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War between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Turkey?

This Business Insider article by Fabrice Balanche of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) reflects the potential confrontation by advancing Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), composed of Kurdish PYD, Arab and Assyrian units with Erodgan’s Turkey after seizing the strategic Tishrin Dam and crossing to the West Bank of Euphrates River with the support of U.S. coalition air support.

Islamic State window into Turkey

Map Source:  Washington Institute for Near East Policy

The border area is a largely rural agricultural area with mixed Arab and Turkmen population.  There is evidence that the Arab tribes in the region would pledge support for the PYD led SDF. There is a  possible link up between advancing Assad forces with Russian air support and  SDF units cutting off IS  from the open border to Turkey possibly resulting in isolating  the self declared Caliphate of the Islamic State  at Raqaa. The Kurds consider this border region as historically Kurdish legacy area.  The Russians have already coordinated with the advancing Kurdish YPD led SDF in northern Aleppo province.

The combined Saudi/ Turkish Jaish-al Fatah (JF) rebels are defending a supply road against Kurds to the West and Assad forces to the south. Russian aerial bombardment could result in loss of control and encirclement of the JF rebels. Hence, the likelihood of a dilemma for the U.S. coalition in the war against ISIS with a NATO ally determined to bar any Assad-SDF linkup closing off the current open border with Turkey.

What follows is analysis by Balanche in this Business Insider article drawn from a definitive report published by WINEP, ”The Kurds may be winning against ISIS, but they could end up making tensions in the region worse:”

Although the latest Kurdish offensive runs the risk of spurring direct Turkish intervention, it could also help isolate Islamic State forces in the area from their capital, with significant implications for the rest of the combatants in Syria.

Since October, Islamic State (IS) forces in the eastern part of Syria’s Aleppo province have been under pressure and compelled to fight on several fronts: against the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its Arab allies near the large Tishrin Dam; against the Syrian army and Russian aircraft around Kuwaires military airport and al-Jaboul Lake; against the rebel umbrella group Jaish al-Fatah (dominated by Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra) in the Azaz corridor between Aleppo and the Turkish border; and against the local population in Manbij, toward which the PYD and its allies are advancing.

With the PYD seizing the only intact bridge across the Euphrates River for several hundred miles and the Syrian army potentially advancing further north or west, a large group of IS fighters in the Aleppo area could be left without land access to their capital in Raqqa. This prospect raises the question of who would benefit from eliminating IS on this front, and how.

Kurds consider large parts of this area as their own, including the long zone along the Turkish border — not only the Kurdish-held cantons of Afrin to the west and Kobane to the east, but also the sections in between that are currently held by rebel groups or IS. The Kurds have similar views on Manbij, which lies well south of the border. Even if the population in some of these areas is mostly Arab, the PYD still considers them “historically Kurdish,” seemingly basing their argument on notions from the Middle Ages and Salah al-Din.

Accordingly, the PYD aims to ensure territorial continuity between its Afrin canton and the rest of its self-proclaimed Kurdish region (called Rojava). The group has already annexed the predominantly Arab district of Tal Abyad further to the east, but it will be difficult to replicate that feat in more heavily populated districts — as of 2010, more than a million people resided in the contested districts of Azaz, al-Bab, Manbij, and Jarabulus, compared to around 130,000 in Tal Abyad.

Of course, hundreds of thousands of civilians have since fled to Turkey, but the Kurds would still face the challenge of integrating a large Arab population into Rojava — not to mention the local Turkmen minority, which is under Ankara’s protection.

Indeed, Turkey refuses to let the Kurds control the entire border and has warned several times that it will attack them if they cross the Euphrates, as it did in July when it shelled a PYD position near Jarabulus. On December 26, the Democratic Forces of Syria (an umbrella group for the PYD and its Arab allies) seized Tishrin Dam, and then took the village of Abu Qilqil on the other side of the river three days later, bringing them only twelve kilometers from Manbij.

Since the November terrorist attack in Paris, Europeans have insisted that the Islamic State’s two-way route through Turkey be closed for good. In the absence of a moderate Arab Sunni force able to meet this demand, the West would prefer that the corridor be closed by Kurds rather than al-Qaeda-linked groups such as Ahrar al-Sham or Jabhat al-Nusra.

The Kurds are eager to fulfill their dream of a united Rojava along the entire northern border, and to deny them at least some progress toward that goal would be to stop the only effective ally against IS in northern Syria. If the West does not work with them on this objective, it will push them into the arms of Moscow, which has made clear to the PYD that it is quite willing to help; in fact, there is already clear Kurdish coordination with Russian forces in northern Aleppo province.

At the same time, allowing the PYD to seize the entire border is unacceptable to Turkey, and the West needs Ankara’s assistance on several fronts, including the refugee issue and the fight against IS. Therefore, if the PYD offensive continues toward Manbij and perhaps even further beyond Turkey’s Euphrates redline, the United States and its coalition partners will need to be careful in determining whether, where, and how to support the advance — and what to say in response to Turkish protests.

