Iran

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Heinonen Moves Deceptive Anti-Iran Campaign from Washington Post Opinion Page to New York Times News Page

Composite figure of partial screengrabs from the Leadership page for United Against Nuclear Iran showing Heinonen's role as a member of its Advisory Board. Remarkably, Heinonen prefers not to note this role while his spouting his strongest anti-Iran positions.

Composite figure of partial screengrabs from the Leadership page for United Against Nuclear Iran showing Heinonen’s role as a member of its Advisory Board. Remarkably, Heinonen prefers not to note this role while his spouting his strongest anti-Iran positions.

Last week, I called attention to the fact that in printing an op-ed by Olli Heinonen (co-authored by Michael Hayden and Ray Takeyh), the Washington Post failed to disclose Heinonen’s position on the advisory board of the anti-Iran group United Against Nuclear Iran. One week later, the Post still has not corrected its identification of Heinonen. Today, we see that Heinonen’s deceptive anti-Iran campaign continues, where he appears as a key expert quoted in a front page New York Times article by David Sanger and Michael Gordon. Once again, Heinonen is only identified by his previous IAEA and current Harvard roles, ignoring his more relevant current role with UANI.

Ironically, today’s Times story is a follow-up to a story in November in which Sanger committed a glaring error which still has not been noted by the Times. Heinonen’s co-conspirator from the Post op-ed, Ray Takeyh, also makes an appearance in today’s Sanger and Gordon article, suggesting that their propaganda will remain as a package deal for the duration of the P5+1 negotiations.

Note also that last Monday, the defamation case by Victor Restis against UANI was thrown out by a district court after the Department of Justice successfully intervened to have the case quashed under a claim that state secrets would have been divulged. Writing in Bloomberg View, Noah Feldman mused:

What makes matters worse is the lingering possibility, indeed probability, that what the government fears is not a true threat to national security, but a severe case of embarrassment. It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that United Against is a front organization for U.S. intelligence, possibly acting in conjunction with other foreign intelligence services. The allegation that Restis was doing business in Iran seems almost certain to have come from one of these intelligence services. Would acknowledging cooperation between, say, the Central Intelligence Agency and Mossad regarding Iran really upend national security? True, it’s a delicate time in the Iran nuclear negotiations. But no one, least of all the Iranians, doubts that U.S. and Israeli intelligence collaborate.

Though Feldman notes that it seems obvious there is an intelligence conduit between the CIA and/or Mossad and UANI and he even notes that disclosing this now would be awkward for the P5+1 negotiations, he should have gone further to note that this intelligence link, and the subsequent selective leaks, seem aimed to disrupt those negotiations and prevent an agreement.

In that same vein, it should be noted that the Sanger and Gordon article focuses only on barriers to an agreement. In addition to Heinonen and Takeyh, the article also sought out comment from John Boehner. No comment was offered in the article from anyone favoring an agreement or suggesting that Iran has abided by the terms of the interim agreement (although they do note IAEA has reported this cooperation) despite Boehner’s protestation that the Iranians don’t keep their word.

Further, Sanger and Gordon write that Heinonen published a paper on the breakout time needed for Iran to enrich enough uranium to weapons grade to produce a bomb. As a scientist, when I read that someone has published a paper, I assume that means it has appeared in a peer-reviewed journal. Following the link in the Times article for Heinonen’s “paper”, though, brings one to the website for a think tank, where Heinonen’s piece is only referred to as a fact sheet. [And, true to form, the site mentions Heinonen’s former IAEA role but not his current UANI role.]

It is impossible for me to escape the conclusion that Olli Heinonen and Ray Takeyh are part of an organized propaganda campaign aimed at disrupting the P5+1 talks and preventing an agreement. This propaganda is eagerly published by a compliant press, with the New York Times, Washington Post and AP among the most recent examples I have noted.

It is long past time for Heinonen to list his UANI affiliation in all his public pronouncements. His refusal to do so can only be seen as deception on his part and an effort to lend IAEA and Harvard credence to UANI propaganda.

Update: The US has disputed the central claim of the Sanger and Gordon article at the heart of this post. Sanger and Gordon report on that here.

