Posts

IAEA: Iran producing ‘Chemically Man-Made Uranium’

Last summer during the intense Congressional Hearings on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) and Rep. Michael Pompeo (R-KS) went to Vienna to pay a visit to Yukio Amano, Director General of UN Nuclear Watchdog agency, the IAEA.  They came back with disturbing revelations about so-called secret deals by the Obama Administration regarding inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities. Especially concerning the Parchin military research site located 19 miles southeast of Tehran.  Parchin had been the suspected site of so-called Prior Military Development of nuclear triggers that had allegedly ceased in 2005.  In  September 2015,  Sen. Cotton and Rep. Pompeo  accused  IAEA  chief Amano of misleading the Congress to ensure passage of  JCPOA  when  Iran  self collected samples at the Parchin test site. Now there is evidence that IAEA test environmental samples taken last fall at the Parchin site revealed particles of “chemically man made uranium.”

Parchin Test Site 7-2015

Parchin, Iran Military Complex. Source: DigitGlobe AFP

In October 2014, during negotiations of the P5+1 JCPOA there was a blast at the Parchin test site. We wrote in an NER/Iconoclast blog post, “Washington-based Nuclear Watchdog Confirms Blast at Parchin Nuclear Trigger Test Site in Iran.”

The blast there occurred on Sunday night local time. It produced a glare that could be seen 13 kilometers (approximately 10 miles) distant, as well as blew out windows.  The Iranian regime’s IRNA and opposition Samha news agencies reported on the blast at Parchin that killed two workers.  The Washington, DC-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) released evidence of damage at the Parchin test site based on satellite imagery, “Finding the Site of the Alleged Explosion at the Parchin Military Complex”.   Their analysis found:

After analyzing the sections of the Parchin military complex visible in satellite imagery, ISIS believes that one site located in the southern section of the complex could be the possible location of the explosion. This site is close to a series of bunkers, indicating that it could serve as a support area for the activities taking place there. Several signatures that coincide with those expected from an explosion site are visible here. Two buildings that were present in August 2014 are no longer there, while a third building appears to be severely damaged. In total at least six buildings appear damaged or destroyed. Several trucks are present at the site. The shape and size of these trucks is consistent with those of either fire or debris removal trucks. The irregular line and color of the vegetation seems to indicate that some unexpected activity took place (possibly a fire, explosion, scattering of debris etc.). Finally, grey debris is visible at the center of the potential explosion area and is also scattered into the surrounding vegetation.

It was reported that the imagery shows that the damage is consistent with an attack against bunkers and that the locality is adjacent to another installation where work was being conducted that involves controlled detonation of fuses intended to serve as triggers for nuclear devices.

However, it is important to note that there is no evidence of either an attack or nuclear weapon-related activities at this specific site. There may be confusion over alleged high explosive nuclear weapon-related activities at another site at Parchin that occurred prior to 2004.

Following the release of the JCPOA on July 15, 2015, we wrote in an NER article, The Iran Nuclear Deal – a Pandora’s Box.

The devil is in both the details of the JCPOA and what was excluded.  Especially concerning was the matter of satisfying the IAEA’s complaint about Iran’s alleged non-compliance with requests for information on prior military nuclear developments (PMD).  For example  the development of explosive triggers at the Parchin research facility. Ayatollah Khamenei basically nixed any IAEA inspections of facilities and programs under the country’s IRGC control. At first denied by the Obama Administration, so-called ‘secret’ side deals between the IAEA and the Islamic Republic were justified because that was the protocol under the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty. A Wall Street Journal report on July 27, 2015 provided assessments by Congressional lawmakers who were briefed on these arrangements concluded that the IAEA would not conclusively discover the extent of Iran’s PMD. The Administration contested that would not stand in the way of verifying future commitments.

On Monday, June 20, 2016, the predictable consequences of the Islamic Regime’s  activities at the Parchin military test site were revealed in the second  report since January 15, 2016 that lifted sanctions.  ISIS made the following assessment of a May 26, 2016 IAEA report, “Parchin: Will the IAEA Verify the Absence of Nuclear Weapons Activities in Iran?

ISIS noted this background:

On May 27, 2016, the IAEA released its second report on Iran’s compliance with United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 2231 (2015), which codified into international law the JCPOA. The report states that the IAEA conducted “complementary accesses under the Additional Protocol to sites and other locations in Iran.” It is not specific about which sites the inspectors visited and does not provide any other information pertaining to Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA ban on activities related to the design and development of a nuclear explosive device.

In particular, the report does not state whether inspectors visited the Parchin military complex, which is the location of a site linked to high explosive work prior to 2004 related to the development of nuclear weapons. The IAEA was unable to form a conclusion about such nuclear weapons related activities when it visited the site during the fall of 2015 as part of its investigation into Iran’s possible military nuclear activities.

Discovery of “chemically man made uranium”:

Despite the IAEA’s use of a non-standard sampling approach at Parchin, environmental samples taken during the fall visit identified “chemically man-made particles of natural uranium.” However, the IAEA did not make a definitive conclusion about the use of nuclear material at the site.

The IAEA only stated that the number of particles with this specific composition was not enough to assert the use of nuclear material there, and provided no further explanation for their presence in the last two safeguards reports.

An ambiguous sampling result would normally trigger re-sampling at the main building of interest at the site and also at adjacent areas or buildings. However, there is no available information indicating that this re-sampling has taken place.

U.S. officials have stated to our Institute that this finding confirms that uranium was present at the Parchin site and indicates that nuclear weapons related experiments involving the use of uranium were indeed carried out there.

The presence of these particles confirmed the U.S. government’s suspicions that something nefarious happened at the Parchin site. However, the IAEA has not agreed with this conclusion and has appeared hesitant to seek a return visit to Parchin for additional samples.

A senior IAEA official refused to answer a query on May 27, 2016 about whether Parchin or other military sites have been visited since Implementation Day.

The IAEA also refused to state to the media which specific sites were visited under complementary access.

The Wall Street Journal in its report on the IAEA test samples taken at the Parchin test Site in October 2015 noted these comments from a former Obama nuclear negotiator and critics of the JCPOA:

Robert Einhorn, a top Iran negotiator during the Obama administration and now a nuclear expert at the Brookings Institution , said: “The assumption in the [U.S.] government is that these were nuclear weapons-related experiments. The evidence is, technically, inconclusive. But the administration believes it has other information that confirms there was weapons-related activity there.”

The man-made uranium found at Parchin, which has only low-levels of fissionable isotopes, can be used as a substitute for weapons-grade materials in developing atomic bombs, according to nuclear experts. It can also be used as component in a neutron initiator, a triggering device for a nuclear weapon.

Critics of the nuclear deal have cited the presence of uranium at Parchin as evidence the Obama administration didn’t go far enough in demanding Iran answer all questions concerning its past nuclear work before lifting international sanctions in January. They also argue that it is hard to develop a comprehensive monitoring regime without knowing everything Iran has done.

Note what ISIS did in May 2016 to disclose the activities at Parchin and the State Department reaction:

ISIS obtained commercial satellite images of Parchin last month that showed new construction in an area where the explosives testing is believed to have taken place.  David Albright, head of the institute, said the construction would likely “further complicate” efforts to investigate the presence of uranium at the military base.

Obama administration officials confirmed the U.S. government has also seen the new construction at Parchin, but doesn’t believe it is related to nuclear work.

“Parchin is an active military facility, and construction there does not necessarily indicate any nuclear-related activity,” said a State Department official. “At this time, we have no information that would lead us to believe that there is undeclared nuclear activity taking place anywhere in Iran.”

Obfuscation and denial of this latest revelation about what may have been going on at Parchin begins to question the principal foreign policy legacy that President Obama will leave behind for his successor to deal with on Iran’s Nuclear intentions. In the meantime, Sen. Cotton and Rep. Pompeo will  keep a watching brief for Congressional investigations on the alleged “robust and intrusive inspection system” of the IAEA that the Administration relies on for JCPOA compliance by an untrustworthy Islamic Republic in Tehran.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in The Nat Sec Daily Brief.

Israel: ‘No Choice’ but Military Option against Iran’s Nuclear Program?

Israel - Iran War Scenarios  12-14(2)In 1964, I sat in a darkened movie theater in Washington, D.C. with a fellow Army Intelligence officer watching Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant dark satire film on how to live with thermonuclear warfare, Dr Strangelove: or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. My colleague and I laughed nervously as we had just finished secret intelligence assignments. That memory was triggered by a recent American Thinker article by veteran nuclear war gaming and arms control expert, John Bosum, “Thinking About the Unthinkable: An Israel-Iran Nuclear War”.  That was a reference to books and articles by nuclear game theorist and Hudson Institute co-founder Herman Kahn and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on limited nuclear warfare.

