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September 4, 2015 / 20 Elul, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Parchin’

Sen. Cotton to Visit Israel for More Ammunition against Iran Deal

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Sen. Tom Cotton, one of the loudest voices against the nuclear deal with Iran, will arrive in Israel on Sunday for a week-long visit that can be assumed is aimed at arming him with more ammunition to try to shoot down the nuclear Iran agreement in the Senate.

The Israel government announced:

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) will be visiting Israel from Sunday, August 30, to Saturday, September 5, 2015.  During his trip to Israel, the Senator will be updated on strategic and diplomatic issues, as well as other major developments in the region.

Senator Cotton, in office as of January 2015, serves on the Armed Services, Intelligence, and Banking committees.

Updating him on “strategic and diplomatic issues” just before Congress returns from a summer recess with the Iran deal the number one item on the agenda means that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will send Sen. Cotton back with a suitcase full of arguments to try to win a veto-proof majority against the deal when it comes for a vote.

Sen. Cotton was behind the controversial letter that he and several senators sent to Iran to “inform” it that a nuclear deal would not be binding on the next president.

Earlier this month, he told Israeli reporters that the Obama administration has not made it clear to Iran that it could use force to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. He then said that the U.S. Armed Forces could bomb Iran’s nuclear program “back to zero.”

Sen. Corker stated:

You can destroy facilities. I don’t think any military expert in the United States or elsewhere would say the U.S. military is not capable to setting Iran’s nuclear facilities back to day zero,

Can we eliminate it forever? No, because any advanced industrialized country can develop nuclear weapons in four to seven years, from zero. But we can set them back to day zero.

That is music to the ears of Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the timing of next week’s visit is not coincidental.

The Prime Minister and President Barack Obama are desperately campaigning against and for the deal, respectively.

Media continue to report more evidence that the deal is full of holes and that Iran already is has taken moves to get around it, such as the report Thursday that it has built an addition to its Parchin nuclear facility.

However, party loyalty usually is paramount to intellectual honesty. New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer came out against the deal and promptly faced a campaign prevent him from becoming the next party leader in the Senate to succeed retiring Sen. Harry Reid, who backs the deal.

Even Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker admits that Obama will win. He told The Tennessean:

Understand that at this moment it looks very unlikely that we’ll have a veto-proof majority to disapprove, but I know we’re going to have a bipartisan majority that will disapprove.

The Hill reported that President Obama lacks only five out of 15 undecided Democratic senators to prevent a veto-proof majority against the agreement.

State Dept Spox: No Worries, Parchin has No Nuclear Dimensions

Friday, August 28th, 2015

A report by the entity responsible for ensuring the peaceful development of nuclear energy worldwide and the one upon which the world depends for monitoring Iran’s nuclear activity revealed that over the past few months Iran has been working on and adding to a building at its Parchin site.

Parchin is an Iranian military complex located southeast of Tehran. It is the focus of speculation regarding possible testing of weaponization of nuclear material by the Iranians.

A November, 2011 International Atomic Energy Agency report revealed satellite imagery of certain structures and chambers or vessels which indicate that Iran conducted various activities consistent with nuclear blast assessments.

But the U.S. State Department, according to its spokesperson during a public briefing on Thursday, Aug. 27, has already conclusively determined – or at least concluded – that no such activity has taken or is taking place. Not to worry.

The confidential IAEA report issued on Thursday, Aug. 27, obtained by Reuters, said: “Since (our) previous report (in May), at a particular location at the Parchin site, the agency has continued to observe, through satellite imagery, the presence of vehicles, equipment, and probable construction materials. In addition, a small extension to an existing building” appeared to have been built.

The report was generated as part of the IAEA’s inquiry into possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear activity. Such “PMD”s, as it is known, were a serious point of discussion in the lead-up to the July 14th Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed by the U.S. and the other member nations of the P5+1.

Many expressed great disappointment that there is nothing included in the JCPOA regarding PMDs. That issue, along with inspections of Parchin itself, are covered by the two side agreements which are exclusively between Iran and the IAEA.

According to Reuters, the IAEA says any activities Iran has undertaken at Parchin since U.N. inspectors last visited in 2005 could jeopardize its ability to verify Western intelligence, suggesting Tehran carried out tests there relevant to nuclear bomb detonations more than a decade ago. Iran has dismissed the intelligence as “fabricated.”

“It’s funny that the IAEA claims there has been a small extension to a building … Iran doesn’t need to ask for the IAEA’s permission to do construction work on its sites,” Reza Najafi, Iran’s envoy to the agency, was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency.

State Department spokesman John Kirby‘s response to a media question about building at Parchin not only echoed Najafi’s response, but put the rabbit in the hat. Nukes? What nukes?