Washington Post Fails to Disclose Heinonen’s UANI Connection in Anti-Iran Op/Ed

We are now in the “final” week of negotiations to set the framework for the P5+1 long-term agreement on Iran’s nuclear technology. With so much in the balance, voices are popping up from every direction to offer their opinions on what constitutes a good or bad deal. While Netanyahu’s address to Congress dominated the headlines in that regard, other sources also have not held back on offering opinions. In the case of Netanyahu, informed observers considering his remarks knew in advance that Netanyahu considers Iran an “existential threat” to Israel and that violent regime change in Iran is his preferred mode of addressing Iran’s nuclear technology. When it comes to other opinions being offered, it is important to also have a clear view of the backgrounds of those offering opinions so that any biases they have can be brought into consideration.

With that in mind, the Washington Post has committed a gross violation of the concept of full disclosure in an Iran op/ed they published yesterday. I won’t go into the “substance” of this hit piece on Iran, suffice it note that the sensationalist headline (The Iran time bomb) warns us that the piece will come from an assumption that Iran seeks and will continue to seek a nuclear weapon regardless of what they agree to with P5+1.

The list of authors for this op/ed is an anti-Iran neocon’s wet dream. First up is Michael Hayden. The Post notes that Hayden led the CIA from 2006-2009 and the NSA from 1999 to 2005. I guess they don’t think it’s important to note that he now is a principal with the Chertoff Group and so stands to profit from situations in world politics that appear headed toward violence.

The third of the three authors is perhaps the least known, but he’s a very active fellow. Here is how Nima Shirazi describes Ray Takeyh:

Takeyh is a mainstay of the Washington establishment – a Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow before and after a stint in the Obama State Department and a founding member of the neoconservative-created Iran Strategy Task Force who has become a tireless advocate for the collective punishment of the Iranian population in a futile attempt to inspire homegrown regime change (if not, at times, all-out war against a third Middle Eastern nation in just over a decade). Unsurprisingly, he dismisses out of hand the notion that “the principal cause of disorder in the Middle East today is a hegemonic America seeking to impose its imperial template on the region.”

The Post, of course, doesn’t mention Takeyh’s association with the group Shirazi describes, nor his membership in another Iran Task Force organized by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

Sandwiched between Hayden and Takeyh, though, is the Post’s biggest failure on disclosure. Olli Heinonen is described by the Post simply as “a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency”. As such, uninformed readers are likely to conclude that Heinonen is present among the authors to serve as a hefty dose of neutrality,given his background in the IAEA. Nothing could be further from the truth. What the Post fails to disclose is that Heinonen is also a prominent member of the Advisory Board of United Against Nuclear Iran.

Not only is UANI an advocacy group working against Iran, but they are currently embroiled in litigation in which it has been learned that UANI has come into possession of state secrets from the United States. The Department of Justice has weighed in on the UANI case, urging the judge to throw the case out on the grounds that continuing to litigate it will disclose the US state secrets that UANI has obtained. Since the litigation involves UANI actions to “name and shame” companies it accuses of violating US sanctions against Iran, one can only assume that the state secrets leaked to UANI involve Iran.

How in the world could the Washington Post conclude that Heinonen’s role on the Advisory Board for United Against Nuclear Iran would not be something they should disclose in publishing his opinion piece entitled “The Iran time bomb”?

Oh, and lest we come to the conclusion that failing to note Heinonen’s UANI connection is a one-off thing in which Heinonen himself is innocent, noted AP transcriptionist of neocon anti-Iran rhetoric George Jahn used Heinonen in exactly the same way a month ago.

We can only conclude that Heinonen is happily doing the neocons’ bidding in their push for war with Iran.

Update from emptywheel: The judge in Victor Restis’ lawsuit just dismissed the suit on state secrets grounds. Here’s the opinion, h/t Mike Scarcella.

Iran Sends Missiles to Iraq: US Finally Shows Concern for Sectarianism, Civilian Casualties

From the very beginning, when George W. Bush and his co-defendants wanted to invade Iraq over the 9/11 attacks, the US war in Iraq has been promoted, waged and defended with a complete lack of self-awareness of the illegal nature of the war and the devastation that can be laid directly at the feet of the US. Today we have a new chapter in that stunning absence of conscience, as the US engages in hand-wringing over the discovery of Iranian missiles in Iraq:

Iran has deployed advanced rockets and missiles to Iraq to help fight the Islamic State in Tikrit, a significant escalation of firepower and another sign of Iran’s growing influence in Iraq.

