Archive for January 2022

Israeli airstrikes said to hit targets near Damascus

January 31, 2022

Strikes are first since Russia carried out public joint air-defense patrols with Syrian air force; state TV claims some incoming missiles intercepted, but ‘material damage’ caused

By TOI STAFFToday, 5:39 am  

Illustrative: In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows missiles flying into the sky near international airport, in Damascus, Syria, on January 21, 2019. (SANA via AP)

Illustrative: In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows missiles flying into the sky near international airport, in Damascus, Syria, on January 21, 2019. (SANA via AP)

Israeli jets carried out airstrikes against targets near the Syrian capital of Damascus early Monday morning, Syrian state TV reported.

The alleged strikes are the first since Russia announced last week it was carrying out joint military jet patrols with the Syrian air force of the airspace along Syria’s borders, including in the Golan Heights area.

Monday’s TV report said Syria activated its air defenses and intercepted several of the incoming missiles, but noted that the strikes had caused some “material damage.” There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Syria routinely claims to shoot down Israeli missiles. Analysts generally dismiss such claims — heard after nearly every Israeli airstrike — as false, empty boasts.

Reports said the missiles were fired from the direction of neighboring Lebanon. The targets of the strikes were not immediately clear.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Israel has staged hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses specific operations. Many of the strikes in the past targeted the main airport in the capital Damascus, through which Iran is believed to transfer advanced arms to its proxies.

Israel has acknowledged that it targets the bases of Iranian forces and Iran-allied terror groups, particularly along the Golan border, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has fighters deployed in southern Syria. It says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups.

Hezbollah is fighting on the side of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in the decade-long civil war.

In December, Israel reportedly carried out two high-profile strikes on the Syrian port of Latakia.In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, flames rise from containers at the scene of missiles attack, at the seaport of the coastal city of Latakia, Syria, early December 28, 2021. (SANA via AP)

Last week Russia carried out a joint air patrol with the Syrian air force along the border with Israel, prompting speculation that Israel would be more hesitant to strike Syria.

Following the patrol, Ynet reported that Israeli military officials were holding talks with Russian army officers to calm tensions.

According to the report, Israeli officials were struggling to understand why Russia, which announced such joint patrols were expected to be a regular occurrence moving forward, had apparently changed its policy toward Israel.

The report claimed, without citing a source, that Israel may limit its air campaign in Syria as a result of Russia’s move, even after discussions end.

US and Iran ‘in ballpark’ of possible nuclear deal, says White House official

January 28, 2022

Still, Brett McGurk also cautions that ‘these talks could collapse very soon’; Bennett uses Holocaust commemoration to slam possible deal

By JACOB MAGID27 January 2022, 9:54 pm  

An Iranian woman walks past a new mural painted on the walls of the former US embassy in the capital Tehran, on November 2, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

An Iranian woman walks past a new mural painted on the walls of the former US embassy in the capital Tehran, on November 2, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

A senior White House official said Thursday that the United States and Iran are “in the ballpark of a possible [nuclear] deal” in Vienna, while also clarifying that Washington is “very prepared” for the “pretty likely” scenario that there won’t be an agreement.

Iran and world powers are in the midst of an eighth round of negotiations aimed at reviving the tattered 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, launching a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign, which Tehran responded to with escalating violations of the multilateral accord.

Trump’s successor, US President Joe Biden, is seeking a joint US-Iran return to compliance with the JCPOA, but has been met by a new, more hardline Iranian president in Ebrahim Raisi, who has demanded the removal of all US sanctions in exchange for the Islamic Republic’s return to the deal.

Asked to comment on the status of negotiations in Vienna during a virtual event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, White House National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East Brett McGurk said, “We’re in the ballpark of a possible deal. But again, I’m not going to put odds on this. There’s [also] a very real chance that these talks could collapse very soon.”

While avoiding taking any sort of definitive stance on where the talks might head, McGurk said they had reached a “culmination point and [that] we’re going to know very soon whether or not it is possible for the Iranians to return to compliance with the nuclear deal on terms that we and the international community can accept.”Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

“There’s a chance for a deal, and there’s also a pretty good chance there’s not going to be a deal,” he added. “If there’s no deal, we’re very prepared for that scenario.”Brett McGurk, then-US envoy for the global coalition against Islamic State, at a news conference at the US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, on June 7, 2017. (Hadi Mizban/AP)

“The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is something that would keep anyone up at night, but I can assure you that it’s never going to happen,” McGurk said, adding that a diplomatic path in Vienna is the best way to ensure that.

On Wednesday, the White House said that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told his Israeli counterpart Eyal Hulata that the Biden administration is already “preparing alternative options” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon if Vienna talks fail.

In an effort to defend the Biden administration’s push to return to the JCPOA, McGurk referenced an interview published in Maariv hours earlier in which former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot called Trump’s withdrawal a “strategic mistake.”

Eisenkot argued that the move, backed by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “freed the Iranians from certain shackles [and that] when the Iranians [then] began violating the agreement, they had legitimacy for these violations because of the American withdrawal.”

The Biden administration has been leaning hard on such remarks from current and former Israeli officials as it has doubled down on its blame of the Trump administration for causing the still-unfolding nuclear crisis with Iran.

McGurk was also asked to comment on the recent decision by the US deputy special envoy on Iran to step down from the negotiating team in Vienna along with two others.

