Archive for February 19, 2021

US and Israel announce work on new Arrow 4 air defense system amid Iran tensions

February 19, 2021

With ‘extraordinary flight and interception capabilities,’ the latest generation in the family of anti-ballistic missiles is set to replace the Arrow 2 in the coming decades

By TOI STAFF and AGENCIES18 February 2021, 5:25 pm  0I

Illustration: Arrow 4 air defense system missile (Ministry of Defense)

llustration: Arrow 4 air defense system missile (Ministry of Defense)

Israel and the US have begun developing the Arrow 4, the latest generation in the family of Israeli anti-ballistic missiles and an essential part of the country’s multi-layered defense system, Israel’s Defense Ministry announced Thursday.

“The defense establishment is working round the clock to shield Israel’s skies from ballistic threats,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, praising the joint development with US partners. “It will bring a technological and operational leap to the future battlefield,” he added.

According to Gantz, the Arrow 4 anti-ballistic missile will include upgraded capabilities and will join the existing Arrow family to “address a wide range of evolving threats in the region” adding that it is expected to replace the Arrow 2 in the coming decades.

Vice Admiral Jon Hill, director of the US Missile Defense Agency, said the Arrow 4 joint development operation “expresses the United States’ commitment to assist the State of Israel in strengthening its national defense system against the missile threat.”

Illustration: Arrow 4 air defense system missile (Ministry of Defense)

Israel says the Arrow system is a critical element in its multi-layered defense system, which includes powerful radar systems, the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, the Arrow 2 and the Arrow 3, which entered operational use in 2017. The existing systems have undergone a series of improvements with successful interception tests in Israel and Alaska, according to the Defense Ministry.

“Arrow 4 will have extraordinary flight and interception capabilities, to ensure Israel will remain one step ahead of the enemy,” said Moshe Patel, head of the Israeli Missile Defense Organization.

Earlier in February, the Israel Defense Forces and the United States European Command launched a joint air defense exercise, dubbed Juniper Falcon, focused on the threat of ballistic missile attack.

In January, Iran held a series of ballistic missile drills, amid tensions with the US.

Iran has a missile capability of up to 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles), far enough to reach Israel and US military bases in the region. Last January, after the US killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad, Tehran retaliated by firing a barrage of ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases housing US troops, resulting in brain concussion injuries to dozens of them.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused Israel of being behind the November killing of the country’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the alleged mastermind of Iran’s rogue nuclear weapons program, and has vowed to avenge his death.READ 

As Western parties to nuke deal meet, German FM warns Iran ‘playing with fire’

February 19, 2021

Accord signatories state commitment to ensuring ‘Iran can never develop nuclear weapon,’ warn Tehran it would be ‘dangerous’ to limit UN nuclear agency inspections

By AFP18 February 2021, 9:35 pm  0

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas gives a press statement in Berlin on February 16, 2021. (Kay Nietfeld/Pool/AFP)

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas gives a press statement in Berlin on February 16, 2021. (Kay Nietfeld/Pool/AFP)

PARIS — European powers and the United States on Thursday warned Iran it would be “dangerous” to limit UN nuclear agency inspections and asked Tehran to return to full compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal, while stating their commitment to “ensuring that Iran can never develop a nuclear weapon.”

Britain, France, Germany and US said after talks based in Paris that they were “united in underlining the dangerous nature of a decision to limit IAEA access” ahead of a February 21 deadline set by the Iranian parliament.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian hosted his German and British counterparts in Paris, with America’s new Secretary of State Antony Blinken joining via videoconference.

Their statement urged “Iran to consider the consequences of such grave action, particularly at this time of renewed diplomatic opportunity,” adding that they all shared the aim of Iran returning to “full compliance” with the accord.

Analysts say only a small window of opportunity remains to save the deal, which received a near-fatal blow when former US president Donald Trump walked out of the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Tehran retaliated by stepping up nuclear work in violation of the accord.

Ahead of the meeting, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters that “The recent steps of Iran are not helpful at all, they endanger the return of the Americans” to the deal.

“Apparently Iran is not interested in easing the tensions, but in escalation. They are playing with fire,” he said.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has said it is prepared to rejoin the deal and start lifting sanctions if Iran — whose economy has been devastated — returns to full compliance.