Here are the question and answer from the briefing:

QUESTION: There was just one element I wanted to ask you about. I think the report – without getting too much into the details, I mean, it confirmed broad compliance. But there was some mention of the Parchin base again and about construction or other activity that was going on there. Independent of the report, is that something the United States has noted and is also concerned about?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’d say, without getting into the specifics here – as I said, we’re not going to do that – I think it’s important to remember that when you’re talking about a site like Parchin, you’re talking about a conventional military site, not a nuclear site. So there wouldn’t be any IAEA or other restrictions on new construction at that site were they to occur. (emphasis added)

In other words, Kirby, representing the official position of the State Department, has declared that Parchin is simply a regular military site and, despite earlier reports by the IAEA and believed by many analysts, there is no and was no PMD activity there at all.

Not to worry.

IAEA Says More Money Needed to Implement IranDeal

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency has said it will need more money to fulfill the requirements of the nuclear agreement signed by the U.S.-led delegation of world powers with Iran.

Speaking in Vienna to Reuters, IAEA director Yukiya Amano said that under the plan, the annual cost to the agency will be $10.63 million (9.2 million euros) – a sum he has asked member states to provide.

The 800,000 euros per month the agency has already received will be gone by the end of September, Amano said. The funds were made available by member states via discretionary funding contributions, he said.

The White House, meanwhile, has praised the UN nuclear agency for its quality safeguards and standards in developing its inspection plan for Iran’s Parchin military site.

“The fact is that the arrangements between Iran and the IAEA are sound and consistent with the IAEA’s long-established practice,” White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said Monday at a briefing with journalists.

According to a secret agreement with the IAEA and Iran revealed last week by The Associated Press, it will be Iranian inspectors who are authorized to inspect Iran’s Parchin military complex.

Parchin, located about 20 miles southeast of Tehran, has been suspected of being used in the development of a nuclear weapon.

According to “Separate Arrangement II” Iran decides which photos and videos are “safe” enough to pass to UN inspectors and which are not, “taking into account military concerns.”

At a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Commitee, Amano refused to confirm the IAEA would have physical access inside Parchin.

Former deputy IAEA director-general Olli Heinonen told the AP he “could think of no similar concession with any other country.”

Bibi, Iran’s Nukes, and Military Force in a Changed Middle East

Friday, January 30th, 2015

{Originally posted on author’s website, Liberty Unyielding}

Over at The Atlantic, there’s a comprehensive worldview being built on the question of whether there’s a “military solution” to the Iran nuclear problem, and how Benjamin Netanyahu has Israel positioned vis-à-vis the problem in general.

Jeffrey Goldberg thinks Netanyahu has Israel positioned very poorly indeed.

James Fallows’ conclusion, agreeing with Goldberg on the worldview, is encapsulated in a quote from a war-game director and retired Air Force officer in 2004:

“After all this effort, I am left with two simple sentences for policymakers,” our main war-game designer, retired Air Force colonel Sam Gardiner, said at the end of our 2004 exercise. “You have no military solution for the issues of Iran. And you have to make diplomacy work.” That was true then, and truer now.

I don’t doubt at all the sincere belief Fallows has in this conclusion.  But if you unpack the work that led to it 2004, you find that it was based on a fatally flawed premise. (More on that in a moment.)

Moreover, the situation of 2004 no longer obtains.  That means that the calculations of two major players must now be different.  One is Israel; the other is the United States.  The calculations I refer to include not merely the consequences of each party’s actions, and whether the parties’ capabilities are sufficient for the necessary task.  They also include what the threat has become, and the fact that it is graver now than in 2004.

Don’t make assumptions about what I mean by that.  It may not be what you think.

Why the 2004 conclusion about “military force” is flawed

I’ll begin by explaining my point that the premise of the 2004 war game sponsored by The Atlantic was flawed.  There are several criticisms that can be levied, but this is the one that matters most.  (And I don’t mean to impugn the care and diligence that went into the war game.  You’ll see, however, why I found it fatally flawed at the time – before I was an active blogger – and still do.)

To illustrate what I’m talking about, I’ll quote a key passage from the 2004 war-game summary.  Several players were assembled to act out the roles of the Principals Committee of the National Security Council, and James Fallows narrates the events of the game:

The President wanted to understand the options he actually had for a military approach to Iran. The general and his staff had prepared plans for three escalating levels of involvement: a punitive raid against key Revolutionary Guard units, to retaliate for Iranian actions elsewhere, most likely in Iraq; a pre-emptive air strike on possible nuclear facilities; and a “regime change” operation, involving the forcible removal of the mullahs’ government in Tehran. Either of the first two could be done on its own, but the third would require the first two as preparatory steps. In the real world the second option—a pre-emptive air strike against Iranian nuclear sites—is the one most often discussed. Gardiner said that in his briefing as war-game leader he would present versions of all three plans based as closely as possible on current military thinking. He would then ask the principals to recommend not that an attack be launched but that the President authorize the preparatory steps to make all three possible.

