Russia and the Iranian bomb

September 15, 2009

in Bombs and rockets, Geek stuff, Politics, Security

Apparently, one of the key limiting factors in the Iranian nuclear program is access to uranium. Domestic supplies are limited and of low quality. As such, Iran is heavily dependent on Russia to provide feedstock for its centrifuge-based enrichment program, as well as its Bushehr reactor. For instance, Russia provided 82 tons of low-enriched uranium in February, to allow the initial loading of the reactor.

For those who hope to do so, stopping an Iranian bomb therefore has much to do with convincing Russia to reduce support. Apparently, one thing the Russians want is for Israel to loosen the strong defence relationships it has built with Ukraine and Georgia. Given that Israel has the most to fear from an Iranian bomb – and that they are one of two states that could plausibly use military force to try to disrupt the Iranian atomic effort – this dynamic is a significant one.

As Stephanie Cooke’s book discussed, the proliferation of nuclear weapons has always been associated with the wrangling of great powers. It remains to be seen what outcome will result in this case.

(Note: It would be appreciated if commenters could refrain from any political tirades, if they feel inclined to discuss this. I am sometimes hesitant to post anything related to the Middle East, out of discomfort about the shrill responses any mention of the region can provoke.)

Report a typo or inaccuracy

{ 168 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan September 15, 2009 at 10:16 pm

Do any serious people think any president of Iran would actually send a nuclear warhead at Israel? This is equivalent to “do any serious people think any president of Iran would invite utter nuclear destruction upon their own country?”.

Really? People think this?

Milan September 15, 2009 at 10:38 pm

The president of Iran has very little power. It’s the Supreme Leader who is important.

He is probably even less likely to attack Israel, but nuclear proliferation in such a volatile region is always worrisome. It could push other states in the area to develop such arsenals. That increases the risks associated with revolutions, wars, and coups. It also increases the danger of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.

Tris September 16, 2009 at 9:30 am

Wait a minute – so why is there more concern about Iran having the bomb than Israel, Pakistan and India? It’s not as if the concern is free- it drums up anti western sentiment and hurts the moderates in Iran.

Milan September 16, 2009 at 9:52 am

The world would be a better place if none of them had developed bombs. Iran is especially worrisome because of the characteristics of the neighbourhood in which it finds itself. An arms race could see Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and others all seeking weapons.

Look how hard it was for the US and USSR to develop a stable nuclear relationship during the Cold War. There were at least two extremely close calls (Cuban Missile Crisis and Able Archer). Now, think of the complexity when there are more states involved, shorter distances, etc. Keeping weapons from proliferating in volatile regions (which also includes East Asia) makes a lot of sense.

. September 16, 2009 at 11:57 am

Misreading the Iranian Situation

September 15, 2009

By George Friedman

As mentioned, the chances of the Russians imposing effective sanctions on Iran are nil. This would get them nothing. And if not cooperating on sanctions triggers an Israeli airstrike, so much the better. This would degrade and potentially even effectively eliminate Iran’s nuclear capability, which in the final analysis is not in Russia’s interest. It would further enrage the Islamic world at Israel. It would put the United States in the even more difficult position of having to support Israel in the face of this hostility. And from the Russian point of view, it would all come for free. (That said, in such a scenario the Russians would lose much of the leverage the Iran card offers Moscow in negotiations with the United States.)

. September 16, 2009 at 11:58 am

Israel: Preparations and Challenges for a Strike

August 4, 2009

The Israeli Defense Ministry has ordered 100 laser-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition kits from the United States, The Jerusalem Post reported Aug. 3. Defense ministry officials report that the order was placed earlier this summer. While no delivery date has been specified, the new kits offer some tactical benefit, but do not alter the underlying geographic and strategic challenges that face Israel in carrying out airstrikes against Iran.

. September 16, 2009 at 12:05 pm

“Russia, one of the main members of the P-5+1, already has made clear it opposes sanctions under any circumstances. The Russians have no intention of helping solve the American problem with Iran while the United States maintains its stance on NATO expansion and bilateral relations with Ukraine and Georgia. Russia regards the latter two countries as falling within the Russian sphere of influence, a place where the United States has no business meddling.

To this end, Russia is pleased to do anything that keeps the United States bogged down in the Middle East, since this prevents Washington from deploying forces in Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltics, Georgia or Ukraine. A conflict with Iran not only would bog down the United States even further, it would divide Europe and drive the former Soviet Union and Central Europe into viewing Russia as a source of aid and stability. The Russians thus see Iran as a major thorn in Washington’s side. Obtaining Moscow’s cooperation on removing the thorn would require major U.S. concessions — beyond merely bringing a plastic “reset” button to Moscow. At this point, the Russians have no intention of helping remove the thorn. They like it right where it is.”

R.K. September 16, 2009 at 1:25 pm

I agree that an Iranian nuclear capability is undesirable. The question is, how far should Israel and the U.S. go to prevent it?

Sanctions will probably be blocked by Russia and a military strike would enflame the situation in the region. It also might not work against Iran, given hardened targets, dispersed sites, misinformation, etc.

Tris September 16, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Having Obama say things like they will not rule out a nuclear first strike against Iran does nothing to prevent yhe bombfrom materializing there, and it does slot to foster radicalism.

Milan September 16, 2009 at 2:22 pm

There are certainly people in Iran who think developing nuclear weapons is not the right course to take. The threat of attack is one major reason for that, and may help make them more influential than they would otherwise be.

If Iran is going to be dissuaded, it will probably be through a combination of threats and incentives. Of course, Iran can make plenty of threats of their own, including destabilizing Iraq further and mining the Strait of Hormuz.

Milan September 16, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Misinformation is an important point. The Iranians know that their nuclear program is being closely observed by many, so they must be actively spreading false information about it.

Even relatively unsophisticated methods can be used to reduce the damage caused by an airborne attack. During the NATO intervention in the former Yugoslavia, they ended up bombing a lot of mock weapons, like inflatable tank dummies. That wasted resources, and helped prevent the discovery of real military assets.

Milan September 16, 2009 at 2:26 pm

During World War II, the US hid the entire Lockheed Burbank Aircraft Plant.

Tristan September 16, 2009 at 10:24 pm

How does threatening nuclear first strike do anything to deter the Iranians from developing nuclear weapons? If anything, it’s exactly what to say if you want them to develop nukes as quickly as possible.

Milan September 16, 2009 at 10:45 pm

There is a diplomatically significant difference between threatening something and refusing to rule it out.

The very fact that America has deployed tactical and strategic nuclear weapons is an implicit threat that they could be used. To publicly promise not to use them would make a lot of US military assets functionally impotent.

A more plausible first-strike weapon for the US would be the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a descendent of the custom built ‘bunker busters’ developed to destroy bunkers in Iraq in 1991.

. September 16, 2009 at 10:46 pm

U.S.: A New Bunker Buster

August 4, 2009

The program to develop the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a next-generation bunker buster, may be accelerated, according to the U.S. Air Force. The bomb, six times as heavy and supposedly 10 times as powerful as the existing Guided Bomb Unit-28, promises to be a significant leap in the American ability to take out hardened and deeply buried targets.

The U.S. Air Force may accelerate its attempt to field a next-generation bunker buster, a spokesman said Aug. 2. The Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) is a nearly 30,000-pound non-nuclear guided bomb just over 20 feet long, and is touted as being 10 times as powerful as the existing Guided Bomb Unit-28, which weighs in at just under 5,000 pounds (the MOP carries 5,300 pounds of conventional explosive). The MOP promises significant improvements in the U.S. ability to penetrate hardened and deeply buried targets, but remains beholden to the most important criterion for an air campaign: intelligence.

Still in development, the MOP is intended to be guided to its target by the Global Positioning System and to penetrate as much as 200 feet of 5,000 pounds per-square-inch reinforced concrete. The bomb’s hardened casing and the speed of the impact are meant to drive the entire 30,000-pound hulk as deeply as possible before it detonates. The program, which dates back to 2004, has already seen a MOP fitted into the bay of a B-2A stealth bomber (which would be able to carry two — one in each bomb bay) and released. If the acceleration is successful, the Air Force hopes to have the weapon operational by the middle of 2010.

Even if the MOP only comes close to achieving its design objectives, it will represent a significant leap in the U.S. ability to threaten hardened and deeply buried targets, and destroy them if necessary. The centrifuge halls at the Natanz enrichment site in Iran, for example, are unlikely to be able to withstand a direct hit (though admittedly just how hardened the facility is has been a matter of speculation). Fitting the MOP to the B-2 also makes delivery in a high-threat air defense environment more credible.

. September 16, 2009 at 10:48 pm

“If the MOP has the effect the Pentagon is hoping for, it will act as a deterrent to burying illicit weapons program facilities in the first place while significantly increasing the U.S. ability to destroy those that already exist. In either case, it certainly ups the ante in terms of the resources, planning and time necessary to harden such a facility — something that in and of itself may be significant, given the already immense investment of resources required to carry out such programs.”

Tris September 17, 2009 at 12:55 am

So it wouldn’t cause radicalism here if a major topic of debate in the American primaries were whether they would rule out the nuclear option in a dispute with canada? This is just absurd. Not ruling it out is effectivly a threat which does no good and has a high political cost there.

Josh September 17, 2009 at 2:05 am

I remember the last time the US told us there was a country in the middle east with nukes that was a real serious threat that needed to be dealt with.

So what are they going to do this time? Kill hundreds of thousands of children with sanctions or a million people with all out war? Or both?

. September 17, 2009 at 9:30 am

U.S.: Backing Down on BMD

September 17, 2009

Rumors are flying late Sept. 16 that the United States could be shelving its plans to build a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in Poland and Czech Republic. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates reportedly will hold a news conference on the issue sometime Sept. 17 or Sept. 18, and U.S. security officials are apparently in Poland briefing Warsaw on the development.

The BMD program has long been one of the most contested issues between the United States and Russia, which sees the program as a further Western encroachment on its sphere of influence. Moscow also sees the program as Washington militarily protecting Warsaw and Prague from Russian consolidation of its influence further into Europe.

In recent months, Moscow has countered continued U.S. support for Poland and the Czech Republic with its own support for Iran. The situation between the United States and Iran has intensified, with Russia also holding some of the only alternatives for Iran to continue rebuffing U.S. pressure. Washington has been nearing a breakpoint in which it must either take substantial steps to counter Iran or give Russia concessions to have Moscow back off its support for Tehran.

. September 18, 2009 at 10:12 am

Iran ‘does not need’ nuclear arms

The Iranian president has said his country sees no need for nuclear weapons, while insisting Iran will not abandon its pursuit of nuclear energy.

In an interview with US network NBC Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not explicitly rule out the possibility that Iran would acquire nuclear weapons.

He said simply that it was “not a part of our programmes and plans”.

Meanwhile, Iranian security forces were on alert ahead of an annual rally expected to draw opposition leaders.

The opposition figures, who reject Mr Ahmadinejad’s re-election in June, have called on their supporters to turn out in large numbers at the Quds, or Jerusalem, Day rally, which is being held in support of the Palestinian cause.

In his interview with NBC, the Iranian president said he did not “see any problems” with the elections.

. September 18, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Proliferation from North Korea and Iran
Will Russia and China pitch in?

Sep 10th 2009
From The Economist print edition
It’s now or never if they want to stop Iran following North Korea

FOR those who wouldn’t know Kim Jong Il’s uranium from his plutonium, the North Korean dictator’s boast that he is now experimenting with a second, uranium-based, route to the bomb may merit no more than a shrug. Yet it contains an urgent message for the world. Mr Kim has made a habit of defying the United Nations Security Council by conducting missile and nuclear tests. And the repeated, unabashed character of his nose-thumbing is encouraging others with nuclear ambitions to think they could get away with it too.

Right now that means Iran, in the dock again this week at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear guardian, over its refusal to provide answers about its own nuclear work. Just as troublingly, China and Russia, for years North Korea’s protectors at the UN, seem unready to learn the lesson from what Mr Kim is now doing and to restrain Iran. They should rethink their priorities before it is too late.

. September 21, 2009 at 10:50 am

Khamenei denies US nuclear claims

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has denied Western claims that Iran intends to develop nuclear arms.

He said their production and use were prohibited, and that US allegations of a covert programme were false.

His comments come days after the US said it was modifying plans for defences against Iranian missiles and shelving a long-range missile shield.

Six world powers are to hold talks with Iran on 1 October that are expected to cover global nuclear disarmament.

Western powers believe Iran is developing nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian programme.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s comments were seen as the first official response to the US decision to scrap a European missile initiative put forward by the former Bush administration to counter any long-range Iranian missile threat.

US President Barack Obama said the US would instead develop sea and land-based interceptors against Iran’s short and medium-range missile threat.

But Ayatollah Khamenei said that the US knew it was “wrong” when it asserted that Tehran was pursuing a covert nuclear bomb.

“We fundamentally reject nuclear weapons and prohibit the production and the use of nuclear weapons,” he said in a speech broadcast on state television.

. September 21, 2009 at 1:25 pm

The BMD Issue and Denying Implausibility

LAST WEEK, THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCED that it was reconfiguring U.S. plans for ballistic missile defense (BMD) in Europe, beginning with halting plans for installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. The shift would include an increased emphasis on Aegis-equipped warships already being upgraded to BMD capability that would patrol the waters of the North Sea and Mediterranean. At a press conference last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates emphasized the technical rationale for the decision: The assessment of Iran’s ability to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile had shifted, indicating that the development of such a missile is a long way off; this new scheme would protect Europe, which was still at risk and would continue to be vulnerable; and the new scheme would be in place sooner and ultimately would be more effective.

As it happened, technology aside, the decision met one of Russia’s ongoing demands — that the United States should not base BMD installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. However, Gates stated that “Russia’s attitude and possible reaction played no part in my recommendation to the president on this issue. Of course, considering Russia’s past hostility toward American missile defense in Europe, if Russia’s leaders embrace this plan, then that will be an unexpected — and welcome — change of policy on their part.”

Then, on Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama insisted that the decision had nothing to do with the Russians, saying it was merely a bonus if Russia’s leaders ended up “a little less paranoid” about the United States. Speaking to CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Obama said, “My task here was not to negotiate with the Russians. The Russians don’t make determinations about what our defense posture is.”

If Gates and Obama are to be believed, the decision to halt deployment in the Czech Republic and Poland was made without any consideration of Russian views whatsoever. It was simply the result of technical and military analysis, and the question of how the major power in the region — Russia — might react simply wasn’t considered.

That is difficult to believe — or more precisely, if it is true, it is startling in the extreme. On Oct. 1, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany will be meeting with Iranian representatives. According to decisions made last April, in which Obama participated, the United States will advocate intense sanctions against Iran, absent significant progress with Tehran over its nuclear program. Without Russian cooperation, those sanctions would have little effect. Therefore, the Russian view of the United States matters.

The United States was facing the choice of either abandoning the idea of effective sanctions — a move with significant consequences on a number of levels — or inducing the Russians to collaborate. The idea that no one in the senior ranks of the administration ever considered, during discussions of the BMD issue, that eliminating BMD systems in Poland and the Czech Republic was a core Russian demand stretches credulity.

. September 21, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Poland, Czech Republic: Existing Military Deals With the U.S.
September 17, 2009

The United States announced Sept. 17 that it will back down from its current plans to install ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. But the United States seems likely to maintain current defense agreements with the two countries, which include armament sales and extensive support and maintenance arrangements.

Word that the United States was ending its current plans to park ballistic missile defense (BMD) interceptors in Poland and an X-band radar in the Czech Republic emerged late Sept. 16, and was confirmed Sept. 17, even as U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced potential alternatives for the future. STRATFOR takes stock of the remaining defense arrangements between the United States and the two countries.

Washington signed nearly identical Declarations of Strategic Defense Cooperation with Warsaw and Prague in August 2008 and September 2008, respectively. The same day in September, the Czech Republic signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States; Poland is still negotiating its SOFA. The declaration agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic stipulated not only cooperation and information sharing but also coordination on BMD matters. These agreements remain in effect, at least on paper.

Of the two, the Czech Republic is more insulated from Russia than is Poland (and Moscow is considerably less concerned about U.S. relations with Prague than with Warsaw), but most of its recent military modernization efforts have involved European or old Soviet hardware. The emphasis here appears to have been more on science and technological development rather than arms transfers (the last major arms deal to be completed with the United States was the sale of 24 air-to-air missiles).

U.S. dealings with Poland have been much more geopolitically significant — more extensive in terms of arms sales and much more disconcerting to Russia. The most significant was the sale of 48 late-model F-16C/D fighter jets. The delivery of these fighters was completed late last year; AIM-9X Sidewinder and AIM-120C AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, laser guided bombs, GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), AGM-64 Maverick air-to-ground missiles, Sniper ER targeting pods and DB-110 aerial reconnaissance pods have already arrived. Joint Stand-Off Weapons (JSOWs) are also on contract. Overall, this gives Poland’s air force considerable offensive strike capability (at least in hardware terms), and one that deeply troubled Russia as a potential sign of Washington’s extensive arming of Warsaw. Sales of so many technically complex aircraft, ordnance and subsystems include a number of provisions for maintenance and training, and there is no sign that the United States is backing away from F-16 training and support (some of this will take place with Polish pilots in the United States, other portions will be fulfilled largely by civilian contractors).

