Israel, Saudi Arabia, acknowledge holding secret talks on Iran

Dore Gold and Anwar Majed EshkiRepresentatives from Israel and Saudi Arabia have publicly admitted for the first time that they met secretly to discuss their common foe Iran, even though Saudi Arabia does not officially acknowledge Israel’s existence. The admission was made at a symposium held on Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations, a foreign-policy think tank based in Washington, DC.

According to Bloomberg’s Eli Lake, who covered the event, it featured speeches by Saudi General (ret.) Anwar Majed Eshki, and Israeli career diplomat Dore Gold. Eskhi is a former adviser to Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Gold is Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, and is currently seen as a strong candidate to lead Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Lake notes that Eshki gave his speech in Arabic, Gold gave his in English, and that no questions were taken from the audience.

At least five meetings appear to have taken place between senior Israeli and Saudi officials since early 2014, in secret venues located in Italy, India and the Czech Republic. The main purpose of the clandestine meetings was to discuss what Tel Aviv and Riyadh see as Iran’s increasingly powerful role in Middle Eastern affairs, and to explore ways of stopping Tehran from building nuclear weapons.

The admission of the secret meetings between Israeli and Saudi diplomats will not come as a surprise to seasoned Middle East observers. Many have suspected that the two countries, who have historically been bitter enemies, have sought to collaborate behind the scenes against Iran. However, as Lake correctly points out, this week’s acknowledgement is the first time that this collaboration has been openly admitted by the two sides. He quotes one participant at Thursday’s symposium, Israeli General (ret.) Shimon Shapira, who says that Tel Aviv and Riyadh have also discussed “political and economic” means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

This admission, however, does not mean that the Saudis are about to recognize Israel, or that the Israelis are any closer to accepting the Saudis’ 2002 Arab-Israeli peace plan, which Tel Aviv has flatly rejected, says Lake. Admittedly, the rising power of Iran can only do so much to bring Israelis and Arabs closer.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/05/01-1709/

Syrian spy chief placed under house arrest by Assad, say sources

Bashar al-Assad (center) and Ali Mamlouk to his leftBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Citing sources inside Syria’s presidential palace, a leading British newspaper has alleged that the director of Syria’s national intelligence agency has fallen out with the regime and is now under house arrest. Lieutenant General Ali Mamlouk, who heads Syria’s National Security Bureau, is known as a hardline supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He personally leads every major domestic-security operation in the country and is believed to be among the Syrian president’s most trusted advisers. In recent weeks, however, Mamlouk, who is one of the regime’s most publicity-prone figures, has not surfaced in the news or in any public venues. His absence has prompted intense speculation that he might be sick, under arrest, or even dead. Several news outlets in the Middle East hypothesized that the general, who is 69, is undergoing chemotherapy to combat a rapidly progressing cancer. Then, amidst growing rumors about Mamlouk’s health, the general was shown on state television (see photo) sitting by Assad’s side during a meeting with a visiting Iranian delegation. But the footage only served to inflame speculation that the Syrian official was actually under house arrest, and that he was only brought out of his detention for the meeting with the Iranians, so as to help quieten rumors about an alleged growing rift within the regime’s inner circle.

On Monday, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph cited “sources inside the presidential palace” in Damascus, in claiming that Mamlouk was removed from his post in the National Security Bureau and is currently under house arrest in the Syrian capital. The paper said that the General had fallen out with the country’s president and had been organizing a military coup against him, prompted by his fierce opposition to Iran’s growing influence in Damascus. It is widely believed that Tehran’s increasing involvement in the Syrian Civil War on the side of Assad is largely responsible for the regime’s military and economic survival. According to The Telegraph, most of the president’s economic and military advisers at the presidential palace are now Iranian.

But Syria’s alignment with Iran is creating a backlash among Assad’s inner circle, which consists of secular nationalists, liberal Alawites or Christians. As a result, says the paper, Assad is “struggling to keep together [his] inner circle”, as senior administration officials are “increasingly turning on each other”. Mamlouk was one such insider, who was disturbed by Iran’s rising influence in Syria. Prior to his arrest, says The Telegraph, the general was secretly communicating with Turkish intelligence through an intermediary.