United States intelligence agencies detected the deployments in the past few weeks as Iraq was marshaling a force of 30,000 troops — two-thirds of them Shiite militias largely trained and equipped by Iran, according to three American officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence reports on Iran.

So, why is the US so concerned about this development? Read on:

Iran has not yet launched any of the weapons, but American officials fear the rockets and missiles could further inflame sectarian tensions and cause civilian casualties because they are not precision guided.

That is just effing unbelievable. Iranian missiles might “further inflame sectarian tensions and cause civilian casualties”? Really?

How about those sectarian tensions that are already in Iraq? Where did they get their biggest push? Recall that when we invaded, Saddam ruled through the Baath Party. The Baath Party was secular. The very first act (pdf) by the US military after overthrowing Saddam’s government was to disband the Baath Party. With its one secular ruling political party disbanded at the point of a gun, Iraq turned to organizing around the sectarian faiths that encompassed both mosques and militias. Much of the remaining time the US military spent on active combat duty in Iraq involved pitting Shias against Sunnis while paying lip-service to the need for “reconciliation”.

And then there are the civilian casualties. Although Iraq Body Count puts the number at a more conservative 100,000 or so, a more encompassing study documents that half a million civilians have died in Iraq as a direct result of the US invasion. And don’t get me started on the effects of the depleted uranium used in Fallujah.

The hubris involved in the US suggesting that Iran’s missiles could inflame sectarianism or cause civilian casualties is nothing short of staggering. But none of the idiots engaging in this hand-wringing will ever be forced to account for the real source of sectarian tensions and civilian casualties in Iraq.

Move Afoot to Get UN Security Council Action to Prevent GOP Meddling After Iran Deal

Although Israel’s Netanyahu and the 47 Senate Republicans who signed Tom Cotton’s letter to Iran are suffering badly in public opinion after their most recent foot-stomping over a potential P5+1 deal on Iran’s nuclear technology, there is still a genuine concern that Republicans in Washington could muster support across the aisle from AIPAC-besotted Democrats to circumvent any deal. The concern is especially strong that there would be an effort to prevent lifting economic sanctions on Iran or even to impose new and even harsher sanctions after a deal is enacted.

Fortunately, despite the strong possibility that these war mongers could well get the legislation that they want put into law over a Presidential veto, unilateral sanctions from only the US would be likely to have little effect. To help drive home that point to the learning-challenged MEK-lovers, there is a new move to get the existing sanctions against Iran lifted once a P5+1 deal is reached. Louis Charbonneau reports for Reuters:

Major world powers have begun talks about a United Nations Security Council resolution to lift U.N. sanctions on Iran if a nuclear agreement is struck with Tehran, a step that could make it harder for the U.S. Congress to undo a deal, Western officials said.

/snip/

Some eight U.N. resolutions – four of them imposing sanctions – ban Iran from uranium enrichment and other sensitive atomic work and bar it from buying and selling atomic technology and anything linked to ballistic missiles. There is also a U.N. arms embargo.

There is a strong legal argument for this move:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress on Wednesday that an Iran nuclear deal would not be legally binding, meaning future U.S. presidents could decide not to implement it. That point was emphasized in an open letter by 47 Republican senators sent on Monday to Iran’s leaders asserting any deal could be discarded once President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017.

But a Security Council resolution on a nuclear deal with Iran could be legally binding, say Western diplomatic officials. That could complicate and possibly undercut future attempts by Republicans in Washington to unravel an agreement.

This could be a lot of fun. The same crew who based their illegal invasion of Iraq on not needing a “permission slip from the UN” are likely to have a total meltdown if they are bypassed in this way.

While the Reuters article on first skimming almost seems to suggest that the Security Council move might involve removing all of the Iran-related resolutions, what seems most likely to me is that in the end, the current sanctions on Iran would be lifted (perhaps over a timetable from the agreement?) but that a number of prohibitions on weapons-related technology would remain in place. Also, any moves seem likely to be coupled with warnings that sanctions would return quickly in the event of any breach of the agreement by Iran.

Often lost in discussion of the sanctions on Iran is the devastating impact of these sanctions on Iranian citizens. The economy in Iran is in tatters, and people are suffering mightily from it. In February of last year, PBS actually touched on the effects for everyday citizens:

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But as we saw on our recent visit, many Iranians believe sanctions have impacted them in ways beyond just their wallets.