. September 22, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Iran Sanctions (Special Series): An Introduction
September 22, 2009
On Oct. 1, Iran will sit down for negotiations with six global powers — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany. The Western powers in the group are hoping that these talks will in some way tame Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but Iran, having already flouted a Sept. 24 deadline to negotiate, has thus far sent mixed signals on whether it will even agree to discuss its nuclear program when it comes to the table.

This may seem like a familiar routine: the United States threatens sanctions, Israel hints at military action, a deadline is set for Iran to enter serious negotiations, Iran does its usual diplomatic song and dance, another deadline passes and negotiations end in stalemate.

But whether the main stakeholders in the conflict realize it or not, things could turn out very differently this time around.

Milan September 22, 2009 at 1:56 pm

I remember the last time the US told us there was a country in the middle east with nukes that was a real serious threat that needed to be dealt with.

So what are they going to do this time? Kill hundreds of thousands of children with sanctions or a million people with all out war? Or both?

Clearly, quality of intelligence is a major issue here, both in terms of how effective military action would be in restraining the Iranian nuclear program and in terms of what the civilian consequences would be. One reason to doubt the intelligence the US and/or Israel might act on is Iranian misinformation. Of course, the US and Israel are conducting misinformation campaigns of their own, trying to threaten Iran successfully while retaining as much scope for action as possible.

The success of any military effort is far from assured, and there would definitely be negative consequences for non-combatants both in the region and elsewhere. In the end, the US and Israel need to decide just how intolerable an Iranian bomb would be, and whether the risks associated with any form of military action are too great to justify and potential benefits.

That being said, the kind of military actions mooted could conceivably have relatively few civilian casualties. The most frequently cited option seems to be an attack using manned aircraft and ground-penetrating munitions, probably coupled with additional efforts to prevent Iranian ships from mining the Strait of Hormuz. As for sanctions, those being considered would focus on the Iranian gasoline supply, which is largely imported. Such sanctions would only succeed with Russian support.

. September 22, 2009 at 5:47 pm

First, a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be no one-day affair. Intelligence on precise locations had uncertainty built into it, and any strike would consist of multiple phases: destroying Iran’s air force and navy, destroying Iran’s anti-aircraft capability to guarantee total command of the skies, the attacks on the nuclear facilities themselves, analysis of the damage, perhaps a second wave, and of course additional attacks to deal with any attempted Iranian retaliation. The target set would be considerable, and would extend well beyond the targets directly related to the nuclear program, making such an operation no simple matter.

Second, Iran has the ability to respond in a number of ways. One is unleashing terrorist attacks worldwide via Hezbollah. But the most significant response would be blocking the Strait of Hormuz using either anti-ship missiles or naval mines. The latter are more threatening largely because the clearing operation could take a considerable period and it would be difficult to know when you had cleared all of the mines. Tankers and their loads are worth about $170 million at current prices, and that uncertainty could cause owners to refuse the trip. Oil exports could fall dramatically, and the effect on the global economy — particularly now amid the global financial crisis — could be absolutely devastating. Attacking Iran would be an air-sea battle, and could even include limited ground forces inserted to ensure that the nuclear facilities were destroyed.

The country most concerned with all of this is Israel. The Iranians had given every indication that they plan to build a nuclear capability and use it against Israel. Israel’s vulnerability to such a strike is enormous, and there are serious questions about Israel’s ability to use the threat of a counterstrike as a deterrent to such a strike. In our view, Iran is merely creating a system to guarantee regime survival, but given the tenor of Tehran’s statements, Israel cannot afford to take this view complacently.

. September 22, 2009 at 5:48 pm

“Russia is not eager to see Iran develop nuclear weapons, but it sees the United States as the greater threat at the moment. Moscow’s fundamental fear is that the United States — and Israel — will dramatically strengthen Ukraine, Georgia and other states in the FSU and on its periphery, and that Russia’s strategic goal of national security through pre-eminence in the region will be lost.”

. September 23, 2009 at 10:30 am

Iran, international law, and the bomb
April 14, 2006
in Bombs and rockets, Law, Politics, Security

. September 23, 2009 at 10:31 am

Iran tests new nuclear technology

Iran says it has built a new generation of centrifuges for enriching uranium, and is testing them.

The head of Iran’s nuclear agency made the announcement but did not say when they would be ready to go into production at the Natanz atomic plant.

Centrifuges can be used to produce fuel for nuclear power and also to make nuclear weapons.

The announcement comes a few days before Iran enters fresh talks on its controversial nuclear programme.

“Our scientists have built a new generation of centrifuges, and cascades with 10 centrifuges each are now being tested,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

. September 24, 2009 at 4:49 pm

China: The Stakes of Gasoline Sales to Iran

As the United States ramps up for potential gasoline sanctions on Iran, a Sept. 23 news report said China increased its gasoline exports to Iran, upwards of one third of those imports for Iran. China’s timing suggests it is setting itself up for a strong bargaining position with the United States if and when sanctions on Iran are officially endorsed. In the meantime, however, it makes economic sense for the Chinese to take the opportunity to trade with Iran now.

Iran Sanctions (Special Series), Part 1: The Nuts and Bolts

The real thrust of Western sanctions against Iran is a subtle one. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization — is so entrenched in the Iranian economy that any corporation would be hard-pressed to do business in Iran’s energy sector without touching the IRGC. And these corporations could quickly lose confidence in the safety of their investments in the United States, the largest consumer market in the world. Nonetheless, a number of firms are still willing to take such risks in supplying gasoline to Iran.

Iran Sanctions (Special Series), Part 2: FSU Contingency Plans

Russia has been using its relationship with Iran as leverage against the United States. In the face of the very real possibility of sanctions targeting Iran’s gasoline imports, Russia could continue using Iran to upset U.S. plans by supplying the Islamic republic with gasoline. However, Moscow knows that such a move would come with a political price.

A French Twist in Washington’s Sanctions Plan

FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER BERNARD KOUCHNER, in an interview published Tuesday in The New York Times, announced a shift in his country’s stance concerning sanctions against Iran. Kouchner, who was attending the U.N. General Assembly session in New York, said he had deep misgivings about blocking gasoline shipments to Iran — part of the U.S. administration’s plan. Calling the plan “dangerous,” Kouchner — who, along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, is known for having relatively pro-American views — is breaking away from France’s previous, and very vocal, support for the sanctions.

. September 25, 2009 at 8:58 am

Iran acknowledges second nuclear facility

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania (CNN) — The United States, France and Britain have presented “detailed evidence” to the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog that “Iran has been building a covert uranium enrichment facility,” President Obama said Friday before the start of the G-20 economic summit here.

Iran has acknowledged the existence of a second uranium enrichment plant in a letter sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency, a spokesman for the nuclear watchdog agency said Friday.

“I can confirm that on 21 September, Iran informed the IAEA in a letter that a new pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction in the country,” agency spokesman Marc Vidricaire said.

The letter said Iran’s enrichment level would be up to 5 percent, he said. The agency has requested that Iran provide specific information and access to the nuclear facility as soon as possible.

Obama made an announcement regarding the second Iranian facility at a news conference Friday morning before the opening of the G-20 economic summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

. September 25, 2009 at 10:16 am

Bottom line: If the Iranians indicate that they will not cooperate and the Russians do not budge on their opposition to imposing sanctions, then war could come suddenly — and from the United States. All the pieces for that war are already in place. It is just a question of nerve — for all parties.

Iran Sanctions (Special Series), Part 3: Preparing for the Worst

Iran has long been preparing itself for U.S.-led sanctions against gasoline imports and is confident in its ability to circumvent them. But even if the sanctions did get Iran’s attention, they would not necessarily bring it to the negotiating table. Iran takes resistance very seriously, and while extolling the virtues of self-sacrifice it could close the Strait of Hormuz, which would wreak havoc on the global economy.

Milan September 25, 2009 at 10:19 am

In the long run, Iran temporarily blocking the Strait of Hormuz could be a good thing. It would reinforce how geopolitically vulnerable economies depending on oil really are (while Russia is showing the same thing for gas).

Like the OPEC oil shocks, it could help drive the transition towards renewables. Of course, we would hope the drive ends up being much more sustained this time than it was then.

Milan September 25, 2009 at 10:21 am

Of course, the threat of gasoline sanctions against Iran itself demonstrates the same sort of geopolitical vulnerability on their part.

. September 25, 2009 at 10:31 am

“It may strike some as odd that Iran has acquired a capability to develop nuclear technology but still struggles to build and operate refineries on its own. There are a number of reasons for this, but the simple answer is that the technology for a nuclear program dates back to the 1930s and 1940s and has not changed much since, while refining technology is continually updated and Iran has been out of the global oil-and-gas mainstream for 30 years now. A nuclear weapons program requires a couple dozen or so highly trained scientists and engineers to operate it, and these personnel can be trained in any number of institutions around the world. On the other hand, a permanent staff for a refinery producing around 300,000 bpd would require some 1,200 highly trained technicians and petroleum engineers, and most of Iran’s intelligentsia — particularly the group with strong technical skills — left the country following the Iranian Revolution.”

. September 25, 2009 at 10:38 am

“Iran has revealed the existence of a second uranium enrichment facility in a letter sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), according to a Sept. 25 statement by IAEA spokesman Marc Vidricaire. Vidricaire said that Iran sent the letter with information on the site on Sept. 21.

This second nuclear facility is allegedly located on a military base in Iran’s holy city of Qom and is believed to house 3,000 centrifuges, while some reports claim the facility is still under construction. What most people do not realize is that it requires far fewer centrifuges to operate a small military weapons program in comparison to a civilian power program. A single facility such as the well-known and yet-to-be-operational Bushehr site uses hundreds of tons of nuclear fuel every year, but it only requires less than 100 pounds of highly enriched uranium to make an explosive device. In short, the precision the centrifuges must be of better quality for the weapons program (an acute problem for the Iranians), but the number required is far fewer — particularly if the goal is to only have a handful of nuclear devices.”

. September 28, 2009 at 10:20 am

Iran tests longest range missiles

Iran has successfully test-fired some of the longest range missiles in its arsenal, state media say.

The Revolutionary Guards tested the Shahab-3 and Sajjil rockets, which are believed to have ranges of up to 2,000km (1,240 miles), reports said.

The missiles’ range could potentially permit them to reach Israel and US bases in the Gulf, analysts say.

The tests come amid heightened tension with the big international powers over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Last week, Iran disclosed it was building a second uranium enrichment plant, despite UN demands that it cease its enrichment activities.

. September 29, 2009 at 1:42 pm

A Nuclear Debate: Is Iran Designing Warheads?

By WILLIAM J. BROAD, MARK MAZZETTI and DAVID E. SANGER
Published: September 28, 2009

WASHINGTON — When President Obama stood last week with the leaders of Britain and France to denounce Iran’s construction of a secret nuclear plant, the Western powers all appeared to be on the same page.

Behind their show of unity about Iran’s clandestine efforts to manufacture nuclear fuel, however, is a continuing debate among American, European and Israeli spies about a separate component of Iran’s nuclear program: its clandestine efforts to design a nuclear warhead.

The Israelis, who have delivered veiled threats of a military strike, say they believe that Iran has restarted these “weaponization” efforts, which would mark a final step in building a nuclear weapon. The Germans say they believe that the weapons work was never halted. The French have strongly suggested that independent international inspectors have more information about the weapons work than they have made public.

. September 30, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Uncomfortable conclusions for Georgia

As a European Union report into last year’s conflict between Georgia and Russia puts a large part of the blame on Georgia, the BBC’s Tom Esslemont in Tbilisi asks where this leaves the small Caucasian nation.

Even before the EU-sponsored report was published, Georgia was pushing the line that it does not matter who fired the first shot. The main issue, it said, is Russia’s ongoing “occupation” of its sovereign territory and years of stoking tensions between Georgia and its rebel regions.

Now the independent inquiry into the conflict has concluded. But it is not entirely the conclusion Georgia wanted to hear.

It said that Georgia’s use of force on the night of 7 August 2008 was not justifiable in the context of international law.

It also said that it could not substantiate “Georgian claims of a large-scale presence of Russian armed forces in South Ossetia prior to the Georgian offensive on 7/8 August”.

The Georgian government’s response – as expected – has been to refute those comments.

Even Wednesday evening’s national TV news bulletins said the report pinned the blame on Russia.

. October 1, 2009 at 9:45 am

Lifting Iran’s Nuclear Veil

By GARY MILHOLLIN and VALERIE LINCY
Published: September 29, 2009

THE disclosure of Iran’s secret nuclear plant has changed the way the West must negotiate with Tehran. While worrisome enough on its own, the plant at Qum may well be the first peek at something far worse: a planned, or even partly completed, hidden nuclear archipelago stretching across the country.

The Qum plant doesn’t make much sense as a stand-alone bomb factory. As described by American officials, the plant would house 3,000 centrifuges, able to enrich enough uranium for one or two bombs per year. Yet at their present rate of production, 3,000 of Iran’s existing IR-1 centrifuges would take two years to fuel a single bomb and 10 years for five weapons. This is too long a time frame for the American assessment to be feasible. To build one or two bombs a year, Iran would have to quadruple the centrifuges’ present production rate. (While this feat is theoretically within the centrifuges’ design limits, it is not one Iran has shown it can achieve.)

Perhaps Iran was planning to install more efficient centrifuges at the plant, like a version of the P-2 machine used by Pakistan. These could fuel a five-bomb arsenal in just over a year. But while we know Iran has tested such machines, there is no evidence that it can make them in bulk.

. October 1, 2009 at 11:17 am

We see really only one clean way out of Obama’s dilemma: a deal with Iran. Should the Iranians and the Americans find a way to live with each other, then a great many other issues would fall into place. The Russians would lose their lever in the Middle East. The Americans could smoothly (for the Middle East) withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. American and Iranian intelligence and training in cooperation could limit any Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan.

Such a “happy” ending naturally faces some touchy obstacles. Israel would retain the ability to scrap any rapprochement, and would have strong incentives to do so if Iran’s nuclear program was not clearly and publicly defanged. Russia might have a thing or two to say (and do) to scuttle any warming in U.S.-Iran relations. And then there is that issue of a lack of trust between Tehran and Washington on just about everything.

But Mottaki visited Washington. And he did so with the full knowledge and permission of the White House. That’s a fact that cannot be ignored, and one that just might shine a light for an increasingly beleaguered president.”

. October 1, 2009 at 11:20 am

“The most concerned party should be Russia. Real talks are not the path the Russians wanted, even if this is the path they said they wanted. The Russians were anticipating a breakdown in the talks that they would then blame on the Americans. The Russians want the Iranians and Americans at each others’ throats, but they also need to be perceived in Europe as a reasonable player. Russian’s grand strategy is to split Europe from the United States, and particularly Germany. Part of that includes painting the Americans as warmongers. That’s hard to do if you are seen as the one that submarines talks that could have succeeded in dialing back a crisis. But this is not the same as saying they are out of the game. Their options are plentiful, they just cannot be used today.”

. October 2, 2009 at 3:26 pm

“Now, put yourself in the minds of Iranian leaders. Despite some major remaining technical hurdles, you’re inching closer to achieving your nuclear goals. You’ve been watching the North Koreans very closely, noticing that even after they tested a nuclear device one, two times, the regime is still in power and, if anything, the carrots they’ve been offered have only become more generous. And you’re willing to bet that once you’ve got The Bomb, you’ll be able to sort out all those issues like your frozen bank accounts and airplane spare parts with The Great Satan.”

. October 4, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Report Says Iran Has Data to Make a Nuclear Bomb

By WILLIAM J. BROAD and DAVID E. SANGER
Published: October 4, 2009

Senior staff members of the United Nations nuclear agency have concluded in a confidential analysis that Iran has acquired “sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable” atom bomb.

The report by experts in the International Atomic Energy Agency stresses in its introduction that its conclusions are tentative and subject to further confirmation of the evidence, which it says came from intelligence agencies and its own investigations.

But the report’s conclusions, described by senior European officials, go well beyond the public positions taken by several governments, including the United States, and follow the revelation of a new underground nuclear enrichment center under construction near the Iranian city of Qum.

. October 5, 2009 at 3:18 pm

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had some cautiously agreeable comments about the Oct. 1 negotiations between the P-5+1 powers and Iran. Speaking to his Cabinet late Oct. 1, Netanyahu said: “The diplomatic situation vis-à-vis Iran has improved, but (Iran) is continuing with its nuclear program.” Netanyahu also expressed optimism about Russia’s role in the talks, asserting that Russia was more open to potential sanctions against Iran, but that the Chinese were “apparently not on board.”

Israel is clearly indicating that it is willing to allow this diplomatic phase to run its course — for now, at least. President Barack Obama was firm in his speech following the Geneva talks Oct. 1, where he reiterated that the United States was not interested in talks for the sake of talking, and that the negotiations would not continue indefinitely. In other words, Obama has sent a strong signal to Israel that he does not intend to entertain Iranian delay tactics for the sake of staving off a crisis.

The result of the Oct. 1 talks was a deal for Iran to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to its recently exposed enrichment site near Qom within two weeks. As a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran is technically obliged to follow through with these inspections, but the extent of Iran’s cooperation remains to be seen.”