The fatal flaw here is posing the problem set by the president as one of creating options for a “military approach” to Iran.  That’s why the options end up being, respectively, useless, vague, and appalling.

Asking what a “military approach to Iran” would look like is asking the wrong question.  The first question – the right question – is always what the objective is.  If you read through the war-game summary, I believe you’ll agree with me that no strategic objective was ever set for the players.  The three options outlined above imply three different objectives.  If I were the president, and those three options were presented to me, I would ask what could have possessed my staff to forward options one and three.

Fallows relates that the Principals Committee players spent most of their time thinking of reasons why option three was bad.  Of course they did.  But why they were even discussing it is the real question.

They spent very little time on option two, according to Fallows, which is the only option that would have fit the objective as most Americans understood it: to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons by inflicting destruction on her nuclear program.  This is his account of the time they gave to it:

The participants touched only briefly on the Osirak-style strike [i.e., option two] during the war game, but afterward most of them expressed doubt about its feasibility.

This is by no means the only reason to dispute the conclusion the war-gamers came to.  But it’s the most important one.  They were not asked to respond to a specific objective with options for accomplishing it.  In particular, they weren’t told to focus on the objective that was relevant and widely understood to be the potential purpose of military operations – and they didn’t focus on it!

They were asked, in the absence of a specific objective, to discuss some random options for using military force.  That tells us nothing about the efficacy of military force.  It tells us that the planning process asked the wrong question.*

Fast-forward to 2015

In 2015, we are no longer in the situation of 2004.  Three important conditions have changed since then.  The importance of these conditions can’t be overstated, in fact, because they change both what’s possible, and what matters.

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote the following on Tuesday (emphases below are added by James Fallows):

Whatever the case, the only other way for Netanyahu to stop Iran would be to convince the president of the United States, the leader of the nation that is Israel’s closest ally and most crucial benefactor, to confront Iran decisively. An Israeli strike could theoretically set back Iran’s nuclear program, but only the U.S. has the military capabilities to set back the program in anything approaching a semi-permanent way.

Fallows disagrees with him, invoking the 2004 war game to assert that “military force,” per se, just can’t get the job done:

Israel doesn’t have the military capacity to “stop” Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and neither does the United States, at least not in circumstances short of total war.

The key problem with working off of either of these premises, Goldberg’s or Fallows’, is that their framing is stuck in 2004.  Here are the three conditions that have changed since then:

(1)  The U.S. no longer has the conventional military capability to “set back Iran’s nuclear program in something approaching a semi-permanent way.”  This is a relative condition, and it’s because of the loss of readiness in our armed forces, independent of any other reason.

(2)  Iran’s nuclear program is considerably advanced from 2004, and setting it back has a different definition now.  This doesn’t mean it’s infeasible, but it does mean that no one now has the capability to use a conventional strike campaign to set Iran’s program back to where it was ca. 2004 or earlier.  A setback can only be to some much more advanced point in Iran’s progress.

(3)  Iran’s geopolitical posture in the Middle East has changed materially since 2004.  The regime’s intentions have never changed, but the facts on the ground about what territory Iran can use to menace her neighbors – as well as U.S. interests – have changed dramatically.

I’ll discuss each of these factors in turn.

Decline in U.S. military capabilities

Here is the thing to keep in mind about U.S. capabilities.  In 2004, it was correct to say that the capabilities we had were sufficient to contemplate destroying every Iranian facility related to the nuclear weapons program, using conventional means.  Not only did we have the weaponry; the weapon systems were in a readiness state high enough to be deployed and used.

There was a political question, certainly, about how hard we wanted to hit Iran.  There were a number of factors to consider, and valid reasons why it was not done.  But it was feasible to do it, with the arsenal we had readily available.

In 2015, we could no longer conduct that same attack: the attack that was necessary in 2004, against a smaller and less advanced nuclear program.  We don’t have the same assets available now, because our strike-fighters, in the Air Force and Navy, are unable to maintain the same level of force-wide readiness they could in 2004.  When they’re not deployed or within 3-5 months of deploying, our strike fleet aircrew and aircraft now fall to the lowest level of readiness, and can’t be “worked up” on a short timeline.

There are no extra ready squadrons to call on today, and fewer are routinely present in the CENTCOM area of responsibility than in 2004.  The same is true of aircraft carriers and Tomahawk missile shooters.  (Read more about how we got to this point here, here, here, here, and here.)

If the president wanted to assemble a force to attack Iran, the force would be smaller than what he would have had in 2004, and any “build-up” would involve pulling assets off the front line in other theaters: Europe, where NATO is trying to deter Russia with an enhanced military presence, or the Far East, where we are trying to deter North Korea and China.

Alternatively, the president could ask Congress for the funding to increase force readiness so that there would be more of the strike fleet available at a given time.  Implementing that approach would take at least six months to see the first effects: e.g., one or two squadrons at improved readiness.  The issue isn’t just things like pilot qualifications; it’s things like non-deployed aircraft being cannibalized for parts, and the whole fleet being backed up with deferred maintenance.