At the Dr. Sapir Hospital in South Tehran, a Jewish charity hospital that cares for mostly poorer Iranians, we met Dr. Ciamak Moresadegh. He runs the hospital and also represents Iran’s Jewish community in the Iranian Parliament. Though his hospital got a donation of several hundred thousand dollars from the Rouhani government a few weeks after our visit, Moresadegh told us because of inflation and Iran’s sagging economy, which he blamed in part on sanctions, his hospital was deep in debt.

DR. CIAMAK MORESADEGH, Dr. Sapir Hospital: Since last year, our loss was something about $1 million per year.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: One million U.S. dollars?

DR. CIAMAK MORESADEGH: Yes.

This year, we are more than two million U.S. dollar loss, because we want to protect the patients who cannot pay.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Dr. Moresadegh says those patients are the real victims. He says sanctions have hurt his ability to get crucial medicines for them. He says drugs for geriatric patients, those with multiple sclerosis and those with certain cancers, including childhood leukemia, are extremely hard to get.

Even though the U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees sanctions in the U.S., specifically allows for the sale of humanitarian goods like food and medicine, Moresadegh says that repeated warnings and crackdowns about violating sanctions like the ones announced just last week have scared many companies away from doing any business with Iran.

Sadly, this same piece by PBS gave Mark Dubowitz, one of the worst of the Iran war mongers, an outlet to brag about the utility of these sanctions, despite their devastating effects on ordinary citizens far removed from the government figures who ostensibly should be the targets of our actions:

MARK DUBOWITZ, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies: I think that sanctions always disproportionately impact the most disadvantaged people in a society.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Mark Dubowitz heads the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. He believes that economic pain has served a purpose. He points out that Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, was elected in large part to fix the economy and to reduce sanctions.

And while Iranian leaders deny it, Dubowitz argues it was the pain from sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in Geneva over its nuclear program and Dubowitz argues sanctions should be increased.

MARK DUBOWITZ: The goal of these sanctions in Iran is to put Iran’s supreme leader at a fundamental choice between the survival of his regime and a nuclear weapon. And at the very least, those sanctions have now gotten the Iranians to the table. And I think most people agree that but for those tough sanctions, Iran’s leader wouldn’t be negotiating with the United States and our allies right now.

It is so sad that Dubowitz and his allies acknowledge the severe impact of sanctions on Iranian citizens but are now quickly moving their goalposts to try to keep sanctions in place even after a deal is reached.

Insanity Continues to Build Around Prospect of Iran Nuclear Pact

From the nature of the political feeding frenzy surrounding the ongoing P5+1 negotiations with Iran on Iran’s nuclear technology, it is hard to believe that the Joint Plan of Action under which the countries are now operating was extended last November through the end of June of this year. At the time of that extension, the US announced a goal of having the political framework of the final agreement worked out by March 1. That date has now slipped to March 31, but current negotiations are still aimed at getting the political framework in place before the final details get ironed out. But with Benjamin Netanyahu making a speech to a Joint Session of Congress next week and other assorted madness, one would think that we are in the last few hours of the negotiating window.

Of course, one of the groups most upset by the possible outcome of removing the US sanctions against Iran is the MEK. Their latest tantrum, yesterday, in which they tried to claim that they had discovered a new, secret uranium enrichment site, was mostly ignored by the world. Jeffrey Lewis was quick to dismiss the accusation.

I had noted yesterday that Dianne Feinstein and Richard Durbin had tried to give Netanyahu some bipartisany-ness during his visit by inviting him to a closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats, but Netanyahu declined the invitation, inexplicably claiming that meeting would lend a partisan nature to his nonpartisan appearance before Congress. Bibi also got slapped down, though, as his bid to get several Arab ambassadors to show up for his speech has been rejected outright.

Just as the US military hates to see peace break out somewhere where they could otherwise be arming and training freedom fighters, Iran’s military seems especially upset by the prospect of a deal with the West. The IRGC is so upset about what is going on that today they broke one of their biggest toys in a fit of rage. Just under a year ago, word came out that Iran was building a replica of a Nimitz-class US aircraft carrier:

Intelligence analysts studying satellite photos of Iranian military installations first noticed the vessel rising from the Gachin shipyard, near Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf, last summer. The ship has the same distinctive shape and style of the Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers, as well as the Nimitz’s number 68 neatly painted in white near the bow. Mock aircraft can be seen on the flight deck.

