Archive for May 2022

Rare publication of Israeli air defense alert follows concrete Iranian threat. Five prominent figures named – DEBKAfile

May 31, 2022

 Five Israelis targetedIran revenge attack threatenedIsrael on high air defense alert

Israel’s unusual official announcement on May 30 of its heightened air defense alert was triggered by intelligence affirming Iran’s determination to make good this time on a vow of revenge for the shooting of Col. Hassan Kodaei on May 23.  It was reinforced on Monday afternoon, when Iranian media named five Israel intelligence and tech experts who with their families and colleagues are now in Iran’s sights:

  1. Maj. Gen. (Res) Amos Malka, Military Intelligence (AMAN) Chief from 1998 to 2001 is accused of business deals in the last 20 years involving security high-tech firms.
  2. Amir Levinthal, founder and CEO of the Cylus cyber company that secures rail systems. According to the Fars news agency, Levinthal is a former member of AMAN.
  3. Gal Ganot, graduate of the IDF’s high tech 8200 Unit and director of a company that does work for the Mossad.
  4. Inbar Arieli, founder of that Synthesis high-tech company. She is rated one of the 100 most influential members of the “Zionist Entity’s new tech elite.” She too served in the 8200 Unit.
  5. Amit Meltzer, described as an expert in cyber defense who is the architect of those systems in the use of Israel, the US and Singapore

The Kodeai hit was cited on Monday by Revolutionary Guards commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami when he pledged to avenge his death during a visit to the victim’s parents. However, a subsequent attack two days later – this one on the Parchin military complex, that was attributed by American sources to Israel – was the tipping point for Tehran. Helicopters packed with explosives struck a plant producing UAVs. Most galling of all for the Islamic Republic was that both attacks were inside jobs carried out from within its borders.

Col. Kodaei was head of the IRGC’s clandestine Qods Force’s Unit 840, which is charged with acts of terror against Israeli targets. He was not the first high-profile Iranian whose assassination was attributed to Israel. But in previous cases, including the mastermind of Iran’s nuclear program, Mohsen Farizadeh, in November 2020, Israel maintained silence on its security preparations.

This time is different in that Iran’s threats – including and a real threat to Israelis visiting Turkey – are being taken with extreme seriousness on three scores:

  • On Saturday, Iran opened up a secret underground depot housing some 100 advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (see photo) to demonstrate its capacity to settle accounts with Israel on a large scale. It will be hard to back down on vows of revenge after this display.
  • This and other intelligence strongly indicate that Iran will not be content with a small operation but is rather bent on inflicting heavy damage.
  • Security sources infer this additionally from the restraint displayed by the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the face of Israel’s Flag Parade on Jerusalem Day despite threats of rocket fire and other payback. Both were apparently directed from Tehran to hold their fire and wait to join the multi-front assault coming to Israel.

Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile is now 18 times 2015 deal limit, UN watchdog says

May 31, 2022

Tehran has amassed more than 3,800 kilos of material, IAEA reports, after detecting radioactivity at potential undeclared nuclear sites

By AGENCIES and TOI STAFF30 May 2022, 7:48 pmUpdated at 8:43 pm  

Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (Screenshot, Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting-IRIB, via AP)

The UN nuclear watchdog said Monday that it estimated Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium had grown to more than 18 times the limit laid down in Tehran’s 2015 deal with world powers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said in its latest report on Iran’s nuclear program that it “estimated that, as of May 15, 2022, Iran’s total enriched stockpile was 3,809.3 kilograms.”

The limit in the 2015 deal was set at 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of a specific compound, the equivalent of 202.8 kilograms of uranium. The report also said that Iran is continuing its enrichment of uranium to levels higher than the 3.67 percent limit in the deal.

The stockpile of uranium enriched up to 20% is now estimated to be 238.4 kilograms, up 56.3 kilograms since the last report in March, while the amount enriched to 60% stands at 43.1 kilograms, an increase of 9.9 kilograms.