. October 5, 2009 at 3:25 pm

The Other Ticking Clock in Iran
Forget about Iran’s nukes for the moment. The real crisis is its drive for advanced surface-to-air missiles.
BY CHRISTIAN CARYL | OCTOBER 2, 2009

The recent revelations about Iran’s nuclear program — centering on an enrichment facility buried in a mountain near the holy city of Qom — have almost certainly intensified the sense of urgency among policymakers in Jerusalem. Even though the news has triggered a new round of high-stakes diplomacy (including an unusual bilateral meeting between Americans and Iranians), you can bet that Israeli military planning for an attack on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities has moved into overdrive. Yet there’s another ticking clock the Israelis are worried about that hasn’t been in the headlines quite so much.

For years now, Tehran has been working hard to acquire sophisticated Russian antiaircraft missiles that would make it far tougher for Israeli planes to stage a successful attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. One Israeli lawmaker, Zeev Elkin, even warned last week that delivering the missiles could even speed up the timing of an Israeli air raid. “I hope Moscow understands that the deliveries will at least speed up such events, if not trigger them,” Elkin told the Russian daily Kommersant. Experts estimate that a working Iranian nuclear weapon is still probably at least a year away, depending on a host of contingencies. But the Russian missiles, which just might ensure that Iran’s nuclear installations can be protected from attack, could be delivered at any time. So it’s easy to understand why, right now, Israeli minds seem to be focused on the more urgent of these two ticking clocks.

The system in question is the S-300 — actually something of a catchall term because the name covers several systems of varying ages and levels of effectiveness. The S-300 is essentially the Russian equivalent of the American Patriot: quick-reaction missiles designed to defend large areas of airspace against incoming airplanes and ballistic missiles. Although the S-300 has never been tested under combat conditions, military experts have a high opinion of its capabilities — especially those of the more recent variants like the PMU-2 Favorit (known in the West as the SA-20B), which can track 100 targets while engaging up to 12. It can hit targets as far as 120 miles away. “It’s a high-technology weapon,” said Siemon Wezeman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks arms shipments around the world. “It has an impact which is not restricted to just two or three square kilometers. It’s a major thing.”

. October 5, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Annals of National Security
A Strike in the Dark
What did Israel bomb in Syria?
by Seymour M. Hersh

February 11, 2008

Sometime after midnight on September 6, 2007, at least four low-flying Israeli Air Force fighters crossed into Syrian airspace and carried out a secret bombing mission on the banks of the Euphrates River, about ninety miles north of the Iraq border. The seemingly unprovoked bombing, which came after months of heightened tension between Israel and Syria over military exercises and troop buildups by both sides along the Golan Heights, was, by almost any definition, an act of war. But in the immediate aftermath nothing was heard from the government of Israel. In contrast, in 1981, when the Israeli Air Force destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, near Baghdad, the Israeli government was triumphant, releasing reconnaissance photographs of the strike and permitting the pilots to be widely interviewed.

From The Sunday Times
September 16, 2007
Israelis ‘blew apart Syrian nuclear cache’
Secret raid on Korean shipment

IT was just after midnight when the 69th Squadron of Israeli F15Is crossed the Syrian coast-line. On the ground, Syria’s formidable air defences went dead. An audacious raid on a Syrian target 50 miles from the Iraqi border was under way.

At a rendezvous point on the ground, a Shaldag air force commando team was waiting to direct their laser beams at the target for the approaching jets. The team had arrived a day earlier, taking up position near a large underground depot. Soon the bunkers were in flames.

Ten days after the jets reached home, their mission was the focus of intense speculation this weekend amid claims that Israel believed it had destroyed a cache of nuclear materials from North Korea.

The Israeli government was not saying. “The security sources and IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] soldiers are demonstrating unusual courage,” said Ehud Olmert, the prime minister. “We naturally cannot always show the public our cards.”

Why Syria’s Air Defenses Failed to Detect Israelis
Posted by David A. Fulghum at 10/3/2007 5:41 AM CDT

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the Israelis struck a construction site at Tall al-Abyad just south of the Turkish border on Sept. 6. Press reports from the region say witnesses saw the Israeli aircraft approach from the Mediterranean Sea while others found unmarked drop tanks in Turkey near the border with Syria. Israeli defense officials admitted Oct. 2 that the Israeli Air Force made the raid.

The big mystery of the strike is how did the non-stealthy F-15s and F-16s get through the Syrian air defense radars without being detected? Some U.S. officials say they have the answer.

U.S. aerospace industry and retired military officials indicated today that a technology like the U.S.-developed “Suter” airborne network attack system developed by BAE Systems and integrated into U.S. unmanned aircraft by L-3 Communications was used by the Israelis. The system has been used or at least tested operationally in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last year.

The technology allows users to invade communications networks, see what enemy sensors see and even take over as systems administrator so sensors can be manipulated into positions so that approaching aircraft can’t be seen, they say. The process involves locating enemy emitters with great precision and then directing data streams into them that can include false targets and misleading messages algorithms that allow a number of activities including control.

. October 5, 2009 at 4:36 pm

The Significance of Leaks About the Iranian Nuclear Issue

COMMENTS ON IRAN have run the gamut, from French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner’s statements that there is a small window of opportunity — with emphasis on “small” — to comments indicating that diplomacy is alive and robust and to the International Atomic Energy Agency chief’s statement that there is a “shifting of gears” in the nuclear controversy. Our best guess is that no one really knows what will happen except perhaps the Iranians. They know how they will conduct themselves in these negotiations. But even they are not certain what the response will be.

The most important news came with two leaks over the weekend. One was in the New York Times, which reported that the IAEA had a secret report claiming that the Iranians had accumulated all of the data needed to build an atomic bomb. The report also stated that U.S. intelligence is now re-examining the National Intelligence Estimate that deemed Iran was not actively working on a nuclear weapon. Retired Gen. James Jones, the national security adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama, appeared on television Sunday saying that Washington would rely on its own estimate of the situation, implicitly demoting the importance of the IAEA report. Clearly, Jones does not want the Obama administration trapped in a rigid position, which acknowledging the report’s validity would do. But it also indicates that the leak to the New York Times did not come from the White House, which means that a battle is starting over the intelligence analysis of Iran’s nuclear capability. Whoever wins that battle defines the parameters of U.S. policy toward Iran.

TWO LEAKS AND THE DEEPENING IRAN CRISIS

By George Friedman

Two major leaks occurred this weekend over the Iran matter.

In the first, The New York Times published an article reporting that staff at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear oversight group, had produced an unreleased report saying that Iran was much more advanced in its nuclear program than the IAEA had thought previously. According to the report, Iran now has all the data needed to design a nuclear weapon. The New York Times article added that U.S. intelligence was re-examining the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of 2007, which had stated that Iran was not actively pursuing a nuclear weapon.

The second leak occurred in the British daily The Times, which reported that the purpose of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s highly publicized secret visit to Moscow on Sept. 7 was to provide the Russians with a list of Russian scientists and engineers working on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Iran and the Strait of Hormuz, Part 1: A Strategy of Deterrence

October 5, 2009

One of Iran’s most important deterrents to an attack on its territory is its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital chokepoint in the shipping of crude oil from the Persian Gulf into the open sea. Even if largely unsuccessful, the attempt could play havoc with global oil prices just as the world begins to recover from the global economic crisis. But could Iran really pull it off? STRATFOR takes a look.

Iran and the Strait of Hormuz, Part 2: Swarming Boats and Shore-Based Missiles

Iran and the Strait of Hormuz, Part 3: The Psychology of Naval Mines

. October 7, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Russia Responds on the Iran Issue

AFTER A WEEK OF SILENCE following the Oct. 1 talks with Iran in Geneva, Russian officials issued a series of statements Tuesday. First, Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Borodavkin told Itar-Tass directly that Russia intends to continue its military-technical cooperation with Iran, though within the strict framework of international laws on such matters. Borodavkin’s statement comes in response to U.S. and Israeli demands for Russia to stop supporting Iran. Later in the day, National Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev denied a report in Britain’s Sunday Times that stated Israel had confronted Moscow with evidence that Russian scientists were aiding Iran in the development of a nuclear weapons program.

Russia has been in a tense position since the Geneva talks. Though the P-5+1 and Tehran reached a tentative agreement to allow Iran’s nuclear facilities to be inspected, under the authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Washington and Tehran are still heading toward a crisis. At the heart of this crisis is Russia: It is Russia that is helping Iran with its civilian nuclear program, and Russia is the country that could undermine the effectiveness of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Moscow also occasionally raises the specter of more significant military assistance to Iran, in the form of modern strategic air defense systems like the S-300.

Milan October 9, 2009 at 10:49 am

I wonder if Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize makes it any less likely that the US and/or Israel will attack Iran. The people at STRATFOR certainly won’t think so, but they are sometimes too hard-headedly geopolitical in their analysis.

. October 9, 2009 at 11:52 am

If Tehran Gets the Bomb …
How Iranian nukes would reshape the Middle East.
By Lee Smith
Posted Friday, Oct. 9, 2009, at 10:40 AM ET

Many were surprised when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the other Sunni powers quietly cheered on Israel in its battles against Hezbollah and later Hamas. But this was extraordinary only to those inclined to see the region in terms of 300 million Arabs pitted against 6 million Jews. Instead, conceive of it rather like this: There is an American-backed regional system, and then there are those—from Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Soviet Union to Bin Laden and the Islamists and now Iran and its regional assets Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas—who are eager to create a new Middle East of their own design.

If Iran gets the bomb, other regional powers will pursue nuclear programs—if they are not already doing so. Inevitably in a region as volatile as this, there will be a few small-scale nuclear catastrophes, probably rulers targeting their own people. Saddam gassed the Kurds and slaughtered the Shiites, Hafez Assad massacred the Sunnis of Hama, and mass graves throughout the region testify to the willingness of Arab rulers to kill their own people—in their hands, a nuclear weapon is merely an upgrade in repressive technology. Still, it’s extremely unlikely the regimes will use these weapons against their regional rivals. Remember, the main reason these states support nonstate terror groups is to deter one another and thus avoid all-out war.

. October 13, 2009 at 11:58 am

Clinton hails US-Russian co-operation on Iran

* Hillary Clinton speaks of ‘mutual respect’ on Moscow visit
* US to drop criticism over human rights in reset of relations

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, today spoke of a new era of mutual respect in US dealings with Russia, amid claims that the White House had agreed to stop criticising Russia’s human rights record in return for improved relations.

On a visit to Moscow, Clinton said both countries were now engaged in “clear-headed, practical co-operation” over Iran’s nuclear programme, as well as other issues including arms reduction and the war in Afghanistan.

The trip is her first to Russia as secretary of state. It follows Barack Obama’s decision to cancel the planned US missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Clinton said Moscow and Washington could work together to combat a possible Iranian attack.

Russia Resists U.S. Position on Sanctions for Iran

By MARK LANDLER
Published: October 13, 2009

MOSCOW — Threatening Iran with harsh new sanctions to advance negotiations over its nuclear program would be “counterproductive,” Russia’s foreign minister said Tuesday, throwing cold water on the Obama administration’s hopes that Russia had been persuaded to cooperate with its effort to intensify the global pressure on Tehran.

The minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said after meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton here that diplomacy should be given a chance to work, particularly after a meeting in Geneva this month in which the Iranian government said it would allow United Nations inspectors to visit a clandestine nuclear enrichment facility near the holy city of Qum.

“At the current stage, all forces should be thrown at supporting the negotiating process,” he said. “Threats, sanctions, and threats of pressure in the current situation, we are convinced, would be counterproductive.”

. October 16, 2009 at 10:22 am

AN INDEPENDENT ISRAELI FOREIGN POLICY?

ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER EHUD BARAK was set to travel to Poland and the Czech Republic on the evening of Oct. 12 for meetings with the Polish and Czech prime ministers and defense ministers, as well as with other high-level officials. Barak was scheduled to attend events on human rights and the Holocaust, but his trip comes at a time of enormous international tension over Iran — an issue deeply interwoven with U.S.-Russian relations involving Central Europe. An Israeli media report stated that Barak would discuss “Iran’s nuclear program as well as military industries” with his Polish and Czech counterparts.

The United States has begun negotiations with Iran over its compliance with international nuclear laws. For the U.S. position to have any bite, Washington has held up the threat of severe sanctions against Iran. But the American position is compromised by Russia’s ability to blast a hole through the prospective sanctions regime. The United States therefore must make promises to Russia that it will back away from the former Soviet sphere of influence, or face Russian intransigence in dealing with Tehran. So far, the United States has not offered much for the Russians to sink their teeth into (backing down on ballistic missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic was not enough — and regardless, the Russians question U.S. sincerity). Discussions with Iran are under way, yet without a resolution to the U.S.-Russian situation there can be no enforcement against Iran.

This leaves Israel in a highly uncomfortable position, at a time when its patience is already running thin.

. October 19, 2009 at 11:29 am

Remember that Iran acquired a good deal of its original materiel on the black market, buying through proxies and using other means of deception, before anyone knew what was going on. This in turn means that it would be very much harder to acquire replacement supplies, in the face of continuing invigilation from the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and several intelligence services. Logically, then, even a minor disruption or dislocation of one of the existing key Iranian sites could have the effect of retarding the whole tenuous program for quite a while. And in the meanwhile, the internal clock of Iranian society is running against the continuation of outright dictatorship. So who should be scared of whom?

Milan November 4, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Regarding the threat of Iran mining the Strait of Hormuz, it is worth knowing that Saudi Arabia has an alternative export pathway via the East-West Crude Oil Pipeline. It runs between Ras Tanura and Yanbu, and is normally at around 50% capacity. In the event the Strait of Hormuz was disrupted, some of the oil that would normally flow that way could be exported west to the Red Sea through the pipeline.

. November 30, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Sanctions and Strategy
November 23, 2009 | 2002 GMT

By George Friedman

The Iranian government has rejected, at least for the moment, a proposal from the P-5+1 to ship the majority of its low-enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment. The group is now considering the next step in the roadmap that it laid out last April. The next step was a new round of sanctions, this time meant to be crippling. The only crippling sanction available is to cut off the supply of gasoline, since Iran imports 35 percent of its refined gasoline products. That would theoretically cripple the Iranian economy and compel the Iranians to comply with U.S. demands over the nuclear issue.

We have written extensively on the ability of sanctions to work in Iran. There is, however, a broader question, which is the general utility of sanctions in international affairs. The Iranian government said last week that sanctions don’t concern it because, historically, sanctions have not succeeded. This partly explains Iranian intransigence: The Iranians don’t feel they have anything to fear from sanctions. The question is whether the Iranian view is correct and why they would believe it — and if they are correct, why the P-5+1 would even consider imposing sanctions.

. December 3, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Nuclear proliferation
An Iranian nuclear bomb, or the bombing of Iran?

Dec 3rd 2009
From The Economist print edition
After years of fruitless diplomacy, Iran is on the threshold of becoming a nuclear power. The options are grim

What has changed in the intervening seven years is far from reassuring. Iran is much further on with its enrichment plans. Natanz has some 8,000 centrifuge enrichment machines (out of a planned 54,000), though only about half are spinning with uranium gas. It has accumulated a stock of 5% enriched uranium which, if Iran breaks out and enriches it further to bomb-usable 90% (easy compared with achieving the first 5%), would be enough for a bomb, and will soon be enough for two. Inspectors, meanwhile, suspect that Iran may have other secret sites. They have plenty of evidence to suggest that Iran has done warhead development, besides other experiments whose purpose can only be to build a nuclear weapon, or enable one to be assembled at speed.

The IAEA’s board voted 25-3—crucially, with the support of both Russia and China—to censure Iran for its latest safeguards breaches and to refer the matter, yet again, to the UN Security Council. Even before the Qom revelations, the six had agreed to give Iran until the end of the year before deciding what to do next. Perhaps it was always hopeless to think that Iran, with its long record of cheating and playing for time, was ever going to be serious about reaching a deal. The question is whether America’s year of attempted engagement will now make it easier to convince Russia, China and other sceptics of the need for stiffer sanctions.

What could provoke military action, whether by America or by Israel? There are several possibilities. One might be an Iranian decision to expel nuclear inspectors or withdraw from the NPT, as North Korea did in 2003 before making and testing atomic bombs. Another cause might be the growth of Iran’s stockpile of LEU to the point where it has enough fissile material to break out of the NPT and test more than one bomb. Yet another factor might be the delivery of those Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, which would make bombing much more difficult. Arguably the biggest trigger would be the conviction that diplomacy has reached an impasse.

. December 9, 2009 at 11:17 am

Israel Upping the Iranian Nuclear Threat

ISRAELI BRIG. GEN. YOSSI BAIDATZ, the head of Israel’s Military Intelligence research division, told a closed session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that Iran had the technical capability to build a nuclear bomb and that it would only take a political decision in Tehran to follow through with these plans. He specified that Iran had successfully enriched 1800 kg of uranium, which he claimed was enough to build more than one nuclear bomb, and that Iran had spent the past year upgrading its military arsenal with missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons that could reach Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also spoke at the same Knesset meeting, where he said that Iran had lost its legitimacy in the international community and that preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities was Israel’s central problem.

