Posts

Iran releases 4 hostages: ‘Money talks and people Walk’

This Los Angeles Times breaking news from Press TV in Tehran  about the release of four Iranian-Americans by Tehran, on the brink of alleged compliance with the JCPOA, is a reflection of an old adage.  “Money talks and people walk”.

The Islamic Republic is eager to have released the $100 billion in oil revenues sequestered in several non-US foreign banks. Those released funds will doubtless be used to crank up an estimated 500,000 barrels of oil production in 2016 to add to the existing glut in the world energy markets, clearly aimed at breaking US and OPEC competitive producers. This despite demonstrable violations of UN Resolution 1929 and the JCPOA provisions barring development of ballistic missiles given two tests in October and November 2015.

Add to that  restart of its hegemonic aspirations and support of terrorism via its proxies, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthi, among others.  There are those of us who firmly believe that Iran already has nuclear capabilities, achieved via a long standing alliance with the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.  That will be one of the topics on Sunday’s Lisa Benson Show with guest Claudia Rosett, Forbes and Wall Street Journal columnist of note and resident journalist at the Washington, D.C. – based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

We’re sure that the families of ex-Marine Hekmati, Pastor Abedini, convicted Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and one of the two American-Iranian businessmen welcome this news of their release when confirmed. But there is another imprisoned American, whose whereabouts is still unknown, ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson.

Ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson, 2011

Ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson, 2011. Source: Levinson family.

On March 9, 2015 , we posted this question on the NER/Iconoclast:  “Where is Ex-FBI Agent Robert Levinson, President Rouhani?”  We noted:

FBI director James Comey announced today that the agency raised the reward for information to $5 million on the whereabouts of former FBI agent Robert Levinson of Coral Springs, Florida.  Levinson disappeared from the Kish Island resort in the Persian Gulf eight years ago. A proof of life video of him was last seen in 2011. His family and lawyer have endeavored to seek the assistance of the Administration to have him returned. Secretary of State John Kerry apparently asked Foreign Minister Zarif for assistance in locating him.  CBS News reported:

FBI Director James Comey said “it is long past time for Bob to come home.” Secretary of State John Kerry urged the Iranian government to “work cooperatively with us on the investigation.”

An Associated Press investigation published in 2013 revealed that Levinson vanished while working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence-gathering mission. In January 2014, Christine Levinson confirmed her husband was working for U.S. intelligence.

“He was working as a consultant for the CIA,” she told CBS News. “He was also a private investigator. He was able to do both at the same time in his travels.”

Tuesday is Levinson’s 67th birthday. He retired from the FBI in 1998.

Levinson has had no direct contact with his family since his capture in 2007. In 2010, documents detailing Levinson’s “arrest and detention in Iran” were anonymously emailed to his wife, who later received pictures and a short videotape.

[…]

“Leads were followed up, and investigations were made, but we have not gotten any new information about Bob,” Christine Levinson said last year.

We wrote about the shadowy circumstances behind his likely abduction on his way to meet an American convert to Islam David Belfield, a.k.a. Dawud Salahuddin, who assassinated a leading opponent of the Islamic republic, disguised as a postman delivering a package to him in suburban Washington, DC. See our December 13, 2013 Iconoclast post, Unanswered Questions Follow the Levinson CIA Rogue Mission Expose:

There were secret House and Senate Intelligence Hearings on the Levinson disappearance and CIA involvement.  A multi-million compensation deal for Levinson’s wife to keep her quiet was engineered in part by Florida US Senator, Bill Nelson. Meanwhile in 2011, proof of life videos and photos emerge showing a bushy haired grey bearded Levinson attired in an orange prisoner jumpsuit in chains pleading for his life. According to the WaPo report, the video audio background appears to favor the notion that he may have been moved to Afghanistan or Pakistan by Iranian intelligence.  The US secretly approached Iran about Levinson’s whereabouts. Meanwhile former Iranian President Ahmadinejad charged the US with using Levinson to perpetrate another CIA plot not unlike the 1950’s one that overthrew Iranian President Mohammed Mossadegh. Then in 2013 a new ‘reformist’ Iranian President emerges after the June election who engages in dialogue with the Obama Administration.  The State Department alleges that it made inquires during the recent P5+1 negotiation with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif concerning the whereabouts of another American prisoner, Pastor Abedini. However there is silence on the whereabouts of Levinson.  Concern rises about Levinson given that he is a diabetic and may have a heart condition. The inference is that he might have died in the course of interrogation. His case has gone dark. That is, until today’s expose. An expose that appears to have been embargoed for several years.