For its part, Ankara will need to decide how far it is willing to go in enforcing that redline given the political and diplomatic risks of deeper intervention, especially against the only ground force making progress against IS in Syria. In that sense, the PYD’s offensive is as clear a signal as Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon: the die is cast.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Will the UN Side Deal Kill Obama’s Iran Nuke Deal?

The swirl of controversy in the wake of Wednesday’s AP exclusive story deepened yesterday with contradictory statements from IAEA director General Yukia Amano. Amano released a statement saying the report was “misleading,” that he was satisfied with the access his people will receive under the deal. Referring to the AP report Amano said “Such statements misrepresent the way in which we will undertake this important verification work.” The AP story cited drafts of a separate inspection protocol about Iran being granted control over inspections of the disputed Parchin test site allegedly involved with tests of nuclear triggers a decade ago.

The IAEA is charged with developing a so-called Road Map of prior military developments upon hinges release of over $100 billion in sanctioned funds to the Islamic Republic of Iran in December 2015. A few weeks ago , when IAEA chief Amano briefed Senators on Capitol Hill, many came away less than impressed by his presentation of the inspection regime that  Administration negotiators, Secretary of State Kerry, Undersecretary Sherman and Energy Secretary Dr. Earnest Moniz said were” intrusive and robust verification” of Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA provisions.  Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) weren’t satisfied and conducted their own due diligence at IAEA headquarters in Vienna. In an August 2, 2015 Wall Street Journal op-ed they argued that the so-called secret side deals should be released in compliance with the requirements of the Iran Nuclear Review Agreement Act. They commented:

Weaponization lies at the heart of our dispute with Iran and is central to determining whether this deal is acceptable. Inspections of Parchin are necessary to ensure that Iran is adhering to its end of the agreement. Without knowing this baseline, inspectors cannot properly evaluate Iran’s compliance. It’s like beginning a diet without knowing your starting weight. That the administration would accept side agreements on these critical issues—and ask the U.S. Congress to do the same—is irresponsible.

AP, Fox News and other media   obtained copies of Separate Agreement II leaked by an anonymous senior IAEA official revealing that the IAEA had adopted a protocol for the PMS Road Map giving Iran complete authority over soil sampling, video and photographic evidence at the disputed Parchin Site.  Armin Rosen of Business Insider revealed the text in his report:

Separate arrangement II agreed by the Islamic State of Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency on 11 July 2015, regarding the Road-map, Paragraph 5

Iran and the Agency agreed on the following sequential arrangement with regard to the Parchin issue:

1. Iran will provide to the Agency photos of the locations, including those identified in paragraph 3 below, which would be mutually agreed between Iran and the Agency, taking into account military concerns.

1. Iran will provide to the Agency videos of the locations, including those identified in paragraph 3 below, which would be mutually agreed between Iran and the Agency, taking into account military concerns.

1. Iran will provide to the Agency 7 environmental samples taken from points inside one building already identified by the Agency and agreed by Iran, and 2 points outside of the Parchin complex which would be agreed between Iran and the Agency.

1. The Agency will ensure the technical authenticity of the activities referred to in paragraphs 1-3 above. Activities will be carried out using Iran’s authenticated equipment, consistent with technical specifications provided by the Agency, and the Agency’s containers and seals.

1. The above mentioned measures would be followed, as a courtesy by Iran, by a public visit of the Director General, as a dignitary guest of the Government of Iran, accompanied by his deputy for safeguards.

6. Iran and the Agency will organize a one-day technical roundtable on issues relevant to Parchin.

Rosen went on to write:

The final text confirms that at least one aspect of the IAEA’s road map — the agreement meant to resolve the agency’s numerous outstanding questions on the status of Iran’s nuclear weaponization program — was settled on terms favorable to Iran.

Iran has barred IAEA inspectors from Parchin despite nearly a decade of requests for access. The roadmap, which is meant to settle years of unanswered questions about Iran’s nuclear weaponization drive, apparently doesn’t change that.

If the Parchin investigation is happening on Tehran’s terms, it raises the possibility that the rest of the roadmap inquiry will be carried out under a process that Iran can strongly influence or even control.

This is by design: As Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency told regime-linked media in early August, one of Iran’s negotiating objectives was limiting the IAEA’s reach inside of the country, according to a report from the Washington Institute for Near East Studies:

We do not have an optimistic view of the [IAEA]. There is no doubt that they will release the information [that we are giving them]. We need to be careful in the information that we supply to them …We are not only dealing with the agency and these spies. We are dealing with all the countries that own nuclear programs. There are formulas and methods to prevent supplying information to the agency’s inspectors. We did not know about these methods in the past and supplied some information that should not have been supplied.

Iran’s “formulas and methods” for limiting the IAEA’s reach are now apparent, at least as Parchin is concerned. Whether the Parchin arrangement is part of a larger trade off to ensure IAEA access to other, possibly more important sites is currently unknown — the other implementation agreement governing whom IAEA inspectors can talk to and what facilities they can visit as part of their investigation is still secret.