Richard Nephew, a longtime State Department official credited with crafting the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table ahead of the 2015 agreement, advocated for a tougher stance against Iran in the Vienna talks than his boss, Rob Malley, and others on the team, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. Two other negotiators resigned from the team along with Nephew for the same reasons, according to the paper.Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani leaves the Palais Coburg, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting that aims at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, on December 27, 2021. (Alex Halada/AFP)

McGurk avoided criticizing Nephew, calling him an “incredibly talented teammate” and saying that he had gone on to take a different position at the State Department.

He proceeded to offer implicit criticism of those demanding the US take a maximalist approach in the negotiations. He said the Biden administration could have walked out of negotiations when Iran returned to the negotiation table in December for the first time since Raisi’s election, with completely different demands and ones that reneged on previous agreements reached under his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani.

Instead, the US presented a united front with Russia and China against those proposals, McGurk recalled, saying it led the Iranian rial to collapse.

“The Iranians came back a week later with completely different proposals,” he continued. “That in my view is pretty good diplomacy.”

Separately on Thursday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appeared to take a cue from his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, using his International Holocaust Remembrance Day speech to invoke the threat posed by Iran.

“When we hear the Iranian regime’s daily calls to annihilate the State of Israel, as we speak they continue talking about murdering and destroying the State of Israel, the Jewish state, and when we see their rapid progression towards nuclear weapons, indifference is silent acceptance,” Bennett said in a video address to diplomats. “A country who talks about annihilating the Jewish state should not be a legitimate partner for anything.”

“Those who continue to try to attack Jews, to murder Jews, must know the Jew is no longer a punching bag. We swing back and we swing back hard,” he added.

Israel successfully tests Arrow 3 anti-ballistic missile system

January 18, 2022

Defense Ministry says radar arrays detected incoming ‘target’ and two Arrow 3 interceptors were fired at it, destroying it; trial follows recent Iranian ballistic missile tests

By JUDAH ARI GROSS and TOI STAFFToday, 6:47 amUpdated at 8:30 am  

A test launch of the Arrow 3 missile defense system released by the Defense Ministry on July 28, 2019. (Defense Ministry)

A test launch of the Arrow 3 missile defense system released by the Defense Ministry on July 28, 2019. (Defense Ministry)

Israel conducted a successful test of its Arrow 3 anti-ballistic missile system on Tuesday morning, the Defense Ministry said.

According to the ministry, the live-fire test was conducted over central Israel.

“The operational radar arrays of the Arrow system detected the target and sent the data to the fire management system, which analyzed the data and fully plotted the interception. Once the plans were completed, two Arrow 3 interceptors were fired at the target, and they completed their mission successfully,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The Arrow 3 is currently Israel’s most advanced long-range missile defense system, meant to intercept ballistic missiles while they are still outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, taking out projectiles and their nuclear, biological, chemical or conventional warheads closer to their launch sites. It is a joint project by the Defense Ministry’s Missile Defense Organization and the American Missile Defense Agency. Work is underway on the development of a yet more advanced system, the Arrow 4.

It was not immediately clear what was being tested with Tuesday’s Arrow 3 system in the trial, but the head of the Defense Ministry’s Weapons Development and Technology Infrastructure Administration, Danny Gold, described it as “a breakthrough that represents a technological leap forward in the capabilities of the defense establishment to renew and to match the emerging threats regionally and on the future battlefield.”Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Tuesday’s test followed a number of recent ballistic missile tests by Iran in recent weeks.

In an apparent threat to Iran, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the test ensured Israel’s ability to take action freely.

“We are preserving Israel’s ability to defend itself against developing threats in the region and allowing Israel offensive freedom of operation against its enemies, from an understanding that the best defense allows for the most effective attack,” he said.

The Arrow 3 was first tested successfully in February 2018, after months of delays and technical problems. It is considered one of the most powerful weapons of its kind in the world and has been in development since 2008.

Complemented by a number of other missile defense systems designed to protect Israel from short-, medium- and long-range attacks, the Arrow 3 represents the highest level of Israel’s multi-tiered missile defense network.

White House focusing blame on ‘reckless’ Trump ahead of Iran nuclear deal decision

January 13, 2022

Plan said made as Biden administration gears up for political fight as US will have to decide whether to re-enter the deal or walk away and apply further pressure on Tehran

By TOI STAFFToday, 3:18 am  

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The Biden administration is gearing up for the Iran nuclear deal talks to reach an end by stepping up criticism of former president Donald Trump and blaming him for the current situation.

In recent days, both State Department spokesperson Ned Price and White House spokesperson Jen Psaki attacked Trump for pulling the US out of the 2015 deal — agreed by Iran, the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — that offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Trump unilaterally withdrew the US in 2018 and reimposed biting sanctions, prompting Tehran to begin rolling back on its commitments and stepping up its enrichment activities.

The decision to focus on Trump is a deliberate one as the current talks in Vienna aimed at bringing the sides back into the deal head for a conclusion, the Axios news site reported Wednesday, citing two White House sources, saying they wanted to “focus the fire on Trump.”

On Tuesday, Price answered a question on the Vienna talks with a comment on Trump.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

“It’s worth spending just a moment on how we got here,” Price said. “It is deeply unfortunate that because of an ill-considered or perhaps unconsidered decision by the previous administration that this administration came into office without these stringent verification and monitoring protocols that were in place.”

Price said the Trump administration promised a better deal “that never came close” and instead “Iran has been able to gallop forward with its nuclear promise.”