Yemen’s Shiite rebels are not Iran proxies: US intelligence officials

YemenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
American intelligence officials have cautioned against the popular narrative that Yemen’s Shiite rebels are proxies or Iran, noting that Tehran actually counseled them against conquering Yemeni capital Sana’a last year. Known as Houthis, the group formally calls itself Ansar Allah (Supporters of God) and consists almost exclusively of Zaidi tribesmen, who follow an obscure form of Shia Islam. Their denomination, which distinguishes them from Yemen’s Sunni majority, shapes their ethnic identity and has helped fuel their 20-year insurgency against the Yemeni state. In September of last year, Houthi rebels, taking advantage of the chaos caused by the spillover of the Arab Spring into Yemen, marched into Sana’a, which had been virtually abandoned by the government’s security forces, and took it over.

The surprising move caused many in the Middle East to accuse Iran, whose Shiite government maintains strong religious and ideological connections with Yemen’s Zaidi community, of using the Houthis as a proxy army in order to destabilize Saudi Arabia’s southern regions. The latter are also populated by Shiite tribes, who are ethnically affiliated with the Houthis and view Iran as a kind of spiritual homeland. In Washington, the alleged Iranian link to the Houthi insurgency has been pointed to repeatedly by lawmakers opposed to the recent agreement between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The lawmakers argue that, while nominally agreeing to end its nuclear program, Tehran has been secretly conspiring to destabilize the entire Arabian Peninsula.

However, a report in online news agency The Huffington Post said on Monday that American intelligence officials are far from convinced that Iran is actually directing the Houthi insurgency. Citing “American officials familiar with intelligence” operations in Yemen, the New York-based news agency said Iran actively opposed the Houthis’ advance on the Yemeni capital in September of last year, and tried to prevent it. The Houthis, however, simply ignored Tehran’s advice and took over Sana’a. The Huffington Post quotes one unnamed American intelligence official who says that “it is wrong to think of the Houthis as a proxy force of Iran”. The article also quotes Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the United States National Security Council, who says that “it remains [the NSC’s] assessment that Iran does not exert command and control over the Houthis in Yemen”.

If it is accurate, the US intelligence assessment would mean that Tehran is far more interested in promoting its agreement with the P5+1 than commandeering a proxy war in Yemen. Additionally, those who suggest that Yemen’s Houthis are guided by Iran appear to ignore the fact that the Zaidis follow a branch of Shiite Islam that differs markedly from Iran’s. Knowledgeable observers have pointed out that the Houthi insurgency is far more concerned with combatting local government corruption and having a say in the country’s internal power struggles than promoting Shiite Islam in Yemen and beyond.

Senior Iranian aide defects during nuclear talks in Lausanne

Amir Hossein MotaghiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A media advisor to the Iranian president, who was in Switzerland to cover the ongoing international negotiations on the country’s nuclear program, has defected. Amir Hossein Motaghi is credited with having helped secure the impressive ascent of Hassan Rouhani to Iran’s presidency in 2013. Rouhani, who swept to power with over 50 percent of the vote, over 30 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival, owes much of his victory to his popularity among the youth. Motaghi led the media team that promoted Rouhani’s image among younger voters by cleverly employing online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Following Rouhani’s victory, however, Motaghi repeatedly voiced impatience with the slow pace of social and political reforms in Iran. Recently he spoke in favor of the release of Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post, who has been denounced as a spy and imprisoned by the Iranian government. There have been rumors in the Iranian media that Motaghi had been ordered to report once a week to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence; some say he had been privately warned that he faced arrest upon his return to Iran.

Motaghi had reportedly been sent to the Swiss city of Lausanne by the Iran Student Correspondents Association (ISCA). His task was to cover the ongoing talks that aim to bring an end to the dispute between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. However, according to Iranian opposition sources, the media aide resigned from his ISCA post before filing an application for political asylum in Switzerland.

Soon afterwards, Motaghi gave an interview to Irane Farda, a pro-reform Iranian television station based in London, in which he explained the reasons for his defection. He accused the Iranian government of controlling Iranian media reports about the talks, by staffing its reporter entourage in Lausanne with undercover intelligence officers. He also said he could no longer pursue his profession conscientiously because he was only allowed to report approved news items. Furthermore, he accused the American delegation to the talks as “mainly speak[ing] on Iran’s behalf with […] the 5+1 countries [so as to] convince them to consent to an agreement”.

