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Iran runs out of water after years of mismanagement

July 30, 2021

Sucks to be you, Iran.

I know of a nearby country that has world class expertise in water management…

25 July 2021

A diver takes the plunge into the deepest swimming pool in the world - reaching 60m below - in the United Arab Emirates, one of five countries to record temperatures above 50C on the same day last month.

Iran is “water bankrupt” after years of mismanagement under the regime, leading to shortages that have triggered deadly protests across the country and discontent in the wider Middle East, an exiled expert has said.

All sources of the nation’s water — rivers, reservoirs and groundwater — are starting to run dry, Kaveh Madani, a scientist and former deputy environment minister now living in the United States, told The Times.

Iran’s energy minister has admitted that the country is facing an unprecedented crisis, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 82, the supreme leader, has expressed some sympathy with the demonstrators. “We cannot really blame the people,” he said.

At least eight people have died in recent protests, which started in Khuzestan, the southern province which has suffered some of the worst effects, according to Amnesty International.

The water shortage is being replicated across the region, with the marshes of southern Iraq starting to dry out again despite restoration efforts, and eastern Syria suffering a drought.

Farther west, nearly three quarters of Lebanon’s population, including a million refugees, could lose access to safe water in the next four to six weeks after the pumping system started to break down amid a fuel shortage, Unicef said.

The crisis in the Middle East has been brewing for years, with repeated warnings of “water wars”. The problem has been exacerbated by global warming, with average temperatures rising inexorably.

Five countries recorded temperatures above 50C on the same day last month — the UAE, Iran, Oman, Kuwait and Pakistan — and the region’s mega-cities are expected to experience temperatures of up to 55C for days at a time by the middle of the century.

However, water experts say that the underlying problem is mismanagement across the region. In Iran, 600 dams have been built since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the accompanying hydroelectric power plants are now a vital part of the nation’s economy. Experts say that reservoirs in such hot and arid areas lose so much water to evaporation — two billion cubic metres of water a month in Iran — that they have become part of the problem.

“The system is water bankrupt when consumption is more than renewable water availability,” Madani said. He was an academic at Imperial College London before being recruited in 2017 to become deputy head of Iran’s environment ministry. However, his appointment offended hardliners and he was detained by the Revolutionary Guard, accused of spying and eventually forced to leave.

He said Iran had to plan to live with shortages. “Iran cannot fully restore its wetlands, aquifers and rivers in a short period of time,” he said. “So, it has to admit to water bankruptcy and stop denying that many of the damages have become irreversible.”

The crisis was foreseen years ago. In 2005 Reza Ardakanian, 63, now the energy minister, wrote a paper in his capacity as a water management expert in which he warned that Iran’s water extraction was double sustainable levels.

He has pointed out that the present crisis has coincided with one of the driest years in five decades: meteorologists say rainfall in the region is down by as much as 85 per cent.

In Iran, cheap fuel has been used to power pumps to extract vast amounts of groundwater to drive the country’s massively expanded agriculture. The falling levels of groundwater can be detected from space; Nasa says the loss in weight has affected the region’s gravitational field.

Iran is not the only victim. Over-extraction of groundwater has caused droughts in eastern Syria, the country’s breadbasket, while both Syria and Iraq have complained about Turkish dams impeding the flow of the Euphrates and Tigris into Mesopotamia.

The crisis has had diplomatic effects. Egypt has threatened war if Ethiopia continues to fill its Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile unchecked. Israel, by contrast, has offered to double the amount of desalinated water it sells to Jordan as part of efforts by the new government to build ties.

In Lebanon, mismanagement of fuel supplies has contributed to the water crisis. The central bank has subsidised imports but has now run out of dollars, leading to widespread shortages.

Mains electricity is running at a maximum of two hours a day. Operators of the private generators which make up the difference may have to turn them off in the next few days for lack of diesel, raising the extraordinary prospect of a modern country almost entirely without electricity.

Yukie Mokuo, Lebanon’s Unicef representative, said yesterday: “Unless urgent action is taken, hospitals, schools and essential public facilities will be unable to function and over four million people will be forced to resort to unsafe and costly sources of water, putting children’s health and hygiene at risk.”

Iran sought nuclear weapons, technology for WMDs last year, reports find

May 10, 2021

What a surprise.

FILE - In this April 14, 2021, file satellite photo provided from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran's Natanz nuclear facility. (Planet Labs via AP)

The Islamic Republic of Iran made multiple attempts in 2020 to obtain technology for its weapons of mass destruction program and has not stopped its drive to develop atomic weapons, intelligence agencies from the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany recently reported.

The Netherlands’ General Intelligence and Security Service “investigated networks that tried to obtain the knowledge and materials to develop weapons of mass destruction. Multiple acquisition attempts have been frustrated by the intervention of the services,” the agency wrote in its April report.

According to the Dutch report, “The joint Counter-proliferation Unit (UCP) of the AIVD [the General Intelligence and Security Service] and the MIVD [the country’s Military Intelligence and Security Service] is investigating how countries try to obtain the knowledge and goods they need to make weapons of mass destruction. Countries such as Syria, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea also tried to acquire such goods and technology in Europe and the Netherlands last year.”

Iran’s regime was listed under the document’s section on preventing “countries from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.”

The intelligence agency did not provide details on the multiple attempts by the rogue nations to secure weapons of mass destruction technology. The report also did not state whether Iran’s regime illegally obtained technology and equipment for its nuclear program.

The General Intelligence and Security Service under its mandate “conducts investigations, provides information, and mobilizes third parties to safeguard the democratic legal order and national security, to actively reduce risks, and to contribute to foreign policy-making.”

The Netherlands’ MIVD and AIVD intelligence services, according to the report, “conducted intensive research into several very active networks” that are involved in proliferation and use various third parties in European countries. “Consequently, export licenses were verified and acquisition attempts frustrated,” the report said.

The damning findings from the fresh European intelligence are likely to animate broader discussion about whether the U.S. should return to the much-criticized 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Critics have long argued the atomic accord places what is at best a temporary restriction on the Islamic Republic’s drive to join the club of nations with nuclear weapons.

A spokesperson for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told Fox News, “The Iranian regime has never stopped seeking weapons of mass destruction to use against America and our allies. Nevertheless, the Biden administration, like the Obama administration, is committed to dismantling all meaningful pressure against the regime and flooding it with hundreds of billions of dollars.

“Sen. Cruz had fought for years to prevent that from happening, and continues to emphasize that any deal with Iran not brought to the Senate as a treaty and passed by the Senate can and will be reversed by a future administration,” the spokesperson added.

The Biden administration is currently conducting indirect negotiations with Iran’s regime in Vienna about the U.S. rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name for the 2015 nuclear accord.

The Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear pact in 2018 because U.S. officials believed the deal permitted Tehran’s rulers to build nuclear weapons.

The Swedish Security Service revealed in its intelligence report for 2020 that Iran sought Swedish technology for its nuclear weapons program. According to the document, “Iran also conducts industrial espionage, which is mainly targeted against Swedish hi-tech industry and Swedish products, which can be used in nuclear weapons programs. Iran is investing heavy resources in this area and some of the resources are used in Sweden.”

Iran’s regime wages industrial espionage against the Scandinavian country and targets its industry, the 88-page document notes.

In April, the Bavarian Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the domestic intelligence agency of the southern German state, wrote in its report for 2020: “Proliferation-relevant states like Iran, North Korea, Syria and Pakistan are making efforts to expand on their conventional arsenal of weapons through the production or constant modernization of weapons of mass destruction.”

The German intelligence agency, the rough equivalent of the FBI, noted that “In order to obtain the necessary know-how and corresponding components, these states are trying to establish business contacts with companies in high-technology countries like Germany.”

