Israel decimated Iranian drone fleet in February airstrike inside Iran – report

Posted March 15, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Attack said to destroy hundreds of drones near Kermanshah, prompting this week’s revenge missile fire at, on site alleged to have launched UAV-destroying mission

By TOI STAFFToday, 8:45 am  

In this photo released on May 21, 2021, by Sepahnews, the website of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a new drone, called Gaza, is displayed in an undisclosed location in Iran. (Sepahnews via AP)

A UAV attack in the middle of February reportedly caused major damage to Iran’s drone fleet, prompting Iran to fire missiles this week at a site in Iraq that it claims was an Israeli intelligence base.

Hundreds of drones are assessed to have been destroyed in the attack on an airbase near Kermanshah, in Western Iran, Haaretz reported Tuesday, without citing sources for the extent of the damage.

While Israel has acknowledged it targets the bases of Iranian forces and allied terror groups in Syria, as well as arms shipments believed to be bound for Iran-backed groups in the region — and is believed to have carried out covert actions inside Iran — an airstrike on Iranian territory would be very unusual.

Tehran officials have blamed Israel for the attack, though neither country had made any mention of the incident until this week. Israel has not commented at all on the alleged strike.

On Sunday night, the Lebanese television station Al Mayadeen, which is linked to the Iran-back Hezbollah terror group, reported on the Kermanshah attack for the first time.

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Citing “reliable sources,” it said there were six drones that took part in the raid and claimed they were launched from Iraqi Kurdistan.

The station said it was because of the drone attack that Iran fired missiles at a site near the US consulate in Erbil overnight Saturday. Iran has said the target of the missiles was a location being used by Israeli intelligence and, according to Al Mayadeen, it was from there that the February drone attack was launched.

The Lebanese report also claimed that as a result of the missile attack on Erbil, four Israeli officers were killed and seven more injured, four of whom were in a critical condition.

The US State Department has condemned the strike, which hit near a sprawling American consulate, and Kurdish authorities have denied the area was being used by Israel.

A general view shows a damaged mansion following an overnight attack in Erbil, the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region, on March 13, 2022 (SAFIN HAMED / AFP)

Israel has repeatedly warned that Iranian drones are a significant threat to the region — especially as Tehran arms proxies stationed along Israel’s borders. Military officials said last week that Iran’s “UAV terror” is a new and global issue, accusing Tehran of directly attacking both military and civilian targets in the Middle East.

The IDF also published footage of what it said were intercepts of Iranian drones.

The timing of the IDF’s publication was thought to be related to the ongoing, and reportedly near-completed, nuclear talks in Vienna.

Negotiators on all sides have signaled in recent days that a potential agreement to revive the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is close. Israel has highlighted the fact that the emerging nuclear deal does not address the drone issue.

The IDF believes Iran is attempting to arm all of its proxies in the region — in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen — with hundreds and even thousands of UAVs, in addition to providing military training.

In this image released by the military on February 17, 2022, a drone belonging to Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group is seen after being downed by troops on the border with Lebanon. (Israel Defense Forces)

Military officials say the IDF is always on full alert to protect Israel’s skies from drones. However, last month Israeli air defenses failed to down a small drone that entered the country from Lebanon, which Hezbollah claimed responsibility for launching.

A series of incidents over the past few months indicate an escalation in the shadow conflict between Israel and Iran.

A cyberattack on Monday took down Israeli government websites for over an hour on Monday evening. Israeli officials did not immediately say who was behind the attack, but some media reports were quick to point the finger at Iran.

It came as Iranian state television reported that the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard arrested members of a “network” working for Israel that planned to sabotage Iran’s major underground nuclear facility at Fordo

Iran fires missiles at Irbil US consulate; Tehran: ‘Secret Israeli bases’ targeted

Posted March 13, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

No casualties after several projectiles fired toward building in Iraqi Kurdistan; Iran media claims without evidence that Israel operating sites there and they were target

By AGENCIESToday, 2:52 amUpdated at 8:22 am  

Illustrative: US Marines guard the Baghdad Embassy Compound in Iraq, Jan. 5, 2020. (US Marine Corps/Sgt. Kyle C. Talbot)

As many as 12 missiles were fired Sunday toward the US consulate in Iraq’s northern city of Irbil, with several missiles hitting the building, Iraqi and US security officials said.

Iranian state media agency IRNA, citing local reports, claimed without evidence that “secret Israeli bases” were targeted in the attack.

