Archive for June 2021

Biden tells Rivlin he won’t allow Iranian nukes on his watch

June 29, 2021


US president hosts outgoing Israeli head of state at White House, says he will meet with Bennett ‘very soon’; Rivlin says he is ‘very much satisfied’ with Biden’s comments

By JACOB MAGIDTAL SCHNEIDER and APToday, 12:45 am  

US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the Oval Office June 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Doug Mills/New York Times/Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the Oval Office June 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Doug Mills/New York Times/Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden sought to assure Israel that he would not tolerate a nuclear Iran as he met with outgoing Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Monday amid growing angst over the US administration’s effort to reenter the Iran nuclear deal.

Biden noted that he had ordered airstrikes a day earlier targeting facilities the US military says were used by Iran-backed militia groups near the border between Iraq and Syria. The rhetoric seemed to underscore that he would remain tough on malign Iran activity even as he seeks a diplomatic track to stem Tehran’s nuclear program.

“What I can say to you is that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon on my watch,” Biden said at the White House meeting.

Rivlin said he was “very much satisfied” by Biden’s statement.

“Things are still far from decided,” he said, referring to talks to revive Iran’s 2015 accord with world powers to limit Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. Former US President Donald Trump, with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s backing, scrapped the accord in 2018, but the Biden administration has sought to re-enter the deal.

Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, has maintained Netanyahu’s line of opposition to the pact, which Israel maintains still allows Tehran to pursue nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles while supporting proxy groups that sow terror abroad.

However, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has pledged to handle disagreements behind closed doors, as opposed to Netanyahu, who was more willing to publicize his disapproval with the American administration https://youtu.be/gpCCtAx7SK8

Biden said he hoped to meet Bennett at the White House “very soon.” Following the meeting, Rivlin told reporters in Hebrew that Biden “thinks it is necessary to invite the prime minister as soon as possible in order to coordinate matters regarding the way forward on the problems that the world is facing and in the Middle East.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki earlier said the sides were “working on a date” for the meeting. Bennett’s office confirmed the talks to Israel’s Walla news site.

US President Joe Biden and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (L) hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, June 28, 2021. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Israel has “no greater friend alive,” than the US, Rivlin said at the start of the meeting with Biden, attempting to downplay the seriousness of any rift arising from disagreements over Iran or other policy matters.

“We, according to real friendship, from time to time discuss matters and even agree not to agree about everything,” he said, without mentioning Iran by name. “But we count on you and your declaration just now really brought Israelis to understand that we have a great friend in the White House.”

Rivlin later told reporters that “Biden was a real great friend of Israel.”

“We found a friend who was responsive to our requests and demands to keep an eye on everything related to the agreement being formed with Iran,” he said.

Rivlin, on his last foreign visit as president, is set to leave office on July 7 after a seven-year term. Isaac Herzog, a former parliament member who most recently headed the Jewish Agency for Israel will take over as Israeli president.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaks with members of the media after meeting with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office June 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Rivlin later met with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of the House leadership team. Pelosi said bipartisan support for Israel in Congress remained bipartisan “because of our shared values and because of our mutual security concerns.”

During Netanyahu’s time in office, he had been accused of harming the bipartisan nature of that support by publicly feuding with former president Barack Obama, especially over the nuclear accord, and by closely allying with Republican lawmakers.

Only one Republican, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, attended the meeting.President Reuven Rivlin, left, speaking alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington on June 28, 2021. (Tal Schneider/Times of Israel)

Among those joining Rivlin and Biden in their meeting were Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan and Deputy US Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, a key architect of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Prior to his trip, Rivlin held consultations with Bennett and Lapid to coordinate messaging on various issues. During a private portion of the meeting with Biden, which lasted about an hour, Rivlin was expected to bring up Iran and Israel’s demands for the return of Israeli captives and soldiers’ remains being held in the Gaza Strip.

Meeting with heads of Jewish organizations and community leaders in New York on Sunday night, Rivlin said Iran’s election of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi as president was “further proof of the terrible danger that the Iranian regime poses to the Iranian people, to Israel, to the Middle East and to the entire world.”

“I intend to talk about this with President Biden during our meeting,” Rivlin said.

Biden said he would talk about Iran and the aftermath of the Gaza war with Rivlin. The president also underscored his support for continued normalization of relations between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim world and planned to reiterate the administration’s promise to resupply Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which was depleted during the 11-day war with Hamas in Gaza.

Rockets from Gaza, on right, are seen in the night sky fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021, while Iron Dome interceptor missiles, on left, rise to meet them. (Anas Baba/AFP)

“As American president, my commitment to Israel is… ironclad. It’s something that I often say, ‘If there wasn’t an Israel, we’d have to make one.’ This includes… an unwavering commitment to Israel’s self defense,” he said.

Before meeting Biden, Rivlin also met with Yousef al-Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates envoy to the US, to personally thank him for his significant role in bringing the Abraham Accords — which saw Israel and Abu Dhabi normalize ties last year — to fruition.

Biden has low hopes, at least for the moment, of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, according to an official familiar with Biden administration deliberations. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said Biden administration officials are starting at square one in building contacts with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, a relationship that eroded during the Trump administration.