Jason M. Brodsky, senior Middle East analyst at Iran International, a London-based news organization, told Fox News, “I think these findings underscore the permissive environment that Europe affords for Iran to conduct industrial espionage and a range of other intelligence activities. They also highlight the need for the E3 [Britain, France, Germany] and the United States to obtain credible explanations from Tehran over the uranium traces found at undeclared sites throughout the country as a part of clarifying the outstanding safeguards issues with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].”

Brodsky continued, “The activities of the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND) merit continued scrutiny in light of these revelations. SPND [a subsidiary organization of the Iranian Defense Ministry] inherited Iran’s past nuclear weapons program – Project Amad – and in 2019, the U.S. government found that the organization was functioning in a way so that the intellectual wealth of that program was preserved.

“That is not to mention SPND’s work on chemical weapons research through the Shahid Meisami Group, which the U.S. sanctioned in December 2020. These European intelligence findings demonstrate the need for continued vigilance over this entity and Iran’s ambitions for weapons of mass destruction,” Brodsky said.

The U.S. government – both Republicans and Democrats – have recognized Iran’s regime as the leading state sponsor of international terrorism.

Fox News did not receive an immediate response from Iran’s U.N. mission, its embassy in Berlin or its foreign ministry in Tehran.

Iran rattled as Israel repeatedly strikes key targets

April 21, 2021

Ha ha ha, suckers.

Long article, but it’s full of good news, mentions many “accidents” (which I have bolded).

Hadn’t heard about the a few of these “accidents,” such as the first one mentioned which sounds like typical Mossad style.

The killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, whose funeral on November 30 is pictured, was only one of a string of attacks aimed at the heart of Iran’s nuclear program.

Beirut: In less than nine months, an assassin on a motorbike fatally shot an al-Qaeda commander given refuge in Tehran, Iran’s chief nuclear scientist was machine-gunned down on a country road, and two separate, mysterious explosions rocked a key Iranian nuclear facility in the desert, striking the heart of the country’s efforts to enrich uranium.

The steady drumbeat of attacks, which intelligence officials said were carried out by Israel, highlighted the seeming ease with which Israeli intelligence was able to reach deep inside its neighbour’s borders and repeatedly strike its most heavily guarded targets, often with the help of turncoats.

The attacks, the latest wave in more than two decades of sabotage and assassinations, have exposed embarrassing security lapses and left Iran’s leaders looking over their shoulders as they pursue negotiations with the Biden administration aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear agreement.

The recriminations have been caustic.

The head of parliament’s strategic centre said Iran had turned into a “haven for spies.” The former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard called for an overhaul of the country’s security and intelligence apparatus. Lawmakers have demanded the resignation of top security and intelligence officials.

Most alarming for Iran, Iranian officials and analysts said, was that the attacks revealed that Israel had an effective network of collaborators inside Iran and that Iranian intelligence services had failed to find the moles.

“That the Israelis are effectively able to hit Iran inside in such a brazen way is hugely embarrassing and demonstrates a weakness that I think plays poorly inside Iran,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House.

The attacks have also cast a cloud of paranoia over a country that now sees foreign plots in every mishap.

Over the weekend, Iranian state television flashed a photograph of a man said to be Reza Karimi, 43, and accused him of being the “perpetrator of sabotage” in an explosion at the Natanz nuclear enrichment plant last month. But it was unclear who he was, whether he had acted alone and if that was even his real name. In any case, he had fled the country before the blast, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said.

On Monday, after Iranian state news media reported that Brigadier General Mohammad Hosseinzadeh Hejazi, the deputy commander of the Quds Force, the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guard, had died of heart disease, there were immediate suspicions of foul play.

Hejazi had long been a target of Israeli espionage, and the son of another prominent Quds Force commander insisted on Twitter that Hejazi’s death was “not cardiac-related”.

A Revolutionary Guard spokesman failed to clear the air with a statement saying the general had died of the combined effects of “extremely difficult assignments,” a recent COVID-19 infection and exposure to chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war.

The general would have been the third high-ranking Iranian military official to be assassinated in the last 15 months. The United States killed General Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the Quds Force, in January 2020. Israel assassinated Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s chief nuclear scientist and a brigadier general in the Revolutionary Guard, in November.

Even if Hejazi died of natural causes, the cumulative loss of three top generals was a significant blow.

The attacks represent an uptick in a long-running campaign by the intelligence services of Israel and the United States to subvert what they consider to be Iran’s threatening activities.

Chief among them are a nuclear program that Iran insists is peaceful, Iran’s investment in proxy militias across the Arab world, and its development of precision-guided missiles for Hezbollah, the militant movement in Lebanon.

An Israeli military intelligence document in 2019 said that Hejazi was a leading figure in the last two, as the commander of the Lebanese corps of the Quds Force and the leader of the guided missile project. Revolutionary Guard spokesman Ramezan Sharif said that Israel wanted to assassinate Hejazi.

Israel has been working to derail Iran’s nuclear program, which it considers a mortal threat, since it began. Israel is believed to have started assassinating key figures in the program in 2007, when a nuclear scientist at a uranium plant in Isfahan died in a mysterious gas leak.

In the years since, six other scientists and military officials have been assassinated. A seventh was wounded.

Another top Quds Force commander, Rostam Ghasemi, said recently that he had narrowly escaped an Israeli assassination attempt during a visit to Lebanon in March.

But assassination is just one tool in a campaign that operates on multiple levels and fronts.

In 2018, Israel carried out a daring night-time raid to steal 450 kilograms of secret nuclear program archives from a warehouse in Tehran.

Israel has also reached around the world, tracking down equipment in other countries that is bound for Iran, to destroy it, conceal transponders in its packaging or install explosive devices to be detonated after the gear has been installed inside of Iran, according to a former high-ranking US intelligence official.

A former Israeli intelligence operative said that to compromise such equipment, she and another officer would drive by the factory and stage a crisis, such as a car accident or a heart attack, and the woman would appeal to the guards for help. That would get her enough access to the facility to identify its security system so that another team could break in and disable it, she said, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorised to discuss covert operations.

In an interview on Iranian state television last week, Iran’s former nuclear chief revealed the origins of an explosion in the Natanz nuclear plant in July. The explosives had been sealed inside a heavy desk that had been placed in the plant months earlier, said Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, the former chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation.

The explosion ripped through a factory producing a new generation of centrifuges, setting back Iran’s nuclear enrichment program by months, officials said.

Alireza Zakani, head of parliament’s research centre, said Tuesday that in another case machinery from a nuclear site had been sent abroad for repair and was returned to Iran with 300 pounds of explosives packed inside it.

Little is known about the more recent explosion at Natanz this month except that it destroyed the plant’s independent power system, which in turn destroyed thousands of centrifuges.

It would have been difficult for Israel to carry out these operations without inside help from Iranians, and that may be what rankles Iran most.

Security officials in Iran have prosecuted several Iranian citizens over the past decade, charging them with complicity in Israeli sabotage and assassination operations. The penalty is execution.

But the infiltrations have also sullied the reputation of the intelligence wing of the Revolutionary Guard, which is responsible for guarding nuclear sites and scientists.

A former Guard commander demanded a “cleansing” of the intelligence service, and Iran’s vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri, said that the unit responsible for security at Natanz should be “be held accountable for its failures”.

The deputy head of parliament, Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, told the Iranian news media on Monday that it was no longer enough to blame Israel and the United States for such attacks. Iran needed to clean its own house.

As a publication affiliated with the Guard, Mashregh News, put it last week: “Why does the security of the nuclear facility act so irresponsibly that it gets hit twice from the same hole?”

But the Revolutionary Guard answers only to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and so far there has been no sign of a top-down reshuffling.

After each attack, Iran has struggled to respond, sometimes claiming to have identified those responsible only after they had left the country or saying that they remained at large. Iranian officials also insist that they have foiled other attacks.

Calls for retaliation grow louder after each attack. Conservatives have accused the government of President Hassan Rouhani of weakness or of subjugating the country’s security to the nuclear talks in hopes they will lead to relief from US sanctions.