Though Iran relies heavily on denial and deception tactics to conceal the true status of its nuclear weapons program, Baidatz is likely stretching the truth a bit in describing Iran’s nuclear capabilities. There is an enormous difference between being able to enrich uranium to levels between 5 and 20 percent (what Iran is believed to be currently capable of) and enriching uranium to 80 or 90 percent, which would be considered weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU). Should Iran develop the capability to produce weapons-grade HEU, it would only need a fraction of Baidatz’s claimed 1800 kg of properly enriched uranium to have sufficient raw material for a bomb. In that case, Baidatz’s claim of a political decision being the only thing keeping Iran from the bomb would carry more weight.

These statements are much more an indication of Israeli intentions in dealing with Iran than an accurate reflection of Iranian nuclear capabilities. That the statements of this closed Knesset session were leaked in the first place is particularly revealing of the message that Israel wishes to send Iran and the international community at this point in time. That message, to put it bluntly, is “time’s up.”

. January 14, 2010 at 12:07 pm
. February 12, 2010 at 10:38 am

“This is where the realist’s case for insouciance about an Iranian bomb falls apart. If the Iranians do manage to build some A-bombs, it’s not at all certain—in fact, it’s probably unlikely—that they will institute these same elaborate control devices. Especially given the schisms within the regime, we don’t know who will have—or grab—the power to use them. (If it’s the Revolutionary Guard, that’s bad news.)

And if an Iranian bomb incites other powers in the region to build their own bombs for deterrence, that may “stabilize” tensions—by giving everyone a “deterrent”—though, more likely, it will make things worse. The other regimes probably won’t have control devices, either, at least not at first. There’s also the geographic factor: These countries are very close to one another; a nuclear-armed missile’s flight time, from launcher to target, is a few minutes. In the event of a crisis, one nation’s leader might launch a first strike to pre-empt an anticipated first strike by some other nation’s leader. (If U.S. and Russian borders were only 100 miles apart, it’s doubtful we could have survived the Cold War without a “nuclear exchange.” This is one reason, by the way, that Soviet missiles in Cuba, and U.S. missiles in Turkey, were viewed with such alarm.)”

. February 23, 2010 at 10:28 am

Preparing for the Worst
The United States won’t bomb Iran, but another country might.
By Anne Applebaum
Posted Monday, Feb. 22, 2010, at 8:03 PM ET

Let’s be serious for a moment. President Barack Obama will not bomb Iran. This is not because he is a liberal, or because he is a peacenik, or because he doesn’t have the guts to try and “save” his presidency in this time-honored manner, as Sarah Palin said she would like him to do.

The president will not bomb Iran’s nuclear installations for precisely the same reasons that George W. Bush did not bomb Iran’s nuclear installations: because we don’t know exactly where they all are, because we don’t know whether such a raid could stop the Iranian nuclear program for more than a few months, and because Iran’s threatened response—against Israelis and U.S. troops, via Iran’s allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Lebanon—isn’t one we want to cope with at this precise moment. Nor do we want the higher oil prices that would instantly follow. No U.S. president doing a sober calculation would want to start a new war of choice while U.S. troops are still actively engaged on two other fronts, and no U.S. president could expect public support for more than a nanosecond.

But even if Obama does not bomb Iran, that doesn’t mean that no one else will. At the moment, when Washington is consumed by health care and the implications of the Massachusetts Senate special election, it may seem as if Obama’s most important legacy, positive or negative, will be domestic. In the future, we may not consider any of this at all important. The defining moment of his presidency may well come at 2 a.m. some day, when he picks up the phone and is told that the Israeli prime minister is on the line: Israel has just carried out a raid on Iranian nuclear sites. What then?

. July 5, 2010 at 8:04 pm

U.S., Israel, Iran: Rumors of Striking from the Caucasus

In theory, the Caucasus states of Georgia and Azerbaijan would not be bad locations for basing airpower to strike Iran, and rumors that preparations were under way for such a strike go back to at least 2008. Now a current spate of reporting has revitalized the rumors, which have never proved to be accurate. There would simply be too much visible activity involved in the run-up to a Caucasus-base air campaign against Iran to keep those preparations secret, and such a strike is not likely high on the list of current U.S. strategic priorities.

This current spate of reporting may have originated with a June 18 article by the sensationalist American opinion writer Gordon Duff. However, rumors of Israel using Georgia as a base for a strike on Iran go back to at least 2008. These rumors have never proved accurate, and STRATFOR has no credible evidence that the current rumors are any different.

. August 3, 2010 at 2:01 pm

HRES 1553 IH
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
July 22, 2010

Resolved, That the House of Representatives–
….
(4) expresses support for Israel’s right to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by Iran, defend Israeli sovereignty, and protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within a reasonable time.

http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=hr111-1553

. August 3, 2010 at 2:03 pm

NEW REPORT: Israeli Military Strike Threat on Iran Grows – Risk of Protracted War

Thursday, 15 July 2010
PRESS RELEASE

Israeli Military Strike on Iran Will Lead to a Long War

New report warns strike will not solve nuclear crisis

“An Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would almost certainly be the beginning of a long-term process of regular Israeli air strikes to further prevent the development of nuclear weapons and medium-range missiles. Iranian responses would also be long-term, ushering in a lengthy war with global as well as regional implications.”

The report concludes that “the consequences of a military attack on Iran are so serious that they should not be encouraged in any shape or form. However difficult, other ways must be found to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis.”

Milan August 9, 2010 at 10:41 am

I really don’t think an attack on Iran is likely. Israel cannot succeed on its own, and the United States is unwilling to be drawn into another war.

That said, the threat of an attack does seem as though it could improve the odds of a diplomatic solution. Removing the threat of attack is one major incentive for Iran to credibly discontinue uranium enrichment and other work with nuclear weapon applications.

. August 12, 2010 at 2:34 pm

“Based on interviews with dozens of Israeli, Arab, and U.S. officials, Goldberg puts the odds of an Israeli strike by next July—involving 100 or so F-15E, F-16I, and F-16C aircraft dropping munitions on the uranium-enrichment facilities at Natanz and Qom, the nuclear-research center at Esfahan, and maybe the Bushehr reactor, among other sites—at “better than 50 percent.

He fully itemizes the risks and possible catastrophes of such a move: lethal reprisals from Hezbollah, if not Iran itself; a full-blown regional war; a cataclysmic spike in oil prices; a rupture of U.S.-Israeli relations; a rash of terrorist strikes against Jews worldwide; and—not least and most likely—a solidification of the mullahs’ rule in Tehran.

Yet there are also considerable risks in letting Iran go ahead and build a small nuclear arsenal. I don’t think (though many Israelis, understandably, do) that the mullahs would nuke Jerusalem, once they had the means to do so; Israel has about 100 A-bombs and the means to deliver an obliterating response. (The mullahs may finance suicide bombers, but they aren’t so suicidal themselves.)”

Milan August 12, 2010 at 2:38 pm

The article linked above contains three interesting counters the theory that more nuclear states in the Middle East could actually increase security.

1) India and Pakistan, Russia and China, and Russia and the US all came “frighteningly close to nuclear war at various times and, in some instances, were saved as much by luck as by the doctrine of mutually assured destruction.”

2) All those states have nuclear weapons secured with permissive action links, which Iran may not use

3) States in the Middle East are very close together, leaving less time for thought.

All this supports my view that a nuclear arms race in the Middle East would be very dangerous, and that Iran should be dissuaded from building bombs if possible.

. August 12, 2010 at 3:14 pm

The Point of No Return
By Jeffrey Goldberg

For the Obama administration, the prospect of a nuclearized Iran is dismal to contemplate— it would create major new national-security challenges and crush the president’s dream of ending nuclear proliferation. But the view from Jerusalem is still more dire: a nuclearized Iran represents, among other things, a threat to Israel’s very existence. In the gap between Washington’s and Jerusalem’s views of Iran lies the question: who, if anyone, will stop Iran before it goes nuclear, and how? As Washington and Jerusalem study each other intensely, here’s an inside look at the strategic calculations on both sides—and at how, if things remain on the current course, an Israeli air strike will unfold.

. August 12, 2010 at 3:23 pm

“The Israelis argue that Iran demands the urgent attention of the entire international community, and in particular the United States, with its unparalleled ability to project military force. This is the position of many moderate Arab leaders as well. A few weeks ago, in uncommonly direct remarks, the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba, told me—in a public forum at the Aspen Ideas Festival—that his country would support a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. He also said that if America allowed Iran to cross the nuclear threshold, the small Arab countries of the Gulf would have no choice but to leave the American orbit and ally themselves with Iran, out of self-protection. “There are many countries in the region who, if they lack the assurance the U.S. is willing to confront Iran, they will start running for cover towards Iran,” he said. “Small, rich, vulnerable countries in the region do not want to be the ones who stick their finger in the big bully’s eye, if nobody’s going to come to their support.”

Several Arab leaders have suggested that America’s standing in the Middle East depends on its willingness to confront Iran. They argue self-interestedly that an aerial attack on a handful of Iranian facilities would not be as complicated or as messy as, say, invading Iraq. “This is not a discussion about the invasion of Iran,” one Arab foreign minister told me. “We are hoping for the pinpoint striking of several dangerous facilities. America could do this very easily.” ”

Emanuel had one more message to deliver: for the most practical of reasons, Israel should consider carefully whether a military strike would be worth the trouble it would unleash. “I’m not sure that given the time line, whatever the time line is, that whatever they did, they wouldn’t stop” the nuclear program, he said. “They would be postponing.”

It was then that I realized that, on some subjects, the Israelis and Americans are still talking past each other. The Americans consider a temporary postponement of Iran’s nuclear program to be of dubious value. The Israelis don’t. “When Menachem Begin bombed Osirak [in Iraq], he had been told that his actions would set back the Iraqis one year,” one cabinet minister told me. “He did it anyway.”

Milan August 17, 2010 at 11:22 am

Iran certainly seems to be diversifying its nuclear enrichment program, quite probably so as to make it harder to destroy in a series of airstrikes: “Iran said Monday it plans to build 10 new uranium enrichment sites inside protected mountain strongholds and start construction on the first in March, defying international efforts to curb its nuclear program.”

Tristan August 25, 2010 at 3:22 pm

“All this supports my view that a nuclear arms race in the Middle East would be very dangerous, and that Iran should be dissuaded from building bombs if possible.”

Why do you think Iran is building a nuclear device because of an “arms race” with its neighbors? Isn’t US foreign policy of “we invade whoever we like” forcing them to develop a nuclear deterrent? What else could Iran do to protect itself from an American pre-emptive war agains them?

Milan August 25, 2010 at 3:58 pm

I am not saying it is irrational of Iran to build a bomb, necessarily. I am saying the international community, and the United States in particular, should stop them if possible.

As for Iran’s security risks, the US is almost certainly not going to invade them. If they did, it would be a special forces operation following up airstrikes against uranium enrichment facilities and the Bushehr reactor, which is almost certainly intended more for plutonium production than electricity generation.

In the medium term, Iraq may also be a security threat to Iran, given their history of animosity. Even if that happened, however, it isn’t clear to me why an Iranian bomb would improve the situation.

Milan August 25, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Incidentally, there is a big difference between a ‘nuclear device’ like the one North Korea probably detonated and a deliverable bomb.

The first American bombs definitely fell into the ‘device’ category, as they contained parts that would only work for a couple of weeks and required expert crews to assemble them immediately before use. A bomb that you can put on top of a missile or store in a bunker – and still expect to work in months or years – is a more difficult thing to build.

That said, a lot of information for doing so is now available to states like Iran, due to developments like the A.Q. Khan proliferation network.

Tristan August 25, 2010 at 11:40 pm

“I am saying the international community, and the United States in particular, should stop them if possible.”

So, then, you are certainly enraged that the EU neglected to live up to the terms of the Paris Agreement?

“As for Iran’s security risks, the US is almost certainly not going to invade them. ”

Really? Has not the US congress already authorized an Israeli attack on Iran? What is the difference to Iran between US support for an Israeli attack, and a US attack? Especially since the Israeli attack is taking place thanks to US military aid, and with their explicit approval. Still, I think Martin Creveld put the issue best when he said:

“Wherever U.S forces go, nuclear weapons go with them or can be made to follow in short order. The world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy.”

Tristan August 26, 2010 at 1:13 am

If the EU and US are serious about respecting Iranian security, then why aren’t we hearing language like this:

” II. POLITICAL & SECURITY CO-OPERATION

General principles. The E3/EU propose that in any final agreement the E3/EU and Iran would make mutual commitments in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations, including to the principle of the resolution of disputes by peaceful means and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law; to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations; and to promote respect for and observance and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction of any kind.

Security Assurances. Within the context of an overall agreement and Iran’s fulfilment of its obligations under the NPT, the UK and France would be prepared to reaffirm to Iran the unilateral security assurances given on 6 April 1995 and referred to in UN Security Council Resolution 984 (1995).

Areas of special interest. As part of an overall agreement, the E3/EU propose that both parties should make commitments in the following areas:

– Non-proliferation. The E3/EU and Iran would inter alia reaffirm their commitment to abide by security and non-proliferation treaties to which they are party, and the need to strengthen compliance mechanisms; stress the importance of universal adherence to disarmament and non-proliferation treaties and of the full implementation of the IAEA safeguards agreements and additional protocols; and reaffirm their commitment to the objective of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.”

http://www.basicint.org/countries/iran/sumAugEU3Iran.htm

. August 27, 2010 at 10:05 am

Russia’s interests in this U.S.-Iran tug-of-war are straightforward: the longer it can keep Washington preoccupied with Iraq and Iran, the more time and space Moscow will have to pursue its own interests in Eurasia. To do so, Russia needs to appear both cooperative to the United States, while doing everything it can to complicate U.S. negotiations with Iran. First, Russia decided to play its Bushehr card with the start-up of Iran’s civilian nuclear power plant after more than a decade of politically charged delays. While most U.S. media outlets speculated that the Bushehr start-up provided Israel and the United States with a new casus belli against Iran, the U.S. administration reacted rather coolly to the entire event. It stated that the Bushehr plant, while undermining Iran’s argument for the need to independently enrich uranium for civilian use, did not pose a proliferation threat. Several STRATFOR sources in the region indicated that Russia and the United States had coordinated on the decision to start up Bushehr, the expectation being that Iran could become more compliant in the Iraq negotiations once it received a political boost from doing so. At the same time, the United States, growing more desperate in the Iraq negotiations, began exhibiting more flexibility in the coalition talks. U.S. officials recently started hinting that Washington could get on board with al-Maliki as prime minister as long as Allawi’s political bloc remained a key element within the ruling coalition, sending fears through Allawi’s camp that the United States was going soft against Iran in the negotiations.”

. August 30, 2010 at 10:44 am

Iran’s Nuclear ‘Red Line’

August 19, 2010 | 1055 GMT

If media reports are to be believed, the clock is ticking for Israel or the United States to destroy Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, Iran’s first atomic power generation facility, because fueling of the reactor begins on Saturday. This is indeed a significant event for Iran’s nuclear program; one fissile isotope that can be found in the output of nuclear reactors is Plutonium-239, which can be reprocessed for use in a nuclear device.

Should Iran break International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards at Bushehr, it could conceivably divert and begin to reprocess spent nuclear fuel for use in a nuclear device. Iran likely has the chemical capability to reprocess the plutonium, though the procedure is incredibly radioactive and toxic and would require considerable equipment and facility preparations for safely diverting, handling and controlling reactor output. And while the IAEA should be able to sound the alarm when there is a significant diversion of fuel at a monitored facility, it can do nothing to physically stop it. Iran seems to be on the verge of crossing a critical red line.

While the fueling of Bushehr may be an important milestone, it is not a recent or surprising development. The project dates back more than 35 years to a deal between the German company Siemens and the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. After the 1979 revolution that established the modern Islamic republic, Siemens abandoned the project under political pressure and the facility was repeatedly bombed by Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War. Only in 1995 was Iran able to sign a new deal with the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) to rebuild and finish the plant, which has been on the verge of completion for years now. (Moscow has repeatedly announced delays on finishing the facility, which has become a favorite political lever to use against both Tehran and Washington.) Indeed, the first consignment of nuclear fuel from Russia has been on the ground in Iran since the end of 2007, and Bushehr has been inching toward this point ever since — a point that has been, in the end, all but inevitable.

Tristan August 30, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Can anyone find a credible security analyst who thinks there is a greater than negligible chance of an Iranian first strike nuclear attack?

Milan August 30, 2010 at 5:50 pm

At some point between now and the end of time? I would say that is a possibility.

I am not sure who used chemical weapons first during the Iran-Iraq War, but I think it is plausible both sides would have used nukes if they had them at the time.

Milan August 30, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Also, is there some reason why we shouldn’t worry about Iran using nuclear weapons in retaliatory strikes? They would still kill huge numbers of people.

Tristan August 30, 2010 at 7:30 pm

“Also, is there some reason why we shouldn’t worry about Iran using nuclear weapons in retaliatory strikes? ”

What rogue nations in the region would attack Iran without US permission? And if these states exist, are they not the primary security threat, not Iran?

Tristan August 30, 2010 at 7:32 pm

“At some point between now and the end of time? I would say that is a possibility.”

“At some point between now and the end of time” strikes me to be the kind of thing a security analyst would never say.

Milan August 30, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Once states have nuclear weapons, they are likely to keep them forever. As such, “between now and the end of time” is the appropriate timeframe to consider.

Nobody can predict what the Middle East will be like in 50 years. They might be out of oil, destitute and desperate. The United States may no longer be a dominant global power.