Enrichment levels of around 90% are required for use in a nuclear weapon.

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Earlier in May, the IAEA announced that it was “extremely concerned” by Iranian silence on potential undeclared nuclear sites.

Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi shows the inner of a case of an IAEA monitoring device during a press conference in Vienna, Austria, December 17, 2021. (AP/ Michael Gruber)

“I am referring to the fact that we, in the last few months, were able to identify traces of enriched uranium in places that had never been declared by Iran as places where any activity was taking place,” IAEA head Rafael Grossi told a European Parliament Committee.

“The situation does not look very good. Iran, for the time being, has not been forthcoming in the kind of information we need from them… We are extremely concerned about this,” Grossi said.

Iran has always insisted that its nuclear program is peaceful. Israel views a nuclear-threshold Iran as an unacceptable threat, as Tehran is avowedly committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.

Both American and Israeli officials have assessed that Iran now needs only a few weeks to amass enough fissile material for a bomb, should it choose to make one, though it would need additional time to assemble the device’s other components.

“[Iran] stands just a few weeks away from accumulating fissile material that will be sufficient for a first bomb, holds 60 kilograms of enriched material at 60%, produces metallic uranium at the enrichment level of 20%, and prevents the IAEA from accessing its facilities,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on May 17.

Officials in the current US administration, led by President Joe Biden, blame the drop in Iran’s breakout time on former president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement in 2018.

“Their breakout period is down from about a year, which is what we knew it was during the deal, to just a few weeks or less,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press conference in February.

The latest report comes as talks to revive the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers remain deadlocked after stalling in March

Iran will ‘avenge’ killing of Revolutionary Guards colonel, president vows

May 23, 2022

Raisi says there’s ‘no doubt the hand of global arrogance can be seen in this crime,’ employing a term often used to refer to Israel and the US

By TOI STAFF and AGENCIESToday, 10:19 am  

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addresses the parliament in Tehran, on November 16, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Iran will avenge the killing of a Revolutionary Guards colonel in Tehran, President Ebrahim Raisi warned on Monday.

Col. Hassan Sayad Khodayari was shot dead Sunday outside his home by assailants on motorcycles, in a killing Iran blamed on “elements linked to the global arrogance,” its term for the United States and its allies including Israel.

It was the most high-profile killing inside Iran since the November 2020 murder of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

“I insist on the serious pursuit (of the killers) by security officials, and I have no doubt that the blood of this great martyr will be avenged,” Raisi said. “There is no doubt that the hand of global arrogance can be seen in this crime,” he added, echoing what the Guards said the previous day.

Khodayari’s funeral was due to take place in Tehran at 5 p.m. local time (1230 GMT).

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According to unsourced reports in Hebrew media, Khodayari had planned kidnappings and other attempts to attack Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide.

Col. Hassan Sayad Khodayari. (screenshot)

Khodayari was shot five times by two unidentified gunmen in his car in the middle of Tehran, according to Iranian state media.

Reports identified him as a “defender of the sanctuary,” a reference to Iranians who carry out Tehran’s operations in Syria and Iraq within the Guard’s elite Quds Force that oversees operations abroad.

Although the Guard gave only scant detail about the attack that occurred in broad daylight in the heart of Iran’s capital, the group blamed the killing on “global arrogance,” typically code for the United States and Israel.

An Iranian official quoted by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera warned that the assassination constitutes “a crossing of the red line,” and that those responsible “will pay a heavy price.”

That accusation, as well as the style of the brazen attack, raised the possibility of a link with other motorbike slayings previously attributed to Israel in Iran, such as those targeting the country’s nuclear scientists.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Asked about the incident by Channel 12 news, Defense Minister Benny Gantz refused to comment. Approached by Israel’s Channel 12 news as he participated in New York City’s Celebrate Israel Parade, Gantz said, “the State of Israel is very strong. I’m not addressing all the various reports that appear in all sorts of places.”