Indeed, Iranian officials shifted to what they called “strategic patience” in the last year of the Trump administration, calculating that Israel sought to goad them into an open conflict that would eliminate the possibility of negotiations with a new Democratic administration.

Both Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have said they would not allow the attacks to derail the negotiations because lifting sanctions was the priority.

It is also possible that Iran has tried to retaliate but failed.

Iran was blamed for a bomb that exploded near Israel’s Embassy in New Delhi in January, and 15 militants linked to Iran were arrested last month in Ethiopia for plotting to attack Israeli, American and Emirati targets.

But any overt retaliation risks an overwhelming Israeli response.

“They are not in a hurry to start a war,” said Talal Atrissi, a political science professor at the Lebanese University in Beirut. “Retaliation means war.”

Conversely, the timing of Israel’s latest attack on Natanz suggested that Israel sought if not to derail the talks, to at least weaken Iran’s bargaining power. Israel opposed the 2015 nuclear agreement and opposes its resurrection.

The United States, seeking to negotiate with Iran in Vienna, said it was not involved in the attack but has not publicly criticised it either.

And if the repeated Israeli attacks had the effect of fomenting a national paranoia, an intelligence official said, that was a side benefit for Israel. The additional steps Iran has taken to scan buildings for surveillance devices and plumb employees’ backgrounds to root out potential spies has slowed down the enrichment work, the official said.

The conventional wisdom is that neither side wants full-scale war and is counting on the other not to escalate. But at the same time, the covert, region-wide shadow war between Israel and Iran has intensified with Israeli airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias in Syria and tit for tat attacks on ships.

But as Iran faces a struggling economy, rampant COVID-19 infections and other problems of poor governance, the pressure is on to reach a new agreement soon to remove economic sanctions, said Vakil of Chatham House.

“These low-level, gray zone attacks reveal that the Islamic Republic urgently needs to get the JCPOA back into a box” to free up resources to address its other problems, she said, referring to the nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The New York Times

The West’s shameful Iranian capitulation

April 15, 2021

On a sweltering day in July 2018, German police pulled over a scarlet Ford S-Max hire car that was travelling at speed towards Austria. The driver, Assadollah Assadi, the third secretary to the Iranian embassy in Vienna, was arrested at gunpoint and taken into custody.

Although unusual, there was a good reason for detaining the diplomat: Assadi had used his immunity to smuggle a bomb on a commercial airliner from Tehran to Austria, intending to carry out what would have been one of Europe’s worst atrocities in recent years.

Once in Vienna, he had handed the device — codenamed the ‘Playstation’ — to two married Belgian-Iranian agents, Amir Saadouni and Nasimeh Naami, and instructed them to blow up an anti-regime event in Paris, which was to be attended by dignitaries including Rudy Giuliani and former environment secretary Theresa Villiers.

The plot was thwarted on the day of the attack after a tip-off from Mossad, saving hundreds of lives. Assadi was arrested the following day while pursuing diplomatic refuge in Austria. But as we reported in this week’s Jewish Chronicle, the treasure trove of evidence inside the vehicle should have set off alarm bells in European corridors of power — alarm bells that should be sounding especially loudly today.

The car was effectively being used as a mobile intelligence station to run agents. It contained handwritten records of trips to 289 locations in 22 cities across Europe as well as notes on bomb handling and ideas for attacks using acid and toxic pathogenic substances. Also discovered were receipts for expense reimbursements and salary payments to spies, details of computers issued to them, numerous mobile phones and GPS devices, and more than €30,000 (£26,000) in cash. In short, it revealed an Iranian espionage network in Europe that was startling in both its scale and scope.’The plot may have been a wake-up call, but the Europeans tend to wake up from time to time, then fall asleep again’

When seen in the light of the political context at the time, the arrest seemed almost ironic. Not eight weeks previously, Donald Trump had pulled America out of the nuclear deal with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reimposing ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions on the theocracy. The Europeans were appalled.

One of Washington’s main reasons for leaving the deal, signed by the Obama administration in 2015, was that lifting sanctions allowed Tehran to fund extensive terror networks, proxy militia and missile emplacements overseas. But even while investigators were poring over the material found inside Assadi’s scarlet Ford S-Max, policymakers in Europe’s capitals were busy designing a mechanism to allow Iran to continue to trade behind the backs of the Americans. The system, known as ‘Instex’, was launched five months later, in an attempt to neuter the deterrent from Washington.

This bizarre state of affairs cannot be overemphasised. Exhibit A: Tehran activates its extensive spy network in an attempt to blow up hundreds of civilians on the streets of Paris. Exhibit B: the Europeans try to undermine American pressure on the theocracy, shovelling more money into its maw. A cynic might call it suicide by diplomacy.

This week, history is repeating itself. Eight weeks ago, an Antwerp court sentenced Assadi and his three co-conspirators to between 15 and 20 years in prison. This was the first conviction of an Iranian official for terrorism offences since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Yet this week, the European powers pressed ahead with direct negotiations with Tehran in Vienna, aimed at expunging all trace of the Trump years and restoring the nuclear deal. By all accounts, progress was swift: a few days of discussions resulted in a ‘roadmap’ that could lead to a new agreement in as little as two months.

The Ayatollahs have never been in any doubt that the Europeans are in the palms of their hands. The only sanctions insisted on by Europe last week were symbolic restrictions on a small number of Iranian officials, a gesture of solidarity for dual nationals held hostage in Iranian prisons. Aside from this, there was simply no disguising the enthusiasm for welcoming the malignant theocracy back into the fold.

To make matters worse, in the post-Trump era, Washington is equally wide-eyed. Returning to the Obama deal has become a political pose to this new administration, which pursues it like an article of faith. It took Joe Biden just 11 weeks to go from being elected as 46th President of the United States to commencing new nuclear negotiations with Iran.

In fact, even before he entered the Oval Office, Biden had publicly telegraphed his intentions to reheat Obama’s JCPOA. In an article for CNN last September, he argued that President Trump had ‘recklessly tossed away a policy that was working to keep America safe and replaced it with one that has worsened the threat’. The Iranians, shall we say, were hardly kept guessing about America’s negotiating objectives. This was the David Cameron-Theresa May school of negotiations that produced such truly exemplary results during the Brexit era.

Unsurprisingly enough, Tehran’s foreign minister, Seyed Araghchi, opened the talks by playing hardball, insisting that all sanctions imposed since 2016 — including those unrelated to its nuclear programme — be lifted before any return to compliance. This would mean a fresh wave of dollars breaking on the shores of the Islamic Republic, allowing it to kick-start its beleaguered economy with oil exports and return to a fully functional banking system. Only then — with the influx of cash being toasted by terror cells from Sudan to Vienna — would the theocracy consider curtailing its nuclear ambitions. Or rather, consider agreeing to do so.

The United States, negotiating at arm’s length via its European allies around the table in Vienna, responded feebly by suggesting a step-by-step approach. ‘I think what essentially ruled out are the maximalist demands that the United States do everything first and only in turn would Iran then act,’ Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said. But there was never any doubt about the American endgame.

There are two Iranian spy networks in the West. The first, Department 312 of Tehran’s Ministry Of Intelligence and Security, aims at infiltrating, intimidating and assassinating Iranian dissidents who have gone into exile to campaign against the theocracy. That is the ring that was exposed in 2018 and is now being rebuilt.

The second targets Israelis, whether representatives of the state or civilians. The latter espionage group has the more difficult task. Iran knows full well that any aggressive action against Israeli citizens will meet with swift retaliation.

Israel, as the single country most threatened by Tehran (intelligence sources estimate that 80 per cent of threats against the Jewish state emanate from the theocracy) does not, shall we say, buy into the transatlantic policy of appeasement. Last week,  Benjamin Netanyahu made his position clear ahead of a visit to Jerusalem by the new US secretary of defence, General Lloyd Austin, a visit designed to calm Israeli nerves over the impending nuclear deal. ‘These type of deals with extremist regimes are worth nothing,’ he said. ‘A deal with Iran that threatens us with annihilation will not obligate us.’