We continue to keep our global strategic bombers – B-2s and B-52s – at a generally higher level of readiness, and could use them to attack Iran with conventional ordnance.  Their operations would be constrained, however, by the limitations of strike-fighter readiness and specialty aircraft (e.g., the Navy F/A-18 “Growlers” that provide electronic warfare support).  The bombers need escorts, as they need in-flight refueling; having enough ready bombers isn’t the same thing as having enough ready capability.

Moreover, the U.S. could expect to have limited access to airfields in the Persian Gulf region.  It became clear as early as 2010 that Gulf nations would seek to restrain U.S. operations against Iran from their bases, and today, we should expect the Gulf emirates to be very picky about what they allow.  They won’t buy into tentative, non-decisive military operations that leave Iran able to retaliate against them.  If they fear that we aren’t going to act decisively enough, it’s likely that all three of our major hosts – Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait – would deny us the use of their bases for an operation against Iran.

That limiting condition would take out the Air Force as a source of strike-fighters, and make it much harder to operate tankers, reconnaissance aircraft, and AWACS.

Add in factors like the uncertain future of the Tomahawk missile (the Obama administration proposed to end production in 2014), and what we have today is a much more limited set of options than we had in 2004.  Although we still have a capability to attack Iran’s nuclear-related facilities, we can’t mount the kind of crippling attack we could have in 2004.  What we could achieve now is limited to a smaller effect.

Put it this way: in 2004, the five-day attack described in option two of the Atlantic war game was less than what was needed to impose that “semi-permanent setback” referred to by Jeffrey Goldberg.  But we could have mounted that option two attack with negligible inconvenience to ourselves.  It was well within our capabilities.  We also had the means, by deploying more force, to bring off the larger attack required to administer the “semi-permanent setback.”

In 2015, something like the five-day attack is the very most we could bring off.  It was less than what was needed to achieve a semi-permanent setback to Iran’s program in 2004 – and today, it is far less.

Advances in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs

Iran has made significant advances in her nuclear and missile programs since 2004, demonstrating the ability to enrich uranium to near-weapons-grade purity; demonstrating the ability to enrich uranium on an industrial scale; acquiring enough enriched-uranium stock for 7-8 warheads; and demonstrating the ability to boost a payload into orbit, and therefore, inevitably, a ballistic missile to ICBM ranges.  Iran had none of these capabilities in 2004, and in fact was not even close to having them.

(It is worth noting that the January 2015 appearance in Iran of a launch platform capable of supporting an ICBM has occurred right on schedule, in terms of when analysts in the last decade thought it would.  As of 2015, we have seen most of the developments that were predicted in the Iranian nuclear program in the 2005 NIE – see here as well – and the missile-system developments predicted in that NIE and an East-West Institute analysis published in 2009.)

ICBM-capable launcher observed near Tehran in Jan 2015. (Israel Ch. 2)

ICBM-capable launcher observed near Tehran in Jan 2015. (Israel Ch. 2)

The Iranians have also installed missile silos for their medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) – hardening them against attack – and, according to British intelligence, successfully launched a solid-fuel mobile MRBM to a range of 2,000 km (1,200 statute miles) in 2011.  The latter feats mean Iran has a no-notice, shoot-and-scoot MRBM capability that can reach well into Europe.

These various advances, and other related ones, have two significant implications.  One is that the “bottleneck” of Iran’s nuclear weapons program – the part of it we would get the highest payoff from attacking – has shifted.

There are other, related implications, such as the right way to attack elements of the program.  It wouldn’t be enough today to simply blast away at the Natanz uranium enrichment complex, for example; we would have to follow through afterward and actively prevent Iran from rebuilding a uranium enrichment capability, which the Iranians now have more than ample expertise to do.  In 2004, it would have been a tremendous setback to them to lose Natanz.  They still couldn’t absorb such a loss easily, but their recovery now would be a matter of time and money, not rebuilding from scratch.

At any rate, the bottleneck, or critical node, in their program shifted some time ago, from uranium enrichment, which Iran has mastered, to weaponization of a warhead: that is, fitting a functioning warhead to a delivery system (presumably a ballistic missile, at least to begin with.  Cruise missiles would come later).  Although we have a reasonable idea of which sites to hit to attack that “weaponization” bottleneck, it is the most shadowy aspect of the Iranian nuclear program.  Our confidence in what to hit is slightly lower than it is for the uranium chain or the missile design and production chain.

The other key implication about Iran’s advances is, of course, that the threat has increased.  It is greater today, and it’s more imminent.  We can less afford to do nothing about it than we could in 2004.

And what that means is that even if we can only do less now than we would prefer, the urgency of doing it has increased.