Scary prospects then, scary prospects now with the world on the verge of concluding a nuclear agreement with the apocalyptic Islamic Republic of Iran virtually assuring it of an arsenal of nuclear weapons in a decade, if not sooner funding in part by the lifting of $150 billion in sanctions. The U.S. says it has the means of striking back at Iran if it is found cheating, a reference to possible military actions. The reality is that the Administration has hollowed out the nation’s military capabilities leaving Israel isolated. The Jewish nation would doubtlessly be reviled by world opinion, should it undertake a strike of its own on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The Israeli Limited Nuclear Attack Scenario

There are daunting prospects facing Israel with the looming Congressional vote rejecting the Iran nuclear pact in the face of a likely veto threat by President Obama that may not be overridden. John Bosum, in his American Thinker article vets a possible limited nuclear attack by Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities. His credibility stems from his considerable expertise and professional background in nuclear war gaming and arms control.  He posits an attack scenario using conventional air craft equipped with US supplied GBU 28 “bunker busters” followed by tactical nukes or nuclear tipped cruise missiles launched from Israeli Dolphin subs offshore in the Arabian Sea.  That scenario faces the realities of estimated losses by Israel Ministry of Defense planners. They have estimated that such a scenario might result in the loss of 40 percent of air crews-a heavy price to pay for young IAF pilots.  Then there is Bosum’s suggestion that Israel might use a low altitude EMP attack on Iran by a Jericho 2 missile.  Ex-CIA official Chet Nagle suggested that Israel might pursue that during a Capitol Hill EMPact program on the EMP Threat several years ago. There is also the non nuclear option using swarms of Drone- launched CHAMP cruise missiles that could take out specific targets. Examples are computer controllers and major power transformers for underground enrichment and centrifuge R& D facilities as well as command and control networks. Israeli encrypted software managing large swarms of drones may provide a stealth shield against the Russian supplied S300 batteries. In September 2008 the IAF flew simulated missions against Greek S300 systems involving swarms of IAF aircraft that rattled the IRGC military. From that exercise the IAF may have developed electronic means of spoofing these Russian systems version of S-300 air defense systems.

Bosum believes that Israel’s anti-missile umbrella including the Arrow anti-ICBM, David Sling, Iron Beam and Iron Dome systems, might not be able to withstand barrages of Iranian rockets and medium range ballistic missiles. There is evidence from the Tel Aviv University Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) November 2012 Iran attack simulations that a conventional attack might succeed in setting back the Iranian program by three years.  Moreover, the simulations suggest that the anti-missile umbrella may destroy significant numbers of incoming Iranian missiles sparing Israel’s major population centers. From reliable sources we understand that Israel may have successfully conducted tests against North Korean developed Shahab 3 missiles likely candidates for nuclear equipped MIRV warheads.

The real issues for Israel are priorities and staging of a limited nuclear attack scenario on Iran’s nuclear program.  From release of  interview audio tapes  this weekend on Israeli Channel 2  by the authors of a forthcoming memoir of  former Defense Minister Ehud Barak   there were allegations  that  Netanyahu was thwarted  from undertaking possible Iran nuclear attack missions  because of objections from  former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, “cold feet” of Ministers Yuval Steinitz, Minister of Defense Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon  and  looming joint Israel US military exercises in 2012. There were reports that President Obama threatened to invoke the Brzezinski Doctrine with orders to shoot down IAF aircraft attacking Iranian targets.  Problem is Barak’s representations may have been part of a promotional effort to enhance his reputation and legacy.  There were also rumors that current Minister of Defense, Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon may have also revisited the limited Iran nuclear attack option this past year.  He broadly hinted  that “steps” might have to be taken during a May 5, 2015 conference in Tel Aviv hosted by the Israel Law Center, sufficient to bring a reaction from Iran’s UN Ambassador. Ya’alon was cited in a Times of Israel report saying:

“Certain steps” Israel might consider against tyrannical regimes threatening the nation’s security.

Cases in which we feel like we don’t have the answer by surgical operations we might take certain steps that we believe…should be taken in order to defend ourselves.

Of course, we should be sure that we can look at the mirror after the decision, or the operation. Of course, we should be sure that it is a military necessity. We should consider cost and benefit, of course. But, at the end, we might take certain steps.

He was reminded of US president Harry Truman who “was asked how you feel after deciding to launch the nuclear bombs, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, causing at the end the fatalities of 200,000, casualties? And he said, “When I heard from my officers the alternative is a long war with Japan, with potential fatalities of a couple of millions, I thought it is a moral decision.

We are not there yet, Ya’alon then added.

The Hezbollah Attack Scenario

The release in mid-August 2015 of a definitive national strategy document by IDF Chief of State (COS) Gen. Gadi Eizenkot,  criticized failures to combat both Hamas and Hezbollah, raised the risk from non-state fundamentalist Islamic State, but downplayed the Iran threat.   It is not without moment in late August that there was a stream of contradictory declarations from PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya’alon that Iran is behind a series of low intensity and rocket attacks on Northern Israel and the Golan frontier since the beginning of this year. The attacks involved IRGC officers and Iranian proxies Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  Israeli PM Netanyahu referencing acceptance of the Iran nuclear pact by world powers said, “You rush to embrace Iran, they fire rockets at us. We will harm those who harm us”

From the assessments of retired Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror, former National Security Adviser, the immediate objective is the elimination of the near enemy and proxy of Iran, Hezbollah.  Recently Iran unveiled a new solid fuel surface to surface missile, the Fateh 313, that President Rouhani threatened  ballistic missile exercises would demonstrate the ability of longer range missiles to strike both Israel and Saudi Arabia.  The limited range of 310 miles of the Fateh-113 makes the weapon suitable for possible launch from Syria and Lebanon against population centers in Israel. Further, this threat is bolstered by the turmoil in Lebanon behind the unresolved political crisis over the possibility of a power grab by Hezbollah.

An Israeli preemptive attack scenario is at the heart of Jon Schanzer’s article, “The Iran Nuclear Deal Means War between Israel and Hezbollah”.   Schanzer argues that the Iran nuclear deal may trigger a major war against Hezbollah to eliminate the Iranian- supplied rocket and missile inventories and the command and control echelons of Hezbollah.  Schanzer refers to discussions with senior Israeli defense officials who appear committed   to dislodge Hezbollah and destroy the huge inventory of 150,000 rockets and missiles in Lebanon. Israel has both air and naval combat capabilities to achieve this including interdiction of Iranian and Chinese supplied anti-ship missiles. Further, the IDF would not have to rely on those U.S.-supplied GBU-28’s bunker busters.  It has sophisticated weapons like the Rafael SPICE precision guided glide bombs used to foil weapons deliveries from Syria to Hezbollah in the Bekaa Valley. It also has its own variant of the Boeing CHAMP cruise missiles capable of non-nuclear EMP effects against command and control nets. Moreover, unlike the inconclusive Second Lebanon War of 2006, the IDF has learned its lessons about unit training, command and control and effective means of taking out anti-air,  anti-tank rockets and  launching precision battlefield missiles, using the Iron Beam, Trophy and Pereh systems.

This sequencing of threat priorities was reflected in a Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition Interview by Sohran Ahmari with former Saudi General and National Security Advisor Anwar Eshki, “The Saudis Reply to Iran’s Rising Danger.”  General Eshki held colloquies with Dr. Dore Gold   director general of the Israel Foreign Ministry. The most notable one was the public forum at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. General Eshki’s conclusion drawn from a Socratic dialogue on the near versus far enemy decision paradigm was: “Israel is thinking first of all to destroy Hezbollah, to solve the problem with Hezbollah. After that they can attack Iran.”

Walla News in Israel reported a senior defense official   saying that Israel may be capable of undertaking an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and defending Israel against a retaliatory strike:

Every year that passes, the IDF improves. We never stand still. The professional level increases. In the coming year we will receive another submarine, F-35 fighter jets and other platforms. Intelligence is improving as well.

Further, Walla reported IDF COS Eizenkot instructing deputy, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan to revise military plans for a possible military strike. But it cautioned that the military option was off the table until there are ‘significant developments’.  That may be for public consumption. Israel has a tradition of saying nothing or opaquely very little when such events occur

Conclusion

The planners in the Ministry of Defense pits in Tel Aviv have multiple threats and must prioritize resources. By necessity Israel must plan for taking out the near enemy, Hezbollah, which would enable them to have a clear path to attack Iran.  Thus, it must be prepared to accomplish both threats.  At issue is whether Israel I PM Netanyahu and the security cabinet have the resolve to accomplish both despite adverse world opinion and likely intervention by the Obama Administration.