Later Wednesday, Psaki said none of Iran’s “increased capabilities or aggressive actions they have taken through proxy wars around the world” would have occurred if Trump had not “recklessly pulled out of the nuclear deal with no thought as to what might come next.”

Speaking at a press briefing Psaki said that as a result of Trump’s actions “Iran’s nuclear program was no longer in a box, no longer had the most robust inspection regime ever negotiated, no longer had the tight restrictions on nuclear activity.”

Axios said the White House was laying the groundwork for the end of talks, when the US would either re-enter the deal or walk away and apply further pressure on Tehran.

“Both scenarios will generate political backlash, particularly from Republicans, but the White House wants to keep Democrats together in part by emphasizing that it was Trump who triggered this crisis and left them with only bad options,” Axios said.

The report said the talks were likely to culminate by the end of January or February.

On Tuesday France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the talks were proceeding so slowly that they are unlikely to lead to any agreement “within a realistic timeframe.”In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line the hall damaged on April 11, 2021, at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, some 200 miles (322 km) south of the capital Tehran. (IRIB via AP, File)

The discussions taking place in Vienna “are underway but from our point of view they are slow, too slow,” Le Drian told the French parliament.

“There is a vital urgency on this issue because of Iran’s own actions and the trajectory of its nuclear program,” he added

On Monday Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman had said that efforts by “all parties” to revive his country’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers had resulted in “good progress” during the Vienna talks.

Negotiations to salvage the nuclear deal resumed in late November after they were suspended in June as Iran elected a new, ultra-conservative government.

“There has been good progress on all four issues of removing sanctions, nuclear issues, verification and obtaining guarantees” during the latest round of talks, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters on Monday.

The US has participated only indirectly in the Vienna talks, which seek to bring Washington back inside the accord and to ensure Iran re-adheres to its own commitments.

Le Drian had sounded more positive about the talks on Friday, when he said they were progressing on a “rather positive path” while still emphasizing the urgency of bringing them to a speedy conclusion.

The following day his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said the two sides are nearing a “good agreement” due to France “behaving reasonably” after previously playing “the role of a bad cop”.

Britain, France and Germany said last month that the window for concluding a deal was “weeks, not months”, due to the speed of Iran’s nuclear enrichment.

Agencies contributed to this report

Eyeing Iran, Bennett says military undergoing largest rearmament in years

January 11, 2022

Prime minister tells Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Tehran remains country’s most significant foe, Israel fighting Iranian forces constantly

By JUDAH ARI GROSS10 January 2022, 4:29 pm  

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 10, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 10, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the Knesset on Monday that the country’s military and other security services were undergoing their largest rearming in years.

Bennett’s comments came as the IDF was working intensively to prepare for a potential military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, amid growing concerns that ongoing talks between the world powers and Tehran in Vienna about curbing the latter’s nuclear program may result in an agreement that Israel deems unacceptable, or in no agreement whatsoever.

“We are investing in security rearmament of the IDF and the entire defense establishment. I would say this was rearmament that we haven’t seen for years. This rearmament is important to our survival, and I am very glad about it and am determined to see it through quickly,” Bennett said, speaking to the parliament’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Bennett’s government increased the 2022 defense budget to nearly NIS 60 billion ($19.2 billion), a large chunk of which was to be earmarked for planning on military engagement with Iran, including billions to upgrade or procure vehicles, ordnance and more.

In a criticism of his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, Bennett claimed the military had been in a “tailspin” for years, which “severely damaged Israeli national security, in every dimension.” Bennett was defense minister under Netanyahu in 2019 and 2020.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Bennett reiterated that Israel will not be party to a nuclear deal with Iran and will do whatever it deems necessary to ensure the country’s security.

“In terms of the Vienna talks, the nuclear talks — we are indeed concerned. It is important for me to say and to clarify here in a way that can’t be misunderstood: Israel is not part of the agreements, Israel is not bound by what is written in the agreements if they are signed, and Israel will continue to ensure its full freedom of operation in any place and at any time, with no limitations,” Bennett said.

The rest of the premier’s remarks were delivered behind closed doors.

This was Bennett’s first appearance as prime minister before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, a parliamentary body meant to oversee the military, foreign policy and related issues.

In his remarks at the start of the meeting, Bennett told the committee that Iran was “at the top of our list of challenges.”

“Iran is the head of the octopus that sends enemies and proxies and its tentacles at us, on all of our borders. We are dealing — day and light — with Iran and its proxies. We are making a change, moving to a mindset of constant attack and not just constant defense,” he said.

Israel has been engaged in a long-simmering shadow war with Iran for years, mostly through regular airstrikes on Iranian-linked targets in Syria and en route to Syria, as well as occasional attacks — both physical ones and cyber attacks — on Iranian nuclear facilities, according to foreign reports.

Israel has opposed a return to the 2015 deal, instead pushing for negotiators to revamp the accord with stricter restraints on Iran and to address malign activity in the region beyond the nuclear portfolio. Officials have threatened that Israel could take military action to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, even without the support of other nations.

Yes, Israel can attack Iran

January 8, 2022

I haven’t copied across all the info to be found at the link below – the site owner deserves to get the traffic so hit the link for an interesting piece of analysis!

