Archive for August 2022

Iran steps up uranium enrichment with new centrifuges at Natanz — report 

August 30, 2022

Source: Iran steps up uranium enrichment with new centrifuges at Natanz — report | The Times of Israel

IAEA reports to its members that three cascades of advanced IR-6 centrifuges have been brought online at underground facility

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)

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)

Iran has begun uranium enrichment with new advanced centrifuges at its underground Natanz nuclear site, according to a confidential International Atomic Energy Agency report seen by the Reuters news agency on Monday.

The report said Iran is pressing ahead with its rollout of IR-6 centrifuges at the site. The centrifuges are far more efficient, and can more easily switch between enrichment levels.

IAEA inspectors verified on Sunday that Iran was feeding uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas, the material centrifuges enrich, into the first of three cascades, or clusters, of IR-6 centrifuges installed at the Natanz underground Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), Reuters said, quoting from the confidential IAEA report to member states.

The centrifuges are being used “for the production of UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235” the IAEA said.

Of the remaining two IR-6 cascades, one was engaged in passivation using depleted UF6, a process performed before proper enrichment is started, and the other has not yet been loaded with nuclear material, the UN agency reported according to Reuters.

IR-6 centrifuges, the country’s most advanced model, can enrich uranium to at least 60%. Iran has been using its existing devices at an above-ground site in Natanz for that purpose for nearly a year, Reuters reported. Uranium enriched to 60% is nearly weapons-grade.

In July, Iran announced it was using new IR-6 centrifuges to enrich uranium to 20%. The IAEA reported in June that Iran had 43 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60% purity — a short step to 90%. Nonproliferation experts warn that’s enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon if Iran chose to pursue it.

Under the terms of its 2015 nuclear agreement with world power, Iran is only permitted to enrich uranium to 3.67% purity. The deal gave Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program to prevent the production of a weapon. However, after the Trump administration pulled the US out of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2018 and reimposed its own sanctions, Iran dropped many of its commitments to the pact and has ramped up uranium enrichment.

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 latest development came as talks to revive the JCPOA were said to be closing in on an agreement headed by the European Union as negotiations in Vienna culminated with what the EU said was a final offer to Iran last month. Tehran responded with its own remarks and the US last week gave its input too.

On Sunday, the Haaretz daily cited what it said was a draft of the EU proposal from before the final document was sent to Iranians and which stipulated that under a new agreement Iran would have to stop its uranium enrichment but would be able to keep the material it has already produced.

Israel has piled pressure on Western countries to halt talks on reviving the agreement, warning against the consequences of returning to the accord. Mossad chief David Barnea will travel to Washington next week as part of the efforts to shape the deal.

Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, though UN experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military nuclear program through 2003.

Israel has vowed to do whatever is needed to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state, including taking military action.

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen said Monday that Israel carried out “countless operations” against Iran’s nuclear program when he led the spy agency between 2016-2021.

Mossad chief says looming Iran deal ‘based on lies,’ is ‘very bad for Israel’

August 26, 2022

Source: Mossad chief says looming Iran deal ‘based on lies,’ is ‘very bad for Israel’ | The Times of Israel

Barnea warns pact allows Tehran to amass nuclear material for a bomb within a few years, says his agency ‘is preparing and knows how to remove that threat’

Prime Minsiter Yair Lapid meets with the head of the Mossad David Barnea at the Defense Ministry, Tel Aviv, August 25, 2022. (Prime Minister's Office)

Prime Minsiter Yair Lapid meets with the head of the Mossad David Barnea at the Defense Ministry, Tel Aviv, August 25, 2022. (Prime Minister’s Office)

Mossad chief David Barnea has called an emerging Iran nuclear deal between the Islamic Republic and world powers “a strategic disaster” for Israel, in recent meetings about the agreement.

In comments carried by Hebrew-language media Thursday evening, the spymaster said the deal is “very bad for Israel” and the US “is rushing into an accord that is ultimately based on lies,” citing Iran’s ongoing claim that its nuclear activities are peaceful in nature.

Barnea added that an accord appeared to be inevitable “in light of the needs of the US and Iran.” Washington is seeking to prevent Tehran from acquiring the capability to build a nuclear bomb, while the Islamic Republic is seeking relief from crippling financial and economic sanctions.

According to Barnea, the deal, due to its sunset clauses, “gives Iran license to amass the required nuclear material for a bomb” in a few years, and will also provide Tehran billions of dollars in currently frozen money, increasing the danger Iran poses throughout the region via its proxies.

He stressed that a deal will not obligate Israel, and that the Jewish state will act however it sees fit to neutralize the threat against it. Israel has already begun preparations for a military strike against Iran if such action is deemed necessary.

“The Mossad is preparing and knows how to remove that threat,” Barnea said. “If we don’t take action, Israel will be in danger.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid sat down for a discussion about the looming deal with Barnea earlier on Thursday.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on August 25, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

On Wednesday, Iran announced that it had received the US’s response to its proposal for a return to the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was ditched by then-US president Donald Trump in 2018.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to characterize the administration’s response to the latest proposal, but noted that “we are closer now than we were even just a couple of weeks ago because Iran made a decision to make some concessions.”

Lapid told reporters on Thursday that Israel’s efforts to influence the outcome of negotiations had borne fruit, but that the accord was still “a bad deal” for Israel.

The prime minister pointed both to the trip to Washington this week by national security adviser Eyal Hulata for “very intensive discussions” on the issue and to Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s visit to the US, which began on Thursday.