When Israeli PM Begin ordered the “raid against the sun’ in 1981 that took out Saddam Hussein’s  Osirak nuclear reactor , it took a decade for former Vice President Dick Cheney to thank Israel when the US led coalition unleashed the First Gulf War.  No such thanks came from the Bush Administration following the IAF’s successful obliteration of the Syrian al-Kibar nuclear bomb factory following the September 2007 raid.  . The Obama Administration has demonstrated its inability or unwillingness to exercise a possible military option should Iran be found cheating under the terms of the JCPOA. It has hollowed out the US military capability under the Congressional Sequester.  We have the smallest navy since WWI and the smallest Army since before WWII. We have less than 26,000 first line aircraft.  Israel has no choice, but to undertake its sovereign right to defend the Jewish nation against such existential threats.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Iranian President Rouhani and Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan with Fateh-313 Sold Fuel Missile, August 22, 2015. Source: Iranian Presidential office/AP.

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.

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) Opposes Iran Nuke Deal

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), long term House and Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, gave a speech at Seton Hall University in New Jersey this afternoon announcing his expected opposition to President Obama’s Iran nuclear pact. The venue was Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Sen. Menendez was introduced by Courtney Smith, Senior Associate Dean and Associate Professor. This follows announcements by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Senator  Bob Corker (R-TN), yesterday,  and last week by New York Democrat colleague Senator Charles Schumer.

We are also awaiting a decision from Menendez’s successor as Ranking Member on Senate Foreign Relations, Senator Ben-Cardin (D-MD) co-sponsor of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA).  At issue is whether the Congress can successfully override an announced veto by President Obama should, as expected the Republican majorities solidly back a resolution to reject the Iran nuclear deal. That was sealed by the announcement Monday by Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake. The ability to override the President’s threatened veto hinges on  whether currently wavering Democrat members of both chambers in Congress elect to reject the pact, given intense Administration lobbying and constituent opinions. Recent polls show that the majority of Americans responding urge their Senators and Congressional Representatives to reject the Iran nuclear deal by 2 to 1.

The Elder of Ziyun blog has the full transcript of Senator Menendez’s of  his Seton Hall University remarks. Note these remarks:

Within about a year of Iran meeting its initial obligations, Iran will receive sanctions relief to the tune of $100-150 billion in the release of frozen assets, as well as renewed oil sales of another million barrels a day, as well as relief from sectoral sanctions in the petrochemical, shipping, shipbuilding, port sectors, gold and other precious metals, and software and automotive sectors.

“ran will also benefit from the removal of designated entities including major banks, shipping companies, oil and gas firms from the U.S. Treasury list of sanctioned entities.

Of the nearly 650 entities that have been designated by the U.S. Treasury for their role in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs or for being controlled by the Government of Iran, more than 67 percent will be de-listed within 6-12 months,’ according to testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

This was a courageous speech from a long term valued friend of Israel and opponent of President Obama’s dangerous Iran nuclear pact with the ‘theocratic, totalitarian, genocidal” Mullahs of the Khomeinist Revolutionary Islamist Republic in Tehran. Note Sen. Menendez’s concluding remarks:

I know that, in many respects, it would be far easier to support this deal, as it would have been to vote for the war in Iraq at the time. But I didn’t choose the easier path then, and I’m not going to now. I know that the editorial pages that support the agreement would be far kinder, if I voted yes, but they largely also supported the agreement that brought us a nuclear North Korea.

At moments like this, I am reminded of the passage in John F. Kennedy’s book, Profiles in Courage, where he wrote:

The true democracy, living and growing and inspiring, puts its faith in the people – faith that the people will not simply elect men who will represent their views ably and faithfully, but will also elect men (and I would parenthetically add woman) who will exercise their conscientious judgment – faith that the people will not condemn those whose devotion to principle leads them to unpopular courses, but will reward courage, respect honor, and ultimately recognize right.

He said:

In whatever arena in life one may meet the challenges of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience – the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men – each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage can define that ingredient – they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.

I have looked into my own soul and my devotion to principle may once again lead me to an unpopular course, but if Iran is to acquire a nuclear bomb, it will not have my name on it.

It is for these reasons that I will vote to disapprove the agreement and, if called upon, would vote to override a veto.

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

Iran Nuclear Deal: Stark Contrast between Netanyahu and Obama [+Video]

Despite technical difficulties, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed a wide audience of both U.S. and Canadian Jews including persons of other “ethnicities and faiths” at 1:30 PM EST on August 4, 2015. The electronic venue was a high definition webcast from Jerusalem sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and the Council of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (COPMAJO).  JFNA President Stephen  Greenberg, who introduced the Prime Minister, told both he and  those watching, including this writer, that more than 10,000 had signed up, ‘with thousands more” gathered to watch and hear Netanyahu’s address and his response to questions from viewers in Cincinnati, Boynton Beach, Florida, Los Angeles and New York. President Obama and Vice President Biden held forth in a two hour gathering to a more intimate audience of 20 Jewish leaders of various denominations and political persuasions at the White House Treaty Room organized by Greg Rosenbaum National Jewish Democratic Council.

Netanyahu cautioned that  acceptance  of the nuclear deal with Iran would give the Islamic regime “two paths to the bomb” possibly resulting in a nuclear war, triggering a regional nuclear arms race.  President Obama was alleged to have remarked at his closed door White House session that rejection of the deal would force the US to under military action and that “rockets would rain down on Tel Aviv.”

The Times of Israel  (TOI) reported Netanyahu’s webcast remarks:

[Accusing] the deal’s supporters in the Obama administration of spreading “disinformation about the deal and about Israel’s position” in its bid to rally support.

He pointed out a series of “fatal flaws” in the deal, and asserted that it “doesn’t block Iran’s path to bomb,” but rather “paves” its path to the bomb.

The agreement, a legacy foreign policy project of US President Barack Obama, gives Iran “two paths to the bomb,” enabling Tehran to obtain a weapon either by keeping the deal and waiting for it to elapse, or by violating it, Netanyahu warned.

In his response to a question of what was the alternative if Congress rejects the Iran deal, Netanyahu said:

“Increase the sanctions, increase the pressure,” Netanyahu said, in presenting his alternative to the deal, asserting that Iran would not back away from the negotiating table, even if subjected to harsher sanctions, and would abide more stringent curbs on its nuclear program.

Netanyahu noted a rare moment of national coalescence in Israel ‘s  raucous Athenian democracy that more than 70 percent of Israeli polled opposed the JCOPA and that recent polls in the US showed that a majority of Americans agreed with the Israeli position. He drew attention to the North American audience that even Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition Zionist Union in Israel’s Knesset, who he remarked was unstinting in trying to overturn his government, agreed that the Iran nuclear pack was an existential danger.  At one point he referenced the transition from the original guidance for negotiations with Iran offered  by President Obama that “no deal was a better alternative to a bad deal” to one that “rejection of the JCPOA would mean war.”

Watch the full JFNA webcast Vimeo Video of Israel PM Netanyahu’s address:

President Obama, according to comments from those in attendance at the White House gathering of American Jewish Leaders ironically reemphasized Netanyahu’s webcast comments.   Rosenbaum of the NJDC, according to the TOI, said:

If Congress succeeds in killing the deal and Iran were to subsequently walk away from the agreement and start enriching uranium again to weapons-grade levels, the opponents of the deal will pressure the US government into launching a preemptive strike against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities, the president was said to have argued.

“But the result of such a strike won’t be war with Iran,” Rosenbaum said, quoting the president.

[…]

“They will fight this asymmetrically. That means more support for terrorism, more Hezbollah rockets falling on Tel Aviv,” Rosenbaum quoted Obama as saying. “I can assure that Israel will bear the brunt of the asymmetrical response that Iran will have to a military strike on its nuclear facilities.”

The objective of these dueling pitches was to enlist Jewish support on the one hand and rejection on the other for the Iran Nuclear Pact, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Act (JCPOA). The JCPOA was announced by the P5+1 in Vienna on July 14th and endorsed by a unanimous vote of the 15 member UN Security Council on July 22nd. A vote by Congress, one way or the other, is slated to occur on or before September 17th,  upon  the reconvening of Congress following the summer recess after Labor Day.

As if on cue two experts on Iran’s nuclear program and international arms control provided evidence supporting Netanyahu that Iran was poised in a just a few months to become a nuclear threshold state and why the nuclear deal should be rejected in favor a better along the lines of Israeli PM Netanyahu’s responses to audience questions. Moreover three leading House Democrats declared they would vote no when a vote in scheduled in September.