Yesterday, State Department spokesperson, Admiral John Kirby was besieged with journalists’ questions about the relinquishing of IAEA inspection to Iran on development of the Road Map. He endeavored to repeat Administration claims of being “confident and comfortable” that the Inspection regime adopted via the IAEA would provide the information for the Roadmap. Besides, as he is often wont to say, ‘we have enough evidence of what went on at Parchin and other known sites”.  The skepticism of inquiring journalists was risible. I am reminded of I.F. Stone, the radical alleged KBG agent and US Journalist during the Vietnam anti-War era in Washington, whose eponymous weekly report was emblazoned with this masthead quote: “all governments are led by liars don’t believe a word they say”.

Watch this C-Span video excerpt of yesterday’s State Department briefing on the Parchin prior military developments inspection protocol:

There are those of us like Stephen and Shoshana Bryen and my colleague Ilana Freedman and this writer  suggest that the IAEA will never be able to inspect the more likely venue of Iran nuclear weaponization experimentation since 2003, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Given the revelations of the AP  and other  media news stories, Members of both Chambers of Congress  who favor the President’s position might reassess their positions and request  vigorous due diligence  gathering  all of the side agreements  for the JCPOA, prior to casting a vote by the mid-September  on the pending resolution .  Otherwise, they might, as Senator Menendez warned in his Seton Hall University address this week, they might find having   their names added to Iran’s bomb.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of IAEA Director General Yukia Amano and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Tehran, July 2, 2015. Source: Europhoto.

Stormy U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Iran Nuke Deal

The Administration rolled out its “A Team” of witnesses at the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on July 29th, chaired by Chairman Arizona Republican Senator John McCain. The Hearing addressed national security issues arising from the Iran nuclear pact scheduled by a Congressional vote on or before September 17th under the term of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Yesterday’s hearing was the last in a series of House and Senate sessions prior to the summer recess  adjournment starting Thursday, July 31st. Congress reconvenes following the Labor Day holiday giving less than 10 days for additional hearings before the vote to either accept or reject the Iran nuclear pact. Public opinion poll taken during the current series of Congressional shows a majority of Americans tilting towards asking Congress to reject the pact. The issue is how many of the undecided 13 Democratic Senators and over 30 Democratic Representatives will decide if a negative vote will be veto proof, given a threat by President Obama.

The panel of witnesses included, Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. While questions naturally arose about the credibility of maintaining a military option, there was a tough grilling of Secretary Kerry and Secretary Moniz by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton on the secret side deals between the UN nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the Islamic Republic of Iran over prior military developments.

DefenseNews reported  the comments of Secretary Carter and Gen. Dempsey on military capabilities:

“It’s important that we have an agreement and it be verifiable, and that we keep doing what we need to do: Defend our friends and allies, remain strong in the Gulf — frequent navigation, ballistic missile defense, all the things that we’re doing, and the agreement doesn’t limit us in any way,” Carter said.

Indeed, “military options remain,” Dempsey said, though a negotiated settlement provides a more “durable” solution, as well as time to work with local partner nations to address Iran’s activities. Dempsey said there are a series of initiatives with Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council to that effect.

Exercising airstrikes to take out Iran’s nuclear capability would disrupt its program by several years, Dempsey said. However analysis suggests it would also provoke Iran to “counter our presence in the region at every opportunity and use these other malign activities they have.”

That led to exchanges with Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Joni Ernst (R-NE). Ernst like Senate panel colleague Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) is a former combat veteran who served in Iraq:

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., characterized Dempsey’s brief opening statement, as a “tepid endorsement” of the accord and “damning disagreement with faint praise,” which Dempsey disputed, saying he agreed with the deal.

His statement was neither “tepid nor enthusiastic, but pragmatic,” Dempsey said. His input in the deal was sought “episodically,” his final recommendation given weeks before negotiations concluded. At least in part, his recommendation was to keep pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missiles and arms trafficking for as long as possible.

Challenged by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, over the president’s assertion that the US faces a choice between an Iran deal or a resolution by force — which Ernst characterized as “war” — Dempsey said he had not said anything to that effect to the president.

“We have a range of options, and I hope to present them,” Dempsey said. “As long as we agree, military strikes on a sovereign nation are an act of war, but there are things between here and there.”

Sen. Cotton was on top of his game engaging in the most withering  Q&A  with  Secretary Kerry and  Energy Secretary Moniz  about their knowledge or the lack thereof  concerning the so-called secret IAEA side deals on prior  military nuclear developments (PMD).  Late he engaged Gen. Dempsey during a discussion of exhibits to corroborate the lethality of Iranian IEDS used to kill American service personnel in Iraq. Dempsey lent the impression he was less inclined to be a booster of the Iran nuke deal. Cotton is both a veteran of combat in Iraq as a former U.S. Army officer and a Harvard Law School graduate and admitted lawyer

Cotton, like any good prosecutor, secured the facts that bolstered his line of questioning to elicit a response he was seeking for the Committee record. Prior to this Armed Services Hearing, Cotton and Kansas Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo had flown to Vienna to confer with IAEA officials uncovering the alleged secret side deals on investigation of Iranian compliance with prior military developments in their nuclear program (PMD).

schultz i know nothingKerry and Moniz, when queried about whether they had either knowledge of or read the IAEA secret side deals on PMD, adopted what in TV land is the fabled Sergeant Schultz defense from the 1960’s TV WWII Nazi prison camp comedy series, “Hogan’s Heroes” – “I know nothing” They simply fobbed it off saying that someone like Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman may have glanced through these documents. Just indicates that the Administration either elected not to conduct due diligence or used the ploy that those agreements were confidential between the IAEA and Iran, that as Cotton pointed out “the Ayatollah read”.

