Archive for July 7, 2020

How could Iran retaliate for Natanz explosion – analysis

July 7, 2020

Source: How could Iran retaliate for Natanz explosion – analysis – The Jerusalem Post

Iran’s regime, led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, believes in two types of actions. It believes first in perceived tit-for-tat responses and asymmetric attacks.

View of a damage building after a fire broke out at Iran's Natanz Nuclear Facility, in Isfahan, Iran, July 2, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS)
View of a damage building after a fire broke out at Iran’s Natanz Nuclear Facility, in Isfahan, Iran, July 2, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As evidence mounts and pressure builds on Tehran’s regime in the wake of the explosions that badly damaged a facility at Natanz, questions surround how might Iran respond.

The government is in a difficult position because it labelled the explosion an accident, but it is now facing a deluge of foreign media reports that seek to conclude the explosion was perpetrated by a state or group.

This is what Iran’s regime is reading: Major media from The New York Times to The Washington Post and local media such as Kuwait’s Al-Jarida have all sought to assert that Israel was involved in the mysterious July 2 explosion at a warehouse at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility.

The Post and Times quoted a Middle East security official as saying the damage was done to “send a signal” to Tehran. Reports also claim damage was done to key centrifuges or possibly to advanced gas inputs to the IR-6 centrifuges. That could set back the program for months or a year.

Iran, however, is at a crossroads in other ways. It has sent tankers to Venezuela to boost gas trade. It’s supporters in Iraq may have gunned down a well-known local commentator named Husham al-Hashimi. Iran is also benefiting from a UN expert opinion that deemed the US killing of IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani an ‘unlawful’ killing. Iran has also triggered a dispute mechanism regarding the 2015 Iran deal.

How might Iran respond to what it perceives as an attack, if the regime does draw that conclusion from Natanz?

Iran’s regime, led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, believes in two types of actions. It believes first in perceived tit-for-tat responses, such as the ballistic missile strike carried out in January after Soleimani was killed by the US.

It also believes in asymmetric attacks, such as targeting mining ships in the Gulf of Oman to stir up a crisis in May and June 2019, or the September 2019 attack on the Saudi oil facilities at Abqaiq.

Iran has also carried out attacks on Israel from Syria.

In May 2018, amid tensions over the US withdrawing from the Iran deal and the Syrian regime’s offensive in southern Syria, a salvo of rockets was fired toward the Golan.

In February 2018, a drone was also launched from T-4 and flew into Israeli airspace before being shot down.

Iran has retaliated in other ways and times. When ISIS was accused of targeting a parade in Ahvaz in September 2018, Iran retaliated with a ballistic missile fired at ISIS in Syria on October 1, 2018.

On September 8, 2018, Iran also fired ballistic missiles at Kurdish dissidents near Koya in retaliation for increased Kurdish militant activity in Iran.

Iran’s more usual method of responding is to vow to respond and then do nothing. Iran vowed a “hard revenge” response for the killing of Soleimani in January. But Iran’s IRGC planned a ballistic missile strike that it likely knew would not kill people.

US forces in Iraq had warning of the incoming missiles and soldiers were able to take shelter. It was a gamble for Iran. If Iran killed any Americans the US would retaliate. Instead, Iran shot down a civilian Ukrainian airliner in Tehran during the missile strike on the US forces in Iraq.

Iran thus “responded” by killing innocent people because its air defense is incompetent. It’s not the first time that this air defense incompetence had bad results. Similar incompetence by Syrian air defenders shot down a Russian airplane in the fall of 2018 during Israeli airstrikes in northern Syria.

Iran has often vowed or hinted at retaliation against Israel for more than 1,000 airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria. Yet the evidence points to just a few rockets fired toward Israel from Syria. Rockets were fired on January 20, 2019, June 2, 2019, November 19, 2019 and also the February 2018 drone attack and the May 2018 salvo. There was also the Iranian-backed Hezbollah “killer drone” incident in August 2019.

Adding it all up shows that Iran talks a lot about revenge and warnings of destruction but rarely does what it says it will do. This isn’t for lack of trying. Iran has sent precision guidance for Hezbollah munitions via Syria. It has helped Hezbollah stockpile an arsenal of 150,000 rockets. It helped Hezbollah with its drone program. Iran has sent ballistic missiles to Syria in the fall of 2018 and 2019.

It has also funneled technology, know-how, experts, advice and weapons to the Houthis in Yemen. This resulted in long range ballistic missile attacks by Houthi rebels on Saudi Arabia. In December 2017, the Houthis even managed to reach almost all the way to Riyadh before their missiles were shot down. Iranian drones, the Qasef and Sammad models the Houthis adapted from Iranian models, have wreaked havoc on Saudi Arabia. Even in the last month there have been explosive-laden drone attacks on Saudi.