Iran’s geopolitical posture and the resulting threat

That is one facet of the situation faced by Israel.  It’s also a situation faced by the United States, now that Iran is ten years closer to having an ICBM capability, and at the very least could soon be able to hold every partner we have in the Middle East hostage with nuclear-armed MRBMs.

For Israel, however, it isn’t possible to separate the security implications of the nuclear-missile problem from the geopolitical problem.  Both work together to change Israel’s security conditions – which is what Iran intends.

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote his piece Tuesday as if nothing has changed for Israel, other than that there are now face-to-face negotiations between the U.S. and Iran.  But since January 2011, Israel’s security situation has changed significantly, and Iran is one of the biggest factors in that.

Graphic used by retired Gen. Jack Keane to brief Congress 27 Jan on 4-fold increase in radical Islamic threat since 2010. (Graphic: Institute for the Study of War; CSPAN video)

Graphic used by retired Gen. Jack Keane to brief Congress 27 Jan on 4-fold increase in radical Islamic threat since 2010. (Graphic: Institute for the Study of War; CSPAN video)

It’s particularly meaningful to frame the issue by starting from the fact that Israel’s capability against the Iranian nuclear program has always been more limited than America’s.  (Stay with me; this does relate to the Iranian geopolitical posture.)  It’s possible for America to recover the ability to pressure and intimidate Iran into a level of compliance, along the lines of the strategy outlined in my footnote below.  It will never be possible for Israel to do that.

If Israel is going to act, it will have to be with an actual attack.  And that means that what Iran has to do is make it as hard as possible for Israel to bring off such an attack.  That is a driving facet of the geopolitical problem Iran sets for herself.  Iran has larger designs on the region; her plans against Israel “nest” into them.  But the focus on Israel is unmistakable, and one of the key reasons is that hemming Israel in with threats will dilute Israel’s capability to mount an attack against Iran’s high-value facilities.

As little as five years ago, Iran’s options for servicing this requirement were quite limited.  Hamas and Hezbollah could launch rockets and dig tunnels from Gaza and southern Lebanon.  Hezbollah had successfully used an Iranian-supplied anti-ship missile in 2006, but there was little likelihood of such an attack being brought off again.

Iran, however, had begun sending warships to the Horn of Africa for antipiracy operations as early as December 2008, and with the onset of the Arab Spring, her military profile across the region metastasized.  The presence of Iranian warships has become routine in the Red Sea, and in 2011, Iran sent warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since the 1979 revolution.  Iran has announced deploying submarines to the Red Sea as well.  Every new weapon the Iranian navy tests or drills with in the Persian Gulf – including cruise missiles and high-speed torpedoes – it intends to use in its forward patrol areas, which now include the waters of the Red Sea, and potentially the Eastern Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, Iran now has Special Forces deployed in Iraq, as well as wherever the Assad regime is in (nominal) control of territory in Syria.  There is intriguing evidence that the Iranians have taken over a nuclear-related facility in western Syria: in fact, that they arranged for Hezbollah to “liberate” it from Sunni jihadists because it’s a nuclear facility, and is being used for Iran’s purposes.

Iran’s aggressively expanding posture across the region. (Google map; author annotation.)

Iran’s aggressively expanding posture across the region. (Google map; author annotation.)

And earlier this month, the Iranians sent a very high-level military delegation to perform reconnaissance in the Golan Heights – just one of the recent pieces of evidence that Iran wants to open a new front for Israel to have to defend.  The Iranians want to preoccupy Israel’s military, and increase her insecurity overall by forcing Israel to counterattack into Syria, thus creating the ongoing danger of escalating an already unstable situation.
(Google map; author annotation. Inset: Wikimedia Commons, author annotation)

(Google map; author annotation. Inset: Wikimedia Commons, author annotation)

It’s important to understand that Iran’s campaign serves multiple purposes, because its implications for Israel are therefore bigger.  Israel isn’t just concerned now about Iran’s nuclear program.  Netanyahu has to be concerned about what Iran, with or without nuclear arms, will do with her expanding territorial leverage in the region.  Iran gaining a foothold in Yemen with the Houthi coup there is the latest disturbing development, one that could give the Iranians a base from which to deploy midget submarines into the Red Sea, for example, or base military aircraft, or position missile launchers to complicate Israel’s missile defense picture.  Yemen could certainly become a waypoint for the flow of illicit arms from Iran to a variety of recipients.  Where once Israeli intelligence could focus on ports in Sudan, it now may have the entire western coast of Yemen to contend with.

The brewing crisis in the Golan may by itself be enough to present Israel with a matrix of game-changing decision points in the next 12 months.  There’s a limit to how much harassment Israel can afford to live with and retain viability as a free and secure nation, making a good life possible for her people.  The confrontation with Iran is growing in more than one dimension, and Israel can’t treat the Iranian nuclear program as a theoretical, specialized threat, separate from the overall menace Iran presents to her.