Speaking on Holocaust Remembrance Day, he added: ‘Only one thing will obligate us: to prevent those who wish to destroy us from carrying out their plans.’ On Sunday, an unexplained ‘incident’ occurred at Iran’s nuclear facility in Natanz — which had just started using more advanced centrifuges — taking out its electrical distribution grid.

In sharp contrast with Israel, whatever the opposite of retaliation is, Europe is following that policy. In the somnambulant haze that hangs in the continent’s corridors of power, even a fully armed bomb, built in Tehran and on its way to delivery to a rally of thousands of people in central Paris, is not enough to raise serious hesitations abut the intentions of the Iranian regime. The planned attack in the heart of France was generally viewed, amazingly enough, as an internal Iranian issue. The security services uprooted the spy network, then returned to business as usual. As one source familiar with the matter told me: ‘The plot may have been a wake-up call, but the Europeans tend to wake up from time to time, then fall asleep again.’ And this time, Europe and America are in lockstep. One can only hope that they are not sleepwalking to their own destruction.

Iran calls Natanz atomic site blackout ‘nuclear terrorism’

April 12, 2021

Somebody turned out the lights.

Ha ha ha

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Iran on Sunday described a blackout at its underground Natanz atomic facility an act of “nuclear terrorism,” raising regional tensions.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, stopped short of directly blaming anyone for the incident. Details remained few about what happened early Sunday morning at the facility, which initially was described as a blackout caused by the electrical grid feeding the site.

Many Israeli media outlets offered the same assessment that a cyberattack darkened Natanz and damaged a facility that is home to sensitive centrifuges. While the reports offered no sourcing for the evaluation, Israeli media maintains a close relationship with the country’s military and intelligence agencies.

If Israel caused the blackout, it further heightens tensions between the two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across the wider Middle East.

It also complicates efforts by the U.S., Israel’s main security partner, to re-enter the atomic accord aimed at limiting Tehran’s program so it can’t pursue a nuclear weapon. As news of the blackout emerged, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed Sunday in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Power at Natanz had been cut across the facility comprised of above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls, civilian nuclear program spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told Iranian state television.

“We still do not know the reason for this electricity outage and have to look into it further,” Kamalvandi said. “Fortunately, there was no casualty or damage and there is no particular contamination or problem.”

Asked if it was a “technical defect or sabotage,” Kamalvandi declined to comment.

Malek Shariati Niasar, a Tehran-based lawmaker who serves as spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s energy committee, wrote on Twitter that the incident was “very suspicious,” raising concerns about possible “sabotage and infiltration.” He said lawmakers were pursuing details of the incident as well.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran’s program, said it was “aware of the media reports,” but declined to comment.

Natanz was largely built underground to withstand enemy airstrikes. It became a flashpoint for Western fears about Iran’s nuclear program in 2002, when satellite photos showed Iran building its underground centrifuges facility at the site, some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of the capital, Tehran.

Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge assembly plant in July that authorities later described as sabotage. Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.

Israel, Iran’s regional archenemy, has been suspected of carrying out that attack as well as launching other assaults, as world powers now negotiate with Tehran in Vienna over its nuclear deal.

Iran also blamed Israel for the killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier. The Stuxnet computer virus, discovered in 2010 and widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli creation, once disrupted and destroyed Iranian centrifuges at Natanz.

“It’s hard for me to believe it’s a coincidence,” said Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies, of Sunday’s blackout. “If it’s not a coincidence, and that’s a big if, someone is trying to send a message that ‘we can limit Iran’s advance and we have red lines.'”

Israel has not claimed any of the attacks, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly has described Iran as the major threat faced by his country in recent weeks.

Meeting with Austin on Sunday, Gantz said Israel viewed America as an ally against all threats, including Iran.

“The Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East and to the state of Israel,” Gantz said. “And we will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world, of the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region, and protect the state of Israel.”

The Israeli army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, also appeared to reference Iran.

The Israeli military’s “operations in the Middle East are not hidden from the eyes of the enemy,” Kochavi said. “They are watching us, seeing (our) abilities and weighing their steps with caution.”

Multiple Israeli media outlets reported Sunday that a cyberattack caused the blackout in Natanz. Public broadcaster Kan said Israel was likely behind the attack, citing Israel’s alleged responsibility for the Stuxnet attacks a decade ago. Channel 12 TV cited “experts” as estimating the attack shut down entire sections of the facility. None of the reports included sources or explanations on how the outlets came to that assessment.

In Tehran, Iranian officials meanwhile awaited the arrival of South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, the first visit by a premier from Seoul since before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran on Friday released a South Korean oil tanker held since January amid a dispute with Seoul over billions of dollars of its assets frozen there.

On Saturday, Iran announced it had launched a chain of 164 IR-6 centrifuges at the plant. Officials also began testing the IR-9 centrifuge, which they say will enrich uranium 50 times faster than Iran’s first-generation centrifuges, the IR-1. The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only IR-1s for enrichment.

Since then-President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran has abandoned all the limits of its uranium stockpile. It now enriches up to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran maintains its atomic program is for peaceful purposes.

On Tuesday, an Iranian cargo ship said to serve as a floating base for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces off the coast of Yemen was struck by an explosion, likely from a limpet mine. Iran has blamed Israel for the blast. That attack escalated a long-running shadow war in Mideast waterways targeting shipping in the region.

IDF’s Point Man on Iran Says Israel ‘Definitely’ Has Capacity to Destroy Nuclear Program, Biden Administration ‘Keeping Its Promises’ So Far

April 2, 2021

Algemeiner 30 March 2021

The head of the IDF directorate tasked with dealing with the Iran nuclear issue said that the Biden administration largely sees the situation as Israel does, and is so far “keeping its promises.”

Maj. Gen. Tal Kalman, who heads the Strategy and Third-Circle Directorate and has participated in discussions with the Biden White House at the highest levels, told Israel Hayom that “the first stage is to be aligned with [the US] on the intelligence picture.”

“I think that in very high percentages they see the situation as we do,” he said.

Asked about Israel’s concern that many officials who negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vehemently opposed, have returned to office, Kalman said, “It’s true that in some of the cases these are the same people, but it’s not the same administration.”

“So far, this administration is keeping its promises,” he asserted. “It has come to listen, not rush to a new deal.”

“So, I think there’s a space of a few months to try and influence the administration’s policy,” Kalman said. “Even the Americans are clearly saying they will not allow Iran to achieve nuclear capability. Now, the question is how to act in this situation.”

Israel’s position, he added, is “we’re saying ‘yes’ to a deal that will be longer and stronger” than the 2015 agreement.

Asked whether Israel has the military capability to completely destroy Iran’s nuclear program if necessary, Kalman said, “The answer is yes. When we build these capabilities, we build them to be operational.”

“It’s not that there aren’t many strategic dilemmas, since the day after Iran can go back to the plan, but the ability exists,” he said. “Definitely.”

Regarding a possible strategy of turning the tables on Iran — which has sought to entrench itself on Israel’s borders — by positioning Israeli assets on Iran’s borders, Kalman said, “We need to strengthen that component in the set of actions we’re doing.”

One aspect of this is the Abraham Accords, which have made Gulf states bordering Iran strategic partners of Israel, he added.

“I think the Iranian leader, whose strategy is to base Iran on Israel’s borders, wakes up these days and is very concerned, because he sees potential for Israel to be based around his own borders. It’s a major change,” said Kalman.

The former fighter pilot became a major general in 2020, and took charge over the new, Iran-focused position on the IDF’s General Staff.

How the IDF invented ‘Roof Knocking’, the tactic that saves lives in Gaza

April 1, 2021

A lengthy but fascinating article.