Yes, Israel can attack Iran 1 December 2021

But I will highlight these 2 paragraphs:

It seems to me that despite what Melman and others have said, Israel does have options to attack Iran. One approach is to paralyze the regime as a whole: cut off the head by killing the leadership, and cut the spinal cord by wrecking her communications and power infrastructure (perhaps with EMP weapons). Not everything must be done by manned aircraft: drones, submarine-launched missiles, Jericho ICBMs, and even special forces on the ground could take part. In this way, Iran can be taken out of the game without the need to destroy all her nuclear facilities at once. This also entails neutralizing Hezbollah at the same time, which might be the most difficult part.

There are other approaches, but rather than the surgical removal of the nuclear program, I prefer an attack targeting the regime because it will also lead to solutions to other problems, like Hezbollah. Possibly if the regime is hurt badly enough, the domestic Iranian opposition will be free to act, which could bring about the best outcome of all.

This is something that I have always thought – Israel, in attacking Iran, doesn’t need to destroy all the nuke sites straight away. They aren’t going anywhere so can be dealt with accordingly. Best to disable the Iranian threat first (ie leadership). An EMP weapon (delivered by Jericho missile) would be an awesome option were Israel to decide to use one (and if they have such a weapon). Although it would need to be a non-nuclear EMP weapon – setting off an atomic bomb 30km above Iran would cause immense blowback from around the world. A non-nuclear EMP weapon (of equivalent power to a nuclear one) is the holy grail of weapons for Israel to use. I hope they have some smart jews working on this…

Truth behind killing of Iran scientist

January 7, 2022

Article is almost a year old, but contains a lot of interesting details.

Top nuclear expert was killed by the Mossad, who used a one-ton remote-controlled gun smuggled into Iran piece by piece over eight months, the JC can disclose

The Iranian nuclear scientist who was shot dead near Tehran in November was killed by a one-ton automated gun that was smuggled into the country piece-by-piece by the Mossad, the JC can reveal.

The 20-plus spy team, which comprised both Israeli and Iranian nationals, carried out the high-tech hit after eight months of painstaking surveillance, intelligence sources disclosed.

The Tehran regime has secretly assessed that it will take six years before a replacement for top scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is fully operational.

Meanwhile, Israeli analysts have concluded that his death has extended the period of time it would take Iran to achieve a bomb from about three-and-a-half months to two years — with senior intelligence figures privately putting it as high as five years.

The disclosures come as the JC gives the fullest account yet of the assassination that made headlines around the world and significantly degraded Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, 59, known as the “father of the bomb”, lost his life in a burst of 13 bullets as he travelled with his wife and 12 bodyguards in Absard, near Tehran, on 27 November last year.

Neither his wife nor any of his security team were harmed in the attack, which was carried out using a hyper-accurate automated weapon in order to protect civilians from collateral damage.

Since Fakhrizadeh’s death, speculation has been rife about his killers, with no intelligence agency claiming responsibility for the murder. The circumstances of the killing have also been shrouded in mystery, with wild reports wrongly blaming a team of 62 gunmen.

Now the JC can confirm that Israel’s feared spy agency was behind the hit, which was carried out by mounting the killing device in a Nissan pickup.

The bespoke weapon, operated remotely by agents on the ground as they observed the target, was so heavy because it included a bomb that destroyed the evidence after the killing.

It was carried out by Israel alone, without American involvement, the JC has learnt. US officials were only given a “little clue, like checking the water temperature” prior to the attack, according to top international intelligence sources.

The audacious operation, which humiliated the Tehran leadership, succeeded partly because Iranian security services were too busy watching suspected political dissenters, sources said.

Jacob Nagel, one of Israel’s most senior defence officials who acted as Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, said: “The Mossad had documents proving that Fakhrizadeh had worked on several nuclear warheads, each one able to cause five Hiroshimas.

“He was serious. He still meant to do what he planned. So someone decided that he had had enough time on earth.”

LONG READ: Death from Mossad’s hyper-accurate gun

By Jake Wallis Simons, Deputy Editor

When Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s “father of the bomb”, perished in a hail of bullets on the outskirts of Tehran in November, the assassination stunned the Iranian regime and made headlines around the world. But three months on, key questions remain unanswered.

Nobody even knows how the 59-year-old nuclear scientist was killed. Initial reports suggested he was gunned down by armed men; later, a Revolutionary Guards official blamed a “satellite-operated” gun using artificial intelligence.

Quite where such a device had come from, and how it had been set up, remained unexplained. To this day, nobody knows whether the operation was a snap move or had been planned for months. And despite many theories, no one knows exactly why he was killed.

Uncertainty also hangs over President Trump’s role in the hit. Some analysts argued that he was making his mark before leaving office, while others denied American involvement.

Most importantly of all — despite widespread speculation that Israel was responsible — nobody has pinned down the identity of those behind the killing.

Until now. Today, the JC can confirm that the hit was carried out by Mossad, Israel’s feared intelligence service. And in the most complete account of the operation yet published, we can reveal for the first time the answers to the questions that have eluded the world.

To understand the need for such a high-profile and high-risk operation, the plot must be traced back to the night of 31 January 2018, to a bleak commercial district on the outskirts of the Iranian capital, and a blinding flash of light inside a darkened warehouse.

That was the start of one of the most significant intelligence coups carried out by Mossad in recent times. After a year of surveillance, spies stole a vast archive of Iran’s nuclear secrets, using torches that burned bright at 2,000C to free the documents from 32 giant safes.

Starting with the black ringbinders containing the most vital information, the agents spirited away 50,000 pages of documents and 163 CDs containing the full details of Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme.