The Daily TIP reported Iran nuclear program expert David Albright of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Science and International Security ISIS) testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

That Iran’s breakout time could be as low as 6-7 months, calling into question the administration’s claim to have secured a one-year breakout. Albright based this calculation on the likelihood that Iran would deploy its more advanced IR-2m centrifuges in an attempt to break out, and on the failure of the deal to require full dismantlement of all of the equipment used in the cascades at the Fuel Enrichment Plant. Senator Menendez (D-NJ) stated that Albright’s claim concerns him because “six or seven months, that’s not going to be helpful if they decide to break out… The next president of the United States… will really only has one choice: to accept Iran as a nuclear weapons state or to have a military strike, because sanctions will be ineffective.”

Albright also criticized the provision giving Iran up to 24 days to provide access to suspicious, undeclared sites. In his testimony, he wrote that Iran has extensive experience in evading IAEA monitoring and that “twenty four days could be enough time, presumably, for Iran to relocate undeclared activities that are in violation of the JCPOA while it undertakes sanitization activities that would not necessarily leave a trace in environmental sampling.”

The Daily TIP drew attention to another witness Dr. Robert Joseph, former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security:

He also criticized the deal because it recognizes and legitimizes a path to nuclear weapons, provides for ineffective verification, fails to prevent breakout, and fails to limit Iran’s ballistic missile development. Moreover, Joseph argued that the deal increases the likelihood of nuclear proliferation in the region, undermines the nonproliferation regime and the IAEA, and enables a more aggressive and repressive Iranian regime, thereby increasing the prospect of conflict and war. He concluded that Congress should reject the deal because “a bad agreement is worse than no agreement.”

Three prominent House Democrats declared they were opposed to JCOPA. The Daily TIP commented:

Three leading members of the House of Representatives – Reps. Steve Israel (D – N.Y.), Nita Lowey (D – N.Y.), and Ted Deutch (D – Fla.) – today became the first three Democratic Jewish members of Congress to go on record opposing the nuclear deal with Iran. Rep. Israel, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Newsday that he would vote against the deal and will work to defeat it in next month’s Congressional vote. Israel told Newsday that he was going public with his opposition hoping that he might influence other members of the House.

Lowey, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, which controls government spending, issued a press release stating that preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is a “essential national security imperative,” and that after extensive consultations with “officials in the Obama Administration, regional experts, foreign leaders, Congressional colleagues, and my constituents,” she could not support the deal.

Deutch, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, made his announcement in an op-ed published today in the Sun-Sentinel newspaper. Citing his longstanding efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Deutch argued that the deal not only fails to accomplish its stated goals of preventing a nuclear Iran, but dangerously strengthens Iran in a number of other ways

American Jews received starkly contrasting  opposing arguments, yesterday, from both Israeli PM Netanyahu and President Obama regarding acceptance or rejection by Congress of the Iran nuclear pact.  Netanyahu delivered his remarks and answered questions in an open webcast forum to an audience of thousands, while President Obama’s views were filtered through the lens of a partisan Democrat leader at a closed White House gathering of allegedly contentious argumentative American Jewish leaders.  Doubtless these arguments will reverberate in town hall meetings of Senators and Congressional Representatives across America during the summer recess.  As reflected in Capitol Hill testimony of Iran nuclear watchdog group head David Albright of ISIS and arms control expert Dr. Robert Joseph and the declarations of leading House Democrats opposing the Iran deal, American Jews may finally be getting the facts contesting the rhetoric of President Obama that its either acceptance of the JCPOA deal or war as the only alternatives.

Netanyahu believes, as increasingly others do, that there is a better deal, one which Congress could send a resounding message to the White House in September when they vote to hopefully reject the Iran nuclear pact.

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

UN IAEA: Iran Violated Nuclear Deal Before it is Even Inked

Amidst frenetic Administration efforts to spin a possible Iran deal comes evidence that it has already been violated given an IAEA Report and analysis by Washington, DC –nuclear watchdog, the Institute for Science and International Security.   Adam Kredo in today’s Washington Free Beacon  reported these last minute developments, Iran Violates Past Nuclear Promises on Eve of Deal”:

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) disclosed yesterday that Iran has failed to meet its commitments under the interim Joint Plan of Action to convert recently enriched uranium gas to powder.

While Iran has reduced the amount of enriched uranium gas in its stockpiles, it has failed to dispose of these materials in a way that satisfies the requirements of the nuclear accord struck with the United States and other powers in 2013.

Wednesday’s disclosure by the IAEA sent the State Department rushing to downplay the Iranian violation.

Obama administration officials insisted that despite Iran’s failure to meet its obligations, negotiations were still on track and that Tehran would face no repercussions.

One U.S. official who spoke with the Associated Press on Wednesday said that instead of converting its uranium gas into uranium dioxide powder as required, Iran had transformed it into another substance. The IAEA found that Iran had converted just 9 percent of the relevant stockpile into uranium dioxide.

The official went on to downplay concerns about Iran’s violation, claiming that Tehran was only having some “technical problems.”

The “technical problems by Iran had slowed the process but the United States was satisfied that Iran had met its commitments,” the AP reported the official as saying.

“Violations by Iran would complicate the Obama administration’s battle to persuade congressional opponents and other skeptics,” the AP continued.

David Albright, a nuclear expert and founder of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), warned that the United States is weakening its requirements on Tehran as a final deal gets closer.

“The choosing of a weaker condition that must be met is not a good precedent for interpreting more important provisions in a final deal,” Albright wrote in an analysis published late Wednesday.

While Iran was not in compliance with the oxidation requirement, the IAEA found that it did get rid of uranium gas that surpassed a self-imposed benchmark of 7,650 kg.

The IAEA’s disclosures are in contrast to comments made by Kerry last summer when he assured observers that Iran would live up to the interim agreement.

“Iran has committed to take further nuclear-related steps in the next four months” and “these include a continued cap on the amount of 5 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride and a commitment to convert any material over that amount into oxide,” Kerry said.

The Israel Project (TIP), which has sent officials to Vienna to track the deal, wrote in an email to reporters that the administration looked like it was “playing Tehran’s lawyer” in a bid to defuse potential fallout from the IAEA’s report.

This is not the first time that Iran has been caught by the IAEA cheating on past nuclear arrangements.

As negotiations between the sides slip past their June 30 deadline and stretch into July, Iranian officials have become more insistent that the United States consent to demands on a range of sticking points.

President Hassan Rouhani also threatened to fully restart Iran’s nuclear program if negotiators fail to live up to any final agreement.

One Western source present in Vienna said the administration is scrambling to ensure that nothing interferes with a final deal.

“Once again, the White House will go to any length needed to preserve the Obama-Iran deal, even if it means covering up Iran’s failure to convert all of the nuclear material as promised,” said the source.

“If they had admitted Iran failed to live up to the letter of the JPOA—as is the case—this one-week extension period of the JPOA would be totally invalidated and the talks would be over,” the source added. “Like they have for months, the administration continues to hide violations and is acting more like Iran’s advocate than the honest broker the American people deserve. “

Will these IAEA/ISIS revelations upend the P5+1 Iran deliberations in Vienna?  We bet the Obama State Department and White House spokespersons will continue the charade of “don’t believe your lying eyes”. All while Iran ‘s Supreme Ruler stiff arms the talks in Vienna with new ‘red lines” trusting that greed by the P5+1 over billions of trade and development deals  will  lift $150 billion in sanctions relief upon inking a deal.  Both Israel and the US Congress are increasing wary of this deal that will provide a nuclear breakthrough by Iran. If achieved the deal  will vault Iran’s  state sponsorship of terrorism.  Iran could develop one bomb to wipe Israel off the map of the world and an ICBM to detonate an EMP over the US fulfilling their Mahdist apocalyptic dream and both Israel’s and our nightmares.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of U.S. Energy Secertary Moniz, Secretary of State Kerry and Undersecretary Wendy Sherman taken in Vienna, July 1, 2015. Source: Reuters.

How Fateful are Israel’s Knesset Elections on March 17th?

Sunday, March 15th, the Voice of Israel (VOI) Global Radio System aired a “National Security” program with Executive Producer and host Dan Diker and guests Dr. Harold Rhode former Pentagon Islamic Affairs expert, Distinguished Gatestone Institute Senior Fellow and Bassem Eid Arab correspondent for VOI. Eid is founder of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. The thought provoking title was “Whom Do Radical Islamists Want as Israel’s Next Prime Minister?