Late on Sunday, ISCA, the press agency believed to have sent Motaghi to Switzerland, released a statement claiming it did not employ the journalist and that his job had been terminated prior to the nuclear talks in Lausanne.

‘Gloves are coming off’ in US-Israel clash over Iran, says intel insider

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An American former intelligence operative has called the latest revelations of Israeli spying against the United States “appalling” and warned that “the gloves are coming off” in the clash between Washington and Tel Aviv over Iran. The unnamed former operative, described as having “long, firsthand familiarity with Israeli operations”, told Newsweek magazine’s intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein that he was not surprised to find out Israel has been spying on the closed-door talks between the US and the Islamic Republic.

He was referring to The Wall Street Journal’s leading article on Monday, which alleged that the Jewish state’s intelligence services have been spying on American officials during their closed-door negotiations with the government of Iran over its nuclear program. The paper said the spy operation against the US forms part of a broader campaign by Tel Aviv to sabotage the talks, which aim to bridge the differences between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

Newsweek has reported before allegations about aggressive Israeli espionage against the US. Last year, Stein elicited a strong reaction from the Israeli government when he quoted Congressional staffers saying that America’s Jewish allies had “crossed red lines” in their efforts to steal American secrets. According to Stein, intelligence representatives had briefed members of Congress about Israeli spy operations against US interests that were “unrivaled and unseemly” and had reached levels far higher than similar activities by other allied countries, such as Britain or Japan.

This time, however, says Stein, Israeli actions “mark a new frontier” in the intelligence rivalry between Washington and Tel Aviv. He quotes an American former intelligence insider who condemns Israeli efforts to sabotage US-Iranian talks as “manipulation of our institutions” and blasts American lawmakers siding with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “useful idiots” who “sacrifice the US national interest for a foreign ideology”, namely “Likud rightwing Zionism”. The unnamed source added that the controlled leaks about the widening rift in US-Israeli relations reveal the anger currently being felt in Washington against the Israeli government. Behind closed doors, officials in the White House, the foreign-policy and intelligence communities “are prepared to act on that anger”, he concluded.

Israel ‘spied on the United States’ during Iran nuclear negotiations

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The intelligence services of Israel have allegedly been spying on American officials during their closed-door negotiations with the government of Iran over its nuclear program. The Wall Street Journal said the spy operation forms part of a broader campaign by Tel Aviv to sabotage the talks, which are aimed at bridging the differences between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

In a leading article published on Monday, the paper said it decided to reveal the existence of the Israeli spying program after interviewing “more than a dozen current and former US and Israeli diplomats, intelligence officials, policy makers and lawmakers”. Ironically, according to The Journal, the administration of US President Barack Obama found out about the Israeli spying after instructing American intelligence agencies to conduct a counterintelligence operation against Tel Aviv, in order to see what they knew about the secret negotiations with Iran. After spying on Israeli government officials, the American agencies concluded that they were in possession of confidential information that could only have been acquired from spying on participants in the negotiations.

According to The Journal, American officials were not surprised by the spying. But they were especially perturbed, said the paper, to find out that the Israeli government proceeded to leak the secret information to American lawmakers opposed to a possible deal with Iran, in order “to undermine US diplomacy”, according to one unnamed senior American official.

Israeli officials told The Journal that Tel Aviv had indeed acquired confidential information about the negotiations, but that they had done so by spying on Iranian, not American, negotiators. Speaking late on Monday, a spokesman for the office of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the American newspaper’s allegations were “utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies”, he said, adding that the “false allegations” were “clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel”.