Today, the nuclear archive — which Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled in a famous address at the Israeli Defence Ministry in 2018 — is housed in a forensically-secure unit at a secret location in Israel. Sources confirmed that the Jewish state is now using the intelligence it contained to persuade the Biden administration, via the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Tehran cannot be trusted to abide by the terms of any nuclear deal.

“We will base our arguments this time on pure intelligence, not politics,” an Israeli source said. “It will be cleaner to do that.” The secrets would not be new to the Americans, the source clarified, but Israeli officials would be offering their own interpretation and emphasis.

Earlier this month, the Mossad convened a meeting of its Brigadier-Generals to decide how to stop the US from entering another flawed nuclear deal that would only empower Iran. Israel believes that the 2015 Obama agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), disastrously allowed Tehran to keep its nuclear programme intact, pausing it but not dismantling it. And it allowed the regime to siphon money to its numerous proxy militias as soon as sanctions were lifted, subjecting the region to years of havoc.

The archive suggested that Iran had failed to respect the terms of Obama’s bargain. Fast forward to 2021, and Israel hopes that it will convince Joe Biden not to repeat the errors made by his old friend, and maintain some semblance of Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign on the theocracy.

Operationally, however, the archive meant something else. As soon as Israeli analysts opened those black ringbinders back in 2018, they knew that Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was destined — to use Mossad slang — to “depart”.

“It contained original documents ordering the concealment of the nuclear programme, many of them in Fakhrizadeh’s handwriting,” a source said.

“Analysts realised they were looking at his ink, his fingerprints, his pressure on the paper as he wrote. He was the one who was behind the deception.

“Fakhrizadeh was the father of everything we found in the archive. All was under his command, from the science and the secret sites to the personnel and know-how. He had led an operation to hide it from the world. From that point, it was just a matter of time.”

The assassination plot went live in March 2020, as the world was preoccupied with the Coronavirus threat. A team of Israeli spies was dispatched to Iran, where it liaised with local agents.

The group was comprised of more than 20 operatives, a large number for such a complex and risky mission. A meticulous surveillance operation was launched. “The team built up an extremely detailed, minute-by-minute plan,” said a source. “For eight months, they breathed with the guy, woke up with him, slept with him, travelled with him. They would have smelled his aftershave every morning, if he had used aftershave.”

The decision was made to kill the scientist on the road leading east out of Tehran to the exclusive country retreat of Absard, where he owned a villa.

The team knew that Fakhrizadeh travelled there from Tehran on Fridays. “They knew his daily route, speed and timing, and they knew exactly which doors they would use to get out,” a source said.

The JC has confirmed that the assassins did indeed use a sophisticated remote-controlled gun, with a small bomb built in to allow it to self-destruct (though contrary to Iranian claims, it was not “satellite operated”).

Including the explosives, the bespoke device weighed one ton, and was smuggled into Iran in small pieces over several months. Then it was assembled and installed inside a Nissan pick-up truck, which was parked by the side of the road.

On 27 November, Fakhrizadeh was travelling with his wife in a black Opel saloon, in the midst of a convoy carrying 12 bodyguards. Unbeknownst to them, a team of Israeli spies was on the ground, watching their every move and waiting to operate the gun from a distance.

When the car passed the designated spot, they pressed the button and the hyper-accurate weapon opened fire. Thirteen bullets hit Fakhrizadeh head-on, while his wife, who was sitting 10 inches away, was not harmed.

Iranian authorities claimed that the scientist’s security chief was struck by four bullets as he threw himself across his boss. But sources close to the operation said this was untrue. Not a single one of Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards, nor anybody aside from the scientist, was killed or injured, the JC can confirm.

“There were several ways to operate but this one was the most accurate,” a source said. “It was the most elegant way to make sure that the target will be hit, and only him. The objective was to avoid harming anyone else.” Claims that gunmen moved in to finish the scientist off were inaccurate, the source added.

As the Mossad team made its escape, the one-ton weapon blew itself up, adding to the confusion at the scene. “Thank God we got all our people out and they didn’t catch anyone. They didn’t even come close,” one of those familiar with the operation said. “Their security was not bad at all, but the Mossad was much better. It was a major thing that happened, a dramatic operation.”

The impact of the assassination was so profound that it surprised even the Mossad top brass. “Israel had a big team there, including Israelis, and it was a big embarrassment for Tehran,” a source said. “The regime was humiliated and devastated. Even the Mossad was surprised by the huge impact.

“The machine was quite an impressive thing. There was a team on the ground as well, which made it quite complicated. But it had to be done and it was worth it.”

The source disclosed: “It has hit the Iranians hard. Tehran has assessed that it will take six years to find a replacement for Fakhrizadeh. Israeli analysis has now put the breakout time (the period it would take Iran to finalise a nuclear bomb) at two years. Before Fakhrizadeh departed, it was about three months.”

And two years is a conservative estimate. Senior Mossad figures privately believe that the breakout time is closer to five years, the JC can reveal. The source added: “The Americans were not involved. It was absolutely an Israeli operation, door to door. It was not political, it was a matter of security. It had nothing to do with Trump or the US election. It happened after Biden was elected.

“But Israel did give the Americans a little clue — not to the level of asking for the green light, more like checking the water temperature. Just like they had notified us before killing (Iranian Brigadier-General Qasem) Soleimani.”