The meeting with Rivlin came one day after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Rome with Lapid, a centrist who along with Bennett and six other political allies built a fragile coalition government that put Netanyahu in the opposition.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (C) greets Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of their meeting in Rome, on June 27, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP)

Aviv Kohavi, chief of staff of Israel Defense Forces, met last week with Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and other senior national security officials. Kohavi reiterated Israel’s opposition to efforts by the Biden administration to revive the 2015 accord.

Administration officials, however, have countered in talks with Kohavi and others in the new Israeli government that it’s worth giving diplomacy a shot at stopping Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapons system, even if it’s not guaranteed, the official said.

US airstrikes in Iraq, Syria target Iran-backed militia groups

June 28, 2021

Biden authorizes strikes on three targets used to launch drone attacks against US soldiers and bases in the Middle East

By AFPToday, 3:32 am  

Illustrative: An F-35 fighter jet pilot and crew prepare for a mission at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, August 5, 2019.  (Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury/US Air Force via AP)

Illustrative: An F-35 fighter jet pilot and crew prepare for a mission at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, August 5, 2019. (Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury/US Air Force via AP)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon announced Sunday it had conducted targeted airstrikes against “facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups” on the Iraq-Syria border, which it said were authorized by US President Joe Biden following ongoing attacks on US interests.

“At President Biden’s direction, US military forces earlier this evening conducted defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

Kirby added that the targets — two in Syria, one in Iraq — were selected because “these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq.”

US interests in Iraq have come under repeated attack in recent months, with the United States consistently blaming Iran-linked Iraqi factions for rocket and other attacks against Iraqi installations housing its personnel.

“Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting US interests in Iraq, the president directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks,” Kirby said.

“Specifically, the US strikes targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, both of which lie close to the border between those countries,” he added.

US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden walk on the South Lawn of the White House after stepping off Marine One, Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Since the start of the year there have been more than 40 attacks against US interests in Iraq, where 2,500 American troops are deployed as part of an international coalition to fight the jihadist Islamic State group.

The vast majority have been bombs against logistics convoys, while 14 were rocket attacks, some of them claimed by pro-Iran factions that aim to pressure Washington into withdrawing all their troops.

The strikes come one day after Iraqi Kurdish officials said three explosives-laden drones hit near the northern Iraqi city of Arbil, where the United States has a consulate.

It also occurred as the Hashed al-Shaabi, a pro-Iran paramilitary alliance opposed to the US presence in Iraq, held a military parade near Baghdad attended by senior officials.

In April, a drone packed with explosives hit the coalition’s Iraq headquarters in the military part of the airport in Arbil, the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital.

The tactic poses a headache for the coalition, as drones can evade air defenses.

“As demonstrated by this evening’s strikes, President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect US personnel,” Kirby said.

Quadcopter drone strike near Faraj – new chapter in covert campaign versus nuclear Iran – DEBKAfile

June 24, 2021

 centrifuge center FarajIranquadcopter drone

The “sabotage” attack on one of its facilities which Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency claimed to have thwarted broke new ground in Israel’s alleged covert campaign against a nuclear-armed Iran with US support. The target was a facility under UN and US sanctions near Faraj City west of Tehran that, according to some intelligence sources, manufactured centrifuges for refining uranium at the Fordow and Natanz enrichment centers.

The novelty in this case was the nature of the weapon and how it was used. Iranian media cited “a small quadcopter drone” as the weapon, which was launched from inside the country. Clearly, an unknown entity released the small device from a point inside Iran after first loading it with an explosive charge or small rocket. It is worth recalling former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen’s disclosure in an interview on June 10 that the team which purloined the Iranian nuclear archive from its hiding place in Tehran in April 2018 was comprised of a team of non-Israeli operatives.

It is no secret that Israel and American spy agencies both have ties with cells of the Mujahedin-e-Khalk resistance movement, which is not news to the security agencies in Tehran. But that a dissident group fired off an armed UAV against a nuclear facility from inside the country marks a key crossroads in the conflict.
Quadcopter drones are on sale together with simple instructions for their assembly and use in any camera shop or online – even on e-Bay. Some carry cameras; others a forklift for loading freight. The operator programs its destination in advance and then tracks it on a screen.

Assuming that an MEK cell performed the deed, was it acting on its own initiative, for Israel, for he US or for both? No one has claimed responsibility for this attack – any more than for previous clandestine sabotage strikes on Iran’s nuclear-related facilities. The fact that Iranian officials were ready to talk to the The New York Times, rare in itself, seems to indicate that Tehran is at a loss for information on the authors of the attack.

The election of Ebrahim Raisi, an ultra-hardliner, as Iran’s new president increases the chances of the Islamic Republic retaliating in kind with attacks on US targets and interests in the Middle East or Israel. And, indeed, the Iranians are already deep in UAV warfare against their perceived enemies.  As recently as on June 4, an Iranian explosive drone was launched by Iraqi Shiite militias against the big American Ain al-Asad airbase in western Iraq. No one was hurt but the damage was extensive. Armed drones were also fired this month into Baghdad’s Green Zone, seat of government and the diplomatic row, including the US embassy.

