hacking capabilities.

“I hope someone will tell me that I am wrong, that the US is really working on this” sufficiently.

Continuing, he said, “It is not enough to be first or second. To maintain supremacy, you need to be ahead of the second place party, not just by one generation, but by at least one-and-a-half generations, because everyone steals from each other. So, if someone steals, I should already be looking at what is next.”

Counterintelligence

With the US worried about Chinese technology and spying, the conversation turned to counterintelligence and detecting traitors.

Shavit explained, “In counterintelligence, there is no patent [short cut]…. It is an ongoing war of cat and mouse. You must always invest in it so as not to be surprised, but you will still always be surprised. Ever since people existed on the planet, they have changed their minds, and in different situations they become ready to harm their own country.

“You try to do everything to prevent this. When you draft people, you bring them through a series of nets and you check them and check them. How do you know for sure they won’t become a traitor? You can’t know,” he admitted with some frustration.

But “if you close all of the openings in the network, you won’t have any people. You have no choice.”

He added that some traitors were ideological, in which case “you have no chance to reveal them until after. Five scientists in Cambridge, England, decided ideologically that to ‘save the world,’ they needed to give the USSR nuclear secrets because the world could only continue to exist if both sides had them. If both sides didn’t have, world stability would fall apart. They did it over an ideology,” which no one could have anticipated.

Time has passed since Shavit ran the Mossad, but his experience and insight are still nearly unmatched.

 

New Israeli espionage TV series ‘Tehran’ tackles shadow war with Iran 

June 27, 2020

Source: New Israeli espionage TV series ‘Tehran’ tackles shadow war with Iran | The Times of Israel

Dana Eden, a creator of the show, says she wants to take viewers into the heart of Israel’s archfoe, ‘which is a place we really don’t know and really want to know more about’

A scene in the trailer for the new Israeli television series "Tehran." (Screen capture: YouTube)

A scene in the trailer for the new Israeli television series “Tehran.” (Screen capture: YouTube)

AP — Israel’s latest hit TV series takes the viewers straight into the heart of the country’s archenemy Iran.

“Tehran” tells the story of Tamar Rabinyan, a young Mossad operative tasked with hacking into and disabling an Iranian nuclear reactor so the Israeli military can carry out an airstrike. But when the mission goes wrong, the agent goes rogue, falls in love with a local pro-democracy activist and rediscovers her Iranian roots in the city of her birth.

It’s a story arc that touches on many of the region’s most pressing fault lines. It’s also the latest episode in the golden age of Israeli television.

After numerous Israeli shows inspired American spin-offs such as “Homeland,” “Hostages” and “In Treatment,” Netflix went a step further by running “ Fauda,” the groundbreaking action series on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in its original Hebrew-Arabic form with subtitles.

“Tehran” marks the next stage, with Apple TV+ purchasing the rights to the eight-part series and signing on to co-produce its international streaming. The espionage thriller, with dialogue in Hebrew, English and Farsi, premiered on June 22 in Israel. It’s looking to take a page out of the “Fauda” success story, mixing fast-pace action scenes with topical political intrigue and personal backstories that touch on the chaotic nature of the region.

“Although it’s a very entertaining show and it has a lot of action, there are a lot of layers,” said Dana Eden, one of the show’s creators. “We just thought it’s very interesting to try to get into Tehran, into Iran, which is a place we really don’t know and really want to know more about.”

Israel considers Iran to be its most dangerous foe, citing its calls for Israel’s destruction, its development of sophisticated missiles and support for anti-Israel militias in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Lebanese group Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, and Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, all of whom receive funds, weapons, and other forms of support, are considered terror organizations.

Israeli leaders believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons capabilities, and have frequently hinted at the possibility of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities should international sanctions fail to halt the suspect Iranian atomic program. Mossad agents are believed to have acted behind enemy lines in stealing documents from a secret Iranian nuclear archive.

But before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, the countries were close allies and Iran was home to a large and thriving Jewish community. Some 250,000 Israelis are of Iranian descent and have stayed close to the music, culture and food of their roots.