At right, IRGC General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, one of two IRGC general officers and six Iranians conducting reconnaissance in the Golan Heights on 18 Jan 2015, when their convoy was struck by (presumably) the IDF. Allahdadi is seen here hanging with former President Khatami in 2009. (Image: Iranian TV via Twitter)

At right, IRGC General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, one of two IRGC general officers and six Iranians conducting reconnaissance in the Golan Heights on 18 Jan 2015, when their convoy was struck by (presumably) the IDF. Allahdadi is seen here hanging with former President Khatami in 2009. (Image: Iranian TV via Twitter)

 

It’s not 2004 anymore

The profile of Iran’s activities makes it abundantly clear that none of what she does is “about” Israel making concessions on West Bank settlements, or otherwise falling in with proposals made by the Obama administration for a final status agreement.  Iran is all over the region – Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan – taking advantage of the opportunities created by the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Jeffrey Goldberg suggests that Israel should strengthen Obama’s negotiating position by making more concessions to the Palestinian Arabs.  But in 2015, nothing in the region’s main dynamic is even about that anymore.  The main dynamic is the feeding frenzy for the territory of Syria and Iraq.  The various actors are shaping up to be Iran, ISIS, the Kurds, and some combination of others who still retain a legacy set of “status quo” objectives (including, e.g., the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Turkey).

Not one of those actors can be deterred or influenced by artificially forced developments in the now-defunct Oslo process.  But at least two of the actors – Iran and ISIS – will exploit Israel however they have to, to gain advantage for themselves.  That’s what Iran is doing with her foray into the Golan, which gives “top cover” to her nuclear program, but also has the real potential to become as much of an existential threat to Israel as an Iranian bomb.

Israel can’t afford to ignore the fact that the whole unfolding strategy interlocks.  In essence, Iran has already begun a new phase in her long-running campaign against Israel, and the Obama administration is asking Israel to behave toward the negotiations with Iran as if that hasn’t happened: as if it’s still 2004, and everyone still has the same situation and the same options.

An emerging trigger point

Israel doesn’t.  It’s not 2004 anymore.  There was a time, as little as a year ago, when the triggers for Israel to have to attack boiled down mainly to these two: either Iran was about to cross the “red line” Bibi briefed to the UN in 2012, or the Iranians were about to deploy a modern anti-air missile system that would make it too difficult for Israel to pull the attack off, once it was in place.

But we’re past that point now.  Developments in the nuclear program, or inside Iran, aren’t Israel’s only concern.  The Israelis may well have to execute a preemptive strategy that baffles and blunts Iran’s whole package of activities in the Israeli security perimeter.  Attacking the Iranian nuclear program – facilities in Iran – will probably form some element of that, but it won’t be enough.

And the trigger matrix has changed.  The intolerable juncture for Israel is likely to be connected with Iran’s emerging campaign in the Golan.  Neither the prompts for military action, nor its purpose and targets, will be bounded by the old outlines of the “Iranian nuclear” problem.  The problem is bigger now: simultaneously more threatening and immediate, and more diffuse.  A strike campaign against Iranian nuclear facilities, with F-15s, is no longer the main mental picture we should have.

Like the Oslo-legacy negotiations, the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran have little relevance to the security conditions Israel faces today.  One of the most important things the U.S. could do to reset the clock is now out of reach: that is, pacify and effectively settle the situation in Syria and Iraq, where Iran, like ISIS, is gaining strength and position from conflict.  The Obama administration doesn’t seem aware that the situation has changed, and with it the motives and concerns of everyone in the region.  Netanyahu has to deal, nevertheless, with a reality that’s changing under our feet with each passing day.

Center, with scarf: Iranian Qods Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, with local Iraqi military leaders in Iraq in 2014. A U.S. defense official said in 2013 that Soleimani was “running the whole Syrian war by himself.” (Quoted by Dexter Filkins in “Shadow Commander,” The New Yorker, 30 Sep 2103. Image via Twitter)

Center, with scarf: Iranian Qods Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, with local Iraqi military leaders in Iraq in 2014. A U.S. defense official said in 2013 that Soleimani was “running the whole Syrian war by himself.” (Quoted by Dexter Filkins in “Shadow Commander,” The New Yorker, 30 Sep 2103. Image via Twitter)

* I’m fully aware, incidentally, that policy is sometimes made in just this way.  But that doesn’t mean that we can accurately judge whether military force would be effective by approaching our evaluation through an inherently flawed policy-making process.

An objective and a strategy

For what it’s worth, this is what I would have asked the NSC and principals to look at back in 2004.  The strategic objective would have been to rope Iran into a heavily and genuinely supervised mode with her nuclear program, understanding that political change in Iran might be encouraged that way (alongside other methods), through frustrating the regime and weakening its reputation, but would ultimately have to come in other ways from the Iranian people.  Outreach to reformers in Iran would have been the highest American priority overall.