The spreading UAVsyarfare, its implications and countermeasures, ,were almost certainly discussed at meetings between US and Israel security officials and experts late last month. In military terms, UAV weaponry turns the development clock back from the highly sophisticated and costly air defense missile systems in current use, to simpler defensive solutions. This point was illustrated this week when Israel announced the completion of tests on the first airborne, high-power laser defense system. Installed on a regular aircraft, the laser system intercepted and destroyed several UAVs at various ranges and different flight altitudes. The defense ministry said the new device would be operational in another three to four years. The new gadget was unveiled during IDF Chief of Staff’s talks at the Pentagon.

Meeting top US officials, Kohavi blasts American plans to rejoin Iran deal

June 24, 2021

IDF chief reportedly says another round of fighting in Gaza is only a matter of time, as he meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan

By JUDAH ARI GROSS23 June 2021, 10:01 pm  

From left, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States and United Nations Gilad Erdan, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meet in Washington on June 23, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi again railed against the United States’ plan to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal during a meeting with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and other top American defense officials on Wednesday, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

During his meeting in Washington, Kohavi reiterated the “failures of the current nuclear deal” and attempted to convince the American officials of alternative methods of preventing Iran from obtaining an atomic weapon, the military said.

The US National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk and Special Assistant to the President Cara Abercrombie also took part in the meeting with Sullivan, according to the IDF.

“Throughout the day, the chief of staff has presented possible ways to prevent Iran from obtaining military nuclear capabilities during his meetings,” the IDF said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Iran reported that an attempt had been made to attack a site associated with its nuclear program northwest of Tehran. Official Iranian state media reported that the strike had failed, but Iranian opposition outlets said damage had been caused to the facility, which was used to create parts for centrifuges.

Kohavi’s remarks came as the US and Iran — through intermediaries — have been negotiating a mutual return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Former US president Donald Trump abrogated the agreement in 2018, putting in place a crushing sanctions regime, which prompted Iran to also abandon the accord a year later, enriching more uranium and at greater levels of purity than was permitted under the deal, as well as taking part in other forms of proscribed nuclear research.

Israel staunchly opposes US President Joe Biden’s plan to reenter the JCPOA, which he has said he’s prepared to do provided Iran returns to compliance with the agreement.

Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazem Gharib Abadi, Political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, Abbas Araghchi, and Deputy Secretary-General and Political Director of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Enrique Mora leave the ‚Grand Hotel Vienna where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (AP/Lisa Leutner)

On Wednesday, Iranian officials said the US had agreed in principle to remove over 1,000 sanctions on officials and companies associated with the Islamic Republic’s oil and shipping sectors, which had been put in place under Trump.

The Biden administration has said it plans to use the JCPOA as a starting-off point for brokering a “longer and stronger” nuclear deal, though critics — including those in Israel — say that once the US eases the sanctions in place on Iran and Iranian officials as it returns to the JCPOA, Tehran will no longer have an incentive to negotiate.

Several delegations of Israeli officials, including former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, have traveled to the US in recent months in an effort to dissuade the Biden administration from reentering the agreement.

In the past, US officials have said that the concerns raised by Israel during these talks will not change the White House’s plans.

During his meeting, the IDF chief also reportedly told Sullivan that another round of conflict in the Gaza Strip was only a matter of time, following last month’s bloody 11-day battle with terror groups in the Palestinian enclave.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Kohavi referred specifically to the difficulties in the ongoing negotiations with Hamas and its leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, who has demanded Israel allow large sums of aid money from Qatar into the Strip. Israel has maintained that it will not allow large-scale reconstruction in Gaza until Hamas returns two Israeli civilians and the remains of two fallen IDF soldiers that it is holding captive.

Kohavi landed in Washington on Sunday and has met with a number of top American defense officials, including US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, US Central Command chief Kenneth McKenzie and others. He is due to return to Israel on Friday, according to the military.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, center-right, and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, center-left, salute outside the US Department of Defense in Washington, DC, on June 21, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Kohavi was scheduled to meet with CIA head William Burns and the US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

In addition to discussing Iran’s nuclear program, the IDF chief also shared Israeli assessments of the Islamic Republic’s military expansionism in the Middle East, the IDF said.

On Wednesday, Kohavi also met with Israel’s Ambassador to the US and the United Nations Gilad Erdan, discussing in particular the IDF’s concerns regarding the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist militia and the ways in which the UN and its peacekeeping force in Lebanon can help rein in the group in accordance with UN resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

“The two discussed the need to enforce and effectively fulfill the mandate of the [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] in light of the renewal process of the mandate in the UN later this year. The chief of staff stressed that for years the state of Lebanon has lost control of its security policy and completely abdicates its responsibility to uphold resolution 1701, as the Hezbollah terrorist organization effectively runs Lebanon’s security policies,” the IDF said.

Israel and US said to increase cooperation to combat Iranian drones

June 24, 2021


Idea of establishing Mideast no-fly zone for Iranian UAVs reportedly raised in first interagency working group meeting between Israeli and US officials on tackling growing threat

By TOI STAFF23 June 2021, 6:09 pm  

Illustrative. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Gen. Hossein Salami, left, and the Guard's aerospace division commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh talk while unveiling a new drone called "Gaza" in an undisclosed location in Iran, in a photo released on May 22, 2021. (Sepahnews of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, via AP)

Illustrative. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Gen. Hossein Salami, left, and the Guard’s aerospace division commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh talk while unveiling a new drone called “Gaza” in an undisclosed location in Iran, in a photo released on May 22, 2021. (Sepahnews of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, via AP)

The United States and Israel reportedly held talks earlier this month on cooperation against unmanned Iranian drones, with which the Islamic Republic is believed to be arming Shiite militias and terrorist organizations in the region.