“My character reminds me of my mother, my aunt, my grandmother,” said actress Esti Yerushalmi, who plays the role of Rabinyan’s Iranian aunt Arezoo. “I took all of them and put it in my character. [She’s] an Iranian woman who is also a Jew.”

Yerushalmi and her family fled Iran after the revolution when she was 13, and she said that acting in her mother tongue of Farsi was an emotional experience.

“It was hard, because it took me back to my memories from Iran,” she said. “It was very moving for me and also very painful. I miss Iran. I miss all the beauty, all the people. It is a great country, but now I think they’re suffering.”

Actress Esti Yerushalmi (left) a cast member in “Tehran,” and Dana Eden, one of the show’s creators, in Tel Aviv on June 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The show, co-written by Fauda’s writer Moshe Zonder, features Israeli actress Niv Sultan in the lead and Homeland’s Navid Negahban and Iron Man actor Shaun Toub in supporting roles. It was shot in Athens to replicate the Iranian capital.

The television series has yet to be mentioned by Iranian officials, though Kayhan International, a publication affiliated with the hard-line newspaper of the same name, described the show as an “anti-Iranian production.” The paper, Kayhan, also acknowledged the show, saying in April that it reveals the “pro-West and promiscuous” nature of activists targeting Iran.

In similar fashion to Fauda, creators said they aimed to present a nuanced narrative to a deep-seated conflict that would resonate with all sides.

“We don’t have bad guys and good guys in this show. It’s more complicated and I’m sure that Iranians who watch the show will enjoy it very much,” said Eden, who also co-produced the series. “I’m sure it’s going to be a hit in Iran.”

TOI staff contributed to this report.

 

Large blast in Iran came from suspected missile site, satellite images show 

June 27, 2020

Source: Large blast in Iran came from suspected missile site, satellite images show | The Times of Israel

Complex in Tehran’s eastern mountains said to hide underground tunnel system, missile production; authorities have claimed a gas tank blew up at a non-military facility

The site of an explosion that rattled Iran’s capital, on June 26, 2020 (European Commission via AP)

The site of an explosion that rattled Iran’s capital, on June 26, 2020 (European Commission via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An explosion that rattled Iran’s capital came from an area in its eastern mountains that analysts believe hides an underground tunnel system and missile production sites, satellite photographs showed Saturday.

What exploded in the incident early Friday that sent a massive fireball into the sky near Tehran remains unclear, as does the cause of the blast. The Fars news agency, which is close to the country’s ultra-conservatives, initially reported that the blast was caused by “an industrial gas tank explosion” near a facility belonging to the defense ministry. It cited an “informed source” and said the site of the incident was not related to the military.

The unusual response of the Iranian government in the aftermath of the explosion, however, underscores the sensitive nature of an area near where international inspectors believe the Islamic Republic conducted high-explosive tests two decades ago for nuclear weapon triggers.

The blast shook homes, rattled windows and lit up the horizon early Friday in the Alborz Mountains. State TV later aired a segment from what it described as the site of the blast.

One of its journalists stood in front of what appeared to be large, blackened gas cylinders, though the camera remained tightly focused and did not show anything else around the site. Defense Ministry spokesman Davood Abdi blamed the blast on a leaking gas he did not identify and said no one was killed in the explosion.

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🔴 انفجار در شرق تهران/ یک مقام آگاه: تصاویری که از بامداد امروز در فضای مجازی با عنوان وقوع انفجار در منتشر شده مربوط به انفجار یک مخزن گاز صنعتی در حاشیه یکی از مراکز بوده است. این انفجار هیچ ارتباطی به تاسیسات نظامی واقع در این منطقه ندارد.

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Abdi described the site as a “public area,” raising the question of why military officials and not civilian firefighters would be in charge. The state TV report did not answer that.

Satellite photos of the area, some 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) east of downtown Tehran, showed hundreds of meters (yards) of charred scrubland not seen in images of the area taken in the weeks ahead of the incident. The building near the char marks resembled the facility seen in the state TV footage.