This is a must listen program for all those concerned about Israel’s future in the run up to Tuesday’s March 17th Israeli Knesset elections.  Those elections have more than 20 parties competing for 120 seats. It will pit the current ruling coalition Likud government led by PM Benjamin Netanyahu against the Zionist Union headed by MK Yitzhak Herzog and former Justice Minister of Hatnuah, Tzipi Livni. There is also a new emerging factor. A coalition negotiated following the Knesset elections. It could include a Joint Arab List that might secure upwards of 13 to 15 seats. The Joint Arab List electoral results might possibly bolster the Zionist Union led opposition, including the leftist Meretz party, seeking to be given the nod to form a ruling coalition if selected by Israel President Reuven Rivlin. The VOI will have extensive live and extended coverage of these important Israeli Knesset elections on March 17th.

You may register and listen live to the VOI here.

Overarching this Knesset elections were disclosures this weekend of the U.S. Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee addressing complaints by PM Netanyahu of “foreign country involvement.” This is a reference to reports that the U.S. Administration has funded NGOs engaged in possible anti-Netanyahu “anyone but Bibi” vote campaigns among the country’s Arab and urban Jewish voters. The effort involves former Obama Presidential campaign field operations staff headed by Jeremy Bird of 270 Strategies.   Support has come from major Obama Jewish Democratic contributors and possibly State Department funding of NGOs.  Whether the Administration would prefer a new Israeli government whose policies might materially affect the national security and sovereignty of Jewish nation is at question?

This  Ides of March VOI “National Security” program, is a fascinating and elucidating commentary about the  dynamics of the contending forces in the regional  Muslim communities,  both Shia and Sunni, and  views of the US Administration as an unreliable ally. That is reflected in the views of Saudi -backed Al Arabiya  that gave  high marks to PM Netanyahu for standing up to the threat posed by  the Islamic State,  Iran  and proxies Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad  and Hezbollah. As pointed out by Dr. Rhode, Al Arabiya, strongly endorsed Netanyahu’s address before the Joint Meeting of Congress on March 3rd seeking to obtain a better deal to deter Iran from achieving nuclear hegemony in the region. There is also discussion of Egypt’s President Al-Sisi’s emerging role of importance trying to fashion a Sunni regional coalition of forces, the equivalent of a NATO – type organization to confront IS.  Al-Sisi’s New Year’s speech in  Cairo, before Al Azhar and the Awqfar  Ministry,  espoused reform of underlying Qur’anic doctrine  that has returned to the takfir purist form of Islam emblematic of the apocalyptic IS, a self styled Caliphate. A Caliphate that as Dr. Rhode pointed out may have been fostered originally by Shia Mahdist Iran now ironically engaged in combating IS in Iraq.

Rhode and Diker suggested that if a more compliant Israel government was elected on Tuesday that IS and Hamas cells in the West Bank and Hezbollah with Iran on the Golan might foment possible trouble.  Iran, as noted by Diker and Rhode, is rapidly spreading its hegemony threatening the region from Yemen on the Red Sea, across the Arabian Peninsula to the shores of the Persian Gulf and through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon on the Mediterranean coast. An Iran whose nuclear quest may have already triggered nuclear proliferation with Saudi Arabia’s disclosure of a recent nuclear development deal with South Korea.  We found fascinating the discussion among Diker, Rhode and Bassem Eid, astute VOI Arab correspondent, on the internal Israel Arab Muslim divide over the question of whether they would support the United Arab List.

Bassem disclosed the previously not well known fact that 60 percent of Israeli Arab Muslims are more likely to vote for Jewish parties as loyal citizens rather than for the Arab list. The Party’s leaders are more concerned about Israel as an ‘apartheid state’.  They have fashioned seditious relations with Ramallah, Gaza, Damascus and even Tehran and all   enemies of Israel. Bassem also noted that the Palestinians view the Likud government and Netanyahu as more reliable with honoring commitments than prior experiences with both Labor and Kadima governments.  Rhode explained that regional Arabs view favorably the Israeli democratic traditions that Arab Muslim citizens enjoy. He told of the impact of that on the Egyptian body guards of the late President Anwar Sadat when he came to Jerusalem in 1977 to give a speech before the Knesset. They noted, he said, the sharp contrast between the quiet respect paid to President Sadat when he spoke and the vigorous debates in the Knesset chamber that followed his address.  The VOI program offers insights into what might occur Tuesday when Israel votes for the 33rd Knesset.  The comments of these American and Israeli experts raise serious questions about the objectives of the US Administration Vis a vis a P5+1 non-binding deal to facilitate Iran’s nuclear hegemony.

Monday, March 16th, this writer and Mike Bates, co-host of Northwest Florida’s Talk Radio 1330 am WEBY will be interviewed by VOI National Security host Dan Diker. That recorded program will address Obama Administration funding via State Department AID and US Jewish moguls involved with OneVoice, V-15 and the Abraham Fund to get out the anti-Bibi vote in Israel. The program will also delve into controversy surrounding Sen. Cotton’s ‘Iran letter’. That controversy has led to revelations suggesting that  the Administration is striving to establish a  rapprochement with the Islamic Republic of Iran  avoiding Congressional review instead  seeking a  nuclear agreement  by the P5+1 at the UN  via a Security Council resolution.  That could result in lifting more than an estimated $70 billion in UN financial sanctions against Iran held in US banks controlled by the US Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control.  Sunday talk show criticism of the Cotton letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran by Secretary of State Kerry and former Secretary Madeleine Albright on CBS’ Face the Nation were contested by Sen. Cotton who drew attention to the precedent of a non verifiable deal made during the Clinton Administration with North Korea that eventuated in the latter’s creating a nuclear stockpile of weapons 12 years later.

Tuesday, VOI host Diker will join Northwest Florida’s talk radio 1330 am WEBY periodic Middle East Round Table co-hosts Bates and Gordon to report first returns from what many consider the fateful 2015 Knesset elections during 4:00 PM CST (5:00 PM EST) segment of “Your Turn”.

Listen Live here.

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

Bibigate – The Contretemps over Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress on Iran’s Nuclear Program

Last Saturday night a retired U.S. Navy officer said “I’ll bet you even money that Bibi will withdraw from the proposed speech before a joint session of Congress”. I joshed him and said “I wouldn’t count on it.”

Sunday, I received suggestions that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu should have a Plan B given the rising contretemps in the media over US House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to talk about Iran before a Joint Session of Congress. There  was a welter of criticism from the White House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and mainstream media talking heads  included David Brooks of the New York Times and  Chris Wallace and Shepherd Smith of  FoxNews.  They were admonishing Speaker Boehner and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer with terms like “dicey, wicked more for photo op” and “partisan politics” and “unwise for Israel.”  It was ostensibly about the lack of courtesy shown the President by not giving prior notice to the White House of the invitation extended to Netanyahu.  There was pique by certain unnamed senior officials in the White House over what some might call Bibigate.

However, let us remember there was increasing  bi-partisan support for new Iran nuclear sanctions legislation despite  the President’s warning that he would veto it if it was passed. New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez was particularly incensed at the President for his questioning his motivations.  Menendez said: “The more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran. And it feeds to the Iranian narrative of victimization, when they are the ones with the original sin.”  Lest, we forget, the President had threatened a veto if increased Iran legislation passed.  It was abundantly clear in the January 16th Joint Press Conference at the White House when the President Obama agreed with UK PM David Cameron’s remarks, urging Senators on Capitol Hill not to take up new sanctions legislation at a “sensitive time”. Thus, one could speculate that Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu on January 21st to speak to a Joint Session of Congress in early March was a rebuttal to the President.

The rancor over Bibigate was visible in the final week of January into February.  Wednesday, January 28thCNN released a clip of Fareed Zakaria’s February 1st GPS interview with President Obama.  Obama suggested that a visit with Netanyahu was “inappropriate,” as it was too close to the upcoming March Knesset elections.  The President said, “I’m declining to meet with him simply because our general policy is, we don’t meet with any world leader two weeks before their election, [I] think that’s inappropriate. And that’s true with some of our closest allies.”  Those comments engendered another rebuttal that the White House may have been giving tacit support to the involvement of Presidential Campaign aide Jim Byrd in advising the Labor-Hanuat opposition to Netanyahu in the Knesset general elections.

Friday, January 30th, Jeffrey Goldberg published an interview in The Atlantic with Israeli Ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, a former US Republican strategist and member of the Netanyahu’s inner circle.   Dermer discussed the background for Boehner’s issuance of the invitation to Netanyahu to speak to Congress on Iran. Dermer suggested that while the Prime Minister “meant no disrespect towards President Obama … Netanyahu must speak up while there is still time to speak up”.

That led Cornell Law Professor William Jacobson on the blog Legal Insurrection to opine that Obama’s not offended; he just wants Bibi out of office.