Building on an April agreement by the two counties’ national security advisers, an interagency working group dealing with the threat to Israel and other US allies from Iranian drones and precision-guided missiles convened for the first time three weeks ago, the Walla news site reported.

Quoting both senior US and Israeli officials involved in the talks, the report said  the American team was led by White House National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk and the Israeli team was headed by deputy national security adviser Reuven Ezer.

One idea reportedly raised in the meeting was establishing a “no-fly zone” in the Middle East for Iranian UAVs.

In May, Israel downed a drone it approached Israeli airspace near the northeastern city of Beit She’an, with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu later saying it was made by Iran and launched by Iranian forces toward Israel from either Syria or Iraq. In a similar case in 2018, a drone was flown from Syria into northern Israel before it was shot down by an Israeli helicopter. In response, the IDF launched a wave of strikes on Iranian assets in Syria.

Israel has a waged a nearly decade-long bombing campaign in Syria aimed at thwarting Iran and allied militias, including Hezbollah, from setting up bases to attack the Jewish state, as well as the transfer of advanced arms from Iran to Hezbollah.

Sunday’s report comes days after the news site said that the US had increased military coordination with Israel and with a number of moderate Middle Eastern countries in an effort to counter the threat posed to the region by the Islamic Republic.

Over the past two months, the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) has increased the pace of coordination and the number of high-level meetings with Israel, Egypt, Jordan, several Gulf states, Cyprus and Greece, the Sunday report said.IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, center-right, and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, center-left, salute outside the US Department of Defense in Washington, DC, on June 21, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

During his ongoing visit to the US, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi visited the Florida headquarters of CENTCOM Tuesday, touting the “operational cooperation” between the two US and Israeli militaries as “unprecedented.”

“A joint operating target of the two militaries is Iran, which is working to entrench itself and establish terrorist forces in many states throughout the Middle East and is continuing to present a regional threat in terms of nuclear, advanced weapons systems, ballistic missiles and funding terror armies,” Kohavi said alongside CENTCOM chief, General Frank McKenzie.

Kohavi’s trip comes amid lingering tensions between the US and Israel over the Iran nuclear issue. US President Joe Biden’s administration intends to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, a move that Israeli officials, including Kohavi, have staunchly and publicly opposed.

On Friday, Channel 13 news reported that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is hoping to use the coming weeks, ahead of the inauguration of the new hardline Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, to hold talks with Washington in order to influence the expected US return to the nuclear deal.

The report said Bennett has removed a ban by his predecessor, Netanyahu, on Israeli officials discussing the details of the emerging renewed deal between the US and Iran. Netanyahu had instructed security officials not to hold talks on the details of the deal with American officials, in an apparent effort to distance Israel from it.Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (2R) leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 20, 2021. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

Last week, Iran announced that it had amassed 6.5 kilograms (14.3 pounds) of uranium enriched to 60 percent purity, and 108 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20% purity, in five months. Uranium enriched to those levels can be relatively easy to further enrich into a weapons-grade level of 90% purity.

Former US president Donald Trump abandoned the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in 2018, imposing fresh sanctions on Iran and Iranian officials, leading Tehran to follow suit shortly thereafter. Since then, Tehran has ratcheted up tensions on the nuclear front by amassing greater quantities of enriched uranium at greater degrees of purity and by making advancements in the development of missiles that could be used to carry a nuclear warhead.

In recent months, Iranian and European negotiation teams have been meeting in Vienna to discuss a return to the nuclear deal by the US and Iran. Though all sides have reported progress, the talks have stalled somewhat in recent weeks as Iran geared up for its presidential elections, which were held last week.

Iran nuclear site hit Wednesday was on list of targets Israel gave US – report

June 24, 2021


NY Times says facility manufactured centrifuges to replace those destroyed in April attack on Natanz; strike was carried out by drone launched from within Islamic Republic

By TOI STAFF and APToday, 9:33 am  

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

The Iranian centrifuge production site said targeted in a drone attack Wednesday was reportedly on a list of targets that Israel presented to the Trump administration last year.

Israel proposed hitting the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company, or TESA, to former US president Donald Trump along with then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo and Gina Haspel, at the time director of the CIA, an intelligence source told The New York Times.

The source said that Israel also suggested striking Iran’s uranium enrichment site at Natanz and assassinating Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.

Fakhrizadeh was killed in November 2020 in an attack Iran blamed on Israel, while a mysterious explosion damaged a large number of centrifuges at the Natanz plant in April 2021. Israel’s former Mossad spy agency chief recently indicated in an interview given after he left office that Israel was behind that incident.

The TESA factory was tasked with replacing the damaged centrifuges at Natanz and also produces more advanced centrifuges that can more quickly enrich uranium, The Times report said.

The intelligence source said that Israel’s campaign against Iran’s nuclear program had the blessing of the Trump administration.

Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. (Agencies)

A small quadcopter drone was used in the attack on TESA, the report said, citing an Iranian source who was not identified.

The drone was apparently launched from within Iran, not far from the site, and succeeded in hitting the target, according to the Iranian source familiar with the incident, the report said. However, the source did not know if it caused any damage.