A US official said the missiles were launched from neighboring Iran.

Officials gave different accounts of damage. A US official said missiles hit the consulate, but a second American official later said there was no damage and no casualties at any US government facility.

Iraqi authorities said several missiles had hit the US consulate. The consulate building is new and currently unoccupied.

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Later, Lawk Ghafari, the head of Kurdistan’s foreign media office, said none of the missiles hit the US facility but that areas around the compound had been hit by the missiles.

The area’s governor said it was not clear whether the intended target was the US consulate or the airport, where there is a base for the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group.

The airport said it had suffered no damage and flights had not been disrupted.

An AFP correspondent in the city heard three explosions.

Local television channel Kurdistan24, whose studios are not far from the US consulate, posted images on social networks of its damaged offices, with collapsed sections of false ceiling and broken glass.

Irbil is the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq.

“We condemn this terrorist attack launched against several sectors of Irbil, we call on the inhabitants to remain calm,” Kurdistan Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said in a statement.

One of the officials said the ballistic missiles were fired from Iran, without elaborating.

The attack comes several days after Syrian state media reported an Israeli strike near Damascus, Syria. The reports said the airstrike killed two members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Iran’s foreign ministry strongly condemned the attack Wednesday and vowed revenge.

On Sunday, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Iraqi media acknowledging the attacks in Irbil, without saying where they originated.

Satellite broadcast channel Kurdistan24, which is located near the US consulate, went on air from their studio shortly after the attack, showing shattered glass and debris on their studio floor.

A security statement said Irbil was targeted “with a number of missiles” early Sunday, adding that security forces were investigating the incident and would release more details later.

The attack comes as negotiations in Vienna over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal hit a “pause” over Russian demands about sanctions targeting Moscow over its war on Ukraine.

US interests and coalition troops in Iraq have regularly been targeted in rocket and armed drone attacks.

Western officials have blamed hardline pro-Iran factions for the attacks, which have never been claimed.

In late January, six rockets were fired at Baghdad International Airport, causing no casualties.

Iraq saw a surge in these sort of attacks at the beginning of the year as Iran and its allies commemorated the second anniversary of the death of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant Abu Mehdi al-Mouhandis, killed by American drone fire in Iraq in January 2020.

Iran adjusting stance after Russia’s new demands at nuclear talks

Posted March 7, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Supreme National Security Council says negotiators in Vienna will seek ‘creative ways’ to proceed as Moscow links efforts to save 2015 pact to US sanctions over Ukraine invasion

By AMIR VAHDAT and JON GAMBRELLToday, 11:48 am  

Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani sits in a meeting in Tehran, Iran on June, 12, 2021. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A top Iranian official said Monday that his country is seeking “creative ways” to restore its nuclear deal with world powers after Russia’s foreign minister linked sanctions on Moscow over its war on Ukraine to the ongoing negotiations.

The tweet by Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s powerful Supreme National Security Council, offers the first high-level acknowledgment of the demands of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“Vienna participants act & react based on interests and it’s understandable,” Shamkhani wrote. “Our interactions … are also solely driven by our people’s interests. Thus, we’re assessing new elements that bear on the negotiations and will accordingly seek creative ways to expedite a solution.”

In recent days, negotiators on all sides in Vienna had signaled that a potential deal was close as the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agreed to a timetable with Iran for it to disclose answers to long-standing questions it had about Tehran’s program.

But Lavrov on Saturday said he wanted “guarantees at least at the level of the secretary of state” that the US sanctions would not affect Moscow’s relationship with Tehran. That threw into question the months of negotiations held so far on restoring the 2015 deal, which saw Iran agree to drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

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On Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Lavrov’s demand “irrelevant” as the nuclear deal and sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine war were “totally different.” The US under then-president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018, setting off years of tensions and attacks across the Mideast.

“Getting out of the deal was one of the worst mistakes that’s been made in recent years. It let the entire Iranian nuclear program that we put in a box out of the box,” Blinken told CBS’ “Face the Nation” talk show. “And so if there’s a way of getting back to reimplementing that deal effectively, it’s in our interest to do it and we’re working on that as we speak. It’s also in Russia’s interest.”

Meanwhile, the state-owned, English-language Tehran Times newspaper on Monday published an article suggesting the draft nuclear deal in Vienna would allow Iran to “keep its advanced centrifuges and nuclear materials inside the country.”