[…]

The assassin Salahuddin was recruited in 1980 by the late Muslim Brotherhood principal, Dr. Said Ramadan, father of Oxford/Notre Dame Professor Tariq, to do a hit for Ayatollah Khomeini.  Salahuddin, disguised as a US Postman, went to the door of a former Shah official in Washington, DC suburb, Ali Akbar Tabatabai’e,   shot and killed him and then fled to Tehran. We wrote about this Ramadan assassination mission ordered by Ayatollah Khomeini in our NER article How the CIA Helped the Muslim Brotherhood Infiltrate the West (August 2011).   Given Salahuddin’s background, that possibly means Levinson set up for a snatch by Iranian Intelligence. Given Levinson’s ‘contract’ work with the CIA Illicit Funds Office in Venezuela and Colombia, our hunch is that the IRGC Quds Force  got wind of this in Venezuela and started tracking him.

Now that Iran is getting its impounded $100 billion back and releasing four imprisoned Iranian Americans, it is  time for Secretary Kerry to fess up and press Iran for information on Levinson, and, if hopefully alive, obtain his release, now.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Who is Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari? The Story of the Fourth American Prisoner

ANALYSIS: Obama’s fantasy of a new Iran endangers us all

Iran Cashes In on Sanctions Relief and Hostages

Report: Iranian-American Hanged in Iran

Tehran Acknowledges 200 Thousand Armed Youth in Five Countries

As sanctions are lifted, PM pledges Israel will never allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons

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

Revealed: Russia’s Great Game in the Middle East

It was a bizarre turn of events at the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York on the 70th Anniversary of the world body.  President Obama gave a speech lambasting Putin’s Russia over its seizure of Crimea and  invasion of eastern Ukraine violating the country’s sovereignty. However, he paid court to Russia and China for supporting the  Iran nuclear pact unanimous approved  by the UN Security Council poised to release tens of billions in sequestered funds as of December 15, 2015. He  questioned Russia’s sudden military presence in western Syria building a military complex to bolster the Assad regime.  A regime that rained barrel bombs causing the deaths of 250,000. A regime ethnically cleansing the country’s Sunni population sending millions to displaced persons camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon and hundreds of thousands in flight to the EU.  The President got warm applause over his rapprochement with Cuba.

Putin, when he had his turn at the rostrum accused the U.S., without naming it, of causing the rise of the Islamic State through its invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan,  ultimately creating a Sunni supremacist Caliphate.  Following Putin Iranian President Rouhani  had his turn at the rostrum in the Assembly hall. He made the astounding proposal that an international alliance including Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq  combat terrorism in the Middle East.  A proposal that Rouhani  said should be confirmed in another Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action akin to the Iran nuclear pact.  He noted the nuclear pact  was  concluded  “without the impediment of the Zionist enterprise”, meaning Israel.  Witness  the cheek of President Rouhani   of Iran  suggesting  a new Shia alliance in the Middle East, plus Russia welcoming  the US to join in fighting Sunni Supremacist  Islamic State.

What was on display at the UN was the supplanting  of the U.S. in the new great game of the Middle East by  Russia.  It was enough to make one’s head spin with these sudden turns  of events. It made the U.S., look like a “JV team “struggling  to keep up.

The usually astute Shoshana Bryen, senior director of the Washington, DC-based  Jewish Policy Center  was asked  by this writer during the September 27, 2015 Lisa Benson Show why  these developments occurred so suddenly.  She said that  Putin’s Russia like all great powers do when they are confronted by a vacuum, especially one that threatens its national  interests.  Thousands of Jihadists have left Chechnya, Dagestan, and Tartarstan in Russia attracted by the Salafist  Islamic doctrine of the Islamic State as a declared Caliphate.  Thus  Putin’s objective is to “bottle” up these Sunni Jihadists in Syria and Iraq.  Putin admitted as much in a CBS 60 Minutes interview with Charlie Rose  Sunday evening when he said:

More than 2,000 fighters from Russia and ex-Soviet republics are in the territory of Syria. There is a threat of their return to us. So instead of waiting for their return, we are better off helping Assad fight them on Syrian territory.