Following Wednesday’s attack, Iran’s aviation authority said that a new law will require all civilian drones to be registered on a government website within six months. The drones will then be issued licenses, the report said.

Official Iranian media said the target of Wednesday’s strike was a facility that belongs to Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization in the city of Karaj, northwest of Tehran, known as the Karaj Agricultural and Medical Research Center.

Unverified reports from Iranian opposition-aligned outlets said the specific target of the attack was a factory that manufactures parts for Iran’s centrifuges.

Iranian media maintained that the attack had failed and “left no casualties or damages and was unable to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program.”

Despite the official Iranian claims to the contrary, the strike caused damage to the facility, according to unsourced reports in Hebrew media on Wednesday evening. They could not be independently confirmed.

The Iranian town of Karaj (Mojtaba Momeni/Wikimedia Commons)

While Iran maintains that the Karaj facility is used for civilian purposes, it has been subjected to United Nations, European Union and American sanctions since at least 2007 for being involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The US lifted those sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal, but then reimposed them in 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord.

Iran did not identify who was behind the attack, though it has accused Israel of conducting similar strikes on its nuclear facilities in recent years.

In April, Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility experienced a mysterious explosion that damaged some of its centrifuges. Last July, unexplained fires struck the advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Natanz, which authorities later described as sabotage. Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.

Iran also blamed Israel for the November killing of Fakhrizadeh.

In a bombshell interview earlier this month, the former head of the Mossad spy agency all but confirmed that Israel was behind both the Natanz blast and the killing of Fakhrizadeh.

More generally, Cohen said: “We say very clearly [to Iran]: We won’t let you get nuclear weapons. What don’t you understand?”

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen in an interview with Channel 12 broadcast on June 10, 2021 (Screencapture)

In August 2019, a drone attack targeted a facility run by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group in the Lebanese capital of Beirut. Though they did not take responsibility, Israeli officials said the site manufactured vital parts for Hezbollah’s precision-guided missiles. Hezbollah blamed Israel for the attack.

Wednesday’s New York Times report said That attack was carried out by tiny armed drones that took off from the coast near Beirut and that the drone operators were picked up by a submarine.

Earlier this week Iran’s southern Bushehr nuclear power plant was temporarily shut down over a “technical fault,” the country’s atomic energy body said. The statement said the plant will be reconnected to the grid and the issue will be resolved “in a few days,” but did not elaborate further.

Wednesday’s attack came as the US and Iran — through intermediaries — were negotiating a mutual return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. When Trump abrogated the agreement in 2018, he put in place a crushing sanctions regime, which prompted Iran to also abandon the accord a year later, enriching more uranium and at greater levels of purity than was permitted under the deal, as well as taking part in other forms of proscribed nuclear research.

Iran’s uranium enrichment is a key talking point at negotiations in Vienna to revive the deal.

Israel staunchly opposes US President Joe Biden’s plan to reenter the JCPOA, which he has said he’s prepared to do, provided Iran returns to compliance with the agreement.

In an apparent effort to ramp up pressure during these negotiations, Iran in April boosted its uranium enrichment to 60 percent purity, bringing it closer to the 90% purity threshold for full military use and shortens its potential “breakout time” to build an atomic bomb — a goal the Islamic Republic denies.

Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon, but as it dropped its commitments to the deal it began enriching uranium to levels that the International Atomic Energy Agency said are only sought by countries aiming to build a weapon.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

US government SEIZES website of Iran’s Press TV, two other media outlets — RT World News

June 22, 2021
  • Visitors to the three domains were greeted on Tuesday with a notice that they were seized under US laws that allow civil and criminal forfeiture of property involved in “trafficking in nuclear, chemical, biological, or radiological weapons technology or material, or the manufacture, importation, sale, or distribution of a controlled substance.”

22 Jun, 2021 17:05 / Updated 14 seconds ago

US government SEIZES website of Iran’s Press TV, two other media outlets

©  https://www.presstv.com/

The seizure notice by the US Department of Justice also invokes a law governing presidential authority in dealing with “unusual and extraordinary threat; declaration of national emergency,” which includes the Iran Nonproliferation Amendments Act of 2005 and the ironically named Iran Freedom Support Act of 2006.

Launched in July 2007, Press TV is the international English-language service of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Tehran’s state media agency. Al-Alam goes back to 2003 and is broadcast in Arabic, Farsi and English to audiences in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

Al-Masirah is not owned by Iran, but by Ansarullah – the movement of the Houthis in Yemen, a faction the US has accused of being “proxies” of Iran on account of them being Shia Muslims and resisting the invasion of Yemen by Saudi Arabia since 2015. The TV channel is headquartered in Beirut, Lebanon.

Neither the US nor the Iranian authorities have commented on the seizures just yet. Meanwhile, the NGO Yemen Solidarity Council condemned the “the deliberate silencing of the Yemeni voice by the American regime.”

Washington’s move comes just a day after the newly elected Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi urged the US to lift all sanctions on Tehran and rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, negotiated by the Obama administration but unilaterally repudiated by President Donald Trump in 2018.