Israeli ex-military, intelligence leaders, join forces against Netanyahu

Sunday's press conference in IsraelBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Nearly 200 former senior officials in Israel’s intelligence and security services called a public press conference on Sunday and denounced the foreign policy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader, who has been in office since 2009, has spoken out repeatedly against attempts by the United States and other Western countries to improve relations with Iran. As his critics held the press conference, the Israeli prime minister was leaving Tel Aviv for a controversial trip to the US, where he is scheduled to speak before a joint session of Congress. He was invited by senior Republicans in Washington, who, like Netanyahu, are sharply critical of US President Barack Obama’s policy on Iran. Netanyahu is also expected to address the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is widely considered the most powerful arm of the pro-Israel lobby in the US. But President Obama has refused to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister, whose trip to DC is seen as an attempt by the Republican Party to subvert the US leader’s foreign-policy agenda on Iran.

On Sunday, notable figures from Israel’s military and intelligence establishment gathered at a press conference to deliver sharp criticism against Netanyahu’s controversial trip to Washington and to blast the Israeli leader for allegedly injuring the Jewish state’s relationship with America. Among the numerous speakers at the press conference was the decorated veteran of Israel’s 1973 war, Major General Amnon Reshef. He appealed to Netanyahu to scarp his trip to the US and stop criticizing the Obama Administration “before it is too late”. The rift between Washington and Tel Aviv “cannot be accepted”, said Reshef, as it poses “clear and present dangers to the very security of Israel”.

Another speaker at the event, former deputy director of the Mossad, Major General Amiram Levin, told reporters that it was not easy for him to criticize Netanyahu, who had served under him in the Israel Defense Forces. But the Israeli prime minister’s actions left him with no choice, he said. Instead of working with President Obama to resolve the dispute with Iran, Netanyahu had chosen to “go there and stick his thumb in his eye”, said Levin. Such actions, aside from offending Obama, damage Israel’s image in the US among Americans. The latter, even when they are friends of Israel, said Levin, “are Americans first and foremost”. The former Mossad official concluded by saying that, without the strong support of Washington, Israel would be “far weaker strategically” and would allow Iran to get closer to building a nuclear arsenal.

A spokesman for the Likud party, which backs Prime Minister Netanyahu, dismissed the press conference as “a propaganda vehicle of the left”, whose campaign “is funded with millions of American dollars originating from left-wing circles abroad”.

Mossad saw pause in Iran nuke program in 2012, leaked file shows

Benjamin NetanyahuBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A file leaked to the media on Monday shows that the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad differed from the Israeli leadership’s position that Iran was advancing its nuclear weapons program in 2012. In September of that year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations in New York with a dramatic plea to help stop the Iranian nuclear program before it was too late. Holding a diagram showing a bomb about to explode, the Israeli leader urged UN member states to “draw a clear red line” forbidding the Islamic Republic from acquiring nuclear weapons in less than two years’ time, as it was poised to do, he said.

But a report drafted by the Mossad just weeks after Netanyahu’s UN address, said that Iran appeared to have stopped pursuing activities that were necessary to building a nuclear arsenal. The report was produced by the Mossad and distributed to a number of allied intelligence agencies around the world, including those of South Africa, from where it was presumably leaked to the media. British quality broadsheet The Guardian, which published the report, said it was able to “independently authenticate” the report, and added that it clearly went against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assessment about the Iranian nuclear program. The top-secret document, which was communicated to the South Africans by the Mossad in late October of 2012, was also published by Qatar-based news agency Al Jazeera. It states that Iran did “not appear to be ready to enrich [uranium] to higher levels” and was thus “not performing the activity necessary to produce [nuclear] weapons”. According to The Guardian, the content of the Mossad communique is “in stark contrast to the alarmist tone set by Netanyahu” in his September 2012 address before the UN.

If the leaked document is genuine, it would appear to confirm previous indications of a difference of opinion on the matter of Iran’s nuclear program between Israel’s political leadership and its intelligence community. In January of this year, the Bloomberg news agency reported that the Mossad had been discreetly approaching US officials and politicians in order to raise support for a pending agreement between Iran, the United States and other countries, which would ease economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for a short-term suspension of core aspects of its nuclear program. According to Bloomberg, the Mossad appeared to be acting behind the back of the Israeli prime minister, who has blasted the agreement as a “historic mistake” that enabled “the most dangerous regime in the world” to get closer to “attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”. But in contrast to the Israeli leader, the Mossad appears to have urged American officials to support the agreement, saying that any move “that triggers [further] sanctions [against Iran] would collapse the talks” between Tehran and Washington, something which Israeli intelligence officials do not wish to see.