Former IAEA deputy director Olli Heinonen, who is now a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, provided the answers in a report by Armin Rosen of Business Insider.  Heinonen in an email said:

“According to the IAEA rules and practices such documents could be made available to the members of the IAEA Board”. Heinonen said the IAEA secretariat could not divulge these side agreements to other member states on its own initiative. But there are two ways US diplomats could access them. In one scenario, Iran would agree to divulge the documents: “Iran can make it available by asking to distribute it as an [Information Circular] document to all IAEA member states as they did with the 2007 Work Plan,” Heinonen said, referring to a publicly available agreement between the IAEA and Iran on nuclear safeguards.

US diplomats could also view these side agreements if a member state of the IAEA’s 35-member Board of Governors requests their distribution.

Such a move would stand a decent chance of success: “If a board member asks it and others resist the distribution … this can be overcome by a vote,” Heinonen said. “Simple majority is enough, and no vetoes exist in the IAEA system. The board can also request the whole document to be made public. Such a request could be best done by a country which is not part of the JCPOA process; my favorite is Canada.”

Cotton showed   the witness panel two exhibits graphically portraying the effects of an Iranian developed shaped charge IED that were used to kill 500 American service personnel in Iraq. Gen. Dempsey acknowledged what they were and the devastating effects on Humvees, their occupants and other vehicles. Cotton then asks Kerry for his reaction. While, expressing appropriate sorrow for the loss of American lives, Kerry   told the Senate panel that Quds force commander Qasem Soleimani who developed the shaped charge IEDs would not have sanctions removed.  Reports by both ABC news and the Iranian FARS news agency  have confirmed  that Gen.Soleimani has been confirmed among a list   of Iranian persons and institutions included in an annex to the JCPOA who will have both travel bans and asset restrictions lifted.

Watch this YouTube video of Senator Cotton’s Q&A at the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Senator Tom Cotton’s grilling of Kerry and Moniz revealed their lax conduct of due diligence on the IAEA side deals. They spent too much time being hounded with repeated demands for concessions by Javad Zarif in negotiations in Vienna. Instead, they should have sent aides over to the IAEA headquarters to ask about the side deals to provide a road map on prior military developments of Iran nuclear program. Senator Cotton and Rep. Pompeo did just that. Instead Kerry and the negotiating tea m basically said in so many words, we already know what Iran did, let’s move on and get with the program by approving the Iran nuclear pact. The video of Senator Cotton  Senate  Armed Services Committee Q&A should be widely shared  on social media  to inform  undecided  Congressional Democrats about why the Iran nuclear pact  should be rejected.

Hearing by hearing testimony by the Administration “A Team” on the Iranian nuclear pact demonstrates how bad a deal Kerry and the Obama negotiating team crafted with the experts in playing multi-dimensional chess, the Islamic Regime in Tehran.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Kerry: U.S. Obligated to Prevent Israeli Sabotage of Iran’s Nuclear Program

Armin Rosen in a Business Insider article wrote about Florida’s US Senator Marco Rubio’s provocative question that generated a troubling response from Secretary Kerry at yesterday’s testy Senate Foreign Relations Hearing on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program. It had to do with the dilemma facing the Administration about a commitment by the world powers to defend the Iranian nuclear program against attack.

Rubio raised the hypothetical of what would be the U.S. obligation under a provision found in an Annex III to the agreement, if Israel might undertake a possible cyber attack.  An attack akin to the malworm, Stuxnet that disabled Iran’s enrichment centrifuges temporarily setting back their nuclear program.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) questions U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz (not pictured) before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington July 23, 2015.   REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing July 23, 2015. Source:  Reuters-Gary Cameron.

The Business Insider article laid out the quandary:

Republican presidential candidate and US Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) asked about a provision of the agreement that seems to obligate the US and its negotiating partners to help protect Iranian nuclear sites against potential outside attack.

According to Annex III, the agreement’s section on “civil nuclear cooperation,” the signatories commit to “co-operation through training and workshops to strengthen Iran’s ability to protect against, and respond to nuclear security threats, including sabotage, as well as to enable effective and sustainable nuclear security and physical protection systems.

This provision of the deal doesn’t mention any countries by name. But Rubio wondered if this was included in the deal because of Iranian concerns related to a specific US ally.

“If Israel decides it doesn’t like this deal and it wants to sabotage an Iranian nuke program or facility, does this deal that we have just signed obligate us to help Iran defend itself against Israeli sabotage or for that matter the sabotage of any other country in the world?” Rubio asked.

[Secretary of Energy] Moniz replied that “all of our options and those of our allies and friends would remain in place” after the deal goes into effect.