When you are dealing with nuclear weapons, you need to think about the long term. Both from that perspective and from one focused more on the immediate future, it seems desirable to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons if possible, ideally by diplomatic means.

Tristan August 30, 2010 at 7:52 pm

“Once states have nuclear weapons, they are likely to keep them forever.”

So, Nuclear Weapons Free Zones don’t exist. They don’t cover the majority of the globe. No countries have given up Nuclear weapons after acquiring them. They are not a feasible way forward for the middle east. England and the United States have not already committed to establishing a NWFZ in the middle east.

The long term solution is peace. We are infants and inter-national governance, but there is no reason to be so pessimistic – especially since this pessimism reproduces the dominant trends in current politics which makes progress more difficult.

Tristan August 30, 2010 at 7:55 pm

” it seems desirable to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons if possible, ideally by diplomatic means.”

This is a non-position. Either it is worth killing hundreds or thousands if Iranians and compromising the whole region, if not the world, to prevent Iran from developing Nuclear power – or it is not. It quite clearly is not.

If you are interested in a diplomatic solution, there are two – a NWFZ which England and the US could push for in accordance with commitments they have already made. Or, the EU could live up to the terms of the Paris Agreement, which would require US support.

But, if you hate diplomacy, then you can pretend diplomatic means have failed when you haven’t even tried the most basic diplomatic means available, and you can hold a non-position of implying tacit support for Israeli or US airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities; in other words: war.

Milan August 30, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Some states have forsworn nuclear weapons, South Africa and Canada among them.

That said, I cannot see how you could possibly think that Iranian nuclear weapons would contribute to international peace and security. Whatever deterrent effect they had (in keeping others from attacking Iran) would be overridden by the increased impetus for all neighbouring states to develop nuclear weapons of their own. It would make an all-nuclear Middle East more likely, which is a really scary prospect.

Milan August 30, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Arguably, the biggest problem with the airstrike option is that it is unlikely to work. Iran has learned from the Osirak reactor strike and related actions, and their nuclear facilities are hardened and widely dispersed.

That said, and as I argued before, the possibility of such a strike is potentially useful, in that it encourages Iran to negotiate away its nuclear program. If there were no risks to having such a program, Iran’s would be further along and more states would be actively seeking nuclear weapons.

Tristan August 30, 2010 at 8:08 pm

The fact that you have not commented on any of the diplomatic options signals to me that you do indeed dismiss diplomacy as a serious option.

“That said, I cannot see how you could possibly think that Iranian nuclear weapons would contribute to international peace and security.”

I think they would be a lesser threat than the war which you continue to tacitly assert to be the only option to prevent them.

Milan August 30, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Most likely, nothing can stop them from developing a bomb. An attack would probably just delay them for a few years.

The U.S. isn’t likely to see that as worth the risk, but Israel might.

Some possibilities, ranked from least to most desirable:

  • Israel and/or the United States attacks Iran, Iran still develops nuclear weapons within the next couple of years
  • Israel and/or the United States attacks Iran, Iran still develops nuclear weapons at some later point
  • Israel and/or the United States attacks Iran, Iran never develops nuclear weapons
  • Iran is not attacked, and does not develop nuclear weapons

I think the second possibility is quite likely – probably, so do Israel and the United States. That analysis is likely one of the biggest things holding them back. If they could just re-create the Osirak strike, with equal success, they would probably already have done so.

Milan August 30, 2010 at 8:22 pm

As quoted above:

“[Rahm] Emanuel had one more message to deliver: for the most practical of reasons, Israel should consider carefully whether a military strike would be worth the trouble it would unleash. “I’m not sure that given the time line, whatever the time line is, that whatever they did, they wouldn’t stop” the nuclear program, he said. “They would be postponing””

It was then that I realized that, on some subjects, the Israelis and Americans are still talking past each other. The Americans consider a temporary postponement of Iran’s nuclear program to be of dubious value. The Israelis don’t. “When Menachem Begin bombed Osirak [in Iraq], he had been told that his actions would set back the Iraqis one year,” one cabinet minister told me. “He did it anyway.”"

The very worst possibility might be something like: Israel launches a unilateral attack which totally fails, due to Iranian air defences. The US tries to finish the attack and also fails. Iran launches reprisals throughout the region, and still develops a deployable bomb soon.

Tristan August 30, 2010 at 9:04 pm

I don’t think your position of “states should threaten other states with war, but not actually go to war”, is intelligent. If a threat is to be credible, real potential force must be behind it. The Iraq war, on some accounts, was pursued so the United States would have their threats of force recognized as credible. That reason makes much more sense than any of the declared reasons, anyway. What are you are in effect advocating is that states act such that their threats become non-credible – how would that increase peace and security?

Bush on credibility:

“Fool me once, shame on you…
…You fool me you can’t get fooled again.”

Milan August 30, 2010 at 9:14 pm

So you would recommend the U.S. and Israel promise never to attack Iran, and then try to set up some kind of regional Nuclear Free Zone?

Without the threat of attack, what incentive would Iran have to join?

Also, why would Iran respect that agreement more than the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or the Security Council resolutions that have already called on them to stop enriching uranium and working on bombs?

Tristan August 30, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Are you going to continue to pretend the Paris Agreement didn’t exist? Do you know anything about the Paris Agreement? If you care about the Iranian nuclear situation and diplomatic solutions, you might want to look into it.

Are you going to continue to commit to the position Israel can launch an Air Strike without American permission? Do you think Israel would enter into any war if it knew this action would be the end of its US support?

Are you going to continue to ignore every serious political-diplomatic solution to Iran’s security problems? At least, every diplomatic solution that does not consist in a crime against peace?

Milan August 30, 2010 at 9:20 pm

That doesn’t answer my questions.

Milan August 30, 2010 at 9:35 pm

What are you are in effect advocating is that states act such that their threats become non-credible – how would that increase peace and security?

Ambiguity here is strategic. Neither Israel nor the U.S. has said they will attack Iran, and indeed giving explicit warning would always be foolish. If they made the threat and didn’t follow through, they would lose credibility. If they made the threat and did follow through, the Iranians would be on high alert.

Maintaining credibility is definitely important, but promising never to attack doesn’t accomplish that.

Are you going to continue to commit to the position Israel can launch an Air Strike without American permission?

The Atlantic article repeatedly quoted above discusses this, and the answer isn’t entirely clear. Almost certainly, the Americans would notice the strike before it happened. Probably, the US would be technically capable of stopping it. But would they really shoot down Israeli fighters, on their way to Iran? I doubt it.

Do you think Israel would enter into any war if it knew this action would be the end of its US support?

Again, an open question and one addressed by that article. If Menachem Begin thought bombing Osirak was worthwhile even if it would only produce a one year delay, would the present Israeli administration risk a major breach with the U.S. to attack Iran? Maybe. Would some future administration do so? Maybe.

Both present and future administrations will certainly want the Iranians to think they might be attacked, and for good reason.

Milan August 30, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Are you going to continue to ignore every serious political-diplomatic solution to Iran’s security problems?

Iran is actually in a pretty good security position right now. Their most worrisome enemy (Iraq) is deeply divided internally. The U.S. is doing what they can to try to change that (which doesn’t necessarily suit Iran), but they aren’t likely to succeed to that great an extent. The U.S. certainly won’t get the staunch democratic ally (think Germany and Japan) they once wanted in the region.

I have said repeatedly that a diplomatic means of stopping an Iranian bomb is (a) morally preferable and (b) more likely to succeed in the medium- and long-term than an attack. That said, I think the threat of an attack increases rather than decreases the probability of a peaceful solution.

Tristan August 30, 2010 at 9:37 pm

I did not answer the questions because appeared while I was writing the last post.

“So you would recommend the U.S. and Israel promise never to attack Iran, and then try to set up some kind of regional Nuclear Free Zone?”

I think all states should promise never to invade sovereign states, except in cases where a state is engaged in crimes against humanity against its own people (one could argue that a state committing such crimes is no longer sovereign anyway).

I don’t know what you mean by “some kind of NWFZ” – plans for a NWFZ in the region have been circulating since ’74 when Iran (of all states) proposed it. The number one obstacle to the creation of a middle east NWFZ is Israeli (backed by the US) refusal to cooperation in any way – even to sign the NPT!

“Without the threat of attack, what incentive would Iran have to join?”

The same incentive they have which makes them “insane” if they are not developing a nuclear weapon – security.

“Also, why would Iran respect that agreement more than the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or the Security Council resolutions that have already called on them to stop enriching uranium and working on bombs?”

Iran has not actually breached the terms of the NPT – under NPT like all other states they have the right to enrich uranium for the purposes of creating nuclear power.

Iran did cease nuclear research as a result of the Paris Agreement – which the EU reneged on, in response to which Iran resumed its nuclear program. There is no reason to think the agreement couldn’t be revived. Iran is interested in security, their involvement in nuclear matters is a means to that end.

Milan August 30, 2010 at 9:41 pm

By ‘the Paris Agreement’ are you referring to the 1995 agreement variously referred to as the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, the Interim Agreement, Oslo 2, Oslo II, and Taba?

How much do you think Iran really cares about the Palestinians? Do you think they would rather have a united Palestinian state beside Israel or a guarantee that Iraq will never attack them again? Or top notch Russian air defence systems? Or even a lot more domestic gasoline refining capability?

To me, it seems plausible that Iranian citizens in general do care about the Palestine issue, but the Iranian leadership mostly uses the issue cynically as a means of pacifying the population. It is useful for deflecting anger about domestic policies towards external enemies (the US and Israel).

Milan August 30, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Actually, you almost certainly mean this:

Paris Agreement
Agreement between Iran, Germany, United Kingdom and France (November 14th, 2004)

Milan August 30, 2010 at 9:47 pm

From that agreement:

To build further confidence, Iran has decided, on a voluntary basis, to continue and extend its suspension to include all enrichment related and reprocessing activities, and specifically : the manufacture and import of gas centrifuges and their components ; the assembly, installation, testing or operation of gas centrifuges ; work to undertake any plutonium separation, or to construct or operate any plutonium separation installation ; and all tests or production at any uranium conversion installation. The IAEA will be notified of this suspension and invited to verify and monitor it. The suspension will be implemented in time for the IAEA to confirm before the November Board that it has been put into effect. The suspension will be sustained while negotiations proceed on a mutually acceptable agreement on long-term arrangements.

If Iran voluntarily gave up all enrichment and reprocessing activity then they would not be able to make meaningful progress toward a bomb. Given how plans have been circulated by the A.Q. Khan network and other states and organizations, they probably just need fissile material to build a working bomb, not the kind of experimentation that earlier nuclear powers had to undertake.

If they verifiably gave up all enrichment and reprocessing activity, I agree that it would be both unethical and pragmatically unwise for Israel or the U.S. to attack them.

The threat of attack is a major incentive for Iran to live up to this part of the 1995 agreement.

Milan August 30, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Indeed, to add to my earlier list, the best possible outcome would be something like: Iran agrees to abandon enrichment and reprocessing forever and agrees to a level of verification and monitoring that makes it nearly certain that they cannot do so in secret. In exchange, economic sanctions are dropped and the U.S. and Israel pledge not to attack Iran for as long as (a) they undertake no enrichment or reprocessing (b) they continue to comply with monitoring and verification and (c) they do not attack Israel, the United States, or any allies of either.

Iran would probably prefer that to getting successfully attacked. Of course, for as long as they continue to keep enriching, reprocessing, and otherwise working toward a bomb they continue to strengthen their negotiating position. It’s a game of chicken: the closer they get to a bomb, the more they have to trade away for goodies while, at the same time, the risk of an attack increases.

Milan August 30, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Both Israel and the U.S. have excellent reasons to prefer a diplomatic agreement to war.

If Israel attacks and fails, it will lose the ability to credibly deter states like Iran in the future. If Israel attacks with tactical nuclear weapons, it will face major international backlash – and the attack may still fail to prevent the emergence of an Iranian bomb in the near- to medium-term.

As for the U.S., they certainly have plenty to handle in Iraq and Afghanistan, without adding a conflict with Iran to the list. They also risk appearing even weaker, if they launch an unsuccessful attack. They would face even more criticism for using nuclear weapons. While a credible case can be made that a small number of fission bombs are an existential threat to Israel, it cannot be credibly made in relation to the U.S.

Tristan August 31, 2010 at 12:31 am

In the agreement, Iran agreed to voluntarily adhere to the optional portions of NPT – and you’ve quoted the relevant section. However, the diplomatic issue is: why did the Paris agreement break down? I think it’s because the EU was unable to meet the security commitments which were a condition for the suspension you refer to above:

“The E3/EU recognize that this suspension is a voluntary confidence building measure and not a legal obligation.

Sustaining the suspension, while negotiations on a long-term agreement are under way, will be essential for the continuation of the overall process. In the context of this suspension, the E3/EU and Iran have agreed to begin negotiations, with a view to reaching a mutually acceptable agreement on long term arrangements. The agreement will provide objective guarantees that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes. It will equally provide firm guarantees on nuclear, technological and economic cooperation and firm commitments on security issues.”

Milan August 31, 2010 at 9:27 am

So Iran is also making threats – as a strategic means of getting what they want.

For a state with no shortage of petrochemicals to build nuclear reactors and uranium enrichment cascades is always suspicious. Much more so when their president openly boasts about future nuclear weapons capabilities and threatens a nearby state.

Hopefully, an arrangement acceptable to all parties will emerge, which involves Iran demonstrably renouncing nuclear weapons. I do not think Israeli nuclear disarmament could plausibly be part of that, however.

. August 31, 2010 at 9:38 am

Assessing America’s ‘imperial adventure’ in Iraq
By John Simpson BBC World Affairs Editor, Baghdad

“This,” a leading American supporter of President George W Bush wrote in a British newspaper back in February 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq, “is our imperial moment”.

He went on to argue that the British had no right to criticise America for doing what they themselves had done so enthusiastically a century before.

But America’s imperial moment did not last long. And now, seven years later, the US is criticised for just about everything that happens here.

Opinion is evenly divided between those who are glad to see the Americans go, and those who criticise them for leaving too soon and potentially laying Iraq open to fresh sectarian violence.

R.K. August 31, 2010 at 1:35 pm

The same incentive they have which makes them “insane” if they are not developing a nuclear weapon – security.

Would nuclear weapons really increase Iranian security?

There would be two periods after they were acquired. One where only Iran and Israel had the weapons, and a second where other states in the region did as well, partly encouraged by Iran.

In the first period, the chance of war between Israel and Iran would arguably be lower. That is far from certain, though. While the Americans and Russians had ‘strategic depth‘ and could survive a first strike on some scale, Israel does not. They could end up in a perpetual state of ‘launch on warning‘ which could in turn lead to an accidental attack against Iranian airfields and missile basis.

In the second period, those risks would still be there, along with new dangers from accidents, mismanagement, mutinies, coups, etc. While states like America and Britain have strong civilian control over the military, that isn’t true for many states in the Middle East.

Tristan August 31, 2010 at 6:33 pm

“So Iran is also making threats – as a strategic means of getting what they want.”

Did Iran make threats during the relevant period? The Period in which the agreement was holding, and Iran was voluntarily consenting to the optional portions of NPT?

Even now, Iran’s position is they will negotiate if threats are stopped.

Tristan August 31, 2010 at 6:35 pm

“Would nuclear weapons really increase Iranian security?”

I think so. I think America would not have invaded Iraq if Iraq had nuclear weapons. And, I think America would have already invaded North Korea if they did not.

Tristan August 31, 2010 at 6:37 pm

The problem is American involvement in the region more generally. America supports truly awful regimes in the region because that is required to keep the oil supply flowing. Nasser was the last example of a serious threat to US dominance in the region, which is also unsurprisingly the origin of unbending US support for Israel (since Israel is, in so many ways, a great ally for fighting radical arab nationalism).

America should withdraw from the region, support the Arab Peace initiative, and reduce its need for carbon based energy.

. September 1, 2010 at 10:40 am

Rethinking American Options on Iran
August 31, 2010 | 0856 GMT

By George Friedman

Public discussion of potential attacks on Iran’s nuclear development sites is surging again. This has happened before. On several occasions, leaks about potential airstrikes have created an atmosphere of impending war. These leaks normally coincided with diplomatic initiatives and were designed to intimidate the Iranians and facilitate a settlement favorable to the United States and Israel. These initiatives have failed in the past. It is therefore reasonable to associate the current avalanche of reports with the imposition of sanctions and view it as an attempt to increase the pressure on Iran and either force a policy shift or take advantage of divisions within the regime.

My first instinct is to dismiss the war talk as simply another round of psychological warfare against Iran, this time originating with Israel. Most of the reports indicate that Israel is on the verge of attacking Iran. From a psychological-warfare standpoint, this sets up the good-cop/bad-cop routine. The Israelis play the mad dog barely restrained by the more sober Americans, who urge the Iranians through intermediaries to make concessions and head off a war. As I said, we have been here before several times, and this hasn’t worked.

The worst sin of intelligence is complacency, the belief that simply because something has happened (or has not happened) several times before it is not going to happen this time. But each episode must be considered carefully in its own light and preconceptions from previous episodes must be banished. Indeed, the previous episodes might well have been intended to lull the Iranians into complacency themselves. Paradoxically, the very existence of another round of war talk could be intended to convince the Iranians that war is distant while covert war preparations take place. An attack may be in the offing, but the public displays neither confirm nor deny that possibility.