In addition, we know that Iran shot down a $200 million US surveillance Global Hawk drone in June 2019. Iran claimed it could have shot down a manned US P-8 plane at the same time. But Iran correctly judged that if they killed Americans then US President Donald Trump would retaliate.

Instead, Trump choose not to kill Iranians in response to an expansive piece of machinery being lost. Similarly, Trump warned Iran about harassing US ships in the Persian Gulf. Iranians had driven fast boats around US ships in April 2020, even showing off a heavy machine gun cocked and ready at the bow of one boat. But Iran likes this kind of showing off. Actually shooting at US ships is another matter. Iran knows its navy would be sunk within an afternoon should it actually attack US ships.

The regime in Iran calculates carefully. It calculates retaliation carefully and it knows that it has suffered many setbacks. Iran’s real retaliation and response is not tit-for-tat against enemies that are more powerful, but rather using its system of militias to burrow into countries and take them over from the bottom up. Its real retaliation is having more Hezbollah power in Lebanon’s parliament.

Iran only has up to 800 IRGC personnel in Syria. But real retaliation is setting down roots near the Golan and recruiting locals. This is a multi-decade project. Iran chooses its actual attacks with caution and also daring, such as the attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq in September.

It calculated correctly that Riyadh won’t bomb Iran in response. Iran’s drones and cruise missiles harmed Abqaiq’s facility but caused no casualties. That is the way Iran weighs its attacks today. When Iran decides that it must retaliate, either for perceived sabotage inside Iran, or after it collects evidence and present its, then the system of the IRGC will choose carefully its methods, from mines to missiles and drones, to strike at Iran’s enemies across the region.

 

Mossad said to foil Iranian attacks on Israeli embassies in Europe, elsewhere

July 7, 2020

Source: Mossad said to foil Iranian attacks on Israeli embassies in Europe, elsewhere | The Times of Israel

Report comes as tensions between Israel and Iran grow, following claims Jerusalem was behind bombing of Natanz nuclear facility that reportedly set back work there by 2 years

An Iranian protester holds an anti-Israeli plAn Iranian protester holds an anti-Israeli placard during an annual anti-Israeli Al-Quds Day rally in Tehran, Iran, June 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi/File)
acard during an annual anti-Israeli Al-Quds Day rally in Tehran, Iran, June 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi/File)

The Mossad spy agency recently foiled planned or attempted Iranian attacks on Israeli diplomatic missions in Europe and elsewhere, according to a report Monday.

The report by Channel 12 said the names of the countries where attacks were prevented remain under censorship, but cooperation with them helped to thwart the attacks.

No other details were available, and no sources were named.

In 2012, Iran and its Lebanese proxy, the terror group Hezbollah, seemingly attempted to carry out a number of attacks against Israeli diplomatic missions in India, Georgia, Thailand, and elsewhere.

Monday’s Channel 12 report also said that an attack on the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran, credited to Israel, had managed to set back Tehran’s uranium enrichment program by two years, citing Western intelligence estimates.

A report by Channel 13 on Sunday claimed the attack only set back the work by a single year.

A building Iran claims was damaged by a fire at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of Tehran, on July 2, 2020. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

A Middle Eastern intelligence official was quoted Sunday by The New York Times as saying the fire that damaged a building used for producing centrifuges at Natanz was sparked by Israel.

The unidentified official said the blast Thursday at the nuclear complex was caused by a powerful bomb.

A member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps also told the American newspaper that an explosive was used, but did not specify who was responsible.

The Middle Eastern intelligence official said Israel was not linked to several other recent mysterious fires in Iran over the past week.

Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a cyber conference at the Tel Aviv University on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman has hinted that the official cited in the report is Mossad chief Yossi Cohen.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday that he would extend Cohen’s term until June 2021, citing unspecified “security challenges.” The spymaster is famed in the Mossad ranks as an operations man. Under his watch, the Mossad has grown in personnel and budget, and has reportedly focused on espionage operations targeting the Iranian nuclear program.

An Israeli TV report Friday night said that Israel was bracing for a possible Iranian retaliation if it determines that Jerusalem was behind the Natanz explosion.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz played down the speculation on Sunday, saying that not everything that happened there could be blamed on Israel.

Iran admitted Sunday that Natanz incurred “considerable” damage from the fire last week, as satellite pictures appeared to show widespread devastation at the sensitive facility.

A satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. that has been annotated by experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies shows a damaged building after a fire and explosion at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, on July 3, 2020. (Planet Labs Inc., James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies via AP)

Iran had sought to downplay the damage from the blaze, though analysts said it had likely destroyed an above-ground lab being used to prepare advanced centrifuges before they were installed underground.