Kerry then jumped in to explain the provision’s specific purpose: “To be able to have longer-term guarantees as we enter a world in which cyberwarfare is increasingly a concern for everybody that if you are going to have a nuclear capacity, you clearly want to be able to make sure that those are adequately protected.”

Rubio posed the key question to Kerry:

If Israel conducts a cyber attack against the Iranian nuclear program are we obligated to help them defend themselves against an Israel cyber attack?

Kerry responded:

I don’t see any way possible that we would be in conflict with Israel with respect to what we might want to do there and we just have to wait until we get until that point,” Kerry said, cryptically — “that point” referring to a future time at which Israel believes it’s necessary to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. It seems that at that juncture, the US would have to determine whose side to take.

The background of this troubling JCPOA provision was explored in our July 14, 2015 1330 amWEBY interview with Omri Ceren of The Israel Project and Shoshana Bryen of The Jewish Policy Center to be published as an article in the August edition of the New English Review.

Note this exchange between Mike Bates of WEBY and Bryen:

sbryen-804443500

Shoshana Bryen of The Jewish Policy Center.

Bates:  Shoshana.  Because with a deal in place, Iran will be free to covertly develop nuclear weapons without consequence.  …However, if the day comes when Israel has valid reasons to believe that a nuclear weapon is in the hands of the Iranians, or is imminently so, Israel is going to have no choice but to act unilaterally.  When they do, they will be excoriated and vilified.  … I think this makes it more dangerous, because the military option, as I see it, Shoshana, is off the table.

 Bryen:  I’m not sure it wasn’t always off the table.  Starting in the Bush Administration,the United States and Israel had a divergence of opinion about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. The Bush administration was in favor of sanctions and believed in squeezing them to death.  They were not in favor of military activity.   The Israelis always had believed that military action was best done in conjunction with the United States. Once they began to understand that there was no way, that even their good friend George W. Bush was not going to help them do this.   The military option became less viable.  You have to think about it from the point of view of a small country, Israel, and a large country, Iran, which has air defenses. Iran will now have better air defenses, because the Russians have sold them better air defenses.  The Iranians had more time to bury and harden their facilities.  They’ve had more time to dig them under populated places.  If you have to drop a bomb on something, the collateral damage there will be very heavy. I’m not sure that there was a great military option, to begin with.  However, you are right to the extent that if there was a facility you felt was absolutely crucial, I believe Israel could destroy it.

Omri Ceren

Omri Ceren, The Israel Project.

Note the following exchange between Bates and Ceren:

Bates:   I’m more concerned about the 8 million people living in Israel; the 300 millionpeople in the United States.  I’m concerned that Iran has been given a pathway to a bomb that is unobstructed.  This takes the military option off the table.  Even if Israel believes their existential threat is imminent, they can hardly attack militarily to stop it.  …I think the concessions are so much bigger than that.  Am I wrong, Omri?

Ceren:  Let me say that Shoshana’s answer was very compelling…Which is the military option was never Israel’s main option.  Sabotage and subterfuge were Israel’s real options, which is why it is so concerning that this deal puts the Iranian nuclear program under international sponsorship.There is an annex to the deal that says the EU-3 and their partners will teach them how to harden their nuclear assets against sabotage.  Specifically, against nuclear sabotage. In effect we’re protecting them,as they build up their program.  Forget protecting them in the last five minutes from Israeli action.  Thisdeal protects them from Israeli action throughout the entire lifetime of the deal

These exchanges between Senator Rubio and Secretary Kerry at yesterday’s Senate Foreign Relations Hearing and the excerpted WEBY interview exchanges with both Bryen and Ceren in the forthcoming New English Review article demonstrate how the JCPOA constrains both the US and Israel’s options to deal with the Iran nuclear threat. All due to the concessions made by Kerry and the negotiating team at both Lausanne and in Vienna. It explains why the Republican majority in both Houses of Congress and even some minority Democrats oppose the nuclear pact with Iran. Further, why Israel PM Netanyahu called the Nuclear pact with Iran a very bad deal in his speech on March 3,2015 before a Joint Meeting of Congress. We commend Republican Senator Rubio for asking the tough question that forced Secretary Kerry’s verification of how bad this deal is.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Secretary of State Kerry with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, and Energy Secretary Moniz, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, July 23, 2015. Source: AP/Andrew Harnik.

Kerry’s Double-talk on Iran

On Tuesday, June 16, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry held a video conference with a number of news media journalists on prevailing issues. Less than fourteen days remain till a definitive Joint Plan of Action might be available for Congress review under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). That is, if there isn’t a delay.This video conference revealed still yet another stunning concession on the critical element of Iran’s previous military developments (PMD): perfect knowledge of all prior nuclear developments making IAEA verification virtually impossible. Kerry was backtracking on his November 2013 and April 2, 2015 statements.

Watch the State Department video conference with Secretary Kerry:

Witness this exchange with Michael Gordon of the New York Times:

QUESTION: Sir, I’m Michael Gordon, New York Times. You mentioned that possible military dimensions, which is the term of art for suspected nuclear design work and testing of nuclear components, has to be addressed as part of a prospective Iran agreement. Do these concerns need to be fully resolved before sanctions are eased or released or removed or suspended on Iran as part of that agreement? Is that a core principle or is that also negotiable? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Michael, the possible military dimensions, frankly, gets distorted a little bit in some of the discussion, in that we’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another. We know what they did. We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge with respect to the certain military activities they were engaged in.