Raisi called on the US to “live up to your commitments” in the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He also said the Iranian ballistic missile program was “not up for negotiation.”ALSO ON RT.COMForeign policy won’t be limited by nuclear deal, says Iran’s president-elect, ballistic missile program is non-negotiable

While the Trump administration took a hard-line approach to Iran, imposing unprecedented sanctions and even assassinating a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps general – resulting in Iranian missile strikes against US bases in Iraq – it never moved against media outlets. The Biden administration was thought to be open for relaxing tensions.

Just last week, Iranian negotiators said they had reached a deal with their US counterparts to lift the Trump-era sanctions.

In Washington, IDF chief warns US against rejoining Iran nuclear deal

June 22, 2021


Meeting with American counterpart, Kohavi lays out Israeli opposition to 2015 accord, saying it paves way to an Iranian bomb

By JUDAH ARI GROSS21 June 2021, 10:58 pm  

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, center-right, and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, center-left, salute outside the US Department of Defense in Washington, DC, on June 21, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Military chief Aviv Kohavi warned American officials against their government’s plan to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal this week during a visit to Washington, DC, as part of a last-ditch effort by Israel to affect the ongoing negotiations between the United States and Iran in Vienna.

The Israel Defense Forces chief of staff arrived in the United States on Sunday and spent the past two days in meetings with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in the Pentagon, the military said.

“The chief of staff presented the failures of the current nuclear deal, which allow Iran to make significant advances in the coming years in the quantity and quality of centrifuges and in the amount and quality of enriched uranium, and he stressed the lack of oversight in the area of developing a nuclear weapon,” the IDF said in a statement.

Kohavi’s visit to the US, which was delayed due to last month’s Gaza conflict, came as indirect talks between Washington and Tehran picked up steam, following the election last week of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s next president.

Both the current and former Israeli governments have voiced opposition to the US rejoining the 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which former US president Donald Trump abrogated in 2018, putting in place a crushing sanctions regime that prompted Iran to also abandon the agreement a year later.

US President Joe Biden has repeatedly stated his intention to return to the agreement, provided Tehran comes back into compliance with it as well. The Biden administration has said it plans to use the JCPOA as a starting off point for brokering a “longer and stronger” nuclear deal, though critics — including those in Israel — say that once the US eases the sanctions in place on Iran and Iranian officials as it returns to the JCPOA, Tehran will no longer have an incentive to negotiate.

Several delegations of Israeli officials, including former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, have traveled to the US in recent months in an effort to dissuade the Biden administration from reentering the agreement.

Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Kazem Gharib Abadi attends the IAEA Board of Governors meeting at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on June 7, 2021. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

In the past, US officials have said that the concerns raised by Israel during these talks will not change the White House’s plans.

Shortly after Biden’s inauguration in January, Kohavi made waves with a particularly blunt speech arguing against the US rejoining the deal, calling it a “bad” plan.

The newly inaugurated Israeli government has said that, while it opposes Biden’s plan to rejoin the deal, it would voice its concerns behind closed doors.

Kohavi, however, has kept his criticism firmly in public.

“The chief of staff emphasized the inherent danger in returning to the original nuclear agreement and stressed that everything must be done to prevent Iran from obtaining military nuclear capabilities,” the IDF said.

During his meeting with Milley, which was attended briefly by Austin, Kohavi also discussed Iran’s expansionist efforts in the Middle East, the efforts being made by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group to develop precision-guided missiles, and Israel’s recent conflict in the Gaza Strip with Hamas, the military said.

“The strategic and military alliance with the United States represents a facet of the State of Israel’s national security that is of the utmost importance. Cooperation between the militaries is a force multiplier and of growing mutual interest in recent years, and we will continue to work together against our shared threats in the Middle East,” Kohavi said during the meeting.

Pentagon officials largely refrained from discussing the contents of the meeting, with a spokesperson saying only that Milley “reaffirmed the US commitment to its relationship with Israel.”

Kohavi was joined on his nearly week-long trip by Maj. Gen. Tal Kalman, who leads the IDF’s counter-Iran efforts, as well as Brig. Gen. Amit Sa’ar, who leads Military Intelligence’s Research Division, and Israel’s defense attaché in Washington, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, who is due to complete his tenure shortly.

In addition to Milley and Austin, the IDF delegation was scheduled to meet US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, the head of the US Central Command Kenneth McKenzie, the head of the US Special Operations Command Richard Clark and other top American defense officials.

Kalman, Sa’ar, and Fuchs will also hold their own meetings with additional American defense officials, according to the IDF.

Kohavi was initially scheduled to travel to Washington in late April, but his trip was called off in light of rising tensions at the time between Israel and the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip, which culminated in a vicious 11-day battle last month.

Kohavi was also scheduled to meet with heads of think tanks and other “thought shapers” in the US, as part of Israel’s public relations efforts before returning to Israel on Friday, the military said. Deputy Chief of Staff Eyal Zamir is commanding the IDF in Kohavi’s absence.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

Israel Has Shot Down Drones With An Airborne High-Power Laser

June 22, 2021

Israel’s airborne laser program aims to add to its multi-layered air defense system that is increasingly tasked with countering low-end drone attacks.

BY BRETT TINGLEY JUNE 21, 2021

Israel’s Ministry of Defense announced today that it successfully intercepted multiple drones during a test of an airborne high-power laser weapon. The demonstrated system is being hailed as “a strategic change in the air defense capabilities of the State of Israel” and could potentially add a vital capability to Israel’s multi-layered integrated air defense system. While the new high-power laser has been tested against UAVs, statements made by officials involved with the demonstration show that the system is also intended to defend against rocket attacks.