SMOKE RISES from the Gaza Strip following an IDF military strike, August 2014.  (photo credit: ALBERT SADIKOV/FLASH90)

December 2008 was the turning point. After a year of incessant rocket fire, the Israeli government decided enough was enough. It was time to go back into the Gaza Strip and do everything possible to take down Hamas.

While a ceasefire had been in effect for six months, sporadic rocket fire – Kassams and mortars – continued to rain down on Israel. Nevertheless, the government had initially preferred quiet. The situation was tenuous but the residents of the South were, for the first time in years, able to leave their homes with some measure of safety. The government wasn’t going to put that at risk so quickly.

In November, though, the calculation changed. The IDF received intelligence that Hamas was digging a terror tunnel across the border into Israel similar to the one that had been used two-and-a-half years earlier to kidnap Gilad Schalit, a soldier in the Armored Corps. Schalit was still being held by Hamas somewhere in Gaza and the IDF decided that the “ticking tunnel” – as it was being called – had to be destroyed.

An elite IDF force from the Paratroopers’ Brigade was sent across the border near the home under which the tunnel was being dug. In a subsequent firefight, a few Palestinian gunmen were killed. At one point, a large bomb went off in the home, bringing down the structure and collapsing the tunnel.

The Hamas response and rocket onslaught was immediate. Dozens of Kassams, Katyushas and mortar shells pounded the South, reaching as far as Ashdod. A rocket attack led to an Israeli Air Force bombing and then more rockets and more airstrikes. By mid-December the truce – tahdiya in Arabic – had completely fallen apart.

Only a handful of people knew that at the same time as Israeli diplomats were trying to salvage the ceasefire with Egyptian assistance, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the IAF were busy building a bank of Hamas targets – headquarters, arms caches, command posts, tunnel openings and rocket launchers. Homes, schools, hospitals, mosques – everything was being used by Hamas to hide their weapons and everything was being added to the IDF list.

On December 27, at 11:30 a.m., what would become known as “Operation Cast Lead” was launched with the bombing of 50 different targets by dozens of IAF fighter jets and attack helicopters. The planes reported “Alpha Hits,” air force lingo for direct hits on their targets. Some 30 minutes later, a second wave of 60 jets and helicopters struck another 60 targets, including underground rocket launchers – placed inside bunkers and missile silos – that had been fitted with timers. 

In all, more than 170 targets were hit by IAF aircraft throughout that first day. Palestinians reported more than 200 Gazans killed and another 800 wounded.

OPERATION CAST LEAD would be remembered as the first large-scale war in Gaza since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Strip three years earlier. It would also go down in history for the United Nations fact-finding mission known as the Goldstone Report that would be established and accuse Israel of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Ahead of the operation, Israeli intelligence agencies knew they had to adapt. Since the withdrawal from Gaza three years earlier, they no longer had a physical presence on the ground inside the now Hamas-controlled territory. While they could use spies and electronic sensors to identify targets, they would not be able to know – in real time – what was happening inside a specific target.

What the IDF knew was that Hamas was storing its weapons in homes, in apartment buildings and under schools, mosques and hospitals. If a war erupted, Israel had to find a way to attack the targets while, at the same time, reducing civilian casualties and collateral damage.

Recognizing the challenge, the Shin Bet did something new: it created lists of phone numbers belonging to the owners of the homes, office buildings and hospitals throughout the Gaza Strip. It was a Sisyphean effort never undertaken by another military, but Israel knew it didn’t have a choice.

While collecting the phone numbers was difficult, their use was supposed to be simple. The IDF knew that there were basically two categories of targets. The first were terrorists: Palestinians perpetrating an attack or in the midst of planning one. Those people were not going to get called before being attacked. To successfully hit them, Israel needed to retain the element of surprise even if that meant some innocent civilians would unfortunately be caught in the crosshairs.

The second category included the homes, apartment buildings, offices, mosques and other civilian buildings where Hamas and Islamic Jihad had stored their weapons, set up command posts or used as cover to hide a cross-border terror tunnel. These were the targets that would get phone calls in order to give the people inside the opportunity to leave.

“We identified thousands of targets thanks to our agents on the ground,” explained Victor Ben-Ami, a 30-year veteran of the Shin Bet, who was involved in the effort. “We had a list of warehouses, factories and buildings with the understanding that the enemy had a tactic it was using to do everything it could to blend in and hide within civilian infrastructure.”

The intelligence, Ben-Ami recalled, was incredible. “We knew what floor the target we were looking for was located, what color it was, what was there, where the air-conditioning machine was located and more,” he explained.

But because Israel knew that civilians would be inside the buildings, the IDF and Shin Bet created a new operational doctrine. Before attacking, it would take the extra precaution of contacting the building owner or occupant.

The callers had a standard text they read in Arabic that went something like this: “How are you? Is everything okay? This is the Israeli military. We need to bomb your home and we are making every effort to minimize casualties. Please make sure that no one is nearby since in five minutes we will attack.” The line would then go dead.

In every case, an Israeli drone would be hovering above, watching what was happening in the home and nearby. Once it saw people running out of the building, IAF headquarters would give the fighter pilot or attack helicopter the green light to drop their bomb. In some cases, the Palestinians claimed Israeli drones were also used to launch the missiles – although Israel has never officially confirmed that it has attack drones.

Not everyone in the IDF saw eye-to-eye on this new tactic. Col. Pnina Sharvit-Baruch was head of the International Law Department of the Military Advocate General (MAG) Unit as Operation Cast Lead was in the planning stages.

Almost every target was brought to her for approval. In one discussion, one of the other officers around the table suggested skipping the warning stage and attacking the building even at the cost of killing or wounding innocent civilians. The building, the officer explained, had been turned into a military target by Hamas and if people were inside they too were military targets.

The argument was immediately and vehemently shot down by all the participants. “That was the definite fringe minority,” she recalled.

In discussions with combat units, Sharvit-Baruch stressed two reasons why this new tactic was critical for Israel. The first was ethical. Israel, she explained, does not callously attack civilians when they can be spared. 

“It is our moral obligation,” she affirmed.

The second reason was of political and diplomatic significance. 

“A lot of dead civilians deteriorates the conflict and creates diplomatic international pressure and continues the conflict,” she said. “It harms our interests.”

Ben-Ami agreed. 

“Whether we like it or not, this is who we are and how we do things,” he explained. “There is no plan that doesn’t take civilians into consideration. This is who we are.”

FOR THE most part the tactic worked. A building would be brought by the Shin Bet to the Southern Command’s Attack Center where it would be added to the list of targets. There, on the second floor of a plain-looking gray structure in the Beersheba-based headquarters, the IDF soldiers and Shin Bet analysts would discuss what to do and how to attack.

The IDF officers would allocate the necessary attack platform and ensure it was available. Once the mission was approved, an Arabic-speaking intelligence officer would call the owner. The drone would show that the people inside the building had left, the soldiers in the IDF command center would count the number of people who had left, ensuring the number matched up with the intelligence they had received, and they would then give the IAF the green light to attack.

The type of bomb used was adapted based on the target. If it was a private home with an arms cache hidden in the basement, the bomb needed to be capable of penetrating the roof and other floors and only detonate once it hit the basement. If the target was on the second floor, it needed to be a bomb that could be launched into a window and just destroy the second floor but nothing else. Success was often measured by the number of secondary explosions, caused by the amount of explosives hidden under the home.

For the first 40 strikes, everything worked smoothly. Some officers privately wondered among themselves why the Palestinians didn’t go to the roof and try to prevent the bombing.

“We knew that if they did that we would have to call off the strike,” one of the military planners at the time recalled.

Calls were made and empty buildings were struck. But then one day, the officer’s fears came true. One of the Palestinians, whose two-story home was a known Hamas weapons storage center, told the Israeli intelligence officer that he would not leave. Word was circulating around Gaza about the new tactic and people knew that exiting the building would mean not having a home to return to.

The family climbed to the roof, knowing a drone was above, and started making indecent gestures at the Israeli aircraft.