Further assassinations were planned for the future, the source said, though nothing on the same scale as Fakhrizadeh or Soleimani. “Yes, the Mossad may have plans for further departures,” the source said. “We need to keep the pressure on. Israel will keep on fighting, for sure. We have already created big holes in Al Qaeda and the (Iranian special forces) Quds force.” According to Mossad analysis, Iran is responsible for 80 per cent of the threats facing the Jewish state. And there is no doubt that whatever approach the Americans take with Iran, Israel will “defend itself by itself”.

“Our main strategy for leverage over the United States is to present our 2018 intelligence to the IAEA,” a source said. “But if it doesn’t work, we will act. The US won’t love it, but we will keep our sovereignty and fight every existential threat.Many Al Qaeda and Iranian personnel have departed, and now Fakhrizadeh has departed. That has made a big difference.

“But if the situation becomes critical, we will ask nobody for permission. We will kill the bomb.”

ANALYSIS: Tehran beware, the Mossad knows everything

By Norman T. Roule, who served in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for 34 years. From 2008 to 2017, he was National Intelligence Manager for Iran (NIM-I), responsible for US intelligence activities related to the theocracy

The Iranian nuclear archive that Mossad stole three years ago revealed extraordinary detail of Tehran’s covert nuclear weapons programme. But the reason for undertaking such a risky operaion to remove an adversary like Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is not justified by such past activities, but more likely concern of what he might do in the future.

Fakhrizadeh was known for his work on the nuclear weaponisation programme, and it is logical that he was killed to deny Iran this expertise.  We shouldn’t ignore, however, the possibility that he was working on other technologies at the same time, which might have also been perceived to be a strategic threat.

Fakhrizadeh was the sole, senior Iranian official to have managed a secret nuclear weapons programme. His work would likely have involved every aspect of project management, from overseeing the budget to looking after personnel. He reportedly enjoyed a rare level of access to Iran’s Supreme Leader and senior military officials. 

He also had a reputation of being able to fend off his bureaucratic adversaries, having the backing of the most powerful men in the country.  Iran has many nuclear scientists, but his experience made him unique. Whoever his successor turns out to be, they will be highly unlikely to enjoy his stature, bureaucratic clout, or access to such senior leaders.

Several challenges will confront Iran’s Supreme Leader, should he authorise a new weaponisation programme. First, Iran’s adversaries have demonstrated tremendous capacity and skill.

Recently, Iran has suffered heavy losses. First, it lost its most sensitive nuclear archive to Israel.  Then, the US killed Major-General Qasem Soleimani and his Iraqi accomplice, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in a surgical operation in Iraq.  After that, in August, al-Qaeda leader Abu Muhammad al-Masri and his daughter were killed in another surgical attack in Tehran. Now they have suffered the death of Fakhrizadeh, their top nuclear scientist. 

In addition, Iran has claimed sabotage at its nuclear installation in Natanz, as well as at other facilities. These operations showed that Tehran’s adversaries apparently have strong intelligence and a capacity to neutralise hostile actors without risking civilian casualties. 

One can’t help thinking that such operations are meant to discourage other Iranians from similar hostile actions, or even from taking the place of the individuals killed in these attacks.

Also, the proven ability of foreign intelligence services to uncover Iran’s most sensitive secrets will likely cause Iran’s leadership to wonder whether they can keep a nuclear weaponisation programme secret long enough to reach completion.

It is hard to imagine that Iran’s leaders wouldn’t believe – with good reason – that such a programme would be discovered well before they had constructed a single weapon. At that point, Iran would risk a diplomatic disaster, and possibly a military strike by its adversaries.

Lastly, it may well be that the nuclear archive stolen by Mossad had no backup in Iran.  This information provided not only the details of how to construct a nuclear weapon, but equally importantly, which methods didn’t work. Such knowledge would have allowed Iran to save much time on any future effort. Without these insights and Fakhrizadeh’s memory of them, any future Iranian nuclear weaponisation effort will take far longer to develop.

Tehan’s response to Fakhrizadeh’s killing will require time.  They will likely need to conduct an internal security review, if only to try to ensure that any retaliation won’t be discovered. They will fear that anybody involved in planning retribution against the Israelis or Americans could meet a similar fate to Soleimani, Abu Mohammed al-Masri, and Fakhrizadeh.

Scientist was a marked man

By Jacob Nagel, Israel’s acting national security advisor under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

There are three stages to making a nuclear bomb. First, the fissile material must be produced, which in Iran’s case is uranium. Then comes weaponisation, which means shaping the material into a warhead. Finally, you need to attach it to the means of delivery, usually a missile.

From an Israeli point of view, denying Iran the bomb means dealing with all three of these stages. Some people say that the fire at the uranium enrichment site in Natanz, Iran’s largest such facility, in August, was caused by the Mossad. That would be disrupting the fissile material stage.

In terms of the third stage, Major-General Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian military chief who was killed by an American missile, was involved with funding the nuclear programme and the means of delivery. His departure was a big hole in organising the means of delivery of the bomb.

Fakhrizadeh’s specialism was in stage two, weaponisation. There is only a small number of experts in Iran who understand the weaponisation process — we’re talking double digits. He was the foremost of them. His departure has created a vital break in the chain towards a viable nuclear weapon.

But Fakhrizadeh was even more important than this. He was the head of the Iranian nuclear programme overall. As we learned from the archive stolen by Mossad in 2018, he was responsible for building a cover story, with dual-purpose projects in academia, industry and the civilian world, allowing Iran to cultivate the manpower and know-how necessary to build a bomb.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is about to submit a report detailing the residuals it recently found in four different sites in Iran, which is evidence of nuclear tests and experiments. All of this was Fakhrizadeh. That is the reason why he was ready to depart.