The Hill round up on the Sunday Talk shows had comments from Rep. Paul Ryan on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Arizona Senator John McCain on CNN’s “State of The Union.”  Over the issue of Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu Ryan said,” The Invitation to Israeli prime minister was ‘absolutely’ appropriate. I don’t know if I would say it’s antagonizing”.  McCain drew attention to the new low in U.S. – Israel relations under Obama saying, “It’s the worst that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.”

Virtually out of nowhere, Sunday, February 1st, commentary from an “Insight” blog post of the Israeli Institute for National Security Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University shed light on a bizarre theory of what was behind Bibigate.  The author of the INSS post, Zaki Shalom, suggested:

The backdrop for the Administration’s expressed dissatisfaction with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s intention to present his position on negotiations with Iran to Congress, creating a rather transparent linkage between Israel’s positions on negotiations with Iran and sanctions, and U.S. willingness to assist in combating the Palestinian attempt to exert international legal and diplomatic pressure on Israel.

On Thursday, January 30, 2015, the Senate Banking Committee voted out a ‘softer’ version of the Kirk –Menendez Sanctions legislation by a vote of 18 to 4, including six Democrats.  As reported by The Hill, the legislation:

… Would impose sanctions on Iran if a comprehensive agreement to roll back its nuclear program is not reached by June 30 and would allow the president to waive sanctions indefinitely for 30 days at a time.

However, the bill would be shelved until March 24th for a possible floor vote.  Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) said, “All of us understand it’s not going to be voted on before March 24”. While the measure may portend a possible override vote should President Obama veto it that still requires Senator Menendez to keep the group of 17 Democratic Senators who support this version of sanctions legislation in the bi-partisan alliance.

Israeli concern over a weak final agreement by March 24th  is reflected  in a Times of Israel report published  Sunday, February 1st,” US sources deride Israeli ‘nonsense’ on Obama giving in to Iran.”  Israeli  sources contend that Iran is likely to get 80 % of what it is seeking- the ability to continue enrichment with  upwards of 9,000 centrifuges, especially the advanced IR-2s. The Israelis believe that would give Iran nuclear breakout within weeks.  Add to that mix Iran flaunting pictures in a ToA  report of a Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) capable of covering all of Europe. That is to be followed in 2015 to 2016 by one cap ICBM range. Of course there a number of us who believe that Iran may already have purchased nuclear weapons from rogue regimes, but may lack nuclear warheads, which are likely to be supplied by North Korea to be mounted on those ICBMs.

Especially as the President observed, there is less than a 50/50 chance of reaching an agreement. Then assuming the current polls are correct and Bibi retains the ability to form a new Knesset coalition after the March 17th election, he may speak with both authority and strength.

As a usual astute observer of Israel from Europe, Imre Herzog, opined when I wrote him on my side bet “you might win the bet”.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Washington Times File Photo  5-24-2011.

Iran/ North Korean Nuclear & ICBM Development Precludes a P5+1 Agreement

Reuel Marc Gerecht, Senior Fellow of the Washington, DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies published a book review in Friday’s Wall Street Journal by former Pentagon official, Matthew Kroenig, A Time to AttackThe Looming Iranian Nuclear ThreatMatthew Kroenig is an Associate Professor and International Relations Field Chair in the Department of Government at Georgetown University. Kroenig, who served under former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, presents a thesis that the only way to stop the Islamic regime in Tehran from achieving nuclear hegemony is for the US, not Israel, to bomb several key facilities in Iran. The suggested targets are the centrifuge enrichment centers at Fordow and Natanz, the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan, and the plutonium producing heavy water reactor at Arak.

timetoattackbookcoverWhy? Because as Gerecht relates, the sanctions regime has not deterred Iran from investing over $100 billion in the project to achieve nuclear hegemony replete with the means of delivery. Further, as he points out in his review, the US has the means to seriously cripple those facilities with 30,000 pound bunker busting deep penetrating bombs. The hoped for Stuxnet malworm and other cyber warfare is past. Gerecht notes in his review, they have only “gummed up” the whirling centrifuges enriching weapons grade uranium. Neither does he believe that targeted assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, allegedly by Mossad, has put a dent in Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear capability. Given that the current P5+1 discussions with Iran seeking to perfect a final agreement with a deadline of July 20th, Gerecht makes this prediction:

Next month in Vienna, Iran and the P5+1 world powers will extend the interim agreement they struck six months ago on Iran’s nuclear program. Secretary of State John Kerry will hold a press conference, offering both sides solemn praise for finding common ground. All the while, through this tough compromise and historic collaboration, the Islamic Republic’s 9,000 spinning centrifuges will keep on enriching uranium; the other 10,000 installed centrifuges won’t be dismantled. Eventually these centrifuges, or thousands of new-and-improved ones, will be able to produce bomb-grade fuel.

Kroenig cautions:

Why would anyone believe that we would fight a nuclear war with Iran if we didn’t even have the stomach for a conventional war with a nonnuclear Iran?

Gericht’s conclusion from his review of Kroenig’s, A Time to Attack:

Mr. Kroenig readily admits that there will be costs for preventive military action. Tehran will likely respond with terrorism, directly or through proxies. But Mr. Kroenig contends that those costs are much lower than allowing Iran to go nuclear. Whether or not he’s right, we will soon find out.

Watch this May 12, 2014  C-SPAN Book TV discussion with Prof. Kroenig about A Time to Attack.

Problem is that the Obama Administration failed to foster regime change in Iran in the fraudulent elections of June 2009. Israel and many others concerned over Iran’s rising hegemony in the Middle East believe that America doesn’t have the will and the unity to undertake what Kroenig suggests. Just look at the President latest tracking poll numbers; less than 37% of American thinks that he is pursuing foreign policies protecting our nation’s interests.

Claudia Rosett in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal  published an op ed, Iran Could Outsource Its Nuclear –Weapons Program to North Korea. Rosett commented:

The pieces have long been in place for nuclear collaboration between the two countries. North Korea and Iran are close allies, drawn together by decades of weapons deals and mutual hatred of America and its freedoms. Weapons-hungry Iran has oil; oil-hungry North Korea makes weapons. North Korea has been supplying increasingly sophisticated missiles and missile technology to Iran since the 1980s, when North Korea hosted visits by Hasan Rouhani (now Iran’s president) and Ali Khamenei (Iran’s supreme leader since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989).

In the March edition of the NER, we published a piece entitled, Has Iran Developed Nuclear Weapons in North Korea?  We wrote:

The UN nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA has no access to North Korean nuclear facilities. These developments corroborate the assessment of private intelligence and national security analyst Ilana Freedman. See The Freedman Report on January 31st, “A Friendlier Iran? Or Have They Just Moved Their Nukes to North Korea?

Rosett in the WSJ op ed lays out the case for what the NER article demonstrated was a plausible means of evading sanctions. The evidence for that we noted was North Korean/ Iranian cooperation with Assad’s Syria creating a plutonium reactor on the Euphrates at Al Kibar destroyed by Israel’s Air Force in September 2007. We drew attention to Iranian/ North Korean joint development of large rocket boosters sufficient to loft nuclear MIRV warheads and the likelihood that Iran might have that capability within a few years. In June 2014, The Algemeiner reported an Iranian official announcing that it possessed a 5,000 kilometer (approximately 3,125 miles) range missile that could hit the strategic base of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean:

“In the event of a mistake on the part of the United States, their bases in Bahrain and (Diego) Garcia will not be safe from Iranian missiles,” said an Iranian Revolutionary Guard adviser to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Majatba Dhualnuri.

Kroenig wrote in his book:

Iran is building ICBMs No country on Earth, not even the United States, mounts conventional warheads on ICBMs. Traditionally, ICBMs have had one purpose: to deliver nuclear warheads thousands of miles away. If Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, then why does it have such a robust ICBM development program?

The clock is ticking on  P5+1 and Iran endeavoring to reach an agreement by July 20th. Five days of talks in Vienna ended yesterday. They will reconvene on July 2nd and may or may not conclude with an agreement on July 20th.  The Wall Street Journal in a report on those negotiations contrasted the views of US Negotiator, Deputy Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, with those of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.  It noted that the talks ended without a joint statement. Sherman said: “We are at a very crucial moment in these negotiations. Our Conversations this week have been very tough but constructive.”  Zarif commented that only a deal could emerge if the US backed away from what he termed were “excessive demands.” “I advised them to think more seriously and to be realistic and to look for a solution.” Translated that means, we are poles apart. Meanwhile those centrifuges at Fordow and Natanz keep whirling enriching uranium while Iranian/ North Korean joint ICBM and MIRV development continue.  If we were bettors, we’d put even money on Gericht’s prediction: no agreement by July 20th or even six months hence.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

Why the US Accusations Against Israeli Intelligence are Wrong

For the past two days there are have been a spate of articles triggered by  Newsweek contributing editor, Jeff Stein, who wrote a Spy Talk column with accusations alleging that Israeli Intelligence are operating in the US is at “alarming levels,” “Israel won’t stop spying on the US”. Stein’s accusations:

U.S. intelligence officials are saying—albeit very quietly, behind closed doors on Capitol Hill—that our Israeli “friends” have gone too far with their spying operations here.