It’s “a form of inherent guarantee to make sure that its nuclear program is fully reversible if the US reneged on its commitments again,” the newspaper said, without providing a source for the information.

The 2015 nuclear deal saw Iran put advanced centrifuges into storage under the watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency, while keeping its enrichment at 3.67% purity and its stockpile at only 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of uranium.

As of February 19, the IAEA says Iran’s stockpile of all enriched uranium was nearly 3200 kilograms (7,055 pounds). Some has been enriched up to 60% purity — a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

Why is no one talking about Iran digging a new unbombable nuke facility? – analysis

Posted February 28, 2022 by davidking1530
Categories: Uncategorized

The facility in Natanz is built deep under a massive mountain, making it extremely difficult for the IDF to ever bomb it.

Iran is developing a new nuclear threat that could be a game-changer – and which will continue to proceed regardless of whether there is a nuclear deal or not.

It is a problem that almost no one is talking about, in an area called Natanz where the Mossad allegedly blew up two different nuclear facilities in July 2020 and April 2021 respectively.

The new enormous nuclear threat is a new underground facility Iran is digging and building in the Natanz area which goes so deep under a mountain so large that it will leave the Fordow facility in the dust in terms of how difficult it would be for the IDF to strike it.

In a report, Institute for Science and International Security president David Albright wrote, “Fordow is already viewed as so deeply buried that it would be difficult to destroy via aerial attack. The new Natanz site may be even harder to destroy.”

Why no one is talking about it – other than Albright – is probably a mix of it being an issue that may not fully mature until 2023 and that there are few good options for addressing it.

The main mountain harboring the new Natanz tunnel complex is called Kuh-e Kolang Gaz La and has a height of 1608 meters above sea level, he said.

In comparison, the mountain harboring the Fordow centrifuge enrichment plant, called Kūh-e Dāgh Ghū’ī, is about 960 meters tall.

The report said that this makes the Natanz mountain about 650 meters or well over 50% taller, potentially providing even greater protection to any facility built underneath it.

For around 13 years, military strategists have debated and pulled their hair out over whether Israel’s vaunted air force has weaponry that could go deep enough underground to destroy Fordow.

If Israel cannot destroy Fordow, then it substantially reduces the potential for success by any Israeli use of force against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

Albright is saying in no uncertain terms that the new facility being built in the Natanz area will be 50% harder to destroy than Fordow, which Jerusalem might be unable to destroy.

According to the report, the underground facility is also huge.

This means that the largest segments of Tehran’s nuclear programs may eventually move to this site.

“A Western intelligence official recently stated that there is strong reason to believe that an enrichment plant is being built at the Natanz underground site, and reiterated the claim in a follow-up conversation,” wrote Albright.

Continuing, he said, “The Institute was not able to independently confirm this, but a small, advanced centrifuge enrichment plant is certainly the most worrisome possibility.”

Albright wrote that “a relatively small number of advanced IR-6 centrifuges, say 1,000, would be enough to create a more powerful enrichment plant, providing a doubling of the enrichment output compared to Fordow and requiring about one-third of the floor area of Fordow’s main hall.”

In turn, this could mean that the vast majority of Iran’s nuclear program could become untouchable by any airstrike.

The construction of the new underground complex has been an Iranian priority, following the two previous sabotage operations.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the then-head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) stated in April 2021, “We are working 24/7 to move all our sensitive halls into the heart of the mountain near Natanz.”

However, more than a year and a half after the July 2020 sabotage, the replacement facility remains undone. Salehi had also said they hoped the halls “will be ready by next year so we can move these facilities to them.”

However, even now it is unknown if the new site will be ready for operation before 2023.

Once the Islamic Republic does have it up and running though, the report suggested that Iran could jump back up from assembling hundreds of new advanced centrifuges per year to thousands.

Until the new facility is built, Albright said that Tehran is “depending on ad hoc above ground centrifuge capabilities limited to the assembly of hundreds of advanced centrifuges per year,” with the sabotage operations setting back “Iran’s centrifuge program significantly.”

ll of this is true despite Iran’s success at operating enough advanced centrifuges to enrich enough uranium for multiple potential nuclear weapons – if it decides to enrich up further to weaponized levels.

In terms of the status of the construction, satellite images throughout 2021 show extensive excavation activities, with spoil piles growing steadily, said the report.