The Iranian mock-up, which American officials described as more like a barge than a warship, has no nuclear propulsion system and is only about two-thirds the length of a typical 1,100-foot-long Navy carrier. Intelligence officials do not believe that Iran is capable of building an actual aircraft carrier.

/snip/

Navy and other American intelligence analysts surmise that the vessel, which Fifth Fleet wags have nicknamed the Target Barge, is something that Iran could tow to sea, anchor and blow up — while filming the whole thing to make a propaganda point, if, say, the talks with the Western powers over Iran’s nuclear program go south.

Marcy had a bit of fun with the barge at the time, comparing it to our F-35 program.

But now, instead of waiting for the P5+1 talks to “go south”, the IRGC has chosen to destroy their target barge in war games that were launched today. And, just as predicted a year ago, the destruction of the barge was televised. From AP via the Washington Post:

State TV showed footage of missiles fired from the coast and the fast boats striking the mock U.S. aircraft carrier. The drills, which also included shooting down a drone and planting undersea mines, were the first to involve a replica of a U.S. carrier.

“American aircraft carriers are very big ammunition depots housing a lot of missiles, rockets, torpedoes and everything else,” the Guard’s navy chief, Adm. Ali Fadavi, said on state TV, adding that a direct hit by a missile could set off a large secondary explosion. Last month Fadavi said his force is capable of sinking American aircraft carriers in the event of war.

Here is a PressTV segment on the war games, complete with some footage of torpedoes hitting the barge:

Additional footage with more direct hits on the barge can be seen in this PressTV story.

The US Navy has now been sternly warned not to tow any barges into the Strait of Hormuz.

Meanwhile, more negotiations are scheduled for Monday.

Bibi Lied to UN in 2012, Likely to Lie to US Next Week

Look carefully. Are his lips moving?

Look carefully. Are his lips moving?

Benjamin Netanyahu overstated Iran’s nuclear technology in 2012 when he used his bomb cartoon in an address to the United Nations. The Guardian and Al Jazeera have released a trove of documents relating to Iran’s nuclear program and one of the key documents was prepared by Mossad to brief South Africa just a few short weeks after the famous speech. From The Guardian:

Binyamin Netanyahu’s dramatic declaration to world leaders in 2012 that Iran was about a year away from making a nuclear bomb was contradicted by his own secret service, according to a top-secret Mossad document.

/snip/

Brandishing a cartoon of a bomb with a red line to illustrate his point, the Israeli prime minister warned the UN in New York that Iran would be able to build nuclear weapons the following year and called for action to halt the process.

But in a secret report shared with South Africa a few weeks later, Israel’s intelligence agency concluded that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons”. The report highlights the gulf between the public claims and rhetoric of top Israeli politicians and the assessments of Israel’s military and intelligence establishment.

As The Guardian notes, although Bibi’s darling little cartoon makes little to no distinction between the steps of enriching uranium to 20% and enriching it to the 90%+ needed for a bomb, the Mossad document (pdf) states that Iran “is not ready” to enrich to the higher levels needed for a bomb:

enrichment

Despite that clear information that Mossad surely already had at the time of the UN speech (h/t Andrew Fishman for the link), Netanyahu chose to portray Iran as ready to zip through the final stage of enrichment:

Now they’re well into the second stage. And by next spring, at most by next summer, at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks, before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.

So Netanyahu described a step that the Mossad described Iran as not even ready to start and turned it into something Iran was eager to accomplish in a few weeks. Simply put, that is a lie.

Of further note in the document is information relating to the heavy water reactor under construction at Arak. Although it doesn’t appear that Netanyahu mentioned it in the UN speech, it often is portrayed as another rapid route to a nuclear weapon for Iran, because, when finally functioning, it could produce plutonium that could be used in a bomb. Mossad found, however, that Iran was still a couple of years away from having the reactor functioning. Further, Mossad realized that Iran needs a fuel reprocessing facility (that it does not have) in order to use the plutonium in a bomb:

Arak

It should also be noted that those two years have elapsed and the reactor still has not been powered up. Further, there are proposals that the reactor can be modified to make it produce a dramatically lower amount of plutonium.