According to classified briefings on legislation that would lower visa restrictions on Israeli citizens, Jerusalem’s efforts to steal U.S. secrets under the cover of trade missions and joint defense technology contracts have “crossed red lines.”

This despite a long term valued collaboration by US defense intelligence agencies with Israel. Stein’s anonymous sources appear to paint all Israelis as potential spies.

Stein’s allegations were immediately slammed by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and an Israeli Embassy official in Washington. The Jewish Press noted:

First of all, these are malicious accusations. . . I would not agree to any spying on the United States, not in any form, directly or indirectly.

Israeli Embassy spokesperson Aaron Sagui also flatly denied the charges, telling Newsweek, “Israel doesn’t conduct espionage operations in the United States, period. We condemn the fact that such outrageous, false allegations are being directed against Israel.

The Stein accusations come amidst strains in the relations between the Administration and Israel over the collapse of the failed final status agreements with the Palestinian Authority. This was reflected in Ynet interviews with an unidentified “senior US official” many believe to be former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk. The Ynet reports suggested that the US might impose its own terms on both the PA newly unified with Hamas and Israel.

Moreover, tensions between Washington and Jerusalem have increased over the latter’s criticism of the P5+1 talks with Iran over curtailment of its nuclear program. That may be part of the agenda that National Security Advisor Susan Rice brought yesterday for discussions with the Netanyahu government. Those intelligence red line accusations may be behind the tightening of visas for visiting Israelis. This sudden swirl triggered by the Stein  piece in Newsweek has led to an unidentified senior Israeli diplomatic official suggesting in a Ynereport that the accusation may have been “tainted by a whiff of anti-Semitism.” That is reflected in Stein’s Newsweek Spy Talk column interviews with former CIA officials resurrecting the rogue Israeli intelligence operation involving imprisoned American spy Jonathan Pollard.

Jeff Stein appears to be touting a line perpetrated by a former FBI intelligence director, David Szady, back in the middle part of the last decade that there was an Israeli mole or moles borrowing into our national security establishment based on the Pollard conviction for spying. Just recall the FBI sting operation against former Defense analyst Larry Franklin at DoD used against the two former AIPAC senior staffers. Rosen and Weissman were falsely accused. A Federal Judge dismissed the wrongful prosecution brought as a result of Szady’s false accusations. I wrote about this eight years ago in an Israpundit article: “Are we all Jonathan Pollards, now?”

An AFP article, based on Stein’s Newsweek column cites unidentified former Congressional aides in his report said:

. . .  a congressional staffer familiar with a briefing last January called the testimony “very sobering … alarming … even terrifying”, and quoted another as saying the behavior was “damaging.”

“No other country close to the United States continues to cross the line on espionage like the Israelis do,” said a former congressional staffer who attended another classified briefing in late 2013, according to Newsweek.

It said that briefing was one of several in recent months given by the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the FBI and the National Counterintelligence Directorate.

The former congressional staffer said the intelligence agencies did not give specifics, but cited “industrial espionage—folks coming over here on trade missions or with Israeli companies working in collaboration with American companies, [or] intelligence operatives being run directly by the government, which I assume meant out of the [Israeli] Embassy.”

Israel’s espionage activities in America are unrivaled and go far beyond activities by other close allies, such as Germany, France, Britain and Japan, counter-intelligence agents told members of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees,.

“I don’t think anyone was surprised by these revelations,” the former aide was quoted as saying.

“But when you step back and hear … that there are no other countries taking advantage of our security relationship the way the Israelis are for espionage purposes, it is quite shocking”.

A 2011 Los Angeles Times op-ed by Robert D. Blackwill and Walter B. Slocombe, “Israel: A True Ally in the Middle East” noted:

Counter-terrorism and intelligence cooperation is deep and extensive, with the United States and Israel working to advance their common interest in defeating the terrorism of Hamas, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda and its affiliate groups, and preventing nuclear proliferation in the region. There are joint Special Forces training and exercises and collaboration on shared targets.

This intimate relationship reinforces overall U.S. intelligence efforts by providing Washington with access to Israel’s unique set of capabilities for information collection and assessments on key countries and issues in the region. Such was the case, for example, when Israel passed to the United States conclusive photographic evidence in 2007 that Syria, with North Korean assistance, had made enormous strides toward “going hot” with a plutonium-producing reactor.

Slocombe was Undersecretary for Defense Policy at the Pentagon during the Clinton era, while Blackwill served as a diplomat during several Republican Administrations. Their comments in the Los Angeles Times report was drawn from a paper published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. A Tablet article cited  the authors’ views  in the paper at the time on the extensive Israeli contributions to US national security:

The paper offers chapter and verse on Israeli contributions to the U.S. national interest. They include: Israeli counter-proliferation efforts, such as the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility and the 2007 attack on Syria’s secret nuclear facility at al-Kibar; joint military training exercises, as well as exchanges on military doctrine; Israeli technology, like unmanned aerial systems, armored vehicle protection, defense against short-range rocket threats, and robotics; missile defense cooperation; counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation; and cyber defense. Blackwill and Slocombe conclude that the alliance is in fact so central to U.S. national interests that U.S. policymakers should find ways to further enhance cooperation with Jerusalem.

Fast forward to 2014. Stein’s Spy Talk column indicates that something sinister is going on in the Washington intelligence community. That Israel, globally recognized  as an acknowledged leader in high tech in both civilian and military applications, needed  to spy on US industrial developments. Doesn’t square. Stein’s anonymous sources on Capitol Hill and in the FBI, CIA, State Department and Homeland Security may be reflecting the Administration’s pique at Israel’s asserting its sovereign right to defend the Jewish nation. A Jewish nation with Jihadist threats ranging on all of its borders seeking its destruction.

RELATED STORIES: 

American Intelligence in Disarray
Report of Israeli spying shows depth of incompetence

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

Obama Threatens to Veto the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act

Like many Americans and Israelis I watched expectantly President Obama’s State of the Union Address (SOTUS)  before a joint session of Congress crammed into the House Chamber. I was looking for a reaction from the Congressional audience on the issue of the P5+1 agreement implemented on January 20th. Iran’s President Rouhani had basically told  the P5+1  in a CNN  interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that the Islamic regime was not going to dismantle their nuclear program. Instead they were going to plough ahead with research and development on advanced centrifuges and would not swap the Arak heavy water plant that would produce plutonium for a bomb.

In  light of these jarring comments made in Davos, Switzerland  by President Rouhani  at the World Economic  Forum, you would have prudently thought that the President would have changed his mind about  vetoing  the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act (NWFIA), S. 1881. Obama made it clear that he was proceeding with the P5+1 deal as a diplomatic way of  avoiding  military action to disable the Islamic Regime’s  nuclear weapons capability.  A capability that according to Israeli PM Netanyahu  speaking at the Annual Conference of the Institute for National Security studies at Tel Aviv University  (INSS) was  “six weeks away from achievement when the P5+1 deal was signed” on November 24, 2013 in Geneva.

President Obama fired a bow shot directed at NWFIA sponsors Sens. Kirk and Menendez, and 57 other co-sponsors of S. 1881, as well as the Resolution introduced in by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor  (R-VA)  and Minority Leader Steny  Hoyer (D-Md.) supporting its passage.

Obama said:

Let me be clear if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it.

For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.

If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon.  But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.

It is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of that program back – for the very first time in a decade. As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. It is not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb.

If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.

Watch this C-SPAN video clip of the nuclear Iran segment of his SOTUS:

The immediate reaction was clearly stony silence from the Republican members of both chambers in the audience.

According to a  Jerusalem Postarticle on the President’s veto threat, NWFIA co-sponsor Sen. Kirk said:

“The American people – Democrats and Republicans alike – overwhelmingly want Iran held accountable during any negotiations. While the president promises to veto any new Iran sanctions legislation, the Iranians have already vetoed any dismantlement of their nuclear infrastructure,” Kirk added, calling his bill an “insurance policy” for Congress.