As of November 2021, the report said that “the area remains a major construction zone, excavation appears ongoing, and the overall tunnel facility does not appear finished. Construction materials visibly stored along the graded roads may indicate ongoing tunnel lining efforts or that Iran has begun to outfit the interior in parts of the tunnel complex.”

“Two tunnel entrance areas, one west and one east of a large mountain, with three likely tunnel portals, have been identified in commercial satellite imagery, as well as a construction staging area and probable future above-ground support site,” said the report.

Albright wrote that, “near the Western tunnel portal, there is road grading, perhaps for a second Western portal, or the genesis of an access route to the top of the mountain to allow the construction of a ventilation shaft/system on the top of the mountain.”

He recommended that “efforts should be made to dissuade Iran from finishing this facility, or… to at least disrupt its procurements of needed equipment and raw materials,” since otherwise, the facility could “reconstitute Iran’s ability to deploy thousands of advanced centrifuges each year, once again complicating any effort to lengthen its breakout or sneak-out timelines in a nuclear agreement.”

Israel said readying for signing of ‘spectacularly bad’ Iran deal next week

Posted February 21, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

TV network cites Israeli security officials warning that revived agreement won’t take into account the nuclear gains Tehran has made since Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018

By TOI STAFF18 February 2022, 11:23 pm  

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani leaves the Palais Coburg, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting that aims at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna on December 27, 2021. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Israel is readying for world powers and Iran to reach an agreement next week to revive the deal aimed at curbing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, Israeli television reported Friday, despite Jerusalem’s efforts to lobby against a joint US-Iranian return to the multilateral accord.

Israel opposed the original agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, when it was signed in 2015, with then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arguing that it actually paved the path to an Iranian nuclear arsenal. The Netanyahu government then backed former president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the deal in 2018 and initiate a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, which led Tehran to ramp up nuclear work in violation of the JCPOA.

US President Joe Biden is now seeking to revive the accord, conditioning doing so on Iran returning to compliance.

Quoting an unnamed Israeli security official, Channel 13 news reported that while Israel considered the original deal to have been bad, the revived accord taking shape is “spectacularly bad,” as it does not factor in the progress Iran has made since.

Referring to a leaked draft of the imminent accord, the source said Iran will not be required to destroy its advanced centrifuges under the revived agreement. Tehran will have to reduce its uranium enrichment levels, but it has already developed the capability to enrich at high levels. It will also be required to cease producing uranium metal, a crucial component of the bomb-making process. However, the source noted that Iran now has the knowledge to be able to manufacture such materials in the future.

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“In essence, it is an agreement that leaves Iran as a nuclear threshold state,” the network said, citing the security source.

Channel 13’s report asserted that Israel would plainly not be able to target Iranian enrichment facilities if and when a revived deal was signed. A key question, though, said its military analyst Alon Ben-David, was whether Israel would have a free hand, as far as the Americans are concerned, to take actions to thwart Iranian progress on weaponization and missile delivery systems for a bomb — areas not covered by the deal.

According to Channel 13, furthermore, the Biden administration has told Israel that Trump enabled Iran to become a “nuclear threshold state” in terms of uranium production and that a failure to revive the old agreement — as Jerusalem is hoping — would leave Tehran weeks away from accumulating enough nuclear material needed for a bomb, rather than months away from the bomb under the terms of the deal.

A diplomat familiar with the talks disputed that assessment, telling The Times of Israel that the deal being negotiated would likely leave Iran between six months to a year away from having enough nuclear material needed for a bomb (weaponization would take another year or two, according to most estimates).

A technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Feb. 3, 2007. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, file)

Jerusalem appears to argue that is a price worth paying, rather than granting sanctions relief.

A small ray of hope for Israel is that the sanctions relief being proposed by negotiators in Vienna would only occur gradually and not all at once, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

Negotiators still have a number of issues to settle before a deal can be signed, but Israel believes that will still happen next week, according to Kan.

Accordingly, Jerusalem is preparing a number of actions it plans to take in the coming days, including holding briefings with ambassadors, a possible public address by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett responding to an announcement of a resurrected JCPOA, and private conversations that Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz will hold on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

Separately Friday, a senior European Union official told Reuters, “I expect an agreement in the coming week, the coming two weeks or so. I think we have now on the table text that is very, very close to what is going to be the final agreement.”

“Most of the issues are already agreed. But as a principle in this kind of negotiation, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. So we still have… some questions, some of them rather political and difficult to agree,” the official said.