Mossad breaks with Israeli PM, cautions against new Iran sanctions

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has broken ranks with the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cautioning American members of Congress against imposing new sanctions on Iran. In November of 2013, Iran signed a Joint Plan of Action with six world powers in Geneva, Switzerland. Known as the Geneva interim agreement, the pact eases economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for a short-term suspension of core aspects of the Iranian nuclear program. But two members of the Republican-controlled Senate in the United States, Robert Menendez and Mark Kirk, have voiced strong displeasure with what they see as the slow pace of progress in the talks. The two senators are co-sponsors of a proposed bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran if the Islamic Republic fails to make substantial progress toward the Geneva agreement by next June. US President Barack Obama opposes the bill, arguing that it would actually prompt Iran to accelerate its nuclear program, and has publicly said he would veto it. Meanwhile, his Secretary of State, John Kerry, quoted this week an Israeli intelligence official who allegedly told him that, if enacted, the Menendez-Kirk bill would “throw a grenade into the process”. It is no secret that the bill enjoys strong support from Netanyahu’s government. Last year, the Israeli Prime Minister called the Geneva pact a “historic mistake”, which enabled “the most dangerous regime in the world” to get closer to “attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”. Late on Wednesday, however, the Bloomberg news agency reported that the Mossad has been discreetly approaching US officials and politicians and cautioning them that the Menendez-Kirk bill would indeed torpedo the Geneva agreement. The news agency said that the Israeli intelligence agency has been warning American officials abroad and it recently contacted a US Congressional delegation visiting Israel. The Bloomberg report cited two unnamed “senior US officials”, one of whom told the news agency that “any bill that triggers sanctions [against Iran] would collapse the talks”. If confirmed, the Bloomberg allegations would mean that the Mossad, Israel’s principal intelligence agency, is sharply breaking ranks with the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu on Iran. The Bloomberg article further states that Senator Menendez has contacted Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the US, to complain about the actions of the Mossad, which, say critics, break diplomatic protocol.

Argentine prosecutor probing Israeli embassy bombing found dead

Alberto NismanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An Argentine state prosecutor, who accused senior Argentine officials of having colluded with Iran to bomb Israeli targets in Buenos Aires, has been found dead hours before he was due to give Congressional testimony on the subject. Alberto Nisman’s body was found on Monday morning in the bathroom of his apartment, which had been locked from the inside. Argentine authorities say they believe Nisman killed himself with a single shot to the head from a .22 caliber handgun. Nisman caused international headlines last week, after launching a criminal complaint against the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hector Timerman, and several other notable personalities of Argentine life. He accused them of having colluded with the government of Iran to bomb the Israeli embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in the mid-1990s. A dozen people died in the bombing of the embassy, while another 85 were killed two years later, when the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) community center in the Argentine capital was bombed. For years, Israeli authorities have accused Iran of perpetrating the attacks. But Nisman claimed that the Iranians had formed a “secret pact” with Argentine authorities. Under the alleged deal, Tehran would be allowed to target the Jewish community in Buenos Aires in exchange for lucrative commercial deals with Argentina, involving oil and arms exports. Nisman was given protection by a 10-member police squad after he announced he had prepared a 300-page report on the subject, which allegedly included material from wiretaps given to him by senior Argentine intelligence officials. Members of Nisman’s police protection team said they found him dead after he failed to respond to messages sent to his personal cell phone overnight. On Monday evening, as news of Nisman’s death spread across Argentina, thousands of people participated in spontaneous demonstrations throughout the country, protesting about this latest chapter in a mysterious case that has haunted Argentine politics for over two decades.