The objective of using military force would have been to set Iran’s nuclear program back significantly – by at least 24 months – and inflict some level of additional damage as a deterrent, against both immediate retaliation and future activities.

I would have wanted a process of escalating pressure on Iran with a concurrent military build-up in the Gulf region, designed to force Iran to open up all the facilities identified by the IAEA and Western intelligence as suspect.  If Iran didn’t comply in good faith by a deadline, the strikes would start.  The strike threat would have been implied, not spelled out.  The deadline would have been a short one (30-45 days), only long enough to accommodate the build-up, but not so long that Iran could change all her program arrangements to evade attack.

The scope of military strikes for which the build-up was designed would have included the significant “bottleneck,” or critical node, of Iran’s program at the time – the uranium enrichment complex at Natanz – as well as the suspicious special-use facilities in the Parchin area southeast of Tehran.

There would have been some other targets in the nuclear and missile programs, but those two installations would have been the top priorities.  Equally important targets would have been the IRGC assets most useful for projecting power outside Iran’s borders, including ballistic missiles, coastal cruise missiles, and submarines, as well as the IRGC’s paramilitary organization.  Attacking the air defense network and national command and control nodes would have been necessary to hold air superiority for U.S. forces while they were operating in Iranian air space.

Ideally, the preparations for this, and the escalating pressure on Iran (very possibly including intense economic pressure), would have gotten Iran to make some meaningful concessions at the time.  We need not oversell what we could have wrested from Iran without an attack, but odds were better than even that we could have gotten meaningful concessions: concessions that justified the effort, even if they weren’t everything we wanted.  Rinsing and repeating would almost certainly have been necessary.

My own preference would be for an extended process in which we could force Iran’s program more into the open, and keep pushing Iran back, without having to strike.  Instead of letting Iran play for time, we should be playing for time: time for Iranian reformers, who poked their heads up in 2009, and who are still there to be worked with.

‘Nuclear Expert’ Among Dead in Iranian Nuclear Plant Explosion

Monday, October 6th, 2014

An unnamed nuclear expert is among the dead after a lethal explosion Sunday evening at or near the Parchin military compound near Tehran.

At least two people died in the blast, according to the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA).

Quoting the Iranian Defense Industries Organization, ISNA reported, “Unfortunately, due to the incident two workers of this production unit lost their lives.” At least four military personnel were wounded while responding to the blast, according to a post by an opposition group quoted by the Washington Free Beacon.

The blast apparently followed a fire that allegedly started in a unit where explosive materials are produced at the nuclear facility, news reports said.

Reports from the site began filtering into media by Monday. The BBC quoted Saham news as saying the explosion was “so intense that windows of buildings nine miles away (15 kilometers) were shattered,” in a southeasterly direction. “The glare from the blast could also be seen from a great distance away.”

Three years ago, there was a massive explosion at a military base not far from Parchin, about 28 miles (45 kilometers) west of Tehran. The head of the elite Revolutionary Guards missile program and 16 others in the unit were killed in the blast, which Iran blamed on an accident that occurred during a weapons transfer.

Talks between Iran and six world powers have been focusing on dialing back the Islamic Republic’s uranium enrichment program but Tehran has shown little interest in cooperating. According to the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Iran missed a deadline to respond to questions about its nuclear development program.

Negotiations centered on lifting economic and other sanctions by Western nations in exchange for reducing enrichment of uranium are scheduled to culminate in a Nov. 24 deadline, but few believe that “red line” will stand firm.

Last month Israeli officials warned that Iran has used the Parchin complex as the site for secret testing of technology that could only be used for detonation of a nuclear weapon.

Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said in a statement that the implosion tests at Parchin involved neutron sources that included nuclear material. Steinitz released his statement just one day before Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed the United Nations General Assembly.

Steinitz warned that Israel had based its information on “highly reliable information” but revealed no further details.

The Islamic Republic has continued to deny that it is building a nuclear weapon but refuses to reduce or slow down its nuclear development program in any way. Iran has, in fact, accelerated the pace of its uranium enrichment both in quality and quantity, raising both to military weapons-grade levels.

For years Iran has refused to allow nuclear inspectors from the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to the Parchin base outside Tehran. On March 8, 2012, six world powers (U.S., UK, France, Germany, Russia and China) demanded that Iran allow the UN inspectors to tour the Parchin site – but with no success.

“It is important to emphasize that these kinds of tests can have no ‘dual use’ explanation, since the only possible purpose of such internal neutron sources is to ignite the nuclear chain reaction in nuclear weapons,” Steintz added.

The Artful Inaccuracies of Iran’s Foreign Minister

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

As we march towards the July 20 deadline for reaching agreement on stopping the Iranian nuclear weapons program, it is worth gauging Iran’s intentions by looking at the words of its foreign minister, Javad Zarif. On June 13, The Washington Post published an op-ed by Zarif entitled Iran is Committed to a Peaceful Nuclear Program. The op-ed is a skillful piece of propaganda aimed at dismissing skeptics of Iran’s peaceful nuclear intentions. However, Zarif’s arguments are marked by inaccurate assertions, significant omissions, and a threatening tone. The central paragraph of Zarif’s op-ed characterizes the concern about Iran’s nuclear weapons program as a “phobia.”