Watch the CBS 60 Minutes Charlie Rose interview with Russian President Putin:

When Lisa Benson asked Bryen about  where Iran’s proxy Hezbollah stood in these developments, she  replied  Hezbollah “had not been an efficient fighting force in Syria.  Further, she commented that Russian presence in Syria is meant to actually limit Hezbollah’s  involvement, perhaps  to a defensive role “in the Alawite enclave.”  Moreover, she noted  that Putin is not interested  in a war with Israel ,suggesting that the meeting with Netanyahu  in Moscow was  to coordinate means to avoid conflict. However, Bryen  noted  Putin has another interest in the region, “control over the flow of gas to Europe” being developing offshore in Israeli, Egyptian,  and Lebanese fields.  Bryen thinks there is ‘no evidence’ of Russian presence on the Syrian frontier on Israel’s Golan Heights.  Notwithstanding a spate of rocket and mortar attacks on the Golan responded to by the IDF this past weekend that Israeli Minister of Defense Ya’alon thinks were ordered by Iran.  We shall soon see whether Putin’s gamble pays off.  Or results in another graveyard  like Afghanistan  rout of the Soviet 40th Army in 1989.

We could see this  thunder clap about to occur in the run up to the UN General Assembly session.  We had the Russian announcement of  military aid and mission to be established in the Alawite bastion of Latakia province.  Included were  the building of expanded landing fields to accommodate Ilushin cargo aircraft  and squadrons of  Mig and Sukhoi fighters, transiting from Russia to Syria  via Iran and Iraqi airspace. Then there was the announcement of Black Sea fleet maneuvers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.  In late July, following the UN endorsement of the Iran deal, Revolutionary Guards Quds Force Commander  Qasem Soliemani in Moscow  met with Putin and  Russian Defense Minister Shogui. Those discussions were  ostensibly to expedite deliveries of Russian advanced air defense systems, but  in reality to plan for Russian direct involvement with Iranian forces . In May , we witnessed an alleged US ally, Iraqi Premier Haidar al-Abadi traveling to Moscow  to obtain additional fighter  deliveries to aid in the battle against the Islamic State. Meanwhile, President Obama had committed 3, 500 American military trainers to assist  the  Iraqi National Security forces  to recover Anbar province and  Mosul. Abadi, our alleged ally in the coalition against ISIS,   brought in Russian military advisors to link  up with   Soliemani  directing  Iraqi Shia militia forces.

The unkindest  cut of all was the announcement  on the eve of the UN General Assembly of a joint intelligence and security operations center in Baghdad sharing  information among Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq.

There was  also evidence that the U.S. led coalition strategy in Syria and Iraq “defeating and degrading” ISIS had collapsed.  That was reflected  in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee by CENTCOM commander, Gen. Lloyd Austin who told Senators that  the $500 million program to train Syrian opposition fighters had failed ignominiously. We had spent $40 million training and equipping 60 candidates, who signed waivers that they were to fight ISIS, not Assad. 40 of those surrendered their weapons and joined Al Qaeda affiliate jabhat al Nusra.    If that wasn’t  enough, we had the roiling scandal of a revolt by CENTCOM  intelligence analysts who requested a Pentagon Inspector General  investigation into why assessments were being prettied up by superiors  to present a misinformed picture to the President and National Security Staff that we were succeeding in the air campaign without US boots on the ground.  That was further depicted in testimony by ex-CIA director, retired Army General Petreaus , who  testified  before the same Senate Armed Services Committee  recommending establishing   no fly zones, sanctuary havens in country and deploying  Special Forces teams.  Add to that the failure of the Obama White House to honor its commitment to supply  Syrian Kurdish YPG  and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces with updated weapons, ammunition and equipment.  The Kurds are  being attacked by Turkish air force fighters.  To cap things off, retired Marine Gen. John Allen, coordinator of the  Coalition effort,  resigned after a year of service.  As former Defense Intelligence Agency  head, retired Army General Michael Flynn observed, this is what you get when you “politicize intelligence”. The President suggested in his UN address  that the Islamic State   “violent extremism , distorts ”the true meaning of the Islamic faith.”

Russian may have “frozen” the Syrian conflict in a stalemate.  The U.S. finds itself suddenly on the sidelines, largely, by its own “red lines”. Now with Russia’s direct involvement in Syria and Iraq, we will soon find out if ISIS is vanquished or remains a growing global threat. Such are the rules of The Great Game that in the 19th Century pitted imperial Czarist Russia against the British Empire.