The gas storage area sits near what analysts describe as Iran’s Khojir missile facility. The explosion appears to have struck a facility for the Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group, which makes solid-propellant rockets, said Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.

Photo combo from the European Commission’s Sentinel-2 satellite shows the site of an explosion, before, left, and after, right, that rattled Tehran, on June 26, 2020 (European Commission via AP)

The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies identified Khojir as the “site of numerous tunnels, some suspected of use for arms assembly.” Large industrial buildings at the site visible from satellite photographs also suggest missile assembly being conducted there.

The US Defense Intelligence Agency says Iran overall has the largest underground facility program in the Middle East.

Such sites “support most facets of Tehran’s ballistic missile capabilities, including the operational force and the missile development and production program,” the DIA said in 2019.

Iranian officials themselves also identified the site as being in Parchin, home to a military base where the International Atomic Energy Agency previously said it suspects Iran conducted tests of explosive triggers that could be used in nuclear weapons. Iran long has denied seeking nuclear weapons, though the IAEA previously said Iran had done work in “support of a possible military dimension to its nuclear program” that largely halted in late 2003.

Western concerns over the Iranian atomic program led to sanctions and eventually to Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The US under President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in May 2018, leading to a series of escalating attacks between Iran and the US, and to Tehran abandoning the deal’s production limits.

 

Iran: US effort to extend arms embargo will fail; new sanctions a ‘big mistake’ 

June 26, 2020

Source: Iran: US effort to extend arms embargo will fail; new sanctions a ‘big mistake’ | The Times of Israel

Envoy to UN says snapping back restrictions will end nuclear deal: ‘If that happens, Iran will not be under constraint as to its course of action. All options will be open’

Iranian envoy to the UN Majid Takht Ravanchi briefs journalists outside the Security Council on June 24, 2019. (Loey Felipe/UN)

Iranian envoy to the UN Majid Takht Ravanchi briefs journalists outside the Security Council on June 24, 2019. (Loey Felipe/UN)

UNITED NATIONS — Iran’s UN ambassador said Thursday that he believes a US resolution to extend an arms embargo against his country will be defeated and warned it would be “a very, very big mistake” if the Trump administration then tries to re-impose UN sanctions.

Ambassador Majid Ravanchi said restoring UN sanctions will end the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers and release Tehran from all its commitments.

“If that happens, Iran will not be under constraint as to what course of action it should take,” he said reporters. “All options for Iran will be open.”

Lifting the arms embargo on Tehran is part of the UN 2015 Security Council resolution endorsing the nuclear agreement.

Ravanchi spoke a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened to seek to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran if the Security Council does not approve a resolution that would indefinitely extend the arms embargo, which is set to expire in October.

“Iran will be able to purchase advanced weapons systems and become an arms dealer of choice for terrorists and rogue regimes all throughout the world,” Pompeo said. “This is unacceptable.”

Later Wednesday, US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook and US Ambassador Kelly Craft briefed Security Council members on the US draft resolution that would maintain the arms embargo indefinitely.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media before departing from al-Bateen Air Base in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, September 19, 2019, as US special representative on Iran Brian Hook, left, listens. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP)

Tensions between Iran and the US have escalated since 2018, when the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal between Tehran and six major powers and re-imposed crippling US sanctions.

The five other powers that signed the nuclear deal — Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany — remain committed to it, saying the agreement is key to continuing inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and preventing Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.

Ravanchi said ending the arms embargo in October “is an essential part of the agreement between Iran and its partners.”

“We believe there is no stomach for members of the Security Council to digest the draft resolution like the one the US presented,” he said. “So, it is our view that the draft resolution will be defeated.”

Ravanchi stressed that Iran will not accept “anything less than full implementation” of the provision lifting the arms embargo.

And he added: “It would be a wise idea for the United States to reconsider the presentation of the draft because it’s not going to be approved.”