A disagreement broke out in the command center. Some of the officers thought Israel needed to go ahead with the attack. 

“If we don’t attack we will lose deterrence,” argued one of the officers, a veteran combat soldier from the IDF’s Nahal Infantry Brigade.

Others pushed back. The Jewish state, they said, couldn’t strike a building while knowing there were still civilians inside. The commander of the Southern Command was updated and the issue eventually made its way up to the chief of staff. Both agreed the strike could not go forward. It was called off.

The next day, another Palestinian refused to leave his home and the surveillance drone showed he had also climbed up to the roof. The commanders in the Attack Center watched the live feed with curiosity. In truth they didn’t know what to do.

On the one hand, they were dealing with a legitimate military target. Yes, it had been a house or an apartment building. But once it was being used for military purposes it had morphed into a military target according to the laws of war. The question now was about “proportionality” – a rule prohibiting attacks that may cause loss of life in excess of the military gain from the attack. This was a legal question that required constant consultations with Sharvit-Baruch and her team of lawyers.

Zvika Fogel, a retired brigadier-general, was in the war room that day. A reservist, Fogel had served as deputy commander of the Southern Command in the early 2000s. When Cast Lead broke out, Fogel was called up to run the Attack Center. Every target had to be signed off by him, whether a home, mosque or terrorist on a motorbike fleeing a just-used rocket launcher.

This war hit close to home for Fogel. On January 5, an IDF Merkava tank shot a shell at a building in the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza. The tank crew had mistakenly identified movement in the structure for Hamas terrorists when they were actually Israeli infantry soldiers from the Golani Brigade. Three troops were killed; 24 more were wounded.

Fogel oversaw the evacuation of the wounded. It would be remembered as one of the more complicated evacuations in IDF history. Once the tank had fired its shell, Hamas terrorists opened fire in the direction of the tank and the building and the whole street became a war zone, making it difficult to get the wounded out of the building.

The IDF launched artillery shells to create a smokescreen and provide cover for the troops to get out of the densely populated area and into the open where helicopters were trying to land to fly the wounded across the border to Israeli hospitals.

As he was overseeing the complex operation, Fogel had no clue that one of the wounded was his own son Dor who had been inside the building when the tank shell struck. Thankfully, he sustained only light injuries.

AFTER THE first time one of the telephoned Palestinians refused to leave his home, Fogel gathered his men in the Attack Center for a consultation on what to do. The home was a legitimate target and had been authorized by Sharvit-Baruch’s team. On the other hand, Fogel knew that attacking would incur too many civilian casualties and whatever tactical gain Israel might achieve from the bombing, it would be for naught.

One of the officers recalled the “Neighbor Procedure,” a controversial tactic employed by infantry units during operations in the West Bank in the beginning of the Second Intifada.

The procedure, which was eventually banned by the High Court of Justice, involved Israeli soldiers sending a neighbor or relative of a wanted Palestinian terror suspect to knock on their door before going in themselves. The idea was that the terror suspect wouldn’t open fire if they knew their cousin or neighbor was standing outside.

While that couldn’t be applied in the same way in Gaza – IDF troops were not always going to be on the ground – the officers started throwing around different ways to achieve the same goal: minimize casualties, on the Israeli side and Palestinian side as well.

“The Neighbor Procedure was an effort used to minimize harm to our soldiers and we thought how could we take it and do something else that could reduce harm to Palestinian civilians,” Fogel recounted.  

Fogel was highly motivated to find a solution. In 1996, he was commander of an artillery brigade operating in Lebanon during Operation Grapes of Wrath, started with the objective of stopping Hezbollah rocket fire into northern Israel.

Israel was determined to fight and push Hezbollah far from the border. But seven days into the operation, artillery shells fired by another unit to provide cover for an elite commando team operating in Lebanon accidentally hit a UN compound where Lebanese civilians had sought refuge. Over 100 civilians were reported killed.

While Fogel had not been involved in the assault, what happened next taught him a lesson. Later that day, in New York, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1052, calling for an immediate ceasefire. Israel, which started the operation with a legitimate cause – to defend its own people – came under harsh international criticism. Within days, the operation was over.

Now, 12 years later, Fogel was again fighting in an operation that had been launched to defend Israeli citizens and again was facing a similar problem like in Grapes of Wrath. Civilian casualties would undermine Israel’s legitimacy to act. The world would condemn the country and the government would ultimately succumb to the pressure and stop the IDF.

A couple of days later, when another Palestinian refused to evacuate his house, one of the officers on Fogel’s team came up with an innovative idea. He suggested sending an F-15 or F-16 to dip low over the home in Gaza, to break the sound barrier and try to scare the people inside.

Another officer had a different idea. The house was next to an empty field. 

“Why don’t we have a helicopter fire some warning shots into the empty field right next to the house,” the officer suggested.

The Southern Command officers liked the idea and tried it out. It worked and the residents fled the building. The problem was that the IDF would not always have empty lots next to structures it wanted to attack. It needed to come up with a better method.

“It was kind of like what we would do with a terror suspect who refused to leave his home in the West Bank,” the former Nahal Brigade officer who was stationed in the Attack Center explained. “We would first fire a standard 5.56 mm machine gun bullet at the door. If that didn’t work, we would fire a heavier cannon and if that didn’t work, we would throw a grenade.”

After a few more times, the IDF had refined the tactic. It selected a missile developed by Israel Aerospace Industries known for being small, accurate and capable of being configured to carry a limited amount of explosives.

After calling and encountering a refusal to leave the home, the air force will first fire one of these missiles on the roof. It will usually be fired into a corner, far from where people might be standing. In some cases, the missiles can be configured to burst in mid-air, minimizing even more the chances of casualties.

Once the Palestinians experience the “roof knocking,” in almost all cases they flee the building. After the Israeli drones verify the people have left, the Air Force then drops an even heavier bomb, destroying the structure.

While the IDF doesn’t say much about the weapons it uses, pictures of unexploded ordnance circulated online by Gaza residents show a missile with “Mikholit” written on it on Hebrew next to a stamp of Israel Aerospace Industries’ MBT Missile Division. Mikholit in Hebrew is a small paintbrush, like the kind an artist would use for precise painting.

The missile looks exactly like one developed by IAI called “Sledgehammer” which the company says has a range of 20 km., can carry 15-kg. warheads and weighs just 30 kg. It is this missile that Palestinians claim is fired at them from Israeli drones.

DEVELOPMENT OF the roof-knocking tactic was similar to the way the air force adapted to the use of civilian targets in the 1970s in Lebanon. These were the days before Hezbollah when the IDF was fighting against the PLO, which was regularly shelling northern Israel from Lebanon.

At the time, the term “collateral damage” was not as prevalent as it is today. The IAF had just come out of the Yom Kippur War badly beaten – over 100 aircraft were lost – and needed to adapt to a new urban battlefield in Lebanon while rebuilding its morale and deterrence.

“In the war, we were sent to hit runways where there isn’t collateral damage to worry about,” explained retired Brig.-Gen. Uzi Rosen, a former head of the IAF’s Operations Division. “You would take 10 bombs and statistically one would land where it needed to. You didn’t care if they didn’t hit exactly because the target was a runway. Same when you attacked a Syrian battalion on the Golan Heights.”

During the war, Rosen flew in the IAF’s 107th Squadron and on one flight his F-4 Phantom was hit by an Egyptian missile. Despite losing an engine, Rosen succeeded in landing back in Israel. In total, the squadron lost five planes during the war but not a single pilot. Its pilots succeeded in downing 14 enemy aircraft.

After the war, as fighting intensified in Lebanon, Israel found itself facing a new type of enemy – PLO fighters hiding with their Katyusha rockets inside apartment buildings. It presented the IDF with a new tough dilemma.

On the one hand, not attacking meant that within a day or two those same rockets would rain down on Kiryat Shmona. On the other hand, Israel really didn’t have precision-guided munitions yet in its arsenal. Civilians were always around the apartment buildings and attacking would mean extensive collateral damage.