. September 1, 2010 at 10:46 am

“Our current view is that the accumulation of enough enriched uranium to build a weapon does not mean that the Iranians are anywhere close to having a weapon. Moreover, the risks inherent in an airstrike on its nuclear facilities outstrip the benefits (and even that assumes that the entire nuclear industry is destroyed in one fell swoop — an unsure outcome at best). It also assumes the absence of other necessary technologies. Assumptions of U.S. prowess against mines might be faulty, and so, too, could my assumption about weapon development. The calculus becomes murky, and one would expect all governments involved to be waffling.

There is, of course, a massive additional issue. Apart from the direct actions that Iran might make, there is the fact that the destruction of its nuclear capability would not solve the underlying strategic challenge that Iran poses. It has the largest military force in the Persian Gulf, absent the United States. The United States is in the process of withdrawing from Iraq, which would further diminish the ability of the United States to contain Iran. Therefore, a surgical strike on Iran’s nuclear capability combined with the continuing withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq would create a profound strategic crisis in the Persian Gulf.

The country most concerned about Iran is not Israel, but Saudi Arabia. The Saudis recall the result of the last strategic imbalance in the region, when Iraq, following its armistice with Iran, proceeded to invade Kuwait, opening the possibility that its next intention was to seize the northeastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia. In that case, the United States intervened. Given that the United States is now withdrawing from Iraq, intervention following withdrawal would be politically difficult unless the threat to the United States was clear. More important, the Iranians might not give the Saudis the present Saddam Hussein gave them by seizing Kuwait and then halting. They might continue. They certainly have the military capacity to try.”

Tristan September 1, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Does anyone think US forces would have entered Iraq if Iraq had had nuclear weapons?

Milan September 1, 2010 at 2:55 pm

I don’t think the U.S. is a major threat to peace in the region, either immediately or in the long term. I also think Iraq having nuclear weapons would have been terrible for regional peace and stability – probably worse than the second Iraq war.

Tristan September 1, 2010 at 3:18 pm

“I don’t think the U.S. is a major threat to peace in the region, either immediately or in the long term. ”

So, you don’t think the invasion of Iraq has destabilized the region? And you don’t think US support for Israel’s rejection of the Arab peace initiative destabilizes the region?

Milan September 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Overall, I think the U.S. is a stabilizing force globally, as well as in the Middle East. It is regrettable, however, that this stability is often achieved by supporting authoritarian governments.

The Iraq situation raises an important question: would you rather have authoritarian peace, or violent and imperfect democracy? Those who argue that the Iraq war was a mistake (a very credible argument) are implicitly arguing that Saddam’s dictatorship and the stability it created were preferable to the violence that accompanies Iraqi democracy in its present form.

Milan September 1, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Do you think the Middle East would be more peaceful if the United States was too weak to intervene significantly there? Or too isolationist to do so?

America’s options

Tristan September 1, 2010 at 9:27 pm

So, you agree with US opposition to the Arab Peace Initiative?

Removing Saddam was not a goal of the US invasion – American and Britain stated clearly 2 days before the invasion that if Saddam’s family left the country they would invade anyway.

Tristan September 1, 2010 at 9:33 pm

“Those who argue that the Iraq war was a mistake (a very credible argument) are implicitly arguing that Saddam’s dictatorship and the stability it created were preferable to the violence that accompanies Iraqi democracy in its present form.”

There were plenty of ways to support democracy in the region besides invading a country and imposing a semi democratic structure through force. America has no interest in democracy in the middle east – they attempted to oust the democratically elected Hamas government with a coup upon their election in an internationally monitored vote.

Worse, America supported Saddam right through the worse atrocities of his reign – and refused to support the 91 rebellion which might have overthrown him.

I think the middle east would be a much more peaceful area if the US supported principled resolutions to conflicts, international law, and only the use of military force in situations where a state’s sovereignty is breached or a state is committing crimes against humanity against its own population.

If America supported those policies, the debate would be about whether NATO should invade Israel to restore the ’67 borders – which would of course be unnecessary because Israel would capitulate to the Arab Peace initiative if the US did not support its rejectionist stance.

Tristan September 2, 2010 at 5:13 am

“would you rather have authoritarian peace, or violent and imperfect democracy? Those who argue that the Iraq war was a mistake (a very credible argument) are implicitly arguing that Saddam’s dictatorship and the stability it created were preferable to the violence that accompanies Iraqi democracy in its present form.”

This is embarrassing. What has been imposed on Iraq was authoritarian-imposed democracy. If you even want to call it democracy – certainly the US will continue to do everything in their power to prevent the popular support of insurgents to be legitimized in a political forum. The US have no interest in peace – if they did, they would be acting as Britain did in Northern Ireland in the 70s and 90s – negotiating with terrorists legitimate demands prior to the cessation of violence. That’s what countries which are serious about peace actually do. But, it’s exactly what America promises never to do (“negotiate with terrorists”).

“Those who argue that the Iraq war was a mistake (a very credible argument) are implicitly arguing that Saddam’s dictatorship and the stability it created were preferable to the violence that accompanies Iraqi democracy in its present form.”

This is borderline idiotic. This assumes there are no consequences to the Iraq war other than the direct consequences on the Iraq political structure. What about all the civilians killed during the conflict? Do you have any concept how many civilians were killed? How much do you know about the atrocity at Fallujah, or the toxic after effects? And what about the long-term implications for regional security – every sane country now knows that the US will invade any country that falls out of line with no need for a legitimate pretext.

If you care about nuclear proliferation in the region, then you should care about the perceived possibility of US agression that this war has produced – and the forces it places on countries to develop a nuclear deterrent.

Also, if you care about peace, and nuclear disarmament – then you should be as critical now as you have been in the past of America’s nuclear proliferation record.

Tristan September 2, 2010 at 5:23 am

What do you think about US support for Zia-ul-Haq’s brutal dictatorship and Islamization program in the 1980s? Do you think Reagan was actually unaware of the nuclear weapons research during a period when Pakistan was receiving significant US military aid?

Tristan September 2, 2010 at 5:26 am

There is, however, something far more basic. If you want to believe Obama, then you think the main block to a NWFZ in the region is the lack of a comprehensive peace settlement. Well – if that’s true, then you should, as you refuse to, consider the Israel/Palestine peace settlement central to regional stability. And, if you did – then you should be livid with Obama for continuing to block the comprehensive peace settlement which the Arab states continue to offer, and which the democratically elected government in Palestine (Hamas) supports. And, you should be writing about how the current peace talks are anti-democratic because they exclude the only democratically elected representation of the Palestinian people.

Milan September 2, 2010 at 10:25 am

If you want to believe Obama, then you think the main block to a NWFZ in the region is the lack of a comprehensive peace settlement

Even if Israel and Palestine were both sovereign states living side by side, enjoying good relations with all their neighbours, I don’t think Israel would be willing to give up nuclear weapons. That is partly justified by how small Israel is and how difficult it would be to maintain superiority in conventional arms indefinitely.

Given that a NWFZ just isn’t going to happen, we should focus on next-best options, like preventing further proliferation and applying better controls to existing weapons.

Tristan September 2, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Next-best liberals like yourself will lead us down the paths to fascism and an increasingly dangerous world, all the while saying “it’s the best we can do”.

Milan September 2, 2010 at 1:38 pm

How idealistic should we be?

It is possible to make errors in both directions. If we are too cynical, we might miss opportunities to improve the world. If we are insufficiently cynical, we might get an inflated sense of our own capabilities and what is possible. In that case, we might over-reach and achieve nothing.

As has come up here time and time again, I think we need to focus on the most important problems, allowing lesser issues (especially ones that are very tricky to solve) to sit on the backburner.

Milan September 2, 2010 at 1:41 pm

The debate about which error deserves more concern also applies to the Obama presidency. Some say he should focus on getting what is essential done, while leaving important but secondary issues untouched. They think that is the best path to success (including the popularity often required to sustain success).

People on the other side of the debate call for a wide-ranging agenda, arguing that by ignoring some issues Obama is wasting his potential and costing himself potential supporters.

Again, I fall more within the first camp.

. September 3, 2010 at 11:19 am

Japan imposes new Iran sanctions over nuclear programme

Japan has imposed new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.

The measures – which go beyond than those imposed by the UN Security Council – ban transactions with some Iranian banks, and also target energy-related investments.

Japan approved sanctions against Iran last month, but US officials have been urging Tokyo to adopt tougher measures.

Many states fear Iran’s nuclear programme is developing atomic weapons; Iran insists its programme is peaceful.

Japan is a major importer of Iranian crude oil, but did not impose any restrictions on oil imports from Iran.

“We took those steps as they are necessary to push for nuclear non-proliferation and prevent its nuclear development,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told a news conference.

“We have traditionally close relations with Iran and from that standpoint, we will patiently encourage the country towards a peaceful and diplomatic solution,” he added.

Tristan September 3, 2010 at 4:06 pm

No one responded to my response:

“I think America would not have invaded Iraq if Iraq had nuclear weapons. And, I think America would have already invaded North Korea if they did not.”

Is this wrong? Would America be as likely to invade Iran if Iran had nuclear weapons? Would America be as likely to be so cavalier in threatening first strike nuclear attack against Iran as part of a normal elections campaign?

Milan September 3, 2010 at 4:10 pm

I don’t think the U.S. is what Iran should worry about. The days of the U.S. toppling governments in the Middle East won’t be coming back any time soon. The U.S. armed forces are overstretched and the public would not support it.

And the points about raising tensions and risking accidental war seem very imporant.

. September 5, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Unsurprisingly, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei has tweeted a holiday message, and it’s as cheery as you might imagine:

“Israel Is A Hideous Entity In the Middle East Which Will Undoubtedly Be Annihilated”

No word yet on what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is planning to say, but his boss has upped the ante on the regional contest of who can use the most inflammatory rhetoric on al-Quds day.

. September 6, 2010 at 12:32 pm

In every recent conflict, the United States has been right about the evil intentions of its adversaries but massively exaggerated their strength. In the 1980s, we thought the Soviet Union was expanding its power and influence when it was on the verge of economic and political bankruptcy. In the 1990s, we were certain that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear arsenal. In fact, his factories could barely make soap.”

. September 13, 2010 at 10:26 am

“IT WAS meant as a marker for the world’s readiness to accept Iran’s right to benefit from the peaceful uses of nuclear power, despite its provocative behaviour. By this reasoning, the fuelling this week by Russia of the Bushehr nuclear reactor, Iran’s first power-generating nuclear plant that is due to start supplying electricity to the national grid by year’s end, could help persuade the regime to return to the negotiating table over United Nations demands that it suspend more troubling nuclear work.

Iran insists that its nuclear programme is peaceful. But it has dodged proper talks with the six for two years now. It also refuses to answer questions from inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear guardian, about documents, experiments, development work and tell-tale imports that make sense only as part of a weapons-building effort.

Nonetheless, its demand that it be allowed to buy in the fuel, rather than the isotopes, offered another chance for outsiders to show they are not trying to halt genuinely peaceful nuclear activity in Iran. A proposal engineered by America last October would have removed much of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium for Russia to enrich up to 20% and for France to fabricate into fuel rods for the reactor. Taking the stuff out of the country for a year or so while the fuel was prepared would have bought time for talks. It could also, America hoped, create a precedent for similar overseas processing of Iran’s uranium in future. If its domestic stockpile could in this way be kept below a bomb’s worth, this would also ease pressure in Israel for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities and so buy yet more time for talks.

In the end, Iran backed out of the deal and provocatively started enriching to 20% itself (a big step further towards the high-enriched stuff need for a bomb). Ham-fisted attempts by Brazil and Turkey to revive the deal would have provided Iran with 20%-enriched uranium but brought none of the other benefits.

But the toing and froing over reactor fuel helps distract attention from Iran’s refusal to come clean about its nuclear past. As over Bushehr, Iran plays a long game.”

. September 13, 2010 at 3:27 pm

“Countries that build nuclear weapons do so at great expense. This is not a minor point. Even today, a successful nuclear weapons program is the product of years — if not a decade or more — and the focused investment of a broad spectrum of national resources. Nuclear weapons also are developed as a deterrent to attack, not with the intention of immediately using them offensively. Once a design has achieved an initial capability, the focus shifts to establishing a survivable deterrent that can withstand first a conventional and then a nuclear first strike so that the nuclear arsenal can serve its primary purpose as a deterrent to attack. The coherency, skill and focus this requires are difficult to overstate and come at immense cost — including opportunity cost — to the developing country.

Lastly, as noted above, a nuclear weapon is seen as a deterrent by countries such as North Korea or Iran, which seek such weapons to protect themselves from invasion, not to use them offensively.”

. September 15, 2010 at 2:27 pm

“One option is to solve the Iraq problem by attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. This carries the risk, as I have said many times, of Iranian retaliation in the Strait of Hormuz and a massive hit on the Western economic revival. In that sense, a strike against Iranian nuclear targets alone would be the riskiest. Far safer is a generalized air campaign against both Iran’s nuclear and conventional capability.

But launching a new war, while two others go on, is strategically risky. From a political point of view, it would alienate Obama’s political base, many of whom supported him because he would not undertake unilateral military moves. The Republicans would be most inclined to support him, but most would not vote for him under any circumstances. Plus, brilliant military strokes have the nasty habit of bogging down just as mediocre ideas do. That would end the Obama presidency. Clinton’s war in Kosovo was not an easy option for him strategically or politically.

That leaves another option that we have suggested before, one that would appeal both to Obama’s sensibility and to his political situation: pulling a Nixon. In 1971, Richard Nixon reached out to China while Chinese weapons were being used to kill American soldiers in Vietnam. Roosevelt did the same with the Soviets in 1941. There is a tradition in the United States of a diplomatic stroke with ideological enemies to achieve strategic ends.

Diplomatic strokes appeal to Obama. They also would appeal to his political base, while any agreement with Iran that would contribute to an American withdrawal from Iraq and perhaps from Afghanistan would appeal to the center. The Republicans would be appalled, but Obama can’t win them over anyway so it doesn’t matter. Indeed, he can use their hostility to strengthen his own base.

What the settlement with Iran might look like is murky at best. Whether Iran has any interest in such a settlement is murkier still. But if Obama gets hammered in the midterms, his domestic agenda will be frozen. He doesn’t have the personal strength and credibility to run against Congress for two years and then get re-elected. He retains his power in foreign affairs but he has not gotten traction on a multilateral reconstruction of America’s global popularity. He has two wars ongoing, plus a major challenge from Iran. Attacking Iran from the air might or might not work, and it could weaken him politically. That leaves him with running against Congress or addressing the Middle East with a diplomatic masterstroke.”

. September 16, 2010 at 2:51 pm

“THE champagne corks are not yet flying, but American arms makers are surely readying them for take-off. The Obama administration is expected within days to notify Congress of plans to sell Saudi Arabia weaponry and logistics worth as much as $90 billion over the coming decade, in what would amount to America’s biggest-ever weapons sale. The orders reportedly include 84 F-15 long-range combat aircraft and scores of attack helicopters, along with naval vessels, advanced air defence systems, and contracts to refurbish the kingdom’s large existing stocks of American arms.

If approved, the package of sales would not only tilt the balance of conventional weaponry in the Persian Gulf decisively against Iran, whose suspected bid to acquire atomic bombs frightens its Muslim neighbours as well as Israel and the West. It would signal the return to normal of America’s tight, 70 year-long alliance with Saudi Arabia. This had frayed following the revelation that 15 of the 19 hijackers who attacked American cities on September 11, 2001 were Saudi nationals. Fearing congressional opposition, Saudi Arabia had in recent years sought weaponry from other sources.

Approval of the sale would also mark a significant change of tack by Israel, which has often swayed American politicians against bolstering Arab arsenals. Its supporters appear mollified, this time, by the prospect of seeing Iran, which Israel now regards as its most pressing threat, squeezed. Israel, which in any case has received $3 billion a year of free American arms for three decades, has reportedly received assurances that, as in the past, the new Saudi weaponry will come stripped of advanced features that might challenge Israel’s technical superiority.”

. September 22, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Kremlin bans sale of S-300 missile systems to Iran

The Kremlin has formally banned the sale of S-300 air defence missile systems to Iran three months after new UN sanctions.

A decree was issued by President Dmitry Medvedev prohibiting the sale, which had been in the pipeline for years.

Earlier, Gen Nikolai Makarov, head of Russia’s general staff, confirmed that the missiles were “definitely” subject to the sanctions introduced in June.

At that time, Russia’s foreign minister said the S-300 deal was not affected.

Possession of S-300 systems would enhance Iran’s defence of its nuclear facilities against attack from the air.

Mr Medvedev’s decree, published on Kremlin website, lists the S-300 among military items which must not be exported to Iran under the fourth round of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council on Iran over its nuclear programme.

. September 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Was Stuxnet built to attack Iran’s nuclear program?

As experts learn about the worm, some say that Iran’s Bushehr reactor was the likely target

By Robert McMillan, IDG News Service

A highly sophisticated computer worm that has spread through Iran, Indonesia and India was built to destroy operations at one target: possibly Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor.

That’s the emerging consensus of security experts who have examined the Stuxnet worm. In recent weeks, they’ve broken the cryptographic code behind the software and taken a look at how the worm operates in test environments. Researchers studying the worm all agree that Stuxnet was built by a very sophisticated and capable attacker — possibly a nation state — and it was designed to destroy something big.