The body of a senior member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard identified as Sayad Khodayari, who was assassinated in Tehran on May 22, 2022. (Twitter)

Little information was publicly available about Khodayari, as Quds officers tend to be shadowy figures carrying out secretive military missions supporting Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group, and other militias in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

But according to Channel 13 news, one of the operatives under Khodayari’s direction was Mansour Rasouli.

In April, it was reported that Rasouli, said to be a member of the IRGC, admitted to Mossad agents, during an interrogation at his home in Iran, that he was sent to target an Israeli diplomat in Turkey, as well as an American general stationed in Germany, and a journalist in France.

Channel 12 reported that Khodayari was also behind an attempt — recently uncovered by the Shin Bet — by Iranian operatives to lure Israeli academics, businesspeople, and former defense officials abroad and possibly kidnap them.

That report also said he was behind an alleged plot to kill five Israelis in Cyprus.

Channel 12 also said that Khodayari had recently returned from Syria, where he served under the former commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, celebrated Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who himself was killed in a US airstrike in Iraq in January 2020.

Mansour Rasouli, 52, an alleged IRGC member who was reportedly interrogated by Mossad agents in Iran. (Screenshot: Twitter; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

An Iranian security source was quoted as saying he also played an “important” role in Iran’s military industry, “especially when it came to drones.”

The IRGC was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2018 by then-US president Donald Trump’s administration, after it withdrew from the nuclear agreement officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The elite military unit has been discussed extensively in recent months after Tehran demanded that the group be removed from a US terror blacklist as a condition for returning to compliance with the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement.

Israel has urged the US to reject Tehran’s demand, saying the group is “a terrorist organization that has murdered thousands of people, including Americans.”

Less than a year after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal, Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated in a sophisticated hit, reportedly led by a Mossad team.

The long-running shadow war between Israel and Iran has been bursting into the open in recent months, with more direct attacks attributed to Israel against Iranian targets in Syria and mutual cyberattacks carried out by both nations, threatening to bring the regional rivals to the brink of direct warfare.

Report: In 1st, US refuelers to take part in major Israeli drill for strike on Iran

May 18, 2022

Collaboration involving Israeli fighter jets and American refuelers seen as message to Iran regarding potential for US assistance in an actual Israeli attack

By TOI STAFF and EMANUEL FABIAN17 May 2022, 10:41 pm  

Illustrative: Israel Air Force F-16 fighter jets and a refueling plane fly in formation over Nevada during the United States Air Force’s Red Flag exercise in August 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The United States will participate in Israel’s largescale drill simulating a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities as part of the broader Chariots of Fire exercise later this month, Channel 13 reported on Tuesday evening.

According to the unsourced report, the US Air Force will serve as a complementary force, with refueling planes drilling with Israeli fighter jets as they simulate entering Iranian territory and carrying out repeated strikes.

The unprecedented Israel- US aerial collaboration in a drill simulating a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is seen as a potential message to Iran amid long-stalled negotiations in Vienna over a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, a possibility Israel has repeatedly voiced its objection to, warning it would lead to “a more violent, more volatile Middle East.”

Large numbers of Israeli fighter jets –dozens, according to Kan TV news — will take part in the simulated attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The TV report noted that when Israel conducted a major drill for such an attack some 10 years ago, when it was widely reported to be on the point of striking Iran, the US did not participate.

The Israeli military has taken steps throughout the past year to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear facilities. The US, in turn, has expressed reluctance to prepare for a military confrontation with Iran but nonetheless said it would explore other options if talks in Vienna fail.

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Channel 13 defense reporter Or Heller noted that by including the US in the drill, the two countries are sending a message to Iran that the US could support an Israeli offensive, even if its fighter jets do not actively participate.