But Tehran rejected this precondition, pressing on with increasing nuclear work in retaliation for Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” sanctions policy to weaken the Iranian regime which has had no relations with Washington for four decades.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed in Vienna in 2015, was based on Iran providing safeguards that it would not make an atomic bomb, in exchange for a gradual easing of international sanctions.

‘Serious impact’

The diplomacy is expected to be hugely delicate and could be further derailed by the deadline set under a bill adopted by the Iranian parliament in December following the killing of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which Tehran blamed on Israel.

Iran would restrict some UN nuclear agency inspections by February 21 if the US does not lift the sanctions imposed since 2018.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi is to travel to Tehran on Saturday for talks with the Iranian authorities to find a solution for continuing inspections in the country, the agency said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, right, greets IAEA chief Rafael Grossi ahead of a meeting in Tehran, Iran, August 26, 2020. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

It warned that the step threatened by Tehran would have “a serious impact on the IAEA’s verification and monitoring activities in the country.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Iran should provide “full and timely cooperation” with the IAEA and reverse its recent steps violating the accord.

The IAEA said last week that Iran had started producing uranium metal in a new violation of the accord, intensifying concerns it was becoming closer to having the capacity to make a nuclear weapon.

“Iran’s nuclear program is growing by the day, as the time it would take to enrich enough uranium for a single nuclear weapon shrinks,” said Ali Vaez, Iran project director at the International Crisis Group (ICG).

‘Solution for dilemma’

While Iran’s policy is ultimately determined by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian presidential elections in June add another time pressure factor.

Iranian Presiden Hassan Rouhani — a key advocate of nuclear diplomacy with global powers — is set to step down after serving the maximum two consecutive terms, and a more hardline figure is likely to replace him.

Ellie Geranmayeh, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Washington should move in political and practical terms to show Iran that the Biden administration “is distancing itself from Trump-era maximum pressure.”

“There is a short window of time to limit the damage that could ensue from Iran’s next steps, for example by reducing the impact of such moves on the quality of inspections by international monitors,” Geranmayeh told AFP


In this April 9, 2018, photo, released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark “National Nuclear Day,” in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Vaez said “the seemingly impossible dilemma has a solution” if the two sides were prepared to take “closely synchronized steps.”

This would involve Washington revoking Trump’s 2018 withdrawal and greenlighting an Iranian request for an emergency IMF loan, while Iran freezes “the most problematic aspects” of its nuclear program, he said.

Khamenei emphasized Wednesday that Iran wanted to see “only action, action” from the United States.

“If we see action from the opposite side, we will act too,” he said.

US says it’s ready to restart talks with Iran on its nuclear program

February 19, 2021

State Department says it will accept invitation from European Union meet with deal’s original participants, including Tehran; US reportedly told Israel of move ahead of time

By AGENCIES and TOI STAFFToday, 1:27 am  3

Illustrative: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran, Jan. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno, File)

Illustrative: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran, Jan. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno, File)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration said Thursday it’s ready to join talks with Iran and world powers to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. It’s also reversed the Trump administration’s determination that all UN sanctions against Iran had been restored and eased stringent restrictions on the domestic US travel of Iranian diplomats posted to the United Nations.

The State Department said the US would accept an invitation from the European Union to attend a meeting of the participants in the original agreement. The US has not participated in a meeting of those participants since former president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.

“The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

Such an invitation has not yet been issued but one is expected shortly, following discussions earlier Thursday between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his British, French and German counterparts.

There was no response yet from Iran, which has demanded that the US lift sanctions before it returns to talks.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations, the Biden administration notified the Security Council that it had withdrawn Trump’s September 2020 invocation of the so-called “snapback” mechanism under which it maintained that all UN sanctions against Iran had been re-imposed. That determination had been vigorously disputed by nearly all other UN members and had left the US isolated at the world body.US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In another move, officials said the administration has eased extremely strict limits on the travel of Iranian diplomats accredited to the United Nations. The Trump administration had imposed the severe restrictions, which essentially confined them to their UN mission and the UN headquarters building in New York.

“The idea here is to take steps to remove unnecessary obstacles to multilateral diplomacy by amending the restrictions on domestic travel. Those had been extremely restrictive,” a State Department official told reporters.

Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have long opposed the agreement and repeatedly warned against the US returning to the deal. There was no response yet from Jerusalem about the US announcement that it was ready to resume talks, which came after midnight in Israel.