What we’re concerned about is going forward. It’s critical to us to know that going forward, those activities have been stopped, and that we can account for that in a legitimate way. That clearly is one of the requirements in our judgment for what has to be achieved in order to have a legitimate agreement. And in order to have an agreement to trigger any kind of material significant sanctions relief, we would have to have those answers.

Armin Rosen, writing in Business Insider considered Kerry’s answer contradictory to what the Secretary had said back in April:

This is a crucial question. Without Iran divulging the degree of its past work on nuclear weaponization, inspectors will have a harder time establishing a baseline for assessing Iranian compliance with the terms of a deal.

Disclosure on the nuclear program’s military dimensions is also an early yardstick of Iranian good faith.

The International Atomic Energy Agency submitted 12 queries to Iran about its weaponization work in 2011. Tehran had only responded to one of them as of February 2013, and the IAEA’s leadership has acknowledged that it doesn’t think Iran will come clean before the June 30 deadline.

That makes some sense from Iran’s perspective, as the country’s negotiators have deftly used the ambiguities surrounding the country’s weaponization work for negotiating leverage. But that rationale disappears once a deal is signed, at which point the sides will have spent whatever leverage they had while theoretically having a mutual incentive to make the agreement work. And it won’t work as well if inspectors don’t have an understanding of the full extent and history of Iran’s nuclear program.

Here’s why Rosen thought Kerry’s answer contradictory and problematic in understanding how a definitive JPOA was verifiable:

Kerry’s answer is puzzling for a number of other reasons. The administration’s assessment of the nuclear dimensions of Iran’s program is not just secret, but non-disprovable for anyone who hasn’t seen US or allied intelligence on Iranian weaponization.

Kerry’s answer doesn’t mesh with repeated IAEA claims that the Agency can’t verify “that all the activities in Iran are for peaceful purposes.”

And Kerry doesn’t elaborate about “what they did.” Was Iran testing nuclear detonators, or diverting fissile material to a weapons program? Is the extent of Iranian weaponization work greater or less than the public record — which establishes that Iran may have tested nuclear weapons triggers at the Parchin facility up until 2003, andmaintained a research group dedicated to weaponization activities?

Kerry’s statement raises more questions than it answers. But it appears that the Obama administration isn’t going to insist on full Iranian disclosure of the extent of its nuclear program as part of a comprehensive deal.

Here’s why:

That’s a shift from just two months ago; right after the parties reached a preliminary deal, when Kerry told PBS that Iran would need to divulge its past nuclear activities as part of any final deal.

“They have to do it. It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal; it will be done,” he said.

Whether it is collaborative research with North Korea on nuclear warheads or ICBM technology or another country in the axis of resistance, Iran will not permit any verification of prior military developments by the IAEA through inspection of the known military sites in country.  Going forward on that basis is impractical and unsafe.  Iran doubtless may already have achieved nuclear weapons capabilities.   Moreover upon lifting upwards of $50 billion in sanctioned funds, Iran may accelerate the means of delivering them, as well as, funding more chaos in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq.  The days are running down towards a debacle with an untrustworthy Iran, increasing the unease of Congress on the cusp of reviewing it under the INARA.  A negative vote which may trigger a veto by President Obama that the Congress may not have the votes to override.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Alleged Israeli Cyber Spying on Iran Talks?

Outgoing Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey made his last visit to Tel Aviv to meet with IDF counterparts. Ostensibly this trip by outgoing JCS chief Dempsey was to assure the IDF that the U.S. would live up to its pledge to maintain the Qualitative Military Edge superiority of the IDF in the Middle East.  This was about Israeli concerns raised over advanced weapons systems like the F-35 being offered to Gulf Cooperation Council, notably Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is caught between Iran’s hegemony over four Arab capitals, the threats of ISIS infiltrating the Kingdom perpetrating suicide bombings and the current conflict against Iranian trained Houthi rebels in Yemen. Somehow we are lent the impression that he may have been there to  promote  the benefits of a  looming  P5+1 deal against a nuclear Iran, trusting that any deal with Islamist Iran threatening to wipe Israel off the map of the word  wouldn’t interfere with the long coveted exchange of intelligence  and cyber-security information between the two allies.

Kaspersky labs Reuters-Serhgei Karpukhirt

Kaspersky Labs Moscow-based cyber security firm. Source: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

That impression was dispelled by news from Moscow-based Kaspersky Laboratories, a premier cyber security firm detecting a new malware, called Duqu Bet, named after the second alphabet in the Hebrew alphabet alleging possible Israeli development of a powerful cyber spy software system.  A Wall Street Journal report suggested that Duqu Bet was allegedly targeting posh hotels used for private U.S. Iranian negotiations in Switzerland and Austria. In a February 2015 Iconoclast post we noted Duqu 1.0 as a key component in the Equation group discovered by cyber security firm Kaspersky Labs based in Russia:

The Equation Group according to Kaspersky has a powerful and  geographically distributed network  covering more than 300 web domains  involving over 100 servers located in the U.S., UK, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Panama, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Colombia and the Czech Republic.  Since 2001, it has infected tens of thousands of “high profile victims” in over 30 countries. Examples include: “Government and diplomatic institutions, Telecommunications, Aerospace, Energy, Nuclear research, Oil and Gas, Military, Nanotechnology, Islamic activists and scholars, Mass media, Transportation, Financial institutions and companies developing encryption technologies.”