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

Nuclear Watchdog Confirms Blast at Parchin Nuclear Trigger Test Site in Iran

When we posted Monday, October 6th  on the mysterious blast at the Parchin military explosives test site in Iran , we said our first act was to contact the Washington, DC-based  Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) headed by former nuclear inspector, David Albright.  ISIS, a highly regarded nuclear watchdog group,  maintains watching briefs on both the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.

The young man who answered our call said they would have an evaluation of imagery of the Parchin test site, alleged to be engaged in development of explosive nuclear triggers for possible weapons development.  The Parchin military test facility is located 28 kilometers southeast of Tehran.  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.  ISIS released evidence yesterday 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.

Earlier today, it has been 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.

iran nuke plant

For a larger view click on the image. Source: ISIS.

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 (see figure 1 on the right).

Given the ISIS analysis,  the  question of whether the Parchin explosion was sabotage or a test failure is still open.  Sources, we have consulted with suggested it might be the former.  While the Washington ISIS has been monitoring activity at Parchin, the facility has been closed to IAEA inspections since 2005.

iran nuke plant 2

For a larger view click on the image. Source: ISIS.

Three years ago, we posted on another massive explosion at a missile propellant test  center near Tehran in mid November, 2011, “Iranian Missile Test Site Explosion May Disable Solid Fuel ICMB Program – a Threat Played Down by the Obama Administration”. We noted:

Along with Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam the head of Iran’s missile test program and 17 other Iranians killed in the ‘accident’ there have been reportsthat a number of North Koreans present at the test facility were killed as well.  That is analogous to the IAF 2007 raid on the Syrian nuclear bomb factory when there was documented evidence of North Korean technicians present at the destroyed site.

The implication of the ‘accident’ is that the NIE May 2009 estimate of Iran’s ICBM capabilities was wrong, as experts cited in our report on The Iranian Missile Threat.  That report was used to justify that the Administration’s Missile Defense Shield program that only covered southeastern Europe. Strategically it means that the range of these solid fuel rockets, especially the MB-25 variant being developed by Iran, threatened targets in EU from the UK through Central and Eastern Europe, as well as, Russia.

According to a Reuters report on the ISIS analysis of the blast at Parchin, the IAEA has been denied access to Parchin by Iran on the grounds that it is a “conventional military facility”. It further noted that Iran said the November 2011 missile test site blast occurred while the “weapons were being moved”.

With questions raised about the pending final agreement proposals  under discussion in Vienna between representatives of the P5+1 and Iran, the Parchin military test site blast begs disclosures  on what triggered it.  Why Iran has denied access to the facility to the IAEA since 2005?  It is time for the Senate and House Select Intelligence Committees to hold closed door hearings on Iran’s nuclear activities during the year long interim agreement. An agreement that gave the green light for lifting some US and International sanctions.  Perhaps, Israel has information on both the incident at Parchin and Iran’s nuclear program. Yuval Steinitz, Israeli Minister of Intelligence , revealed before President Rouhani’s speech at the UN General Assembly in  September 2014 that  he had  such information  from “reliable sources”.

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

Is President Obama questioning the loyalty of American Jews?

The Jerusalem Post published an article with a comment allegedly attributable to an Obama White House senior official that has caught the ire of American Jews and Israelis, “US perceives Israel as encouraging anti-Obama backlash among Jews”.  The JP article noted:

A US official close to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry said both men are disturbed over what is being perceived in their inner circle as “Jewish activism in Congress” that they think is being encouraged by the Israeli government, Israel Radio reported on Thursday.

The official has informed Israeli government figures that the president and secretary of state are disappointed over repeated attacks made against them by leading members of the Jewish community in the US.

According to Israel Radio, Israeli diplomats and foreign officers have warned against this trend. According to officials based in foreign missions, the Israeli government is increasingly being viewed as fanning the flames among American Jews by encouraging them to promote the official government position while making no room for opposing viewpoints.

Earlier this month, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon apologized after it was reported that he called Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic.”

In response to this JP report Stuart Kaufman sent an email to me and other colleagues with this comment:

This is dangerously close to the old anti-Semitic accusation of dual loyalty.  We are now on seriously perilous ground.  The rulers of the land are beginning the effort to isolate Jews – to set us apart.  I can’t stress how dangerous this is.  We Jews and those who are our friends must strike back hard.  This serpent can’t be permitted to grow without a major response.