The Iranian ambassador pointed to letters from the foreign ministers of Russia and China, both veto-wielding members of the Security Council, to its members opposing any extension of the arms embargo.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) speaks to the UN Security Council at the United Nations headquarters on February 11, 2020 in New York. (Johannes EISELE / AFP)

The 2015 nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, also includes a “snap back” provision that would restore all UN sanctions against Iran that had been lifted or eased if the nuclear deal is violated.

Responding to Pompeo’s threat to use that provision if the US arms embargo resolution isn’t approved, Ravanchi said: “This is a very, very big mistake on the part of the United States to try to snap back the resolution, because they know that is the end of JCPOA, and they should think twice before resorting to that option.”

He said Iran and many other Security Council members believe the US has no legal authority to invoke snap back because it is no longer part of the JCPOA.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia has dismissed as “ridiculous” the possibility of the Trump administration trying to use the snap back provision, stressing that since the US pulled out out of the JCPOA “they have no right” to use any of its provisions.

But Pompeo and Craft insist the resolution makes clear the US retains the right to use the provision.

Ravanchi said the US should ask itself how it will implement snap back in the face of strong opposition to it.

And he said the US should also bear in mind the consequences of having no JCPOA, and the consequences of snap back action, including its impact on other Security Council members and the council’s credibility.

The ambassador was asked whether ending IAEA inspections, stopping unannounced inspections under the nuclear agency’s additional protocol, or withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, considered the cornerstone of global efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, are likely steps Iran would take if the US succeeds in re-imposing UN sanctions.

“I am not going to tell you exactly what action we are going to take,” Ravanchi replied. ”There are a number of options available.”

 

Israeli airstrikes reported against Iranian sites in Syria, killing 7 

June 24, 2020

Source: Israeli airstrikes reported against Iranian sites in Syria, killing 7 | The Times of Israel

Syrian state media confirms two soldiers killed in one strike, while watchdog says 5 pro-Iranian fighters killed in second strike, with attacks blamed on Israel

Explosions seen in the city of Hama, Syria after suspected Israeli airstrikes on June 24, 2020 (Screencapture/Twitter)

Explosions seen in the city of Hama, Syria after suspected Israeli airstrikes on June 24, 2020 (Screencapture/Twitter)

Suspected Israeli airstrikes late Tuesday in Syria killed at least seven people, including two Syrian soldiers and five pro-Iranian militia members, SANA and Britain-based watchdog said.

Two soldiers were killed and four others wounded in the strikes in the southern province of Sweida, a Syrian military source cited by state media said.

“Several hostile missiles were fired at our military positions in Kababej, west of Deir Ezzor and in the Al-Sukhna region,” a military source quoted by the official SANA news agency said, using Damascus’ common term for Israeli attacks.

“At the same time, one of our military positions was targeted near the town of Salkhad in the southern city of Sweida, resulting in the death of two martyrs and the wounding of four other soldiers,” the source added.

SANA later reported a third set of strikes early Wednesday near Hama, claiming that air defense had intercepted several missiles. Video reportedly from the scene showed explosions on the ground.

ELINT News@ELINTNews

: Unconfirmed video reportedly showing explosions and fire near Al-Salamiyah in Hama Countryside, Syria,

Further reports claim Regiment 47 base was the target. https://twitter.com/seerij80/status/1275552118594772994 

سيراج علي@seerij80

مباشر القصف الصاروخي الذي يستهدف قواعد ايرانية بالقرب من مدينة حماة
واصوات انفجارات بالقرب من المطار العسكري والفوج ٤٧
ليلة سودة عليكم ..

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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said Israeli strikes had targeted “Iranian militia positions in Tel al-Sahen,” killing the Syrian soldiers, while five Iranian-backed fighters were killed and several others critically wounded in a separate strike on a “military center” near Deir Ezzor, in eastern Syria.

The strikes led to “widespread damage” in communications towers and ignited fires in the area. Iranian-backed militias were also present in the area, the observatory said.