 Business Insider noted the hypocrisy of Kaspersky disclosing this latest alleged Israeli Malware:

“The use of Duqu by Israel against Iran is not the question we should be asking,” Jeff Bardin, chief intelligence officer of Treadstone 71, told Business Insider. “The question should be why Kaspersky only finds code of this type by nation-states it does not consider friendly to Russia or those aligned to the West.” Is it because there is no code of this type [Duqu] coming out of Russia?” Bardin asks, “Or is it because disclosing code of this type that is Russian made and in use against target nation-states would place Eugene Kaspersky at risk of countering his country’s cyber espionage efforts and, at risk of incurring the wrath of Putin?”

The firm’s billionaire founder and CEO, Eugene Kaspersky, used to work for the KGB and reportedly maintains relationships with former and current Russian intelligence officials.

“Kaspersky releases this information as a political tool,” Bardin said. “The absence of any photos of Kaspersky with Putin on the internet is itself evidence of direct alignment. Can you be a billionaire in Russia today without the direct scrutiny of Vladimir Putin?”

Bloomberg analysis of Kaspersky’s work generally supports Bardin’s suspicions: “While Kaspersky Lab has published a series of reports that examined alleged electronic espionage by the U.S., Israel, and the U.K., the company hasn’t pursued alleged Russian operations with the same vigor

Gav-Yam Technology Center source WSJDoubtless the Israeli military and national security echelons harrumphed about U.S. cyber security expertise given Chinese and Russian hacking of U.S. government and White House files. The Wall Street Journal reported Israel building a $5.9 billion cyber communication security complex near Beersheba in the Negev to house military high tech echelons including the fabled Unit 8200. That has attracted U.S. high tech and defense firms like EMC, Oracle and Lockheed Martin to build facilities in the planned development.

 The Pentagon recently announced “restocking” of supplies of tens of thousands of rockets, missiles, and quantities of ammunition held back at White House request during last summer’s Operation Defense Edge.  That may not include so-called  bunker busters or the Boeing developed CHAMP non-nuclear EMP cruise missile capable of   destroying computers  and communication nets  of Iran’s nuclear  program  without loss of life.  The Pentagon promoted this latest offering as an increase of weapons under the $1.8 billion military grant.

However, Dempsey’s leave taking and his successor, Marine General Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. arrival under  Pentagon civilian chief, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter may have a different agenda.  With 18 months left in the President’s second term and a possible diplomatic deal with Iran over its nuclear program releasing tens of billions of funds, Israel is clearly concerned. Concerned that Iran may already have achieved a nuclear threshold and been given funds to support state terrorism enabling delivery of more weapons to proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas.  Hezbollah’s Sheik Nasrallah threatened  “displacement of Millions of Israelis” in any future conflict with Israel raining down hundreds of thousands of Iranian supplied rockets and missiles on the Jewish nation.

Meanwhile, the alleged solid intelligence and security alliance between the U.S. and Israel appears tattered, awaiting a successor to President Obama in January 2017 who may return the previously productive relationship to solid footing.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

EXPOSED: U.S. Dept. of Energy Secret Facility to Estimate Iranian Nuclear Breakout

Business Insider published an assessment of a New York Times (NYT)  report on the US Department of Energy building a secret test facility in Tennessee to test out  the ability of Iran’s nuclear program to achieve nuclear breakout from their uranium enrichment  program, the NYT report,  Atomic Labs Across the U.S. Race to Stop Iran authored by David Sanger and William Broad, known for leaking Administration  information, noted:

There inside a gleaming plant at the Oak Ridge nuclear reservation were giant centrifuges — some surrendered more than a decade ago by Libya, others built since — that helped the scientists come up with what they told President Obama were the “best reasonable” estimates of Iran’s real-life ability to race for a weapon under different scenarios.

“We know a lot more about Iranian centrifuges than we would otherwise,” said a senior nuclear specialist familiar with the forested site and its covert operations.

The classified replica is but one part of an extensive crash program within the nation’s nine atomic laboratories — Oak Ridge, Los Alamos and Livermore among them — to block Iran’s nuclear progress. As the next round of talks begins on Wednesday in Vienna, the secretive effort remains a technological obsession for thousands of lab employees living the Manhattan Project in reverse. Instead of building a bomb, as their predecessors did in a race to end World War II, they are trying to stop one.