Iran says it foiled Mossad assassination of nuclear scientist

Yaqoub BaqeriBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A senior Iranian military official has claimed that Tehran foiled an attempt by Israeli spies to assassinate a scientist working for Iran’s nuclear program. In a report filed on Saturday, Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Colonel Yaqoub Baqeri saying that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had managed to prevent Israel from killing the scientist “during the last two years”. Baqeri is deputy chief liaison officer in the air force division of the IRGC, a branch of Iran’s armed forces dedicated to protecting and furthering the goals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Baqueri told Fars, which is known to have strong links with the IRGC, that Israel’s covert-action agency, the Mossad, had been “trying hard to assassinate an Iranian nuclear scientist”, but that the well-timed involvement of the IRGC had “thwarted the terrorist operation”. At least five Iranian nuclear scientists have been targeted by unknown assailants since 2007, when Ardeshire Hassanpour, who worked at Iran’s Isfahan nuclear facility, was found dead in his Tehran apartment, allegedly having suffocated in his sleep from fumes from a faulty gas pipe. Another Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, disappeared in 2009, while Masoud Ali Mohammadi, described by the Iranian government as a “dedicated revolutionary professor”, was killed in 2010 by a remotely controlled explosive device that had been planted at the entrance of his residence. Later that year, two near-simultaneous bomb attacks killed Majid Shahriari and injured Fereydoon Abbasi Davan, nuclear researchers and professors at the Shahid Beheshti University. The two were attacked in separate incidents by motorcyclists who targeted them during the morning rush hour in Tehran as they were driving to work. The assailants attached small bombs to the car surfaces of their targets and detonated them from a relatively safe distance before speeding away through heavy traffic. The Fars News Agency report also claimed that Iran’s intelligence agencies had uncovered secret training bases run by the Mossad and located “within the territories of one of Iran’s western neighbors”, in which teams of assassins were allegedly being “trained and assisted” by the Israelis. In 2012, Israel’s two leading intelligence correspondents, Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, claimed in their book Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, that the “decapitation program” against the Iranian nuclear effort was led by Israel with the expressed but passive endorsement of the United States.

Obama in secret negotiations with Iran over ISIS threat

Iran and its regionBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The president of the United States reportedly sent a secret letter to the supreme leader of Iran, in which he proposes cooperation against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in exchange for a nuclear deal. The New York-based Wall Street Journal newspaper reported on Thursday that Barack Obama reached out to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in October. In the letter, Obama allegedly proposes a nuclear agreement between Washington and Tehran and emphasizes the common threat the two nations face from ISIS, the Sunni Islamist group also known as the Islamic State. The paper said Obama’s letter stresses that any cooperation between America and Iran against the Islamic State is directly contingent on a nuclear agreement between the two governments, which would have to be reached before November 24 of this year. If the Journal’s information is accurate, it would appear that the US president’s move is connected with the latest round in bilateral negotiations between Washington and Tehran, which is scheduled to begin on November 8. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif will be leading their respective teams, as the two delegations meet in Muscat, capital of Oman, to explore ways of normalizing their diplomatic relations. If it is real, Obama’s purported letter would not mark the first instance in which the US president wrote to his Iranian counterpart. There are at least three other letters that Obama is known to have sent to various Iranian leaders since 2009, when he assumed the presidency of the US. However, if the proposal in the letter, as outlined in The Wall Street Journal article, is authentic, the move can be seen to highlight the view of the White House that Iran must inevitably be part of a solution regarding ISIS. Nevertheless, the revelation that America is seeking an alliance with Shiite Iran will undoubtedly frustrate America’s Arab allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and other Sunni oil monarchies, which are participating in the ongoing international military campaign against the Islamic State. The Journal contacted the White House but officials there refused to comment on what they said was Obama’s “private correspondence”. When asked by journalists on the matter, White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said only that “the policy that the president and his administration have articulated about Iran remains unchanged”.