Gantz met with US Central Command chief General Michael Kurilla in Tampa, Florida, to discuss ways to increase cooperation between Israel and the US military, as well as methods for countering the Iranian threat in the Middle East.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) arrives in Florida on his way to CENTCOM headquarters on August 25, 2022. (Courtesy: Israeli Defense Ministry)

Before departing for Washington, Gantz tweeted that the goal of his trip was “to send a clear message in regard to the negotiations between Iran and powers on the nuclear deal: A deal that does not knock Iran’s abilities back by years and does not restrain it for years ahead, is a deal that will harm global and regional security.”

While Gantz was in Washington, Iran conducted a second day of military exercises with combat drones. The drones successfully destroyed many of their intended targets during the drills, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

The Walla news site claimed that Israeli officials are slightly less worried about the possibility of the US granting major concessions to Tehran in the wake of Hulata’s visit to DC on Wednesday.

Citing a senior Israeli official, the report said that the US had “hardened their position” and refused to make concessions to Iran in response to pressure from Israel.

Channel 12 news reported Thursday that the emerging accord would not require the US to remove Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps from its list of foreign terror organizations, nor would it roll back Iran’s requirement to explain sites with suspected nuclear activity to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks at the start of the tenth annual review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at UN headquarters on August 1, 2022 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told the PBS network that the US “has not put pressure” on the nuclear watchdog to compromise on its demands of Iran regarding those sites and said that he believed investigators will eventually be allowed to conduct a probe.

“We will get there, I’m sure,” Grossi said.

Iran, on the other hand, repeated its call to the IAEA on Thursday to end its investigation into the unexplained traces of uranium at three undeclared sites.

“We are very serious about safeguard issues, and do not want to allow some of the IAEA’s baseless accusations to remain,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said, according to state news agency IRNA.

The issue has poisoned relations between the IAEA and the Islamic Republic, which considers the matter “political in nature, and which should not be used as a pretext to punish Iran,” an Iranian diplomat said, according to IRNA.

Negotiations for a return to the nuclear deal have intensified in recent weeks, after months of stalling following Iranian demands that were rejected by Washington.

The European Union-coordinated talks began in April 2021, came to a standstill in March, and picked up again in August. The Biden administration has repeatedly said it believes diplomacy is the best way to resolve the crisis.

In a briefing to foreign reporters on Wednesday, Lapid urged the US and the European Union to back away from the emerging deal, claiming it did not meet US President Joe Biden’s own red lines as it would not prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani (L) leaves after talks at the Coburg Palais, the venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna on August 4, 2022. (Alex Halada/AFP)

“In our eyes, it does not meet the standards set by President Biden himself: preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear state,” Lapid said, while also attempting to downplay any rift between Jerusalem and Washington or Europe.

Lapid panned the EU’s negotiating position, claiming that it had reneged on its declaration of “take it or leave it” when it presented a supposed final draft of the deal, allowing the Iranians to submit counterdemands and changes.

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who led a fierce campaign against the 2015 accord, also voiced staunch opposition to the deal on Wednesday, saying that the emerging new agreement is even worse than before.

“The terrible deal with Iran… casts a heavy shadow on our security and our future,” Netanyahu told reporters in Tel Aviv.

Israel has long opposed the deal, arguing that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb, and has published intelligence it says reveals the Iranian weapons program. Iran has denied any nefarious intentions and claims its program is designed for peaceful purposes, though it has recently been enriching uranium to levels that international leaders say have no civil use.

Agencies contributed to this report.

US airstrikes target Revolutionary Guard-backed militias in eastern Syria 

August 24, 2022

Source: US airstrikes target Revolutionary Guard-backed militias in eastern Syria | The Times of Israel

Attack in Deir Ezzor province carried out in response to drone attack on al-Tanf base by IRGC,, Pentagon says

Two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors fly above Syria on Feb. 2, 2018. (Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott/US Air National Guard)

Two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors fly above Syria on Feb. 2, 2018. (Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott/US Air National Guard)

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — The US military said early Wednesday it carried out airstrikes in eastern Syria that targeted areas used by militias backed by Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

There was no immediate acknowledgment by Syria’s state-run media of the strikes hitting Deir Ezzor. Iran as well did not acknowledge the attack.

The US military’s Central Command said the strikes “took proportionate, deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimize the risk of casualties.”

It did not identify the targets, nor offer any casualty figures from the strikes, which the military said came at the orders of President Joe Biden.

“Today’s strikes were necessary to protect and defend US personnel,” Central Command spokesman Col. Joe Buccino said in a statement.

A US Marine fires a shoulder-fired anti-tank missile during a live fire demonstration near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria, September 7, 2018. (Cpl. Carlos Lopez/US Marine Corps)

The strike came days after the US revealed that Iran had dropped its demand for the US to delist the IRGC in exchange for Tehran agreeing to return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal.

Deir Ezzor is a strategic province that borders Iraq and contains oil fields. Iran-backed militia groups and Syrian forces control the area and have often been the target of Israeli war planes in previous strikes.

On Tuesday, Iranian state media confirmed that an IRGC general was killed in Syria.

“General Abolfazl Alijani, a member of the IRGC’s ground forces who was on a mission in Syria as a military adviser, was martyred on Sunday,” the state broadcaster said on its website.

It described Alijani as a “defender of the sanctuary”, a term used for those who work on behalf of Iran in Syria or Iraq, without providing more details of the attack in which he was killed.

Israel was blamed for several airstrikes in western and central Syria this month that left three soldiers dead.

A Syrian opposition war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the alleged Israeli airstrikes hit Syrian army positions where Iran-backed fighters are based.

US forces entered Syria in 2015, backing allied forces in their fight against the Islamic State group.

AFP contributed to this report.