The Reuters news agency, citing a source familiar with the matter,  said the US had informed Israel ahead of time about Thursday’s announcement, but that US President Joe Biden had not told Netanyahu directly.

The EU political director, Enrique Mora, after the announcement proposed via Twitter an informal meeting of all participants, saying the nuclear accord was at a “critical moment” — ahead of a weekend deadline for Iran to restrict some UN nuclear inspections.

A State Department official after the announcement called the move “just a very first initial step.”

The announcement was “not in and of itself a breakthrough. Even the first meeting itself may not be a breakthrough,” the official said.

“I assume this is going to be a painstaking and difficult process that’s going to take some time,” the official said. “I think the notion that either side is going to take steps in anticipation of the meeting or as a sort of down payment before the meeting, I think that’s probably not realistic.”

Earlier Thursday, Blinken and the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France urged Iran to allow continued United Nations nuclear inspections and stop nuclear activities that have no credible civilian use. They warned that Iran’s actions could threaten delicate efforts to bring the U.S. back into the 2015 deal and end sanctions damaging Iran’s economy.

Iran is “playing with fire,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who took part in the talks Thursday in Paris with his British and French counterparts. Blinken had joined via videoconference.

Iran has said it will stop part of International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its nuclear facilities next week if the West doesn’t implement its own commitments under the 2015 deal. The accord has been unraveling since Trump pulled the US out of the agreement.

Blinken reiterated that “if Iran comes back into strict compliance with its commitments… the United States will do the same,” according to a joint statement after Thursday’s meeting that reflected closer trans-Atlantic positions on Iran since Biden took office.

The diplomats noted “the dangerous nature of a decision to limit IAEA access, and urge Iran to consider the consequences of such grave action, particularly at this time of renewed diplomatic opportunity.”

They said Iran’s decision to produce uranium enriched up to 20% and uranium metal has “no credible” civilian use.

The 2015 accord is aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Tehran denies it is seeking such an arsenal.In this April 9, 2018, photo, released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark “National Nuclear Day,” in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

“We are the ones who have kept this agreement alive in recent years, and now it’s about supporting the United States in taking the road back into the agreement,” Maas told reporters in Paris.

“The measures that have been taken in Tehran and may be taken in the coming days are anything but helpful. They endanger the Americans’ path back into this agreement. The more pressure that is exerted, the more politically difficult it will be to find a solution,” he said.

Iran’s threats are “very worrying,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, stressing the need “to re-engage diplomatically in order to restrain Iran, but also bring it back into compliance.”

The diplomats also expressed concern about human rights violations in Iran and its ballistic missile program.

In Iran, President Hassan Rouhani expressed hope Thursday that the Biden administration will rejoin the accord and lift the US sanctions that Washington re-imposed under Trump, according to state television.

Tehran has been using its violations of the nuclear deal to put pressure on the remaining signatories — France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China — to provide more incentives to Iran to offset the crippling sanctions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the president of the European Council spoke with Rouhani this week to try to end the diplomatic standoff. The head of the IAEA is scheduled to travel to Iran this weekend to find a solution that allows the agency to continue inspections.Then-US vice president Joe Biden, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, talk before a dinner at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, March 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Baz Ratner, Pool)

Israel has voiced strong opposition to Washington returning to nuclear deal. Netanyahu has long been a leading critic of the agreement, which was reached when Biden was vice president, and warned against reengaging with Tehran on the accord.

Netanyahu strongly opposed the deal when it was made, and hailed Trump’s decision to quit it in 2018.

Netanyahu on Monday vowed opposition to those who oppose his hawkish stance toward Iran.

“Whoever supports our policies, I’m with him. And whoever endangers us, for example [on policies] regarding a nuclear Iran, which is an existential threat to us, so I oppose that, and I don’t care if it’s Democrats,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu spoke on the phone with Biden for the first time since he became president on Tuesday, after an eyebrow-raising four weeks of waiting.

Netanyahu was the first Middle Eastern leader to receive a call from Biden, but the 12th world leader overall.

The two leaders discussed further strengthening US-Israeli ties in addition to building on the normalization agreements that were brokered by the Trump administration between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the PMO said.

They also spoke about “the Iranian threat and challenges of the region, agreeing to continue talks between them.”

Biden has also said wants to address Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional hegemony, but that the priority is first getting Iran to comply with the JCPOA.