The Hill  Global Affairs blog reported the dissembling  the morning after  the President’s SOTUS remarks on a nuclear Iran by some Democratic co-sponsors of NWFIA in the wake of the President’s public veto threat.  Note these Senators’ comments:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said on MSNBC Tuesday night that he didn’t endorse the bill so that it could be voted on during negotiations with Iran. “Give peace a chance,” he said.

“I did not sign it with the intention that it would ever be voted upon or used upon while we were negotiating,” Manchin said. “I signed it because I wanted to make sure the president had a hammer, if he needed it and showed them how determined we were to do it and use it, if we had to.”

[…]

“Now is not the time for a vote on the Iran sanctions bill,” Coons said Wednesday at a Politico event, according to The Huffington Post.

The senator clarified that he still supports the bill but warned advancing it now could damage ongoing negotiations toward a final agreement with Iran.

[…]

“I’m not frustrated,” Menendez told The Huffington Post on Tuesday after Obama’s address. “The president has every right to do what he wants.”

The Hill Global Affairs blog noted the Senate reaction  to NWFIA :

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-highest ranking Democrat, Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the fourth-highest ranking Democrat, and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have said they are against the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has also suggested he’s leaning toward not allowing a vote on it.

On Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the Senate should move the sanctions bill forward to the floor, predicting it would have a veto-proof majority.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported on Monday that lawmakers in both the House and Senate are considering a nonbinding resolution that expresses concern about Iran’s nuclear program.

Backing what Sen. Kirk said in his response to the President was further evidence from former  UN nuclear weapons inspector David Albright at the Washington, DC Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).  Both he and the sanctions analysis team from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies held a well attended briefing for Capitol Hill Staffers on Monday, January 27th.  Albright was quoted in the Los Angeles Times citing an ISIS  report on the technical aspects of the accord implemented on January 20th that allows Iran to continue research over the next six months on several types of advanced centrifuges already at Natanz:

[The accord]  is not expected to seriously affect Iran’s centrifuge research and development program. Albright said he hopes to persuade the six powers to push for much stricter limits on centrifuge research and development when they negotiate the final agreement. The issue has to be addressed much more aggressively.

Cliff May of FDD, co-sponsor of the Capitol Hill event with Albright  of  ISIS,  observed in an NRO Corner article:

If Iran’s rulers faithfully comply with every commitment they have so far made, at the end of this six-month period, they will be about three months — instead of two months — away from breakout capacity.

Yesterday, at the annual conference of the  Institute for National Security studies (INSS)  at Tel Aviv University, there was a dialog between former CIA Director Gen. David Petreaus and Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin,  former  IDF military intelligence chief.  The contrast between their positions on the Iran nuclear threat was most telling:

General (ret.) David Petraeus: The United States is war weary and suffers from a “Vietnam syndrome.” However, it still has major strategic capabilities, and President Obama will not hesitate to use force against Iran, if necessary.

Major General (ret.) Amos Yadlin: What keeps me awake at night is the Iranian issue. The Iranian nuclear program aspires to attain a nuclear capability. The only viable leverage – sanctions and a credible military threat – are weakening, and this is most worrisome. Also troubling: the status quo on the Palestinian issue is not favorable, and the relations with the United States are not on the same level as before – these must be restored.

If you are a gambler, which of the two former military leaders, would you bet on to make a decision in the sovereign national interests of Israel regarding a nuclear Iran?  I know who I would.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

Turkey’s Illegal Gold Trade with Iran

In our Iconoclast post on Harold Rhode’s speculations regarding a possible alliance of convenience between the Gulenists and Secularists that might topple Premier Erdogan, he drew attention to the illicit gold trading conducted by the state-owned Halkbank.  Suleyman  Aslan, the head of Halkbank at the center of the illicit  gold trading  had been prominent among the 52  arrested in the swirl of events in the current Turkish corruption  scandal.  Jonathan Schanzer and  Mark Dubowitz of the Washington, DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracy published an article in Foreign Policy Magazine  (FPM) covering  research into the “gas for gold ” scheme that the Obama Administration failed to stop, “Iran’s Turkish Gold Rush”.

Messrs. Schanzer and Dubowitz drew attention to the two principals at the center of the gas for gold trade between Turkey and Iran:

The drama surrounding two personalities are particularly eye-popping: Police reportedly discovered shoe boxes containing $4.5 million in the home of Suleyman Aslan, the CEO of state-owned Halkbank, and also arrested Reza Zarrab, an [Azeri] Iranian businessman who primarily deals in the gold trade, and who allegedly oversaw deals worth almost $10 billion last year alone.

The FPM article on the Turkey Iran  ‘gas for gold” trade  described  how it worked:

The Turks exported some $13 billion of gold to Tehran directly, or through the UAE, between March 2012 and July 2013. In return, the Turks received Iranian natural gas and oil. But because sanctions prevented Iran from getting paid in dollars or euros, the Turks allowed Tehran to buy gold with their Turkish lira — and that gold found its way back to Iranian coffers.

Earlier this year in May 2013 the FDD teamed with Roubini Global Economics and conducted an investigation into the dynamics of the gold trade and its significant alleviation of currency restrictions under sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program. The FDD report, “Iran’s Golden Loophole” indicated the scope and impact of the gas for gold scheme:

These foreign exchange reserves are Iran’s principal hedge against a severe balance of payments crisis, and help Iran withstand international pressure over its nuclear program. Since July 30, 2012, when the Obama administration issued an executive order prohibiting gold exports to the government of Iran, Iran has received over $6 billion in payment in gold for its energy exports—the value of the lack of enforcement of the golden loophole—mainly as gold payments to the Central Bank of Iran. These gold exports to the Central Bank of Iran already are a sanctionable activity under existing U.S. law; gold exports to any entity in Iran will become sanction able as of July 1, 2013. This report estimates that, unless gold sanctions are enforced, Iran could receive up to $20 billion a year, representing around thirty percent of Iran’s projected 2013 energy exports.

Schanzer and Dubowitz questioned why Turkey, a NATO ally of the US, had engaged in the Gold trade with Iran, and why the Obama Administration hadn’t closed it:

The Turks — NATO allies who have assured Washington that they oppose Iran’s military-nuclear program — brazenly conducted these massive gold transactions even after the Obama administration tightened sanctions on Iran’s precious metals trade in July 2012.

Turkey, however, chose to exploit a loophole that technically permitted the transfer of billions of dollars of gold to so-called “private” entities in Iran. Iranian Ambassador to Turkey Ali Reza Bikdeli recently praised Halkbank for its “smart management decisions in recent years [that] have played an important role in Iranian-Turkish relations.” Halkbank insists that its role in these transactions was entirely legal.

The U.S. Congress and President Obama closed this “golden loophole” in January 2013. At the time, the Obama administration could have taken action against state-owned Halkbank, which processed these sanctions-busting transactions, using the sanctions already in place to cut the bank off from the U.S. financial system. Instead, the administration lobbied to make sure the legislation that closed this loophole did not take effect for six months — effectively ensuring that the gold transactions continued apace until July 1. That helped Iran accrue billions of dollars more in gold, further undermining the sanctions regime.

In defending its decision not to enforce its own sanctions, the Obama administration insisted that Turkey only transferred gold to private Iranian citizens. The administration argued that, as a result, this wasn’t an explicit violation of its executive order.

Perhaps as the authors point out, the Administration had other concerns  not disturbing the relations with the Erdogan regime regarding  the latter’s role in the regional  alliance contending with the 33 month Syrian civil war . There was Turkey’s support for rebel factions and the safe haven it provided the massive stream of 1.5 million refugees.  However could  it have been  the  nearly $6 billion “they estimate the golden loophole” could have provided  Iran in the way of an ”olive branch” used during the secret negotiations  by the Obama Administration that led up to the November 24, 2013 P5+1  interim agreement?

According to a Zaman Today article, cited by the authors,  the illicit “gas for gold” trade between Iran could be vastly more  significant: “The  suspicious transactions between Iran and Turkey could exceed $119 billion — nine times the total of gas-for-gold transactions reported. “

There are suspicions about whether the “gas for gold” scheme enabled Iran to pay for machinery used in the production a new class of centrifuges announced by AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi this week. Then there is the question of payments for Russian contractors and personnel engaged in projects like the Arak heavy water reactor that would enable Iran to produce plutonium.  And lest we also not forget  could have been used  to fund payments in the  waivers granted  by the US  for the Iranian  oil trade with China and others.  Clearly, the current corruption probe in Turkey may lift the veil on a vast underworld of transactions with Turkey  that may have enabled Iran to continue, if not accelerate, achievement of their nuclear weapons program objective: nuclear hegemony destabilizing the Middle East and the World.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.