The demonstration was carried out by the Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) “Yanat” missile test unit, Israel’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D), and Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems. A press release accompanying the announcement states that multiple unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) were intercepted and destroyed above a test range using the new airborne laser system. Footage shared online shows the system deployed on a Cessna 208 Caravan behind a windowed panel on the left side of the aircraft’s rear fuselage. Few specifics about the laser system’s capabilities have been released, but DDR&D’s Head of Research and Development, Brig. Gen. Yaniv Rotem, stated that the system successfully intercepted drones at a range of more than 1km.

Airborne laser systems offer advantages over ground-based laser systems due to the fact that they are carried aboard aircraft and therefore can be rapidly moved between locations. This offers added flexibility to respond to UAV threats wherever they might present themselves and provides greater coverage over a much wider area, especially when compared to a stationary system. 

An airborne counter-drone system also will be less impacted by atmospheric distortion than its ground-based counterparts. Laser directed energy weapons, in general, have limitations, such as being highly susceptible to atmospheric conditions, clouds, and smoke. As with any weapon system, size, weight, thermal loads, and power also significantly limit how effective they are against various threats or even how broadly they can be deployed on different aircraft. You can read all about these issues in this past piece of ours

Israel’s new airborne laser system is claimed to be able to “effectively intercept long-range threats at high altitudes regardless of weather conditions,” despite the fact that Israel’s Ministry of Defense has previously stated that laser systems do not work well in inclement weather or through cloud cover. Still, laser systems offer advantages over kinetic interceptors, in that cost-per-intercept is much lower despite the potential for high up-front procurement and research and development costs of the laser systems themselves.

The aforementioned cost per intercept advantage is a significant catalyst in the development of Israel’s new airborne laser defense system. Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the demonstration of the new system is “significant both in terms of cost-effectiveness and defense capabilities” and “will add a new layer of protection at greater ranges and in facing a variety of threats – securing the State of Israel while saving the costs of interception.” 

While the most recent demonstration saw Israel’s new high-power laser shoot down multiple UAVs only, statements made by those developing the program show that this system could also offer a new tool in Israel’s growing arsenal of rocket defenses. Oren Sabag, General Manager of Elbit Systems Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Division, said that “that the use of a high-power laser to carry out low-cost airborne interception of rockets and hostile unmanned aircraft, closer to their launching areas and away from population centers, offers a significant change in Israel’s defense capabilities.”

Last year, Israel’s Ministry of Defense announced an unspecified “technological breakthrough” related to an airborne laser system being developed in conjunction with Elbit Systems. That system was claimed to cost just one dollar per intercept, compared with the “tens of thousands of dollars that each Iron Dome interceptor missile costs.” Israel is looking at developing an array of laser weapons that also includes drone-mounted and ground-based systems.

Israel’s new airborne high-power laser system could complement Israel’s existing multi-tier missile defense network, which includes the Iron Dome, PatriotDavid’s Sling, and Arrow surface-to-air missile systems, as well as manned fighters and helicopters. The need for a multi-layered approach for lower-end threats presented itself in recent clashes when continuous mass rocket attacks launched by Palestinian militants tested the Iron Dome’s capabilities by overwhelming it with sheer numbers.

Iron Dome and its Tamir interceptors are claimed to be capable of shooting down drones in addition to rockets and short-range artillery, but it remains unclear how effective that capability is. In the most recent round of clashes, the IDF reported shooting down unmanned aircraft flying out of Gaza, but it’s unknown which defense systems were responsible for those intercepts.

Militants have been increasingly using drones to attack Israel, and these low-end threats continue to present challenges for existing defense systems designed to intercept rockets or missiles that follow more predictable ballistic trajectories. The proliferation of low-end drones capable of carrying out improvised attacks is becoming a worldwide security issue, and even relatively small-scale drones are capable of creating large-scale impact when targeting infrastructure or high-value targets.

One could see how Israel could deploy several more mature versions of this system in the skies above key areas such as Gaza or along the border with Lebanon during a time of crisis, in essence providing anti-drone screening in a very efficient package. Migrating the capability to an unmanned system in the future would likely be ideal, enabling a loitering drone defense system. 

It’s also worth considering that one of the key benefits of lasers are they they can, at least in principle, fire indefinitely, so long as they have a sufficient and consistent power supply. This is important when considering questions about whether it is possible to simply overwhelm existing defense systems like Iron Dome. At the same time, each individual laser system can only engage one target at a time, and there could be significant lag between individual engagements depending on how long the high-power laser takes to charge up. 

The ongoing development of Israel’s airborne high-power laser system aimed at intercepting and defeating UAV threats demonstrates how crucial anti-drone capabilities have become when it comes to air defense. While airborne laser systems have been developed and tested to varying degrees of success by the U.S. Air Force as far back as the 1980s, Israel is the first to actually deploy a counter-drone laser aboard an aircraft and effectively make it work, at least from what has been publicly disclosed. The latest claims represent a technological triumph for the Israel Defense Forces which will likely influence other air arms around the globe.