Al-Arabiya reported that the strikes were carried out by Israeli planes and that four aircraft had participated in the attack.

The report said that an Iranian weapons shipment had arrived in Al-Suwayda Tuesday morning.

Joe Truzman@Jtruzmah

A different angle of possible ammunition warehouse that was allegedly struck by |i airstrikes in Salamiyah city located in Hama Governorate this evening.

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There was no comment from the Israel Defense Forces, which generally refuses to make statements about individual strikes. Israeli officials have confirmed the broad outlines of a several-year air campaign to keep Iran from gaining a foothold in Syria.

Iranian bases in Deir Ezzor have been targeted in the past in strikes attributed to Israel, which has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011, targeting government troops, allied Iranian forces and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah.

It was the fourth incident of alleged Israeli strikes in Syria in the past month.

Twelve people were killed on June 7 in overnight drone airstrikes targeting pro-Iranian militia in the Deir Ezzor region in eastern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory said the sites had been refortified and restocked three days earlier, and munitions and vehicles were destroyed in the strike.

The Observatory did not identify the aircraft responsible in that case, but its head, Rami Abdul Rahman, had told AFP that Israel was likely responsible.

Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran and its proxies, notably the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, are developing precision-guided missiles, which Israel sees as one of the major strategic threats facing it.

Earlier in the day, IDF chief Aviv Kochavi visited troops in northern Israel and warned they may soon need to shift attention to the West Bank and Gaza, should violence break out in response to Israeli annexation plans.

Judah Ari Gross and agencies contributed to this report.

 

Rouhani says he’s ready for talks if US apologizes for exiting nuclear deal

June 24, 2020

Source: Rouhani says he’s ready for talks if US apologizes for exiting nuclear deal | The Times of Israel

Iranian president issues warning to UN nuke watchdog, criticizes European countries for not doing more to shield his country from American sanctions

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech during the inaugural session of the new parliament in Tehran on May 27, 2020. (AFP)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that he is prepared to hold talks with the US, if Washington first apologizes for leaving a landmark 2015 nuclear pact and recommits to the terms of the deal.

During a televised cabinet meeting Rouhani said Washington’s recent calls on Iran to open negotiations are just “words and lies,” Reuters reported.

In 2018, US President Donald trump pulled out of the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran. Tehran has since sought for other signatories to the deal — Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China, which have been struggling to save the accord — to increase economic incentives to make up for the hard-hitting sanctions imposed by Washington after the US withdrawal.

Iran accuses the US of trying to prevent that by pressuring the countries still in the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Meanwhile, Iran has been violating its restrictions, including the amount of uranium it can enrich and the purity of enrichment, to try to pressure the five countries.

“We have no problem with talks with the US, but only if Washington fulfills its obligations under the nuclear deal, apologizes and compensates Tehran for its withdrawal from the 2015 deal,” Rouhani said.

“But we know these calls for talks with Tehran are just words and lies,” he added, referring to Washington’s repeated statements urging talks.

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), opens a virtual meeting of the Board of Governors of the IAEA , due to coronavirus safety related measures, at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on June 15, 2020. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Rouhani also warned that the UN nuclear watchdog risked losing its independence after it adopted a resolution urging access to two sites alleged to have hosted past nuclear activities.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency passed a resolution put forward by European states last week, calling on Iran to help clarify whether undeclared nuclear activities took place at the sites in the early 2000s.

But the Islamic Republic says the IAEA’s requests for access were based on allegations from its arch-enemy Israel and had no legal basis.

“The Zionist regime and the Americans are pressuring the agency to investigate something related to 20, 18 years ago. They are deceiving the agency, misleading it,” Rouhani said.

“Our expectation is that… the agency should be able to keep its independence,” he added, warning that Israel and the United States were tarnishing its reputation.

Rouhani also slammed the three European parties to the Iran nuclear deal — Britain, France and Germany — for putting forward the resolution and “sullying themselves for no reason” by cooperating with Israel and the US.