“We first learned that, fortunately, there were no casualties as a result of the incident, but financial damages incurred to the site due to incident were considerable,” said Iran’s atomic agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi.

He confirmed that the damaged building was a centrifuge assembly center and not an “industrial shed,” as earlier claimed.

“More advanced centrifuge machines were intended to be built there,” he said, adding that the damage would “possibly cause a delay in development and production of advanced centrifuge machines in the medium term.”

Authorities have pinpointed the source of the fire, but are withholding the information for national security reasons, he said.

The building was first constructed in 2013 for the development of advanced centrifuges, though work was halted there in 2015 under the nuclear deal with world powers, he added.

When the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal, the work there was renewed, Kamalvandi said.

He said that the fire had damaged “precision and measuring instruments,” and that the center had not been operating at full capacity due to restrictions imposed by Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Iran began experimenting with advanced centrifuge models in the wake of the US unilaterally withdrawing from the deal two years ago.

In this frame grab from 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, June 6, 2018. (IRIB via AP/File)

In 2018, Iran showed off IR-2, IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges at the site, in what was seen as a warning to Europe to stick to the nuclear deal after the withdrawal from the accord by the US. Pictures have also purported to show IR-8 centrifuges at Natanz, though Iranian officials have also said the site could not yet handle the ultra-advanced centrifuges.

The fire was one of a series of mysterious disasters to strike sensitive Iranian sites in recent days, leading to speculation that it may be the result of a sabotage campaign.

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.

AP contributed to this report.

 

Explosion reportedly damages factory in Iran, the latest in series of blasts

July 7, 2020

Source: Explosion reportedly damages factory in Iran, the latest in series of blasts | The Times of Israel

2 said killed and 3 injured at facility in Kahrizak, south of Tehran; local governor says incident caused by human error as oxygen tanks were being filled

Screen capture from video at the scene of a factory explosion south of Tehran, Iran, July 7, 2020. (Mehr news agency)

Screen capture from video at the scene of a factory explosion south of Tehran, Iran, July 7, 2020. (Mehr news agency)

An explosion reportedly damaged a factory south of Tehran in the early hours of Tuesday, the latest in a series of blasts in Iran.

According to Iranian media reports, two people were killed and three were injured in the blast at the Sepahan Bresh factory in the Kahrizak district.

The governor said the explosion also damaged the walls of an adjacent Saipa Press — a car parts company — complex.

Firefighters and paramedics were dispatched to the scene.

The explosion came after a series of mysterious disasters have struck sensitive Iranian sites in recent days, leading to speculation that the earlier incidents may be the result of a sabotage campaign.

An explosion reportedly damaged a power plant in the Iranian city of Ahvaz on Saturday. A few hours later, the Islamic Republic News Agency said a chlorine gas leak at a petrochemical center in southeast Iran sickened 70 workers.

Last week an explosion damaged Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, and a week before that, a large blast was felt in Tehran, apparently caused by an explosion at the Parchin military complex, which defense analysts believe holds an underground tunnel system and missile production facilities.

A building Iran claims was damaged by a fire at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of Tehran, on July 2, 2020. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

A Middle Eastern intelligence official was quoted Sunday by The New York Times as saying the fire that damaged a building used for producing centrifuges at Natanz was sparked by Israel and was caused by a powerful bomb.

But the unidentified official said Israel was not linked to several other recent mysterious fires in Iran over the past week.

An Israeli TV report Friday night said that Israel was bracing for a possible retaliation from Iran if it determines that Jerusalem was behind the explosion.

Iran admitted Sunday that Natanz incurred “considerable” damage from the fire last week, as satellite pictures appeared to show widespread devastation at the sensitive facility. It had previously sought to downplay the damage from the blaze, though analysts said it had likely destroyed an above-ground lab being used to prepare advanced centrifuges before they were installed underground.

A satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. that has been annotated by experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies shows a damaged building after a fire and explosion at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, on July 3, 2020. (Planet Labs Inc., James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies via AP)

The building was constructed in 2013 for the development of advanced centrifuges, though work was halted there in 2015 under the nuclear deal with world powers, said Iran’s atomic agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi earlier this week. When the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal, the work there was renewed, Kamalvandi said.

He said that the fire had damaged “precision and measuring instruments,” and that the center had not been operating at full capacity due to restrictions imposed by Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Iran began experimenting with advanced centrifuge models in the wake of the US unilaterally withdrawing from the deal two years ago.

In this frame grab from 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, June 6, 2018. (IRIB via AP/File)

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.

AP contributed to this report.