These documents have been released with very important timing. As I noted last week, Netanyahu aims to destroy the P5+1 negotiations with Iran. By pointing out his lies two years ago, we should be in a better position to see through whatever obfuscation he delivers next week. But with a new air of bipartisany-ness, to his visit, don’t look for Washington politicians to be the ones to point out his next round of lies.

Postscript: I am significantly behind on my homework. I owe Marcy a careful reading of the technical documents from the Sterling trial and need to follow up more fully on the suggestions that false documents (including the Laptop of Death?) were planted with Iran for the IAEA to discover. Now with this new trove of documents and the looming date of Netanyahu’s visit, I need to get busy (on something other than planting blueberries)!

AP’s Matt Lee: US Officials Say Netanyahu Trying to Destroy Iran Negotiations

I haven’t chimed in yet on the political drama that has been building around the approaching deadline in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran and the massive breach of protocol by John Boehner in inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress just before the deadline (and just before elections in Israel). More recent rumblings on that front had the US already stating Obama would not meet with Netanyahu, along with suggestions that both John Kerry and Joe Biden are likely to be out of the country when Netanyahu is in Washington. Further, hints were coming out that the US is becoming increasingly irritated with Bibi over his leaking of information that the US has shared on how negotiations with Iran are proceeding.

AP’s Matt Lee shed much more light on these issues yesterday. He forced State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki to confirm that the US has now started withholding “classified” parts of the negotiations from Israel. Lee went beyond what he was able to pry out during Psaki’s briefing, producing confirmation that the US now feels that Netanyahu is determined to prevent any final deal between the P5+1 and Iran:

The Obama administration said Wednesday it is withholding from Israel some sensitive details of its nuclear negotiations with Iran because it is worried that Israeli government officials have leaked information to try to scuttle the talks — and will continue to do so.

In extraordinary admissions that reflect increasingly strained ties between the U.S. and Israel, the White House and State Department said they were not sharing everything from the negotiations with the Israelis and complained that Israeli officials had misrepresented what they had been told in the past. Meanwhile, senior U.S. officials privately blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself for “changing the dynamic” of previously robust information-sharing by politicizing it.

Working behind the scenes, Lee was able to get unnamed officials to fill in more detail:

But while Earnest and Psaki said the limitations on information sharing were longstanding, U.S. officials more directly involved in the talks said the decision to withhold the most sensitive details of the negotiations dated back only several weeks.

Those officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the administration believes Netanyahu, who is facing a March 17 election at home, has made a political decision to try to destroy the negotiations rather than merely insist on a good deal. This, they said, had led to politically motivated leaks from Israeli officials and made it impossible to continue to share all details of the talks, particularly as Netanyahu has not backed down on his vow to argue against a nuclear deal when he speaks to Congress.

And here’s where it gets really interesting. Pushing on the issue of just what Israel has been leaking, Lee has this:

Neither Earnest nor Psaki would discuss the details of the leaks, but senior U.S. officials have expressed consternation with reports in the Israeli media as well as by The Associated Press about the number of centrifuges Iran might be able to keep under a potential agreement. Centrifuges are used to enrich uranium and diplomats familiar with the talks have said Iran may be allowed to keep more of them in exchange for other concessions under current proposals that are on the table.

Oh my. There is only one person we could be talking about when it gets to leaks from Israel on anything to do with the Iranian nuclear program. That would be none other than George Jahn, noted transcriber of Israeli leaks since they whole debate began. And just two days ago, Jahn regaled us with a piece titled “Good or bad Iran nuke deal? Israel vs the US administration“. And just look what detailed information about centrifuge numbers Jahn managed to obtain: Continue reading

Iran Claims Arrest of 20 Jeish Al-Adl Members

Iran announced today that twenty members of Jeish Al-Adl have been arrested. The announcement, however, did not say when or where the arrests were made. Further, although the Fars News article announcing the arrests mentions the IRGC several times, it does not indicate whether they or Iranian border guards made the arrests. As you will recall, Jeish Al-Adl has been active in the Sistan and Bolochistan province of Iran and its border with the Balochistan province of Pakistan. Most significantly, an attack they carried out in October, 2013 killed 14 Iranian border guards and exacerbated ongoing border skirmishes between the two countries. Later, Jeish Al-Adl captured five borders guards from Iran and took them to Pakistan. After killing one, the group eventually released the other four.