While reaching a realistic deal is the best available option for the West to prevent such a remote possibility, it may be instructive to take that phobia at face value. Let’s put it to a logical test. If Iran ever wanted to break out, all IAEA inspectors would have to be expelled from the country. Iran’s program would then have to be reconfigured to make weapons-grade fissile material, which would have to be converted to metal, be molded into the shape required for a bomb and undergo countless other complex weaponization processes. None of these capabilities exist in Iran and would have to be developed from scratch. This would take several years — not a few months.

In its assessment of breakout times published last October, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) argued that a breakout time of less than six months would allow Iran to develop a nuclear device undetected:

As in the October 2012 iteration, the estimates in this report do not include the additional time that Iran would need to convert WGU [weapons grade uranium] into weapons components and manufacture a nuclear weapon. This extra time could be substantial, particularly if Iran wanted to build a reliable warhead for a ballistic missile. However, these preparations would most likely be conducted at secret sites and would be difficult to detect. If Iran successfully produced enough WGU for a nuclear weapon, the ensuing weaponization process might not be detectable until Iran tested its nuclear device underground or otherwise revealed its acquisition of nuclear weapons. Therefore, the most practical strategy to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is to prevent it from accumulating sufficient nuclear explosive material, particularly in secret or without adequate warning. This strategy depends on knowing how quickly Iran could make WGU.

Zarif’s “breakout time” estimate differs from that of ISIS as the former includes activities such as weaponization and the creation of delivery systems, both of which could evade detection. ISIS’s breakout time estimate addresses the production of sufficient fissile material to make a bomb. In an analysis of a dubious study that is apparently the basis for Zarif’s claim of a breakout time of “several years,” ISIS researchers observed that the methodology of the study is so systematically skewed, “that it requires all the breakout estimates to be dismissed as woefully too short” and concluded, “[t]his Iranian study is a political tool for Iranian officials to point to as negotiations unfold.”

Later on, Zarif writes, “For years, small but powerful constituencies have irrationally advanced the idea that Iran can produce enough fissile material for a bomb in months.” Thus Zarif shifts the argument from “Iran cannot produce a nuclear device in a matter of months,” which is true, to “Iran cannot produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb in a matter of months,” which is false.

Furthermore, a “logical test” could be applied the other way too. If Iran’s nuclear program has no military aspect, why is it developing ballistic missiles that could carry a nuclear payload? If Iran’s nuclear program is for civilian purposes only, why is it planning to build a heavy water reactor when a light water reactor would suffice for any civilian needs? If Iran’s nuclear program only has peaceful aims, why did Iran refuse guarantees for a steady supply of enriched uranium and instead insist on mastering fuel cycle technologies (i.e. uranium enrichment)?  And why has Iran not allowed an on site inspection of the Parchin facility, which is believed to have housed experiments for nuclear detonators? In addition, Iran has asphalted the site hiding evidence of its experiments.

Iran Nuclear Plant Progress More Worrisome than Ever Before

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Iran’s construction of a research reactor that can produce plutonium for a nuclear weapon continues full steam, according to a UN report issued this week. And the UN International Atomic Energy Agency is now convinced that Iran has increased to a dangerous level its capacity to refine uranium, a prerequisite for constructing a bomb. And, according to the IAEA, the part of Parchin, a military site the agency insisted on inspecting, has now been paved over by the Iranians.

Obviously, the Iranians have a lot to hide, and they’re hiding it. When they finally let UN inspectors in, it would be after all traces of nuclear bomb-related research have been covered by asphalt.

Judging by what the Administration has been saying—that Iran is “advancing its enrichment program in blatant violation of its international obligations”—somebody is going to start a war over these facilities.

U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters that the UN report “marks an unfortunate milestone with regard to Iran’s illicit nuclear activities.”

Ventrell added that “despite more than a decade of dedicated effort on the part of the IAEA, Iran still has not provided the requisite cooperation with the IAEA for them to complete their investigation,” and that “we’re going to continue to hold Iran accountable for its international nuclear obligations.”

According to Reuters, the West is mostly concerned about Iran’s uranium enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow. But experts suggest the research reactor being built outside the town of Arak could be used to produce plutonium for nuclear arms.

The IAEA says Iran is planning to commission that plant in the first quarter of 2014 and expects it to become operational in the third quarter.

The UN report seems to confirm—at least indirectly—Israeli claims that Iran could produce at will a nuclear weapon as early as this summer, and could certainly accumulate a stockpile of bombs next year.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/iran-nuclear-plant-progress-more-worrisome-than-ever-before/2013/05/24/

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