Archive for June 27, 2020

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.

خبرگزاری فارس

@FarsNews_Agency

🔴 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.