His death was a big blow to Tehran, especially following the blow of the death of Soleimani. Maybe more blows will be necessary.

It is certain that if Iran developed the bomb, it would be a problem for the whole world, including the UK. Israel especially cannot live with a nuclear Iran. So we will defend ourselves by ourselves, and in the process we are defending you, too.

Drones, bombs, spies — inside Israel’s cunning plan to stop Iran’s nukes

January 6, 2022

Article is from 6 December, and the events it describes are even older, but an interesting summary nonetheless.

The Iran Center for Advanced Centrifuges facility at Natanz after it was damaged by an explosion on July 2, 2020.

Israel has carried out three major operations over the last 18 months against Iran’s nuclear sites. These attacks involved as many as a thousand Mossad personnel and were executed with ruthless precision using high-tech weaponry, including drones and a quadcopter — and spies within Tehran’s holy of holies, its nuclear program.

While President Biden’s nuclear negotiators try to snatch catastrophe from the jaws of defeat in Vienna, Israel is taking things more seriously.

Last week, Naftali Bennett, the Israeli prime minister, pivoted to a new policy on Tehran: retaliating against aggression from militias backed by Tehran with covert strikes on Iranian soil.

This builds on the extensive capabilities that the Mossad has built up in the Islamic Republic in recent years. In February — seven months before the New York Times “broke” the same story — I exposed in the Jewish Chronicle of London how Israeli spies killed nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh using a remote-controlled machine gun. I can now reveal the secrets behind Israel’s latest triple attack on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The tripartite sabotage effort began on July 2, 2020, with a mysterious explosion in the Iran Center for Advanced Centrifuges facility at Natanz, one of the ultra-secure nuclear sites that are dotted around Iran.

At first, the Iranians were mystified. The building had apparently blown itself up. But how? The answer, as they say, shocked them. When the ayatollah’s apparatchiks were renovating the facility in 2019, Israeli agents had posed as construction merchants and sold them building supplies. Those building supplies were packed with explosives. A year later, they were detonated by Tel Aviv.

Although this created substantial damage, the Natanz plant was far from out of the game. Beneath a protective layer of 40 feet of concrete and iron lay the inner sanctum of the A1000 subterranean hall. Inside were up to 5,000 centrifuges that whirred away day and night, minute by minute taking the Iranian regime closer toward a nuclear weapon.

The second phase of the plan swung into action. Mossad spies approached up to 10 Iranian scientists who had access to this hall and managed to persuade them to switch sides — although they led the scientists to believe that they were working for international dissidents, not Israel.

Incredibly, the scientists agreed to blow up the high-security facility.

“Their motivations were all different,” a well-placed Israeli source tells me. “Mossad found out what they deeply wanted in their lives and offered it to them. There was an inner circle of scientists who knew more about the operation, and an outer circle who helped out but had less ­information.”

There remained the puzzle of ­getting the explosives into the ­fortified complex.

This was achieved in two ways. First, a drone flew into its airspace and delivered the bombs to an agreed-upon location to be collected by the scientists. Then came the smuggling.

“Let’s say you wanted to get explosives into Natanz,” a source told me coyly. “How could you do it? You could, for example, think about how people working there need to eat. They need food.

“So you could put the explosives in the lorry that delivers the food to the canteen, and the scientists could pick it up once it’s inside. Yes, you could do that.”

The plan worked. The scientists collected the bombs and installed them. In April, after Iran announced that it had started to use advanced IR-5 and IR-6 centrifuges in the underground hall — in brazen defiance of its nuclear commitments — the explosives were triggered.

The blast destroyed the secure power system, causing a blackout. Ninety percent of the centrifuges were destroyed, putting the facility out of action for up to nine months. The scientists instantly vanished. All are alive and well ­today.

Mossad’s attention then turned to the production of the centrifuges themselves, to disrupt the regime’s attempt to restore the Natanz facility. The crosshairs moved to Karaj, 30 miles northwest of Tehran, where the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company (TESA) is located.

Over the preceding months, a team of Israeli spies and their Iranian agents had jointly smuggled an armed quadcopter — weighing the same as a motorcycle, a source confirmed — into the country, piece by piece. Now it was time to deploy it.

On June 23, the team assembled the kit and took it to a location 10 miles from the TESA factory. The operatives launched it, piloted it to the factory and released the payload, causing a large explosion. Then the drone returned to the launch site, where it was spirited away to be used again.

It is significant that these operations took place while the negotiations were continuing in Vienna. The Mossad operations were carried out without international collaboration. To use Israeli intelligence slang, the attacks were “blue-and-white” rather than “blue-white-and-red,” which refers to American involvement. This is significant, too.

In recent weeks, Axios reported, Israel has shared intelligence proving that Iran has been laying the technical groundwork for enriching uranium to 90 percent purity, the level required for a bomb.

While Biden’s team, saturated with naivete and a “Back to the Future” focus on the Obama years, fruitlessly pursues jaw-jaw in Vienna, the cynical Iranians are preparing for war — and the Mossad, whose instincts are sharpened by the desire to protect their families from annihilation, is trying to stop them.

The contrast between cloud-cuckoo Washington and post-Holocaust Jerusalem is stark. And in seven months’ time, you might read even this in the New York Times.