Lt. Gen. Michael E. Kurilla testifies before the Senate Armed Services committee during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 8, 2022, to be general and commander of the US Central Command. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz is slated to meet with his American counterpart, Lloyd Austin, on Thursday at the Pentagon in Washington. Meanwhile, Michael Kurilla, head of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), who oversees US-Israel military cooperation, arrived in Israel on Tuesday for his first official visit.

At the beginning of last year, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi announced he had instructed the military to begin drawing up fresh attack plans against Iran. By September, Kohavi said the army had “greatly accelerated” preparations for action against Tehran’s nuclear program.

In addition to having to find ways to strike Iranian facilities that are buried deep underground, requiring specialized munitions and tactics, the IAF will have to deal with increasingly sophisticated Iranian air defenses in order to conduct such a strike. The air force will also have to prepare for an expected retaliation against Israel by Iran and its allies throughout the region.

The upcoming drill is also expected to focus on preparing for and responding to such retaliation.

A cleric walks past Zolfaghar, top, and Dezful missiles displayed by the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, at Imam Khomeini grand mosque, in Tehran, Iran, Friday, January 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

On Tuesday, Gantz warned that “the price for tackling the Iranian challenge on a global or regional level is higher than it was a year ago and lower than it will be in a year.”

Gantz said Iran was just a “few weeks” away from accumulating sufficient fissile material for a bomb and was also working to finish the production and installation of 1,000 advanced centrifuges for enriching uranium, including at a new underground site at the Natanz nuclear facility.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a conference at Herzliya’s Reichman University, May 17, 2022. (Gilad Kvalarchik/Gilad Kvalarchik)

Also on Tuesday, Iran said it inaugurated a production line for manufacturing a new military drone, dubbed the Ababil-2, in Tajikistan.

The aerial drill comes amid a massive military exercise — dubbed “Chariots of Fire” — which involves nearly all units of the IDF, and has been focusing on training for fighting on Israel’s northern borders, including against the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

Iranian cruise missile sent to Hizballah could carry nuclear warhead. Sea blockade planned for Israel – DEBKAfile

May 17, 2022

 Iran sends Hizballah cruise missiles

Iran has furnished the Lebanese Hizballah terrorist group with a selection of cruise missiles, including the Kh-55, which is potentially capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. This weapon has a range of 3,000km. This report came from Western intelligence sources on Monday, May 16, when the Israel Navy joined the Israel military’s large-scale “Chariots of Fire” exercise.

The Kh-55 was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s as an air-launched cruise missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. The Iranian conversion can be launched from land or from a naval vessel.

While building up a stock of precision-guided surface missiles, Iran’s Lebanese proxy has also, with the help of Iran and Syria, been quietly accumulating a pile of marine cruise missiles, capable of posting a major threat to the Israeli Navy. Its purpose is to clamp a sea blockade on Israel in a war. Even a partial blockade would seriously disrupt israel’s ability to conduct wartime operations and interfere with its military and civilian supply routes.

The sea-launched missiles now in the hands of Hizballah are listed by Western intelligence as: the C-802, the Iranian version of the Chinese subsonic cruise missile, which has a range of 200km; the Russian Yakhont subsonic cruise missile which has a range of 300km and was passed to the Lebanese group by Syria – with Moscow’s consent; Nor – 200km range; Gadar-110, an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of 2,000km; and Ghadir, an anti-ship cruise missile which has a range of 300km.     

Gantz says Iran installing 1,000 advanced centrifuges, including at new Natanz site

May 17, 2022

Defense minister warns cost of dealing with Iran will be higher in a year; warns Tehran against transfer of advanced weapons to proxies; says Israel’s position on Ukraine ‘ethical’

By EMANUEL FABIAN Today, 11:06 am  

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

Defense Minister Benny Gantz claimed on Tuesday that Iran was working to finish the production and installation of 1,000 advanced centrifuges enriching uranium, including at a new underground site at the Natanz nuclear facility.