Though it was first developed more than a year ago, Stuxnet was discovered in July 2010, when a Belarus-based security company discovered the worm on computers belonging to an Iranian client. Since then it has been the subject of ongoing study by security researchers who say they’ve never seen anything like it before. Now, after months of private speculation, some of the researchers who know Stuxnet best say that it may have been built to sabotage Iran’s nukes.

. September 22, 2010 at 12:27 pm

“Experts had first thought that Stuxnet was written to steal industrial secrets — factory formulas that could be used to build counterfeit products. But Langner found something quite different. The worm actually looks for very specific Siemens settings — a kind of fingerprint that tells it that it has been installed on a very specific Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) device — and then it injects its own code into that system.

Langner is set to present his findings at a closed-door security conference in Maryland this week, which will also feature a technical discussion from Siemens engineers. Langner said he wasn’t yet ready to speak to a reporter at length (“the fact of the matter is this stuff is so bizarre that I have to make up my mind how to explain this to the public,” he said via e-mail) but others who have examined his data say that it shows that whoever wrote Stuxnet clearly had a specific target in mind. “It’s looking for specific things in specific places in these PLC devices. And that would really mean that it’s designed to look for a specific plant,” said Dale Peterson, CEO of Digital Bond.

This specific target may well have been Iran’s Bushehr reactor, now under construction, Langner said in a blog posting. Bushehr reportedly experienced delays last year, several months after Stuxnet is thought to have been created, and according to screen shots of the plant posted by UPI, it uses the Windows-based Siemens PLC software targeted by Stuxnet.

One of the things that Langner discovered is that when Stuxnet finally identifies its target, it makes changes to a piece of Siemens code called Organizational Block 35. This Siemens component monitors critical factory operations — things that need a response within 100 milliseconds. By messing with Operational Block 35, Stuxnet could easily cause a refinery’s centrifuge to malfunction, but it could be used to hit other targets too, Byres said. “The only thing I can say is that it is something designed to go bang,” he said.”

. September 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm

“Now that everybody is getting the picture let’s try to make sense out of the findings. What do they tell us about the attack, the attackers, and the target?

1. This is sabotage. What we see is the manipulation of one specific process. The manipulations are hidden from the operators and maintenance engineers (we have the intercepts identified).

2. The attack involves heavy insider knowledge.

3. The attack combines an awful lot of skills — just think about the multiple 0day vulnerabilities, the stolen certificates etc. This was assembled by a highly qualified team of experts, involving some with specific control system expertise. This is not some hacker sitting in the basement of his parents house. To me, it seems that the resources needed to stage this attack point to a nation state.

4. The target must be of extremely high value to the attacker.

5. The forensics that we are getting will ultimately point clearly to the attacked process — and to the attackers. The attackers must know this. My conclusion is, they don’t care. They don’t fear going to jail.

6. Getting the forensics done is only a matter of time. Stuxnet is going to be the best studied piece of malware in history. We will even be able to do process forensics in the lab. Again, the attacker must know this. Therefore, the whole attack only makes sense within a very limited timeframe. After Stuxnet is analzyed, the attack won’t work any more. It’s a one-shot weapon. So we can conclude that the planned time of attack isn’t somewhen next year. I must assume that the attack did already take place. I am also assuming that it was successful. So let’s check where something blew up recently.”

. September 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm

“I want to comment on some of the more detailed aspects here, that were not fit for the more general audience of the FAZ, and also outline my reasoning, why I think stuxnet might have been targeted at the uranium centrifuges in Natanz, instead of Bushehr as guessed by others.

stuxnet is a so far not seen publicly class of nation-state weapons-grade attack software. It is using four different zero-day exploits, two stolen certificates to get proper insertion into the operating system and a really clever multi-stage propagation mechanism, starting with infected USB-sticks, ending with code insertion into Siemens S7 SPS industrial control systems. One of the Zero-Days is a USB-stick exploit named LNK that works seamlessly to infect the computer the stick is put into, regardless of the Windows operating system version – from the fossile Windows 2000 to the most modern and supposedly secure Windows 7.

The stuxnet software is exceptionally well written, it makes very very sure that nothing crashes, no outward signs of the infection can be seen and, above all, it makes pretty sure that its final payload, which manipulates parameters and code in the SPS computer is only executed if it is very certain to be on the right system. In other words: it is extremly targeted and constructed and build to be as side-effect free as humanly possible. Words used by reverse engineers working on the the thing are “After 10 years of reverse-engineering malware daily, I have never ever seen anything that comes even close to this”, and from another “This is what nation states build, if their only other option would be to go to war”.

There is further indication in the way stuxnet is actually working on the SPS-level. The current state of analysis seems to support the assumption, that the attack was meant to work synchronized and spread over many identical nodes. In a nuclear power plant, there are not many identical SPS-nodes, as there is a wide variety of subsystems of different kind. Compared to this, an enrichment centrifuge plant consists of thousands of identical units, arranged in serial patterns called cascades. Each of them is by necessity the same, as enrichment centrifuges are massively scaled by numbers. stuxnet would have infected each and every one, then triggering subtle of massive failures, depending on the choice of the attacker. To get an impression how the Natanz facility looks from the inside, Iranian President Ahamadinendjad has visited the place in April 2008.

So in summary, my guess is that stuxnet has been targeted at Natanz and that it achieved sucess in reducing the operational enrichment capability sucessfully.”

R.K. September 22, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Scary. The speculation about this worm being designed to attack the Iranian nuclear program could be wrong. Or, a bunch of planes with satellite-guided bombs may no longer be the preferred way of delaying the emergence of a nuclear power.

. September 22, 2010 at 1:21 pm

“Langner zeroes in on Stuxnet’s ability to “fingerprint” the computer system it infiltrates to determine whether it is the precise machine the attack-ware is looking to destroy. If not, it leaves the industrial computer alone. It is this digital fingerprinting of the control systems that shows Stuxnet to be not spyware, but rather attackware meant to destroy, Langner says.

Stuxnet’s ability to autonomously and without human assistance discriminate among industrial computer systems is telling. It means, says Langner, that it is looking for one specific place and time to attack one specific factory or power plant in the entire world.

“Stuxnet is the key for a very specific lock – in fact, there is only one lock in the world that it will open,” Langner says in an interview. “The whole attack is not at all about stealing data but about manipulation of a specific industrial process at a specific moment in time. This is not generic. It is about destroying that process.”

So far, Stuxnet has infected at least 45,000 industrial control systems around the world, without blowing them up – although some victims in North America have experienced some serious computer problems, Eric Byres, a Canadian expert, told the Monitor. Most of the victim computers, however, are in Iran, Pakistan, India, and Indonesia. Some systems have been hit in Germany, Canada, and the US, too. Once a system is infected, Stuxnet simply sits and waits – checking every five seconds to see if its exact parameters are met on the system. When they are, Stuxnet is programmed to activate a sequence that will cause the industrial process to self-destruct, Langner says.”

Tristan September 22, 2010 at 1:53 pm

“Israel Is A Hideous Entity In the Middle East Which Will Undoubtedly Be Annihilated”

By the standard of the middle-east, Israel is not particularly hideous. But, by any basic moral standard, it, as well as just about every other state, is hideous – in that it doesn’t fulfill the basic conditions of enabling all its citizens or subjects to fulfill free and meaningful lives.

Will it be annihilated? Well, it depends what you mean by “annihilated” – if “Israel” is understood as a racial Jewish state, then every liberal democrat should be in favour of its annihilation. If it means the annihilation of its people, its infrastructure, or any groups within it, then this is certainly not desirable – and what might lead to it is an empirical issue. The current ramping up of tensions on the part of different actors could lead to the partial destruction (in the 2nd sense of annihilation) of any state in the middle east.

The serious force for peace in the region is the Arab Peace Initiative. The serious block against peace is US support for Israel’s rejection of that initiative.

Milan September 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is often represented as an extremist and a provocateur without a lot of power. It is quite significant if Ayatollah Khamenei – who is assumed to really hold power in Iran – also favours the destruction of Israel.

As for the Stuxnet worm, it is definitely scary. Using software to cause a nuclear facility to malfunction could be as dangerous to those nearby as an airstrike against the facility. More so, perhaps, since defences against conventional attacks are probably useless against such cyber attacks.

. September 22, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Colin Powell says no Iran strike likely

By ANNE GEARAN (AP) – 3 days ago

WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says neither the U.S. nor Israel is likely to launch a military strike on Iran anytime soon.

Powell, who was also once the top U.S. military officer, says he doesn’t think “the stars are lining up” for an attack on Iran’s known or suspected nuclear sites. The U.S. accuses Iran of hiding plans to build a bomb; Iran denies that.

Tristan September 23, 2010 at 2:56 am

“It is quite significant if Ayatollah Khamenei – who is assumed to really hold power in Iran – also favours the destruction of Israel.”

Well, if we look at what Khamenei actually says:

“Palestinian refugees should return and Muslims, Christians and Jews could choose a government for themselves, excluding immigrant Jews.”
http://archives.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/meast/12/15/mideast.iran.reut/

We see that he does not favour the violent destruction of Israel – but the expulsion of those who have immigrated under racist immigration laws, and the return of those who have been pushed out by racist colonial policies. We might not agree with this policy – but it is a far cry from the alarmist “Iran will blow up Israel with a nuke” talk.

. September 24, 2010 at 10:34 am
. September 24, 2010 at 11:24 am

A cyber-missile aimed at Iran?
Sep 24th 2010, 13:32 by T.S.

THE internet is abuzz this week with speculation about Stuxnet, a “groundbreaking” computer worm that attacks industrial-control systems. Put that way, it doesn’t sound very exciting. But the possibility that it might have been aimed at one set of industrial-control systems in particular—those inside Iranian nuclear facilities—has prompted one security expert to describe Stuxnet as a “cyber-missile”, designed to seek out and destroy a particular target. Its unusual sophistication, meanwhile, has prompted speculation that it is the work of a well-financed team working for a nation state, rather than a group of rogue hackers trying to steal industrial secrets or cause trouble. This, in turn, has led to suggestions that Israel, known for its high-tech prowess and (ahem) deep suspicion of Iran’s nuclear programme, might be behind it. But it is difficult to say how much truth there is in this juicy theory.

The facts are these. Stuxnet first came to light in June, when it was identified by VirusBlokAda, a security firm based in Belarus. The following month Siemens, a German industrial giant, warned its customers that their “supervisory control and data acquisition” (SCADA) management systems were vulnerable to the worm. Specifically, it targets a piece of Siemens software, called WinCC, which runs on Microsoft Windows. For security reasons such systems are usually not connected to the internet. But Stuxnet spreads via USB memory sticks, or key drives. When an infected memory stick is plugged into a computer, the Stuxnet software checks to see if WinCC is running. If it is, it tries to log in, install a backdoor control system and contact a server in Malaysia for instructions. If it cannot find a copy of WinCC, it looks for other USB devices and tries to copy itself onto them. It can also spread across local networks via shared folders and print spoolers. (Here are the gory details.)

At first it was assumed that Stuxnet was designed to conduct industrial espionage or allow hackers to hold companies to ransom by threatening to shut down vital systems. But it has some unusual characteristics. WinCC is a reasonably obscure SCADA management system. Hackers hoping to target as many companies as possible would have focused on other, more popular, control systems. And according to Ralph Langner, a German security expert who published his own analysis last week, Stuxnet examines the system it is running on and, only if certain very specific characteristics are found, shuts down specific processes. All this suggests that a particular system was being targeted.

. September 26, 2010 at 7:08 pm

In Mr Ahmadinejad’s view, Iran’s refusal to buckle under increasing international sanctions aimed at halting its progress towards becoming a nuclear power qualifies it as a world player on a level with the old enemy, the United States. Last month Iran passed its latest milestone with the fuelling of its first power-generating reactor, set up long ago by the Russians at Bushehr. Iran’s president has challenged Barack Obama to join him before the media for a “man to man” debate on “world issues” when the two attend the UN’s General Assembly in New York later this month. “

. September 27, 2010 at 9:31 am

Iranian nuclear facilities under “massive attack” by Stuxnet worm

The Iranian government agency that oversees the country’s nuclear facilities reported today that engineers are attempting to defend against “Stuxnet,” a Windows-specific worm attacking industrial plants throughout the nation. The malware exploits a Windows vulnerability to seek out and compromise industrial systems made by Siemens. It has also been spotted in other countries, but Iranian targets appear to be the most frequently compromised, by far. Affected nuclear sites in Iran include those the US believes are part of a nuclear weapons program.

. October 7, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Russia to repay Iran for cancelled missile order

Russia will pay back Iran’s downpayment on an order for a missile system after refusing to fulfil the contract, a top Russian official says.

The Kremlin last month banned the sale of the S-300 air defence system to Iran after it was outlawed by UN sanctions.

Sergei Chemezov, head of Russia’s state weapons exporter, said it had annulled the contract and would repay Iran’s $166m (£105m) advance payment.

But beyond that, he said, “we are not obliged to return another kopeck”.

“Of course, they are not very pleased. We do not have a choice,” he added.

Iranian officials have accused Moscow of breaching its contract and caving in to US pressure.

. October 13, 2010 at 1:36 pm

“Chinese companies have invested a staggering $120 billion in Iran’s energy sector over the past five years. Iran is already China’s number two oil supplier, accounting for up to 14 percent of its imports; and the Chinese energy giant Sinopec has committed an additional $6.5 billion to building oil refineries there. Due to harsh U.N.-imposed and American sanctions and years of economic mismanagement, however, the country lacks the high-tech know-how to provide for itself, and its industrial structure is in a shambles. The head of the National Iranian Oil Company, Ahmad Ghalebani, has publicly admitted that machinery and parts used in Iran’s oil production still have to be imported from China.

Sanctions can be a killer, slowing investment, increasing the cost of trade by over 20 percent, and severely constricting Tehran’s ability to borrow in global markets. Nonetheless, trade between China and Iran grew by 35 percent in 2009 to $27 billion. So while the West has been slamming Iran with sanctions, embargos, and blockades, Iran has been slowly evolving as a crucial trade corridor for China — as well as Russia and energy-poor India. Unlike the West, they are all investing like crazy there because it’s easy to get concessions from the government; it’s easy and relatively cheap to build infrastructure; and being on the inside when it comes to Iranian energy reserves is a necessity for any country that wants to be a crucial player in Pipelineistan, that contested chessboard of crucial energy pipelines over which much of the New Great Game in Eurasia takes place. Undoubtedly, the leaders of all three countries are offering thanks to whatever gods they care to worship that Washington continues to make it so easy (and lucrative) for them.

Few in the U.S. may know that last year Saudi Arabia — now (re)arming to the teeth, courtesy of Washington — offered to supply the Chinese with the same amount of oil the country currently imports from Iran at a much cheaper price. But Beijing, for whom Iran is a key long-term strategic ally, scotched the deal.

As if Iran’s structural problems weren’t enough, the country has done little to diversify its economy beyond oil and natural gas exports in the past 30 years; inflation’s running at more than 20 percent; unemployment at more than 20 percent; and young, well-educated people are fleeing abroad, a major brain drain for that embattled land. And don’t think that’s the end of its litany of problems. It would like to be a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) — the multi-layered economic/military cooperation union that is a sort of Asian response to NATO — but is only an official SCO observer because the group does not admit any country under U.N. sanctions. Tehran, in other words, would like some great power protection against the possibility of an attack from the U.S. or Israel. As much as Iran may be on the verge of becoming a far more influential player in the Central Asian energy game thanks to Russian and Chinese investment, it’s extremely unlikely that either of those countries would actually risk war against the U.S. to “save” the Iranian regime. “

. October 19, 2010 at 11:02 am

“Writing from southern Lebanon in the mid-to-late 1970s, during the continuing war of attrition between Israel and the PLO and at a time when the country’s long-relegated Shiite minority was just beginning to get itself organized, I noticed the presence of an almost unremarked token force of Iranian troops. These had been dispatched by the Shah of Iran, who (as we tend to forget) was ever-mindful of his title Shadow of God and of his anointed role as protector of the Shiites. Commenting more presciently than I knew, I said that these soldiers would probably be needed back home before too long to safeguard the peacock throne.

At that time, it would have been entirely impossible to picture any Iranian head of state visiting multicultural Lebanon as a plenipotentiary and being feted all the way to within yelling distance of the Israeli border. Yet last week President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad managed this feat almost without effort. A man who has managed to escape serious inconvenience for his illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons and who has pitilessly repressed and cheated his own people can appear on neutral soil as the patron of the Party of God because his regime shares that party’s pitiless attitude toward the state of Israel and its biting contempt for all the Arab and Muslim “moderates” who would even consider a compromise with it.

In a way, an even more dramatic measure of the progress of Hezbollah and its patrons involves a comparison with only a few years ago. In February 2005, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was blown to shreds in broad daylight, his murder capping a series of assassinations of politicians and journalists who had been critical of the Syrian presence in their country. So immense was the democratic popular revulsion against this criminality that Damascus was compelled to withdraw its occupying forces, and an international tribunal was convened to investigate the complicity of the Syrian Baathists, and by implication their holy Hezbollah proxy, and in turn that proxy’s other supporter in Tehran. Aided, in my opinion, by the momentum created by the fall of Saddam Hussein, and encouraged even by French support for the relevant U.N. resolutions, the local prestige of the United States became very high.