The United States said Thursday that “substantial progress” during negotiations in Vienna to save the Iran nuclear deal had been made, deeming an agreement possible within days if Iran “shows seriousness” on the matter.

An eighth round of Vienna talks, which involve Iran as well as Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia directly, and the United States indirectly, resumed in late November.

In phone call, Bennett and Biden discuss ‘steps to block Iranian nuclear program’

Posted February 7, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Premier’s office says conversation also addresses US killing of Islamic State leader and Russia-Ukraine conflict; Biden likely to visit later this year

By JACOB MAGID 6 February 2022, 9:50 pm  

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, speaks as he meets with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House, on August 27, 2021, in Washington, DC. (GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, speaks as he meets with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House, on August 27, 2021, in Washington, DC. (GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden held a rare phone call Sunday evening, discussing the Iranian nuclear threat, the campaign against the Islamic State, the Russian-Ukraine conflict and other security challenges.

It was the third phone call between the leaders since Bennett took office in June 2021. Bennett used to opportunity to again extend an invitation to Biden to visit, and the US leader said he would likely do so later this year. No date has been set.

The prime minister praised Biden for the US operation last week that ended in the death of IS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. “The world is a safer place thanks to the brave efforts of American forces,” the premier told the president according to the Israeli readout.

According to Hebrew media reports, the US had notified Israel ahead of Thursday’s raid in by US special forces, during which the terror leader blew himself up, killing his wife and children along with himself. Al-Qurayshi once held the “Israel file” in IS, likely putting Israel in a situation to offer intelligence to US counterparts on their target ahead of the mission.

Bennett’s office also said that the two discussed the threats posed by Iran in the region, as well as the “steps to block the Iranian nuclear program.”

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On Friday, the Biden administration restored some sanctions relief to Iran’s civilian atomic program, after world powers were believed to have made progress in negotiations in Vienna aimed at reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal. Washington clarified that the waivers were legally required to allow Iran to make modifications to its nuclear facilities to bring Tehran back into compliance with the JCPOA.

The house in which Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi died during an overnight raid by US special forces, in the town of Atme in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, on February 3, 2022. (Abdulaziz Ketaz/AFP)

Former president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 — three years after it was signed — and implemented a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against Iran, which responded by increasingly violating the JCPOA and accelerating its effort toward acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Biden came into office pledging to return to the agreement while also negotiating a subsequent “longer and stronger” deal that would seek to curb Iran’s ballistic missile program along with its support for proxy militia groups throughout the region. But talk of the latter agreement has largely faded as the US has been faced with a new Iranian regime led by President Ebrahim Raisi who has shown less interest than his predecessor in reviving the JCPOA, let alone negotiating an additional deal with the US.

The US says that the coming weeks will be critical in determining whether the JCPOA can be salvaged, though the administration has been employing such a vague timeline for at least a month.

At a cabinet meeting earlier Sunday, Bennett implied that Israel could launch a military strike against Iran even if the Islamic Republic and world powers revive their 2015 nuclear deal.

“We are responsible for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program and, of course, we are monitoring the Vienna talks. “Our position is well-known and clear: an agreement – according to the apparent terms – will damage the ability to deal with the nuclear program. Anyone who thinks that an agreement will increase stability is mistaken.

“It will temporarily delay enrichment, but all of us in the region will pay a heavy, disproportionate price for it,” he said.

The Biden administration, by contrast, argues that the JCPOA is better than the current alternative where there are no curbs on Iran’s nuclear activity whatsoever. Jerusalem maintains that Iran will buckle if its feet are held to the fire through sanctions and a credible military threat.

FILE – Mohammad Eslami, new head of Iran’s nuclear agency (AEOI), left, and Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazem Gharib Abadi, leave the International Atomic Energy’s (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, September 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner, File)

Israel fears that reviving the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers may leave Tehran only a few months away from having enough fissile material for an atomic bomb, Israeli television reported Saturday.

The original agreement kept Iran a year from acquiring enough nuclear material to use for a bomb, but that breakout time has shrunk since Trump withdrew from the deal.

Also during the Sunday phone call, Biden and Bennett discussed the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Israel sought to avoid taking a stance in favor of either side due to its relatively good relations with both, whereas the US has stepped up its rhetoric against Moscow in recent weeks.

Bennett ended the call by inviting the president and First Lady Jill Biden to Israel. He first extended such an invitation during his visit to the White House last August. Biden told Bennett on Sunday that he looked forward to visiting Israel later this year, according to the US readout.