What Kaufman was referring to was the emergence in 19th Century Europe of die Judenfrage, the Jewish question, criticizing Jewish subjects or citizens of being disloyal because of conflicts between nationalism and Zionism; the return of the Jewish people to what is now Israel.  It was from this well of hatred that anti-Semitism arose in the Vienna of the Habsburg Empire, Wilhelmine Germany and the fin de siècle France during the Dreyfus Affair.  It would become transformed into the international Jewish conspiracy forgery of the Czarist secret police, The Elders of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  Later it becomes embedded in Hitler’s anti-Semitic tract Mein Kampf that lit the match for the Holocaust of Six Million European Jewish Men, Women and Children during World War Two. Mein Kampf is today one of the most popular books in the Arab Muslim world promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose founder Hassan al Banna was an acolyte of Hitler.

Watch this Youtube video of  Julius Streicher, the notorious publisher of the Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer, ranting about Anti-Semitic judenfrage:

In light of that, how callous was this alleged comment from the Senior White House aide in the Administration.  Is the White House really questioning the loyalty of American Jews? Or are the President and Secretary of State simply complaining about Israeli cabinet members and some “American Jews” criticizing them? Are the President and Secretary of State really against Americans, Jews and others, supporting Israel defending its hard won sovereignty against people who would destroy it?

Yesterday, we saw clear evidence of that threat with the World Economic Forum interview of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani by Fareed Zakaria of CNN.  We heard translations of Rouhani  saying he would neither destroy 15,000 centrifuges nor stop building or swap  plutonium producing heavy water reactors at Arak for energy producing light water ones. He was also telling the West that sanctions were illegal.  The Obama White House  Press Spokesman Jay Carney said , in response to  reporters’ questions about President Rouhani’s CNN interview, that  Rouhani’s comments were for domestic consumption back home in Tehran.  AIPAC didn’t think so. They sent out a blast email containing  a link to the CNN interview with Rouhani for its members and others to view.

Rouhani’s CNN interview was a deliberate poke in the eyes of the P5+1 and the denizens of the West Wing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. To warn American Jews they better not defend their Jewish cousins in Israel from this threat was both dangerous and a blatant display of ingratitude towards an ally protecting our assets in the Middle East. Some thanks for Shin Bet saving Amb. Dan Shapiro and his striped pants and skirts brigade in Tel Aviv at the US Embassy and others at the Jerusalem conference center from Al Qaeda attacks orchestrated by Ayman al-Zawahiri’s local henchman in Gaza.  Even peace mongering nonagenarian Israeli President Peres at Davos in response to Rouhani’s interview called  for a boycott of Iran.

Perhaps Members of Congress concerned about these White House follies, both domestic and foreign can express their disdain for accusations like this from the Administration. They could politely sit on their hands and not applaud at the President’s State of the Union Address next Tuesday, the 28th when the President inevitably will do a victory lap about engagement with Iran over its nuclear program.  That would send a visual rebuke captured on national and international TV.  An image that would convey a message that even Iran’s President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif and Supreme Ruler Ayatollah Khamenei wouldn’t require a Farsi translation. The more courageous among US Senate members in the audience of the Joint Session could immediately take up the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act, S. 1881 and pass it resoundingly next Wednesday.

After this episode we can understand former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ criticism of the mind numbing political apparatchiks in the West Wing inner circle portrayed in his memoir, Duty. Gates has been unfairly maligned by the liberal media reviewers for betraying his trust with the Obama team while Secretary of Defense by releasing his book prior to the end of the President’s term.  In sharp contrast Thomas Ricks published a praiseworthy review of Gates’ memoir, “In Command”, in the New York Times Sunday Book Review.  Note Ricks’ conclusion that provides a measure of the author:

But Gates is doing far more than just scoring points in this revealing volume. The key to reading it is understanding that he was profoundly affected by his role in sending American soldiers overseas to fight and be killed or maimed. During his four years as defense secretary, he states twice, he wept almost every night as he signed letters of condolence and then lay in bed and meditated on the dead and wounded. He was angry and disappointed with White House officials and members of Congress who appeared to him to put political gain ahead of the interests of American soldiers. Fittingly, he concludes the book by revealing that he has requested to be buried in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, the resting place of many of those we lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More  than 10,000 American Jews serve in our military.  American Jewish servicemen and women have fought and died in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Perhaps they are buried in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery that Secretary Gates wrote about in his memoir.  Watch this Forward  Vimeo video about two  valiant American Jews who served honorably and fell  in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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