Now mark the sequel. The leaders of all other parties and factions in Lebanon, from Christian to Druze, cringe with fear when the name of Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, is mentioned. The once-vaunted tribunal, long stalled, has been pre-empted by highly credible threats of violence if its belated findings turn out to be awkward for Syria or Hezbollah. The son of the murdered Hariri, like the son of the previously murdered Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt, has been forced to “make nice” in the most degrading fashion with the capo Bashar Assad, whose family almost certainly slew the heads of theirs. And the Party of God possesses two vetoes, one over the outcome of any Lebanese election it does not win and another on the timing of the next war with Israel to be launched from Lebanese territory.”

. October 21, 2010 at 9:09 am

Eyeing Iran, US details $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia

Israel is unlikely to object to the arms sale of up to 84 new F-15s and 1,000 ‘bunker-buster bombs’ to Saudi Arabia that analysts say is meant to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East.

The US State Department officially announced Wednesday plans to sell up to $60 billion in advanced military aircraft to Saudi Arabia, in what experts call an effort to bolster regional powers against Iran.

The Wall Street Journal, which broke details of the sale in early September, reports the largest-ever US overseas arms deal will include authorization for the Saudis to purchase up to 84 new F-15s and upgrades to Saudi Arabia’s existing fleet of 70 F-15s, as well as new helicopters and other weapons.

While the arms sale has been known about for months and been under negotiation since 2007, Wednesday’s announcement revealed that it would include up to 1,000 one-ton bunker-buster bombs, which would “enhance the capability of Saudi Arabia’s air force to bomb hardened bunkers and tunnels, such as those that the West believes are used by Iran to hide nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” reports the Journal.

. October 22, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Iran’s central bank soon intervened, injecting enough dollars to steady the market. Yet the brief panic revealed that, for all the bluster of their leaders, ordinary Iranians are increasingly worried and indeed hurt by sanctions. These now take many forms, from an outright ban on the import of Persian carpets to America that took effect last month to the targeting of individual officials for alleged human-rights abuses, the stopping of Iranian operations by big multinational firms and a growing reluctance by shipping and insurance companies to service Iran-bound cargoes.

Even taken together, the sanctions are unlikely to bring the world’s fifth-biggest crude-oil exporter to its knees. The loopholes remain big enough, and the attraction of Iran’s 75m-strong market strong enough, to keep goods and money flowing. Although South Korea joined Japan last month in slapping sanctions on a range of Iranian banks and firms, bringing it into line with other American allies, it remains keen to protect trade with Iran that topped $10 billion last year, so it quickly signed a deal to let Korean and Iranian traders settle accounts via special facilities in two Korean banks and in Korean currency. The Asian powerhouse, China, sees no need for such sleight of hand, and has rapidly expanded its share of Iran’s market, as has neighbouring Turkey.

The sanctions have also stemmed the flow of much-needed foreign investment and skills, particularly to the energy sector that accounts for 80% of Iran’s export earnings. In recent months five large European oil companies that have long kept toeholds in Iran, in the hope of one day taking advantage of its vast unexploited potential, especially in natural gas, have promised to pull out for good. Inpex, Japan’s biggest oil-exploration firm, says it is likely to suspend operations in Iran. In June South Korea’s GS Engineering and Construction cancelled a $1.2 billion gas-processing project. Largely as a result of such setbacks, Iran’s oil ministry is unlikely to hit its targets of raising oil-production capacity by 35% by 2015 and launching exports of liquefied natural gas, concludes a recent report by Nomura, a Japanese stockbroker. Instead, oil output is likely to fall by 15% and exports by as much as 25%.

. October 26, 2010 at 11:13 am

Iran loads fuel into the Bushehr nuclear reactor

ran has begun loading fuel into the core of its first nuclear power plant, state television has reported.

It marks a key stage in the firing-up of the Bushehr plant, which is set to produce electricity from 2011.

Russia will operate the facility in southern Iran, supplying its nuclear fuel and taking away the nuclear waste.

Iran’s separate uranium enrichment programme has alarmed Western nations, who distrust Iran’s claims it is solely for peaceful purposes.

Iran has been subject to four rounds of UN sanctions because of its nuclear programme.

Experts say that as long as the Bushehr plant is Russian-operated and supervised by the UN nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), there is little chance of proliferation.

. February 13, 2011 at 9:41 pm

The Americans are caught between two conflicting desires: to stabilise Afghanistan and to destabilise its western neighbour. They endorse the idea of a regional solution to Afghanistan’s problems yet hit Iran with sanctions because of its nuclear programme. The Iranians, for their part, mull a regional conference on Afghanistan, an empty gesture, for the Americans would not attend. As often with outsiders, helping the Afghans may not actually be the main point.

. February 21, 2011 at 11:52 pm

Four questions will decide the future for our region,” he said. “First of all, how will the war in Afghanistan turn out? Second, what happens when Iran has the [nuclear] bomb? What are the implications? Three, what is the significance of Islamists taking over Lebanon? Four, where’s Turkey going?”

As for the war in Afghanistan, Fine says, “nobody cares about the Afghans. The issue is Pakistan—168 million people, a very heterogeneous, fragile society which the Taliban and al-Qaeda have been trying to rip apart by stirring up a civil war. And nobody would have cared about that, except they have 165 nuclear warheads. What the Taliban and al-Qaeda want to do is take over. You don’t have to be a great expert in arms control to understand what that would imply,” Fine adds.

“Second thing, Iran and the bomb. Would they throw a bomb at Israel the next day? The answer is no. They’re radical but they’re pragmatic. And they know what the reaction would be. Fighting to the last sheik in Lebanon and fighting to the last Palestinian in Gaza is one thing”—Iran is widely believed to have proxy regimes among Hezbollah and Hamas, which fought quick, nasty, losing fights against Israel in 2006 and 2009—”but sacrificing Iran itself is another issue. Why do they want the bomb? As an insurance policy. The revolution is a total flop and the only guarantee that can keep it afloat is the bomb. They’ve got a wonderful example, which you know very well, which is North Korea. They get away with everything. Nobody’s daring to touch them because they have the bomb. That’s exactly what we’re afraid of with Iran.”

As for Lebanon, other powers have tried to control that country before, including Israel and Syria. They soon found they couldn’t. Hezbollah won’t have any more success, Fine said, and in seeking a scapegoat will turn again against Israel. It would be like the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, but more violent.

“Turkey? Doesn’t look good,” Fine says. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has seemed an enlightened leader for a large, Muslim democracy. Fine believes that’s just about over. “At the end of the day he has a very, very clear objective of moving eastwards. He’s finished with Europe. The Europeans will never admit Turkey into the union in the next 500 years. And Turkey is becoming very dangerous.”

Tris February 22, 2011 at 8:44 am

“Why do they want the bomb? As an insurance policy. The revolution is a total flop and the only guarantee that can keep it afloat is the bomb. ”

Sure, because the bomb isn’t important to prevent imperial invasion, but it is important to secure the government against it’s own people? This analysis is pathetic.

. March 6, 2011 at 2:43 am

If you’ve never been in the middle of a fight, it’s easy to lose sight of what happens after you take your shot. In real life the other guy always gets a shot. Always. Sometimes more than one. And the question is, what will that be like for you? How will it feel, the fist or the knife or the bullet, when it smashes into your face and your life? Do you have any idea, really? If you haven’t been through it, I can guarantee that it won’t be at all like what you expect. It may not kill you, but it will change you in ways you simply can’t anticipate.

Which is why I reserve a special distrust for people who advocate violent solutions from their safe perches at think tanks and editorial boards and radio syndicates. Rush Limbaugh thinks we should assassinate Julian Assange. David Broder wants us to bomb Iran. John Bolton thinks we should go after North Korea. Big, bold ideas from men who would probably, if punched in the gut, curl up on the floor and cry like tiny babies.

Look, I’m not saying that getting beaten up somehow, in itself, makes you a wiser and better person. All fighting experience really means, in practical terms, is that your vision tends to blur at inopportune moments and the bones in your hands ache every time it rains. But on another level, it means that at least you’ve personally absorbed the cost of violence.

. May 12, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Iran gets new nuclear fuel from Russia for its first nuclear power plant
 
   TEHRAN, Iran _ Iran has received a new shipment of nuclear fuel from Russia for its first nuclear power plant, the official IRNA news agency reported Wednesday, a key step following the plant’s recent startup.
 
   The Russian-built Bushehr plant in southern Iran has been on the fringes of the controversy surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. The United States and its allies suspected a connection between the plant and what the West believes are Iranian attempts to develop a nuclear weapon _ a charge denied by Tehran.
 
   Hamid Khadem Qaemi, spokesman for Iran’s nuclear agency, said Russia delivered a total of 33 tons (30 metric tons) by plane over the last week for Bushehr. The amount is meant for the plant’s second year of operation, IRNA quoted Qaemi as saying.
 
   Bushehr’s startup was repeatedly postponed and recently, foreign intelligence reports said the plant’s control systems were penetrated by Stuxnet, a malicious computer software.
 
   Iran maintained that Stuxnet was only found on several laptops belonging to plant employees and didn’t affect the facility. Tehran later blamed the U.S. and Israel of being behind Stuxnet, saying the worm was part of a covert plan by Iran’s enemies to sabotage its nuclear program.
 

Anonymous June 8, 2011 at 8:22 am

Iran nuclear head: Tehran to triple production of higher enriched uranium, use new centrifuges

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran will soon install more advanced centrifuges at its new uranium enrichment site, the country’s nuclear chief said Wednesday, underscoring Tehran’s continued defiance in the face of international sanctions imposed over its controversial nuclear program.

Vice President Fereidoun Abbasi also announced that Iran plans to triple its output of the higher enriched uranium in 2011 and move the entire program to the new, secretly-built facility.

. June 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Revolutionary Guard website praises idea of testing nuke weapon

VIENNA, Austria _ An article praising the idea of Iran testing a nuclear bomb on a Revolutionary Guard website is raising alarms in western intelligence circles, which interpret it as evidence of strong backing in the Islamic Republic for such a move.

Entitled ”The Day After the First Iranian Nuclear Test _ a Normal Day,” the article coincides with other public or suspected activities that the United States and its allies see as indications that Tehran wants to possess atomic arms.

”The day after the first Iranian nuclear test for us Iranians will be an ordinary day, but in the eyes of many of us, it will have a new shine, from the power and dignity of the nation,” says the article published on the Gerdab site run by the Revolutionary Guard.

A translation that was vetted by The Associated Press was provided by a Western official who asked for anonymity because of the nature of his information.

Iran denies nuclear weapons intentions _ while moving consistently closer to such a capacity.

An International Atomic Energy Agency report last month listed ”high-voltage firing and instrumentation for explosives testing over long distances and possibly underground” as one of seven ”areas of concern” that Iran may be conducting clandestine nuclear weapons work.

Adding to concerns Wednesday, the country’s nuclear chief announced that his country will soon install more advanced equipment at a fortified underground site to allow it to enrich uranium faster and to higher levels.

Iran says it wants to enrich only to power a future network of reactors. But over the past two years it has started to enrich uranium to a level higher than what is needed for nuclear fuel and closer to the grade used to make the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

Iran to move its most sensitive nuclear equipment to bunker
WASHINGTON POST

TEHRAN Iran is moving its production of higher-enriched uranium to a mountain bunker, where it plans to triple output by using more advanced centrifuges, state television reported Wednesday.

Iran says the announcement is a response to a letter Friday from Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which reiterated concerns about the possible military dimensions of the Islamic republic’s nuclear energy program.

Our answer is increased work in the sphere of nuclear technology and know-how, Iranian nuclear chief Fereydoun Abbasi told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

Iran’s nuclear officials had signaled previously that the country’s most sensitive nuclear equipment would be moved to a site inside a mountain. But the predicted sharp increase in the production of uranium enriched to nearly 20 percent is a new development and will further heighten tensions between Iran and world powers distrustful of the nature of the country’s nuclear program.

Currently, Iran is enriching uranium at its Natanz site, where the bulk of the output is nuclear fuel enriched to 3.5 percent suitable for powering reactors that generate electricity. The new location, named Fordo, is dug deep into a mountain next to a military base near the city of Qom. It was long kept secret but is now being monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog. The IAEA says there are no centrifuges in the mountain bunker at present.

. June 14, 2011 at 9:48 am

Editorial
What the Inspectors Say

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/13/opinion/13mon1.html?hp

Iran continues to stonewall about its illicit nuclear activities. The International Atomic Energy Agency isn’t falling for it. Nobody should.

The agency’s latest report is chilling. While Tehran claims that its program has solely peaceful ends, it lists seven activities with potential “military dimensions.” That includes “activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile”; new evidence that Iran has worked on a highly sophisticated nuclear triggering technology; and research on missile warhead designs – namely “studies involving the removal of the conventional high explosive payload from the warhead of the Shahab 3 missile and replacing it with a spherical nuclear payload.”

After the Iraq debacle, all claims must be examined closely. The I.A.E.A. has a strong record – in the run-up to the war it insisted there was no evidence that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program – and no ax to grind. There are still more questions to be answered.

American intelligence agencies, rightly chastened by their failure in Iraq, concluded in 2007 that Tehran had halted the weapons portion of its nuclear program four years earlier. United States officials now say that Iran’s massive “Manhattan Project” ended then but that many of the same scientists are still engaged in weapons-related pursuits. Meanwhile, Yukiya Amano, the head of the I.A.E.A., said in a news conference last week that “the activities in Iran related to the possible military dimension seem to have been continued until quite recently.” More explanation is needed.

Tehran insists the agency’s allegations are fabricated. At the same time, it is refusing to answer the inspectors’ questions about possible work on weapons designs and is blocking their access to sites, equipment and documents. Five years after the United Nations Security Council ordered it to halt uranium enrichment, Iran still has thousands of centrifuges spinning at its Natanz plant.

. February 15, 2012 at 11:29 am

The American intelligence and security establishment had worries of its own about Iran—and about Obama. The generals and spies fretted that the new president might put an end to an elaborate shadow war they had been waging. The Bush administration, together with Israeli counterparts, had engaged in a supersecret campaign to set back Iran’s nuclear development. The program involved what are known in the spy world as “delaying actions” or “foiling operations.” Agents posing as black-market vendors would sell to Iranian buyers nuclear-use items designed to fail under high stress, or items with tracking devices to reveal the locations of secret labs. Software engineers worked to develop sophisticated cyber-warfare programs that could penetrate the computers in Iran’s nuclear plants and cause harm to vital equipment like centrifuges. The spies didn’t want any of that put on hold, and the CIA was particularly worried that Iranian assets they’d worked so hard to cultivate would fade away.

. March 14, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Even if Iran were to gain a weapon only for its own protection, others in the region might then feel they need weapons too. Saudi Arabia has said it will arm—and Pakistan is thought ready to supply a bomb in exchange for earlier Saudi backing of its own programme. Turkey and Egypt, the other regional powers, might conclude they have to join the nuclear club. Elsewhere, countries such as Brazil might see nuclear arms as vital to regional dominance, or fear that their neighbours will.

Some experts argue that nuclear-armed states tend to behave responsibly. But imagine a Middle East with five nuclear powers riven by rivalry and sectarian feuds. Each would have its fingers permanently twitching over the button, in the belief that the one that pressed first would be left standing. Iran’s regime gains legitimacy by demonising foreign powers. The cold war seems stable by comparison with a nuclear Middle East—and yet America and the Soviet Union were sometimes scarily close to Armageddon.

. May 16, 2012 at 7:35 am

Iran hangs ’Mossad agent’ for scientist killing
REUTERS

Iran has hanged a man it said was an agent for Israeli intelligence agency Mossad whom it convicted of killing one of its nuclear scientists in 2010, Iranian state media reported on Tuesday.

Tehran has accused Israel and the United States of assassinating four Iranian scientists since 2010 in order to sabotage its nuclear program which the West suspects is hiding Iran’s attempt to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

While Israel has declined to comment on the killings, it regards Iran’s nuclear programme as an existential threat and has threatened military action against Tehran. Washington has denied any U.S. role.

Twenty-four year old Majid Jamali Fashi was hanged at Tehran’s Evin Prison after being sentenced to death in August last year for the murder of Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, Iran’s state news agency quoted the central prosecutor’s office as saying. It said he had confessed to the crime.

Ali-Mohammadi was killed in January 2010 when a remote-controlled bomb attached to a motorcycle outside his home in Tehran went off.

. December 8, 2013 at 7:48 pm

This outperformance was witnessed at first hand by Siegfried Hecker, a Stanford professor who once ran America’s Los Alamos National Laboratory. In November 2010 the North Koreans invited him to Yongbyon, the site of its plutonium nuclear reactor. They showed him a facility for enriching uranium which they said would serve a civilian purpose. Dr Hecker’s first look through the windows was “stunning”, he wrote. “We saw a modern, clean centrifuge plant of more than a thousand centrifuges all neatly aligned and plumbed below us.”

Another expert impressed by North Korea’s nuclear advances was Abdul Qadeer Khan, the godfather of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. He heaps scorn on Libya’s efforts but reserves praise for the North Koreans. They showed him the “perfect nuclear weapon”, he wrote, “technologically more advanced than ours”.

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