“We did not expect this from the Europeans,” he said, praising China and Russia — also parties to the nuclear deal — for standing against the resolution.

Rouhani said Iran would continue to work with the IAEA regarding “legal inspections.”

It is not clear what effect the new resolution will have on the nuclear deal but Iran has threatened unspecified consequences.

Technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor’s secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the site, near Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, December 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Rouhani also criticized European countries, which continue to support the existing deal, saying that have not provided Iran with protection from the US sanctions.

“The Europeans have failed to fulfill their promises. They should carry out their obligations,” he said.

The IAEA maintains that one of the two sites that Iran has blocked access to was partially demolished in 2004. At the other, the agency said it observed activities “consistent with efforts to sanitize” the facility from July 2019 onward.

A third site, the IAEA said, had undergone “extensive sanitization and leveling” in 2003 and 2004 and there would be no verification value in inspecting it.

The watchdog also said Iran has “not engaged in any substantive discussions” with the IAEA for almost a year to answer the agency’s questions about possible undeclared nuclear material and activities. The agency also said that Iran has continued to increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium and remains in violation of the nuclear deal.

 

Hospitals told to prepare to reopen specialized COVID-19 wards as cases mount 

June 21, 2020

Source: Hospitals told to prepare to reopen specialized COVID-19 wards as cases mount | The Times of Israel

Health ministry tells medical centers to prepare for ‘extreme scenario’ with hospitalizations on the rise, a month after most hospitals closed their coronavirus divisions

Medical staff working at the new COVID-19 unit at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, March 31, 2020. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

Medical staff working at the new COVID-19 unit at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, March 31, 2020. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

The Health Ministry on Sunday instructed hospitals around the country to prepare to reopen their coronavirus wards as the number of new COVID-19 cases continued to climb by nearly 300 a day.

Several hospitals shuttered their coronavirus wards last month as the number of new cases dropped to several dozen a day, but daily infection numbers have since rebounded.

The head of the ministry’s General Medicine Division told hospital administrators in a letter that the directive comes against the backdrop of a rise not just in total cases but also in the number of hospitalized patients, of those in serious condition, and of hospital staff forced into quarantine.

“The guideline is to prepare for the immediate opening of a single ward dedicated to [treating] the coronavirus,” wrote Dr. Sigal Liberant-Taub.

The Health Ministry said Sunday morning that there were 20,686 total cases since the start of the pandemic, including 4,716 active cases, which is some 2,000 more active cases than just a couple of weeks ago. Over 200 people were hospitalized, including 43 patients in serious condition and 28 people on ventilators.

Medical workers treat a patient at the coronavirus ward at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv on May 4, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

According to official figures, 905 medical workers are in quarantine, including 168 doctors and 306 nurses.

Liberant-Taub told the administrators that they should be prepared for an “extreme scenario,” urging them to “refresh” their medical staffs on the importance of personal protective equipment, of working in small teams and of separating the respiratory wards that are more likely to receive coronavirus patients from other departments, in an effort to limit exposure to the virus.

Beds at a coronavirus critical care unit at Sheba Medical Center (Courtesy)

Top officials are set to meet Sunday to discuss new measures intended to keep a lid on the new outbreak, though authorities are reportedly concentrating on increased enforcement of rules requiring masks in public, including upped fines, rather than new restrictions on movement or shutting down the economy.

Currently, authorities can hit people with a NIS 200 ($58) fine for not donning a mask in public areas.

On Saturday, the IDF’s Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center warned that Israel has entered a second wave of infections and said if it did not take immediate steps to bring numbers down, it could face a thousand new cases a day and hundreds of new deaths in a month’s time. However, some government officials distanced themselves from the report, claiming it was predicated on faulty statistics.

Despite the rise in cases, the cabinet on Friday gave the go-ahead to hold cultural events of up to 250 people with certain limitations. The green light applied to cinemas and theaters, and took immediate effect. In certain situations, with prior approval, events of up to 500 people will also be authorized, the cabinet decided.