An Israeli official told the Walla news site that the call lasted about 30 minutes.

The US readout issued later Sunday night was relatively similar to the Israeli one, but did make mention of Biden’s commitment to expanding partnerships in the Middle East “as exemplified by the Abraham Accords, together with Israelis and Palestinians enjoying equal measures of security, freedom, and prosperity.”

Israel said to fear restored Iran deal will leave breakout time of only a few months

Posted February 6, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

‘Better to have a distance of a few months and not just weeks,’ US sources quoted as saying; 2015 pact envisioned Tehran would need a year to amass enough material for bomb

By TOI STAFF and AGENCIESToday, 2:09 am  

FILE -- This Oct. 27, 2004 file photo, shows the interior of the Arak heavy water production facility in Arak, 360 kms southwest of Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Fars News Agancy, File)

FILE — This Oct. 27, 2004 file photo, shows the interior of the Arak heavy water production facility in Arak, 360 kms southwest of Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Fars News Agancy, File)

Israel fears that reviving the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers may leave Tehran only a few months away from having enough fissile material for an atomic bomb, Israeli television reported Saturday.

The Kan public broadcaster did not specify who in Israel was concerned by the possibility that Iran’s so-called breakout time would be significantly shorter under a restored nuclear agreement.

But American sources quoted in the report appeared to acknowledge such a prospect.

“It is better to have a distance of a few months and not just weeks, as would happen if no agreement is signed,” the sources said.

The original deal aimed to keep Iran at least a year away from amassing enough material for a nuclear weapon.

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The Kan report came days after US officials told The Wall Street Journal that a revived agreement would leave Iran with a breakout time well below a year, citing the advances in its nuclear program since then-president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the accord in 2018.

The exact length of the breakout time will depend on the manner in which Iran agrees to return to compliance with the deal, be it by dismantling its stockpiles of enriched uranium and relevant pieces of equipment, destroying them or shipping them abroad.

A technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Feb. 3, 2007. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, file)

However, enough nuclear material for a bomb is not the same as having the capabilities to build the core of the weapon and to attach it to the warhead of a missile, which Iran is not believed to possess and would likely take many more months to achieve.

Despite the JCPOA’s more limited impact, US negotiators are still committed to returning to the deal, guided by the belief that some restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program are better than none at all.

On Friday, the Biden administration restored some sanctions relief to Iran’s civilian atomic program as world powers and the Islamic Republic continue talks aimed at salvaging the languishing agreement.

As US negotiators head back to Vienna for what could be a make-or-break session, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed several sanctions waivers related to Iran’s civilian nuclear activities. The move reverses the Trump administration’s decision to rescind them.

The waivers are intended to entice Iran to return to compliance with the 2015 deal that it has been publicly violating since former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions. Iran says it is not respecting the terms of the deal because the US pulled out of it first. Iran has demanded the restoration of all sanctions relief it was promised under the deal to return to compliance.

Friday’s move lifts the sanctions threat against foreign countries and companies from Russia, China and Europe that had been cooperating with non-military parts of Iran’s nuclear program under the terms of the 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

The Trump administration had ended the so-called “civ-nuke” waivers in May 2020 as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran that began when Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018, complaining that it was the worst diplomatic agreement ever negotiated and gave Iran a pathway to developing the bomb.

As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden made a US return to the nuclear deal a priority, and his administration has pursued that goal but there has been little progress toward that end since he took office a year ago. Administration officials said the waivers were being restored to help push the Vienna negotiations forward.

Technicians work at the Iranian Arak heavy water reactor, 150 miles southwest of the capital Tehran, on December 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

The waivers permit foreign countries and companies to work on civilian projects at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power station, its Arak heavy water plant and the Tehran Research Reactor. Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo had revoked the waivers in May, 2020, accusing Iran of “nuclear extortion” for continuing and expanding work at the sites.

Iran’s foreign minister on Saturday welcomed the US sanctions relief, but said the move was “insufficient.”

Jewish Pulitzer Prize winning authors

Posted February 4, 2022 by davidking1530
Categories: Uncategorized

Click through the short Instagram slide show to see a familiar face and a familiar name (slide 5 of 6).

Israeli airstrikes said to hit targets near Damascus

Posted January 31, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

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

By TOI STAFFToday, 5:39 am  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted January 28, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

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

By JACOB MAGID27 January 2022, 9:54 pm  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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