“Iran continues to accumulate irreversible knowledge and experience in the development, research, production, and operation of advanced centrifuges. It stands just a few weeks away from obtaining fissile material needed for a first bomb,” Gantz said during an Institute for National Security Studies conference at Herzliya’s Reichman University.

“During these very days, Iran is making an effort to complete the production and installation of 1,000 advanced IR6 centrifuges at its nuclear facilities, including a new facility being built at an underground site near Natanz,” he said.

Last month the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency confirmed that Iran had set up a new centrifuge parts workshop at its Natanz nuclear facility.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi said the machines were moved from Karaj, near Tehran, to the new location, which he said was some three floors belowground, possibly to protect it from airstrikes.

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The workshop had been set up in one of the halls of Natanz’s fuel enrichment plant, where Iran has thousands of centrifuges, Grossi said.

Natanz, in Iran’s central Isfahan province, hosts the country’s main uranium enrichment facility. (AP)

Iran’s centrifuge facility in Karaj was targeted in what Iran described as a sabotage attack in June. Natanz itself has twice been targeted in sabotage attacks, assaults that Iran has blamed on Israel.

Talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal have stalled. There is concern that Iran could be closer to being able to construct an atomic weapon if it chose to pursue one.

The nuclear deal collapsed four years ago when former US president Donald Trump withdrew the United States and imposed crushing sanctions on Iran. In the meantime, Iran has vastly expanded its nuclear work, while insisting that it is for peaceful purposes.

“The price for tackling the Iranian challenge on a global or regional level is higher than it was a year ago and lower than it will be in a year,” Gantz said.

The defense minister also said two Iranian drones downed over Iraq in February were intended to reach terror groups in the Gaza Strip or West Bank.

“The [Islamic] Revolutionary Guard [Corps] launched a pair of drones from Iran itself, towards Israel. Among other things, based on the fact that the UAVs had parachutes attached, we estimate that the purpose of the launch was to parachute them into the Gaza Strip or Judea and Samaria and for them to be collected by terrorist organizations,” he said.

An Iranian Shahed-136 drone is launched during a military exercise in Iran, December 2021. (Screenshot: Twitter)

The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed it intercepted at least four other Iranian drones heading for Israel or the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years.

The defense minister warned that Iran’s attempts to transfer “accurate munitions” to its proxies, including via Syria, were continuing. “Israel will continue to halt these efforts and prevent the threat to its citizens and the region,” he said, days after an airstrike in the northwestern Masyaf area of Syria was attributed to Israel.

“The quantity of this strategic weapon in the hands of Iranian emissaries has increased significantly in the past year,” Gantz said. “In Iraq, there are hundreds of [munitions]; many dozens have been added this year. In Yemen, the number of [munitions] has increased in the past year, and the Houthis hold dozens of them.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during at an Institute for National Security Studies conference at Herzliya’s Reichman University, May 17, 2022. (Gilad Kvalarchik)

Speaking on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Gantz said Israel was in the right place “ethically and strategically,” adding that he supports transferring additional defensive equipment to Ukraine.

Israel has avoided aligning too closely with either side since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24. It is one of the few countries that maintains relatively warm relations with both Ukraine, a fellow Western democracy, and Russia. However, the rhetoric coming from Jerusalem shifted in the wake of the reports of widespread civilian killings by the Russians and comments by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claiming that Adolf Hitler had “Jewish blood.”

While Jerusalem has increasingly shifted its tone to align more with Western powers, it has so far steadfastly declined to contribute to the Ukrainian military effort, instead sending humanitarian aid and defensive equipment to be used by emergency services.

Gantz said supporting Ukraine must not come at the cost of Israel’s “broad operational considerations, which are also an anchor for regional stability.”

Israeli strikes have continued in Syrian airspace, which is largely controlled by Russia, even as ties with Moscow have deteriorated in recent weeks. Israel has found itself at odds with Russia as it has increasingly supported Ukraine, while seeking to maintain freedom of movement in Syria’s skies.

Agencies contributed to this report.