Iran announces arrest of alleged spies at Bushehr nuclear plant

Bushehr nuclear power plantBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Senior Iranian government officials have announced the arrest of a group of alleged spies in Iran’s southwestern province of Bushehr, home to the country’s only nuclear energy plant. Iranian Intelligence Minister Seyed Mahmoud Alawi told the semi-official Fars News Agency on Tuesday that the spies had been “identified and sent to justice”. Located along Iran’s coastal Persian Gulf region, the Bushehr nuclear power plant has a long history. Its construction initially began in the mid-1970s by German engineers. But work on the plant was halted in 1979, immediately following the Islamic Revolution. Iraqi forces repeatedly bombarded the site during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. But the government began to rebuild it in the 1990s with the help of Russian technicians. In September of 2011, the Bushehr nuclear power plant was inaugurated in a widely publicized ceremony that was attended by several Russian officials, including Minister of Energy Sergei Shmatko. The completion of the facility made it the first civilian nuclear power plant anywhere in the Middle East. On Tuesday, Intelligence Minister Alawi said the arrested spies were engaged in physical surveillance and intelligence-gathering at the plant, in the service of a foreign intelligence agency. But he refused to specify how many alleged spies were arrested. News of the arrests comes less than two weeks following a mystery explosion at the Parchin military complex, located approximately 20 miles southeast of Iranian capital Tehran. The Islamic Republic News Agency reported on October 7 that the explosion had been caused by a “fire [that] broke out in an explosive materials production unit”, and that two people had died. Several countries, including Israel and the United States, accuse Iran of conducting nuclear experimentation at Parchin. The last time that the site was inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency was in 2005. Read more of this post

Iran silent about deadly blast that ‘lit up sky’ near Tehran

Parchin military complexBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of Iran is refusing to comment on a reported blast at a secretive military facility that some sources say “lit up the sky” last week. The blast is said to have taken place on Sunday night at the Parchin military complex, located approximately 20 miles southeast of Iranian capital Tehran. The semi-official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on Monday that the explosion had been caused by a “fire [that] broke out in an explosive materials production unit” east of Tehran, and that two people had died. Interestingly, however, the news agency did not specify the precise location of the blast, nor did it identify the “explosive materials production unit” in question. There was also no mention of the cause of the fire that allegedly resulted in the blast. A few hours later, the Iranian-language news site SahamNews, which is politically linked to the Iranian opposition, claimed that the blast happened at Parchin and that it was a “massive explosion” that “lit up the evening sky” and caused windows to shatter as far as 9 miles away from the complex. It is worth noting that the blast was reported just hours after Israeli officials accused Iran of conducting nuclear implosion tests at a host of nuclear facilities, including Parchin. Israel is among several countries, including the United States, that have accused Iran of conducting nuclear experimentation at Parchin. The last time that the site was inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency was in 2005. Since then, Iranian authorities have rejected repeated IAEA requests for access to the site. There are suspicions that the latest explosion may be part of what many suspect is a longstanding campaign of sabotage against the Iranian nuclear program, orchestrated by Israel with the possible cooperation of the US and other countries. The campaign is believed to include psychological operations, sabotage, as well as targeted assassinations of senior Iranian nuclear scientists. Read more of this post

Iran serious about nuclear deal, says senior Israeli intelligence official

Israel and IranBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A senior Israeli intelligence official said on Monday that Iran appears to be genuinely interested in entering an agreement with world powers that would lead to the termination of its nuclear program. In November of 2013, Iran signed a Joint Plan of Action with six world powers in Geneva, Switzerland. Known as the Geneva interim agreement, the pact eases economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for a short-term suspension of core aspects of the Iranian nuclear program. The Israeli government’s negative response to the agreement was headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister called the pact a “historic mistake”, which enabled “the most dangerous regime in the world” to get closer to “attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”. Since that time, Tel Aviv has continued to criticize the governments of the United States, Russia, China, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, known as P5+1, for signing the interim agreement with Tehran. On Monday, however, Israel’s senior intelligence analyst, Brigadier-General Itai Brun, told a conference near Tel Aviv that Iran has so far abided by the interim agreement and added that he was cautiously optimistic about the future of the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1. Brun was speaking at the Herzliya Conference, an annual gathering of senior Israeli political leaders, which typically serves as a public platform for articulation of Israel’s national policy on critical issues. Senior figures in Israel, including the President and Prime Minister, typically use their keynote addresses at the conference to set the tone for the future policies of their administration. Brig. Gen. Brun, 51, has led the research division of the Military Intelligence Directorate of the Israeli Defense Forces. His position is generally viewed as the second most senior within Israel’s military intelligence establishment. Brun’s address at the conference appeared to be deliberately designed to challenge Netanyahu’s skepticism of the Geneva interim agreement. He told conference participants that it was “very possible” that Iran and the P5+1 were “moving toward the signing of a permanent nuclear deal”. Read more of this post

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