From the Fars News article:

Iran announced on Tuesday that it has arrested 20 members of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jeish al-Adl terrorist group.

“20 members of the Jeish al-Adl terrorist grouplet have been arrested in their hideout,” Iranian Deputy Interior Minister Hossein Ali Amiri told reporters in Tehran today.

Amiri, who is also the spokesman of the Interior Ministry, declined to provide any further detail about the exact location or date of the arrests.

Interestingly, after linking the group with al Qaeda in the opening of the article, Fars News goes on to link Sunni Wahhabism at its conclusion:

The terrorists who have reportedly been members of the outlawed Jeish Al-Adl radical Sunni Wahhabi movement fled into Pakistan after the operation in Iran’s Southeastern Sistan and Balouchestan province.

Because the announcement does not give a date for the arrests (perhaps this note from January 5 is a clue, although it too is nebulous on arrest dates), it seems reasonable to wonder about the timing of announcing them now. The dig at Wahhabism at the end of the article might be seen as a warning to Saudi Arabia not to increase support for exported extremism as a new king takes over.

However, the announcement also comes on the heels of the largest electricity outage that Pakistan has ever experienced. The blackout was triggered by an attack on transmission lines that has been claimed by the Baloch Republican Army, although the poor state of Pakistan’s power grid contributed greatly to the severity of the blackout. This group is distinct from Jeish Al-Adl is one of many groups fighting for an independent Balochistan. The attack on the power lines was about 250 miles from the border with Iran, if I am interpreting the reports and maps properly.

By mentioning the arrests now, Iran is increasing attention on the poor state of security in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Two days after the attack, repairs to the power line have not yet started due to poor security in the region. And now Iran announces that over at the border, a large group of terrorists, presumably using Pakistan as a sometimes harbor, has also been arrested.

I’ll keep an eye out for more developments along this very interesting stretch of border.

Attack at Saudi-Iraq Border Kills Three Saudi Guards

Reuters reports the location of the attack as near the Suweif border station, about 40 km from Arar, Saudi Arabia and 80 km from al-Nukhayb, Iraq (marked by red pin).

Reuters reports the location of the attack as near the Suweif border station, about 40 km from Arar, Saudi Arabia and 80 km from al-Nukhayb, Iraq (marked by red pin), putting the attack roughly where the road connecting them crosses the border.

I’ve long followed events along the porous Pakistan-Iran border area, as there are often events taking place there that have very different descriptions on opposite sides of the border. As recently as December 28, three Iranian IRGC members were killed in the area. This is a departure from the usual pattern, where border guards instead of IRGC are the usual targets. Iran retaliated by firing mortars over the border into Pakistan, who claimed as many as 7 injuries from the attack. Iran is also reporting today that they have arrested a team of “terrorists” south of where the December event took place.

By contrast, even though it as remote as the Iran-Pakistan border, the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border is more heavily fortified and patrolled on the Saudi side. That makes today’s report of three Saudi guards being killed in an attack near a border crossing with Iraq stand out:

Saudi Arabia’s border with Iraq, defended by earth barriers and fences and monitored by camera and radar, has been attacked in the past by mortar bombs fired from a distance, but more targeted strikes are rare.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the assault, which hit a remote desert area next to Iraq’s Anbar province where both the Islamic State militant group and Shi’ite Muslim militias close to Riyadh’s foe Iran operate.

/snip/

Monday’s attackers, described by the ministry only as “terrorist elements”, shot at a border patrol near Arar and when security officers responded, one of the attackers was captured and detonated an explosives belt, the ministry statement on state media said.

One of those killed was a senior officer, ministry spokesman Major General Mansour Turki told Reuters. Local media, including al-Arabiya television, named the dead officer as General Oudah al-Belawi, the head of a border sector. A third officer was wounded, the ministry said.

The Reuters article quoted above [the quote above is from an earlier version of the article which has since been updated] relied on a single expert to blame the attack on ISIS based on the presence of a suicide bomber.

AP, on the other hand, assigned no blame, but noted (as did Reuters), that Saudi Arabia has joined the fight against ISIS in Syria.