Israel’s leaders split three ways on Iran. Tehran promises “fresh ideas” for Vienna talks – DEBKAfile

January 6, 2022

Israel’s ministers and military chiefs aired three diverse views on how to deal with a nuclear Iran at their latest foreign affairs and security cabinet session:

  1. To go along with the negotiating track being pursued by six world powers and Iran in Vienna. Military Intelligence (Aman) director Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva argued that even if they decided to renew the bad 2015 nuclear accord, some limits would remain to curtail Iran’s nuclear activity and Israel and the IDF would win time to properly prepare for a crushing blow to Iran’s nuclear program. This view is not accepted by the Chief of Staff and most of the generals, who assert that he IDF is already now adequately prepared for this mission.
  2.  Another proponent of the Vienna track is Foreign Minister Yair Lapid – except that he says he hopes Israel will have some influence on the final text of the renegotiated accord and be able to insert important changes.  By referring to this approach as “trench warfare,” Lapid indicates he has little faith in Israel achieving this goal.
  3. Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi and Mossad chief David Barnea are of one mind on insisting that a deal with Iran would only be acceptable if the 2015 accord was rewritten and substantially improved. Since they realize that this objective is unattainable, they favor following the path of a military strike right away.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s voice is missing from the debate. And since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett does not look like coming down in favor of any of the three views, Israel finds itself revisiting the hot, unresolved debate of 2012, which hampered the decision a decade ago on whether or not to attack Iran in order to cut short its drive for a nuclear bomb.

The Biden Administration’s stance is not clear. However, Iran appears to be signaling a readiness for some flexibility with an offer to bring “new ideas” to the table in Vienna. Its delegation chief Bagheri Kani announced at the last session that Iran is backing off its ultimatum for the lifting of all sanctions as a precondition, and ready to embrace a new approach in which “everything has to go in parallel on all the major issues.” None of the powers taking part in the talks is clear about what Tehran is really driving at but are ready to wait and see what new ideas are forthcoming.

The common factor in the current state of play regarding the handling of Iran’s nuclear ambitions is a deep fog of uncertainty surrounding the next steps ahead, whether by the US, Israel or Iran.

With Iran in mind, Israel signs deal with US for heavy choppers, refueling planes

January 1, 2022

Weapons sale to cost $3.1 billion, with the funds coming from military aid Washington provides to Jerusalem

By JUDAH ARI GROSS31 December 2021, 11:06 am  

An undated photograph of a Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy transport helicopter, which Israel signed an agreement to purchase from the United States on December 30, 2021. (Lockheed Martin)

An undated photograph of a Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy transport helicopter, which Israel signed an agreement to purchase from the United States on December 30, 2021. (Lockheed Martin)

Israel on Thursday signed a long-awaited agreement to purchase a dozen heavy transport helicopters and two additional refueling planes from the United States, in a weapons deal worth over $3 billion, the Defense Ministry said.

These aircraft, along with a number of additional F-35 fighter jets that Israel plans to purchase from the US, are specifically meant to counter threats posed by Iran, including its nuclear program.

According to the ministry, in addition to the fighter jets, transport helicopters and refueling planes, this includes “advanced aerial munitions, air defense systems, new naval and land-based platforms, and cyber and digital systems.”

The 12 CH-53K Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy transport helicopters will replace Israel’s aging fleet of CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters, which have been in use for over half a century and have seen a number of maintenance issues in recent years. The first CH-53K helicopters are scheduled to arrive in Israel in 2026, according to the ministry.

Under the agreement, Israel has the option to purchase six more CH-53K helicopters in the future as well.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

In addition, the delegation of the ministry’s purchasing department signed a deal to buy two more Boeing KC-46 refueling planes, which would be needed in order to conduct strikes against targets in Iran, some 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from Israel and far outside the regular flight range of Israeli jets.An undated photograph of a Boeing KC-46 refueling plane, which Israel signed an agreement to purchase from the United States on December 30, 2021. (Boeing)

Israel has already agreed to purchase two of these refueling planes, which are scheduled to arrive in 2025. Israel has asked that this date be moved up by a year — a move that would require the US to give up its spot in line to receive the planes from Boeing — but Washington has thus far rejected the request.

The helicopter deal will cost Israel roughly $2 billion and the refuelers will cost another $1.1 billion, with the money coming from the $3.8 billion that Israel receives from Washington as part of the 10-year memorandum of understanding between the two countries, the ministry said.

“The purchase of these platforms is part of a wider effort, which is being led by the Defense Ministry with the IDF over the past year and a half to strengthen the capabilities and force build-up of the IDF against current and future threats, mostly those posed by the ‘third-ring,’” the Defense Ministry said.

In Israeli military parlance, the first ring refers to threats directly on the country’s borders, the second ring refers to slightly farther-flung enemies, like those in Iraq or Yemen, and the third ring refers to those yet further away — in practice, it is almost exclusively used in connection with Iran.

Defense Ministry Benny Gantz negotiated the initial approvals for the sales with US officials. The budget was then approved by the ministerial committee for military acquisitions and the Knesset’s joint defense budget committee, Gantz’s office said. This summer, the US State Department also signed off on the sale of the helicopters saying it was “vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability.”

The defense minister hailed the purchases, saying in a statement that they were a critical part of the military’s preparedness, particularly against Iran.

“We are continuing to grow stronger, to change, and to adapt the air force to future challenges, those close by and especially those far from Israel’s borders,” he said.