This Business Insider article demonstrates how the Department of Energy had used nuclear enrichment equipment surrendered by Gaddafi’s Libya in 2004 to replicate the enrichment cascade hall at Natanz in Iran in an attempt to estimate the time to breakout. The fact that the New York Times disclosures underestimated what third party experts like David Albright’s Washington-D.C. – based Institute for Science and International Security (the good ISIS) and others had determined was the technical assessment that Iran’s actual breakout time was less than three months is an indication of the incredible cupidity of the Administration that Iran couldn’t obtain a nuclear device in less than one year a decade from conclusion of an agreement. The obvious move by Congress is hold hearings on this disclosure with qualified third party experts. The other implication is that Israeli PM Netanyahu may have had independent verification that the quantity of low enriched uranium could easily be converted into fissile material for a nuclear weapon, hence his argument that the Administration’s negotiation stance using the Department of Energy simulations would lead to what he deemed a ‘very bad deal” in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran.

Note these excerpts:

This “Manhattan Project in reverse” is situated on the grounds of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It uses placeholder centrifuges meant to represent Iranian equipment — an assembly that including centrifuges once belonging to Libya’s disbanded nuclear program.

Scientists apparently proposed redesigns, centrifuge cascade configurations, limits on types of centrifuges, and other fixes that they believed would keep Iranian breakout at under a year. Eventually, they reached an equation that the Iranians could accept.

The Obama administration has premised its arguments for a nuclear deal with Iran on the claim that for a period of 10 years, limits imposed on the Islamic Republic would make it nearly impossible for the country to build a single nuclear weapon in less than a year without the international community learning about it and formulating a response.

The Times doesn’t go into much detail as to what those fixes actually consist of, but reports that government scientists reached a high level of confidence that their formula could keep Iran at a one-year breakout.

For instance: “The question was whether a proposed design of Natanz [Iran’s only uranium enrichment facility for the first 15 years of an envisioned nuclear deal] that allowed more than 6,000 centrifuges to spin would still accomplish the administration’s goal of keeping Iran at least a year away from acquiring enough enriched uranium to make a bomb,” the Times article states. “The answer was yes.”

But experts are skeptical:

In a report issued on April 11th and authored by a group of scientists that included physicist and former International Atomic Energy Agency expert David Albright, the Institute for Science and International Security noticed a curious aspect to the administration’s breakout estimates: they didn’t seem to take into account Iran’s supply of 20% enriched uranium, fissile material has undergone around 90% of the revolutions needed to reach weapons-grade.

Iran oxidized half of its 20% stock (and down-blended the other half to a lower level of enrichment) under the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action signed between Iran and a group of 6 countries led by the US.

As the ISIS report explains, in leaving the oxidized 20% stocks out of its breakout estimate, the administration seems to believe that reconverting that 20% to a state where it can be further enriched and weaponized would be such a time-consuming, intensive, and obvious process that Iran’s 20% stocks simple don’t need to be factored into weaponization scenarios.

The ISIS report is skeptical. It says Iran could render its 20% stocks usable in just a few months and that it’s hugely relevant to any breakout scenario.

“The near 20 percent LEU stock, unless largely eliminated or rendered unusable in a breakout, could be an important reserve in reducing the time to produce the first significant quantity of weapon-grade uranium (WGU) and rapidly producing a second significant quantity of WGU,” the report states.

According the series of fact sheets released after the Lausanne, Switzerland nuclear talks concluded, Iran would be allowed to keep a stockpile of 300 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.67% under a final deal. Even a small amount of uranium at 20% enrichment would far surpass this stockpile in weaponization potential: “a rule of thumb is that 50 kilograms of near 20 percent LEU hexafluoride (or about 33 kilograms uranium mass) is equivalent in terms of shortening breakout time to 500 kilograms of 3.5 percent LEU hexafluoride,” the report says.

And Iran has plenty of convertible 20% on hand — around 228 kilograms of uranium mass of near-20%, which would come out to 337 kilograms of near-20% if it were “converted back to hexaflouride form.”

Much of the 20% is “in forms where the LEU could be recovered in a straightforward manner.” But the report found no proof that the 20% had been included in the administration’s breakout estimate, and concluded that “the US evaluation requires greater scrutiny.”

Bloomberg confirms the ISIS report findings:

As Bloomberg reported on April 21, the administration only declassified its actual breakout estimate — which states that Iran is currently between 2 and 3 months away from building a single nuclear weapon, if it chose to do so — on April 1st, the day before the series of announcements that marked the conclusion of the Lausanne, Switzerland round of nuclear negotiations. Ali Khadery, a former advisor to U.S. Central Command and the U.S. official who spent the longest time in Iraq during the American military campaign in that country, suggested on Twitter that an approximate 2-3 month breakout estimate dated from as early as 2009.

Business Insider conclusion:

The New York Times article gives an idea of the scientific infrastructure the US is using to evaluate its breakout claims. It’s now known that there are scientists using a mock-up of Iranian nuclear facilities to produce conditions for reaching a one-year breakout time.

The methods they’re actually using for reaching those conclusions, and the relationship between the administration’s public breakout claims and Iran’s actual timetable under a final deal, both remain as vague as ever.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of the Y-12 National Security Complex Oak Ridge Tennessee.  Source:  National Nuclear Security Admin – Reuters.