One officer under Rosen came up with the idea to take regular bombs, remove the explosives and fill them instead with cement. This way, the bombs wouldn’t explode but would just cause damage. In other cases, the IAF took 250-kg. bombs and removed half the explosives to minimize the radius blast.

“We were in distress,” Rosen recalled.

The cement bombs were used on hundreds of targets, sometimes successfully and sometimes not as much. But it was all the IAF had until the 1980s, when laser-guided munitions as well as the Maverick – a bomb that used an electro-optical television guidance system – came into service.

Every bomb had its advantages. Laser-guided munitions required a pilot to either be directly over the target or to have troops on the ground “lighting” it up. Electro-optical bombs needed the ability to see the targets as well and sometimes have the navigator – also referred to as the “weapon systems operator” – drive the missile with a joystick all the way to the target.

“It was always a battle between the operational need to destroy a target and the collateral damage challenge,” Rosen remembered. “But it was exactly this need that started leading the defense industries and the army to develop our own precision capabilities.”

Israel’s technological leap came in the mid-1980s with the rollout of the Popeye, developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. What made the Popeye unique was that it came with a smokeless rocket engine – meaning it did not leave a trail – it could be launched from a plane around 100 km. away from a target and could then be driven – via datalink – all the way there by an IAF navigator. Its control could even be handed off to another plane as needed.

Another missile that has become popular in the IAF is the Spike. Also developed by Rafael, Spike’s origins were also in the Yom Kippur War during which the IDF got hammered by Syrian and Egyptian tanks. While Israel ultimately held on to its territory both in the Golan and the Sinai Peninsula, it needed a new weapon to have the upper hand in the event of another conflict.

The Spike – called “Tamuz” in the army – was a secret until just a few years ago. It was operated by two elite units and was fired from armored personnel carriers. The goal was to use the missiles to surprise and stop future tank invasions. IDF bunkers were stocked with the missiles, which came in different sizes and models, and were appreciated for their high degree of accuracy and lethality.

But with warfare changing – tank battles are no longer really a threat to Israel – the IDF needed to find a new use for the Spike and it did, in the air force always on the lookout for new precision-guided munitions.

ALL OF this was done on the fly and in the midst of battle. During the three weeks of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF would go on to drop more than 2.5 million leaflets warning civilians to leave their homes and made more than 165,000 phone calls warning civilians to distance themselves from military targets. The roof-knocking tactic was used dozens of times.

It didn’t go unnoticed. In a report published by the United Nations, Israel’s use of roof-knocking was harshly criticized, with investigators concluding that the “technique is not effective as a warning and constitutes a form of attack against the civilians inhabiting the building.”

One case that drew international condemnation was in July 2018 when two Palestinian teenagers were accidentally killed in a roof-knocking operation on an empty building in Gaza. In a reconstruction of the incident, B’Tselem found that the IAF had fired four warning shots at the building and that the first one had killed the boys as they sat on the roof taking a selfie with their legs dangling over the edge.

The attack, B’Tselem said at the time, showed how roof knocking was not just a warning but was a real attack and therefore needed to conform to international rules of law.

Israel has rejected this assumption. 

“Even if warning shots are considered an ‘attack,’ it is incorrect to view them as an attack ‘against civilians’ because they are not fired at civilians, since the objective of their use is to avoid harm to civilians,” explained Sharvit-Baruch, the IDF legal expert.

Despite the criticism, Israel has continued in the years since Cast Lead to use roof-knocking in its Gaza operations, out of a combination of tactical and strategic interests.

Tactically, commanders recognize the need to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties. Strategically, Israel’s political and military leaders know that when there are fewer casualties, there is less of a chance of a wider escalation with Hamas. Both are clear Israeli interests.

With the International Criminal Court in The Hague now investigating Israel’s 2014 war in Gaza, Israel will once again have to defend its tactics and explain what precautions it takes to minimize civilian casualties, an effort in which roof knocking plays a critical role.

When looking back on the day in 2009 when the IDF came up with roof knocking, it illustrated a determination to adhere to a level of morality not often seen in the midst of battle.

Israel could have taken the easy way out and attacked without phone calls or warning strikes. But it didn’t. The IDF officers and soldiers in the command center adapted to an evolving situation without having a thoroughly thought-out or carefully crafted doctrine for what to do, nor special technology that would guarantee success.

But, they had their objective – to adhere to Jewish values of going the extra mile to protect civilian life – and they acted accordingly. That is the story of roof knocking. 

The Miracle of Osirak

March 30, 2021

Commentary Magazine

by Meir Y. Soloveichik

In June 1981, as Israel was about to begin the holiday of Shavuot, Prime Minister Menachem Begin informed the media he had just ordered one of the most audacious operations in modern military history: the destruction, by Israel’s Air Force, of the Osirak nuclear reactor outside Baghdad. The mission had seemed impossible, as it required flying a total of 2,000 miles—and Israel did not have the ability to refuel. It was assumed that not all the pilots would make it back alive. When all returned safely, Begin ebulliently announced it to the world, insisting that only if Israel publicly claimed responsibility would the attack serve as a future deterrent to Israel’s enemies.

There was only one problem. The notion that a prime minister mere weeks away from an election might have ordered such an attack was so unthinkable that the media refused to believe it. In his biography of Begin, Avi Shilon describes how his subject waited in vain for the Israeli Broadcast Agency to bring the news to the public:

The news editors at the IBA did not believe what they had heard. Uri Porat, the new communications adviser to the prime minister, phoned to find out what was holding up the announcement, but since his voice was unfamiliar to the news editors, they were convinced that it was a hoax. Finally, journalist Immanuel Halperin, Begin’s nephew, decided to call his uncle, and thus in an intimate conversation between Begin family members, the announcement that would cause a furor throughout the world came to light. But it was broadcast, of all places, in a news flash on Radio 3—the IBA’s pop music station—at 3:30 p.m., and Begin had to wait yet another half hour to hear it in an official IBA newscast.

Only in Israel: an earth-shattering event announced on a pop station and ignored elsewhere until confirmed by an impeccable source in the leader’s mishpocha.

The year 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of the “Begin Doctrine,” according to which no enemy of Israel will be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, and that Israel will act, on its own if necessary, to ensure this remained the case.

Four decades along, it is easy to forget how unexpected the attack was and how outraged much of the world was by it. In Israel, Begin’s electoral opponent, Shimon Peres, had sent him a letter pleading to hold off, but he only convinced the prime minister to act. Shilon describes how Begin told a cabinet member, “For all I know, a month from now, Shimon Peres will be sitting in this room. From his letter it’s clear to you that he certainly wouldn’t carry out this operation, and I’m not willing to leave the stage knowing that I left this problem hovering over our children.”

The international media largely denounced the attack as state-sponsored terror, and even world leaders sympathetic to Israel came down hard. Margaret Thatcher spoke of “a grave breach to international law,” and the Reagan administration ordered Jeane Kirkpatrick (to her dismay) to support an anti-Israel resolution at the UN.

The controversy and surprise show just how this operation, which kept a nuclear weapon out of the hands of Saddam Hussein, was a testament to the unique worldview of one man. Menachem Begin was a modern Zionist, but unlike some of Israel’s other founders, he always felt the personal presence of those murdered in the Holocaust, especially of his father and mother. Again and again, Begin made clear, in the months before the attack, that the fate of his family was very much on his mind. “This morning,” he told the cabinet during an Osirak planning meeting, “when I saw Jewish children playing outside, I decided: ‘No, never again.’” In a meeting with American Jews in May 1981, Begin was asked what he thought the lesson of the Holocaust was. He replied:

First, if an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him. Don’t doubt him for a moment. Don’t make light of it. Do all in your power to deny him the means of carrying out his satanic intent. Second, when a Jew anywhere is threatened, or under attack, do all in your power to come to his aid. Never pause to wonder what the world will think or say. The world will never pity slaughtered Jews. The world may not necessarily like the fighting Jew, but the world will have to take account of him.