What remains to be known is just what exact type of laser system is being used here and what its power output and other limitations are. For the test setup, it clearly has limited field of regard, but that will surely change over time. We also don’t know exactly what concept of operations would be employed operationally for such a system like this. Will organic sensors onboard the aircraft provide initial detection and targeting or will that come from external sources alone? Also, aboard which type of platform will this laser unit see its first operational deployment?

The U.S. Air Force is still slated to deploy its first operational airborne laser on an AC-130 gunship soon, but that system is being eyed more for air-to-ground roles. Meanwhile, a far more ambitious initiative is underway to put a podded laser defensive system on a fighter aircraft. All this is fine and well, but Israel’s approach to provide a counter-drone capability with an airborne laser, something U.S. Navy ships haven’t even received in a truly operation state, is quite intriguing. Although it is worth mentioning that there may be undisclosed work underway in the U.S. that is focusing on developing a similar system

Still, there are aforementioned challenges that remain. It will be interest to see how the IAF and its research wings overcome these challenges as they try to migrate their airborne laser system into an operational state. 

Contact the author: Brett@TheDrive.com

TV: Israeli officials warn ‘no choice’ but to ready attack plans after Raisi win

June 21, 2021

Foreign Minister Lapid urges ‘renewed determination’ to halt Iran’s nuke program, while ministry spokesman says judiciary chief will be ‘most extremist president to date’

This satellite photo provided from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran's Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Iran began enriching uranium Friday, April 16, 2021, to its highest level ever at Natanz, edging closer to weapons-grade levels to pressure talks in Vienna aimed at restoring its nuclear deal with world powers after an attack on the site. (Planet Labs via AP)

This satellite photo provided from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Iran began enriching uranium Friday, April 16, 2021, to its highest level ever at Natanz, edging closer to weapons-grade levels to pressure talks in Vienna aimed at restoring its nuclear deal with world powers after an attack on the site. (Planet Labs via AP)

Security officials believe Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi will adopt Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s hardline views on foreign and nuclear policy, and assess that Israel must once again ready plans to potentially attack the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities, Israeli television reported Saturday.

Channel 12 said Raisi backs a return to the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, and the assessment in Israel is that an agreement with the US to restore the accord won’t be signed until August, when he takes office. In the meantime, however, Iran is expected to build up its stockpile of enriched uranium.

“There will be no choice [now] but to go back and prepare attack plans for Iran’s nuclear program. This will require budgets and the reallocation of resources,” an unnamed senior Israeli source was quoted as saying.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted Saturday evening: “Iran’s new president, known as the Butcher of Tehran, is an extremist responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iranians. He is committed to the regime’s nuclear ambitions and to its campaign of global terror.”

Lapid argued that “his election should prompt renewed determination to immediately halt Iran’s nuclear program and put an end to its destructive regional ambitions.”

And Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat tweeted that Raisi will be the “most extremist president to date.

“An extremist figure, committed to Iran’s rapidly advancing military nuclear program, his election makes clear Iran’s true malign intentions, and should prompt grave concern among the international community.”

Iran’s presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi, points during a campaign rally in Eslamshahr, southwest of Tehran, Iran, June 6, 2021. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

On Thursday Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel and the United States were working to increase the monitoring of Tehran’s nuclear program, while warning that “all options are on the table” regarding Jerusalem’s preparedness to conduct a military strike in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, meanwhile, was set to lead a senior delegation of top Israeli military officers to Washington early Sunday to meet with American officials about Iran’s nuclear program and its expansionist efforts in the region, the Israel Defense Forces said.

“The chief of staff will discuss with his counterparts current shared security challenges, including matters dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat, Iran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily in the Middle East, Hezbollah’s rearmament efforts, the consequences of the threat of precision-guided missiles and joint force build-up,” the military said.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid arrives for the new government’s first cabinet meeting on June 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Kohavi’s trip comes amid lingering tensions between the US and Israel over the Iran nuclear issue. US President Joe Biden’s administration intends to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, a move that Israeli officials, including Kohavi, have staunchly and publicly opposed.

On Friday Channel 13 news reported that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is hoping to use the coming weeks, ahead of the inauguration of the new Iranian president, to hold talks with Washington in order to positively influence the expected US return to the nuclear deal.

The report said Bennett has removed a ban by his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Israeli officials discussing the details of the emerging renewed deal between the US and Iran. Netanyahu had instructed security officials not to hold talks on the details of the deal with American officials, in an apparent effort to distance Israel from it.

This October 26, 2010, photo shows the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour)

This week, Iran announced that it had amassed 6.5 kilograms (14.3 pounds) of uranium enriched to 60% purity, and 108 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20% purity in five months. Uranium enriched to those levels can be relatively easy to further enrich into a weapons-grade level of 90% purity.

Former US president Donald Trump abandoned the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in 2018, imposing fresh sanctions on Iran and Iranian officials, leading Tehran to follow suit shortly thereafter. Since then, Tehran has ratcheted up tensions on the nuclear front by amassing greater quantities of enriched uranium at greater degrees of purity and by making advancements in the development of missiles that could be used to carry a nuclear warhead.

In recent months, Iranian and European negotiation teams have been meeting in Vienna to discuss a return to the nuclear deal by the US and Iran — a move staunchly opposed by top Israeli officials. Though all sides have reported progress, the talks have stalled somewhat in recent weeks as Iran geared up for the presidential elections.