It will be interesting to see whether any group claims responsibility for the attack and whether there are additional attacks along the Saudi-Iraq border. For now, I’d place about as much authority on the pronouncement that the presence of a suicide bomber means the attack came from ISIS as I do on Iran’s latest “documentation” that the US is controlling ISIS operations out of the embassy in Baghdad.

 

Seven Month Extension of P5+1 Negotiations? We’d Be Lucky With Seven Weeks

I must confess that I repeatedly put off writing this post. Similarly, the P5+1 countries and Iran now have repeatedly put off finalizing a deal that assures the West that Iran’s nuclear program has no chance to quickly move to a nuclear weapon. I had been operating under the assumption that a final deal would be announced at the November 24 deadline. After all, everything seemed aligned to make a deal seem necessary for both sides. Iran’s economy has been reeling under sanctions for years, but Rouhani’s push for “moderation” had silenced hardliners in his country who see any deal as capitulation. How long Rouhani can hold them back, however, seems to be the biggest mystery. Barack Obama has been waging war seemingly all over the planet, so a deal to avoid another one would be a huge accomplishment for him. And with a new Republican majority set to take over the Senate, meddling by Senate hawks is assured.

But no agreement was reached on Monday’s deadline. Even worse, rumblings that at least a “framework” would be announced also proved to be false. In fact, the framework target is now four months away, with another three months built in to iron out the technical details within that framework.

Jeffrey Lewis sees this long timeframe as delusion:

One wonders what the parties are thinking. Is there any reason to believe that this problem will be easier to solve in four months’ time? Is there any reason to think that, in fact, the parties have four months? Allow me to be the bearer of two items of bad news.

First, the 114th Congress will pass new sanctions legislation. This year, the White House held off the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill in the Senate by the narrowest of margins. (The House passing sanctions is a formality at this point.) Proponents had the votes — 60 co-sponsors, including 16 Democrats — but then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to let it come to the floor.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t be so accommodating.

/snip/

Second, Iran is continuing research and development on a new generation of centrifuges. A few weeks ago, there was a minor kerfuffle when the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was test-feeding a new centrifuge under development called the IR-5. The issue was that Iran had not previously fed uranium hexafluoride into that type of machine. The Iranians denied this was a violation. (The definitive answer depends on “technical understandings” in the implementation agreement that the EU will not make public.)

/snip/

With another extension, though, Iran is free to continue its R&D work on new generations of centrifuges — including resuming testing of the IR-5 and eventually the IR-8.
Oh, yes, the IR-8. The IR-5 is a prelude to this much bigger problem. Iran has declared a new centrifuge model called the IR-8 to the IAEA. (One of these bad boys is sitting at the “pilot” enrichment facility, saying, “Feed me, Seymour.”) The IR-8 is about 16 times more capable than the existing centrifuge types installed at the Natanz fuel enrichment plant.

Even the New York Times editorial page sees the situation as desperate, with extremists starting to salivate over the mayhem they can cause: Continue reading

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz RT @DanCBarr: Well done story by @BrittanyBade_AZ of @cronkitenews on SB 1172, which seeks to limit teachers' speech rights. http://t.co/xv
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bmaz @WilliamOckhamTx Sure is. Dick is one hell of a lawyer.
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bmaz Has @Popehat escaped the singathon yet?
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bmaz RT @radleybalko: Obama has said he believes federal drug sentences are inhumane. So 22 commutations--of 1000s--isn't courageous. It's polit…
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emptywheel RT @ChrisDolmetsch: #scoopage by @ChristieSmythe HSBC Wins Dismissal of New York Foreclosure Practice Suit http://t.co/V69H0dIgd9
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emptywheel @moorehn We're having spring with the added benefit that, precipitation restarted, it appears to be behaving and precipping at night.
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bmaz Durst arrest warrant should be 'thrown out,' attys say http://t.co/jw5qdOhd26 Wow, if these facts are right, DeGuerin's motion may have legs
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emptywheel @DafnaLinzer And not even including Scooter Libby @BarackObama
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emptywheel @phillipanderson If we're the "Democratic" party can we demand less formulaic consultants?
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emptywheel @flexlibris That might be my favorite detail of the day. Especially bc LM recipients are always big surveillance fans.
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emptywheel RT @flexlibris: Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin is managing the "contact me" pages of a number of members of Congress. That's right.
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emptywheel @OKnox Saudis have quidded their pro I suspect. @GerardAraud
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