These Americans had no idea what Begin was planning when he said these words. He was indeed the fighting Jew, and the world certainly did not like him. Time magazine helpfully informed its readership that the name Begin “rhymes with Fagin,” and American Jewry in 1981 was told repeatedly that they must choose “between Reagan and Begin.” But Begin did not “pause to wonder what the world would say,” and the world did indeed “have to take account of him.”

At the same time, the “fighting Jew” who acted to neutralize the Iraqi threat also was a Jew of profound faith. Yehudah Avner, Begin’s speechwriter, reported that as the planes took off, Begin said to himself “Hashem yishmor aleihem,” may God protect them. And when he was informed that the strike was successful, he instinctively exclaimed two words that Jews have said every day for centuries, but that no other Israeli prime minster would have instinctively uttered: Barukh Hashem, thank God. A month later he met with the American Jewish leader Max Fisher and reflected further on the religious meaning of the moment: “Am I a believer—do I believe in Elokei Yisrael, the God of Israel? The answer is a categorical yes. How else to account for our success in accomplishing the virtually impossible? Every conceivable type of enemy weaponry was arraigned against our pilots….Yet not a single one touched us. Only by the grace of God could we have succeeded in that mission.”

Was the assault on Osirak a strategic achievement, or was it a miracle? For the prime minister, it was both. On Yom Kippur 1973, Israel had been caught napping; on Shavuot 1981, Begin announced to the world that Israel would not be caught asleep at the wheel again. And he believed that if Israel avoided somnolence, then its people would also have the right to pray to the God Who, according to the Psalms, is the protector of Israel that neither slumbers nor sleeps. No other Israeli leader so seamlessly merged the Zionist present and the Diasporic past, simultaneously making manifest Jewish independence and humble faith.

Since 1981, Israel has acted several times to prevent its enemies from acquiring nuclear weapons, and it is much stronger—both militarily and diplomatically—than it was in Begin’s day. This is a wonderful thing. But what is missed is the man—a leader who joined strong action with communion to the past, a Jew who could order an ingenious operation and then pray to God for its success.

When Peres accused Begin of ordering the operation for electoral reasons, Begin had a ready reply. “Jews!” he bellowed to the crowd at a rally. “You have known me for 40 years!” He had more to say, but that was enough. Forty years after he said those words, the legacy of Begin’s operation lives on, and many operations like it have followed. But as we remember the “fighting Jew,” we must wonder whether we will ever see a man like him again.

Israel’s Strategy To Stop Iran’s Existential Threats

March 30, 2021

Article from 26 Feb 2021

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Israel is willing to take action to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said this week. His statement framed part of a full-court press of Israel warning of Iran’s regional threats as Tehran continues to enrich uranium. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long warned of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, but the transition to a new administration in Washington has been exploited by Iran to increase its enrichment and threats. A senior Israeli defense official laid out to me this week how seriously Israel views the threat. Tehran should listen.

Israel has acted in the past to prevent Iraq and Syria from obtaining nuclear capabilities. Netanyahu warned in a 2012 speech to the United Nations that a red line must be drawn on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. Now Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei says Iran could increase the levels of enrichment to 60 percent. This is a nuclear numbers game that Iran uses like a game of chicken with the U.S., hoping the Biden administration will blink and jump right back into an Iran Deal 2.0.

For Israel, it’s essential that the U.S. understand Jerusalem’s views. Israel doesn’t want a nuclear arms race in the region. Iran is an existential threat and no matter who wins Israel’s elections next month, Israel will not accept a threat that violates its declared red lines. At the same time, Israel wants the U.S. and its Western allies to know that they can count on Israel to confront Iran’s proxies and various entrenchments throughout the region. In January 2019, former Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Gadi Eizenkot revealed that Israel had carried out more than 1,000 airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria. Since then, Israel has continued what it calls the “campaign between the wars” to stop Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and transfer of weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

There is no substitute for U.S. power and influence in the Middle East, the senior Israeli defense official told Newsweek this week. This unshakable bond with the U.S. is essential, as is bipartisan support for Israel in Congress. Part of this support for Israel also anchors the Jewish state in the region via new U.S.-brokered peace deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and it is linked to U.S. support for other important partners, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. While the Biden administration has been critical of Egyptian and Saudi human rights abuses, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently indicated in a call with his Egyptian counterpart, Israel hopes this criticism will go hand-in-hand with continued U.S. support.

The threats are too grave for the U.S. and European allies, such as France and Germany, to take their eyes off the threat. Iran’s nuclear program is connected to its broader destabilizing policies, from fueling the Houthi rebels in Yemen and arming them with ballistic missile and drone technology, to moving rockets to Iraq that threaten U.S. troops and Israel. Iran today is one of the leading countries in the world for ballistic missile technology.

The strategic paradigm for Israel today is multilayered. It wants to increase its ability to deter Iran, for instance, through acquisition of more F-35s and other aircraft from the U.S., along with its own development of new air defense capabilities. It also wants Iran to end its long-running entrenchment in Syria. An American commitment to Syria, or even a U.S. deal with Russia on Syria, might reduce Iran’s freedom of maneuver there. Any new Iranian nuclear deal must prevent future enrichment and not merely enable Iran to continue enrichment after a certain time period, as the 2015 deal did. Iran was supposed to keep stockpiles of enrichment at 3.67 percent. Instead, it has installed advanced centrifuges at Natanz and Fordow.

Iran thinks that it can use this nuclear blackmail to get the U.S. and the West to do what it wants. But Israel is messaging to Washington and others how seriously it takes the Iranian threat. Iran is becoming reckless, with recent rocket attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, and is encouraging attacks on Saudi Arabia. In Lebanon, Hezbollah even fired a missile at an Israeli drone this month.

In mid-February, days after Hezbollah fired the missile at an Israeli drone, and the day before Netanyahu and President Joe Biden first spoke by phone, Israel launched a surprise air force drill in which it simulated striking up to 3,000 targets a day. A week later, Netanyahu and Gantz warned Iran that Israel was serious about preventing a nuclear Iran. Tehran should listen.

Israel Pursuing Four More Peace Deals, Bibi Says

March 23, 2021

Love to see Bumbling Joe Biden’s face if these peace deals get done.

Article dated 16 March 2021.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel is pursuing four more peace deals with countries in the region and elsewhere, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

“I brought four peace agreements, and there are another four on the way,” Netanyahu said. “I talked about one of them yesterday.” He added that one such regional leader spoke with him by phone Monday night. The prime minister did not dispel rumors of other peace agreements in the works with nations such as Niger, Mauritania, and Indonesia.

The longtime Israeli leader also touted the four other agreements he forged last year with Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and Africa—Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Sudan—which thawed decades of cold relations.

Israel is inching toward normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia, a key partner in the coalition against Iran due to its size, wealth, and military force. Netanyahu met with Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in November. Under the Trump administration, senior officials hinted at prospects of budding relations between Riyadh and Jerusalem in the wake of the historic Abraham Accords signed in August 2020.

Normalization with gulf countries has already borne significant fruit for Israel. Tourism and trade continues to grow apace between Israel and the UAE, with some even remarking that they feel safer wearing traditional Jewish clothing in Dubai than in France now.

The Trump administration furthered such agreements between Israel and regional partners as a senior broker by strongly backing Israel and pressuring Iran. The realignment in the Middle East was appraised by former secretary of state Henry Kissinger as “brilliant.” He emphasized that the Biden administration must build on the progress made in peaceful regional ties by continuing Trump-era policies in the region.

It is unclear, however, the extent to which the Biden administration will pursue additional peace. Both President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken assure Iran that they have interest in pursuing renewed nuclear talks, and several senior level appointments throughout the administration’s foreign policy regime marked themselves as leading critics of the Trump administration’s policies toward Iran and Israel.