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”.

Ex-Mossad chief calls for ouster of Israeli prime minister

Meir DaganBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A longtime former director of the intelligence agency Mossad has called for the ousting of the country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dismissing him as dangerous for Israel’s security. Meir Dagan stepped down from his post as head of the Mossad in November of 2010, after leading the agency for over eight years —the longest tenure of any Mossad director in history. Soon after his retirement, Dagan emerged as a leading critic of the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom he accuses of endangering Israel’s security by wrecking its international reputation and isolating the country from its friends and allies around the world. In 2011, Dagan gave a lengthy interview in which he admonished calls by Netanyahu to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities as “the stupidest idea” he had ever heard. In a subsequent interview to Reuters news agency, Dagan insisted that the military option should be last on the table and said that the Iranian nuclear issue should be “left in the hands of the international community”.

Responding to the Israeli Prime Minister’s controversial trip to the United States last week, Dagan said last week it had been destructive to Israel’s interests. Speaking on Israel’s Channel 2 television, the former spy chief did not deny that Iran’s nuclear program was a potential threat to Israel’s security, “but going to war with the US [over Iran] is not the way to stop it”, he said. Dagan’s supporters, who come mostly from the center-left of the Israeli political scene, accuse the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu of focusing almost exclusively on the Iranian nuclear program and neglecting the increasingly volatile relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. Many Israeli left-of-center voters blame the Prime Minister for the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip, which they say damaged Israel’s reputation and failed to provide a long-term solution to the lingering Palestinian issue.

Last weekend, the former Mossad chief was the keynote speaker at a rally against the Netanyahu administration that brought together nearly 40,000 people in Tel Aviv. He told the crowd that the prime minister’s policies were leading to an apartheid state in the Occupied Territories and was making Israel less safe. “For 45 years I have served this country, all of them dedicated to safeguarding its security”, said Dagan. “I don’t want that dream to disappear”, he added, at one point breaking down in tears. Many of the speakers at the rally also called on the Israeli government to refocus its policy priorities away from Iran and toward domestic social issues, including education, housing, healthcare, income levels in relation to the rising cost of living, and services for the elderly.

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.

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.

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

US journalist facing jail term for refusing to testify in CIA officer’s trial

James RisenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A leading American journalist is facing a possible jail term after the United States Supreme Court refused to consider his appeal against testifying at the trial of a former Central Intelligence Agency officer. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, who worked for the CIA from 1993 until 2002, was arrested in early 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. He was charged with leaking classified information about Operation MERLIN, a botched CIA covert operation targeting Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The operation was publicly revealed for the first time in New York Times reporter James Risen’s 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. In chapter 9 of the book, Risen details a bungled operation by the CIA’s Iran Task Force to pass to the Iranians a series of faulty nuclear bomb design documents. Risen alleges that the CIA operation backlashed and may actually have helped the Iranian nuclear weapons program, as Iranian nuclear engineers would have been able to “extract valuable information from the blueprints while ignoring the flaws”. Risen was summoned to testify in Sterling’s trial, but refused, arguing that having to identify the source of his allegation about Operation MERLIN would infringe on press freedom. On the other side of the argument, the United States government claimed that the freedom of the press does not permit journalists “to refuse to provide direct evidence of criminal wrongdoing by confidential sources”. Risen filed a case in a Virginia court, arguing that he should not be forced to comply with the subpoena issued to him to testify at Sterling’s trial. After the court upheld the subpoena, Risen’s legal team filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. But the Court has now refused to hear the case, which means that Risen will have to testify in Sterling’s trial or face a possible jail sentence. Read more of this post

Saudi ex-spy director urges Gulf states to join Iran nuclear talks

Turki Al FaisalBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The influential former director of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency has urged Arab oil states to participate directly in the ongoing international negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program. Nearly a decade of diplomatic deadlock on this contentious issue appeared to come to an end on November 24, when a preliminary deal was struck between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1. The group represents the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council —the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France— plus Germany. Under the deal, Tehran has provisionally agreed to limit the scope of its nuclear energy program in exchange for the P5+1 group of nations taking initiative to have certain economic sanctions on Iran lifted. Several Middle Eastern nations, including Israel and Iran’s primary energy rival, Saudi Arabia, initially dismissed the agreement, causing British foreign secretary William Hague to warn that critics of the deal should “confine their criticism to rhetoric”. On Sunday, however, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, said the kingdom should be among several Arab oil states that must have a seat at the table during the negotiations with Iran. Prince Turki, who is the youngest son of the late King Faisal, directed the kingdom’s intelligence agency, the Al Mukhabarat Al-A’amah, from 1979 until 2001, following which he briefly became ambassador to Britain and the United States. Speaking at the Manama Dialogue in the Bahraini capital on Sunday, the Prince urged that the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program should “not be limited to the P5+1”. Instead, he said, the Gulf Cooperation Council should be involved. He was referring to the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (commonly referred to as GCC), a political and economic union of Arab oil states bordering the Persian Gulf, which is led by Saudi Arabia. Read more of this post

UK foreign secretary warns Israel against sabotaging Iran nuke deal

William HagueBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The British foreign secretary warned Israel on Monday not to try to sabotage the interim nuclear deal with Iran “in any practical way”. William Hague, a senior cabinet member in the Tory-led British government, was speaking at the House of Commons on Monday, when he urged the world, “including Israel”, to act positively toward the accord. The latter was struck last week between the Islamic Republic of Iran 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. Tehran has provisionally agreed to limit the scope of its nuclear energy program in exchange for the P5+1 group of nations taking initiative to have certain economic sanctions on Iran lifted. Although the agreement is still in its interim stage, participating nations hope to have it finalized before the end of 2014. There are fears, however, that some Middle Eastern nations, notably Israel and Saudi Arabia, might try to sabotage the deal. Last weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the interim agreement as an “historic mistake” and stressed that Tel Aviv was not involved in, and therefore not bound, by the accord. He concluded his speech at the Israeli Knesset by promising that Israel “will not allow Iran to develop a military nuclear capability”. In his speech to members of parliament, Mr. Hague agreed that it was crucial to “try to understand” those nations that oppose the agreement. However, he urged critics to “confine their criticism to rhetoric”. He specifically named Israel, saying that the British government “would discourage anybody in the world, including Israel, from taking any steps that would undermine this agreement”. He added that Downing Street would make that message “very clear to all concerned”. The foreign secretary went on to say that London had no evidence that parties opposed to the agreement were prepared to sabotage it “in any practical way”; but he emphasized that Britain would remain “on its guard”. Read more of this post

Israel intelligence confirms ‘major blast’ at Iran nuclear plant

Fordo nuclear facility, IranBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Intelligence officials in Israel have confirmed reports of a “major explosion” that is believed to have severely damaged an Iranian nuclear enrichment facility, but refused comment on rumors that Israeli jets were seen flying nearby around the time of the blast. The blast was initially reported late on Sunday by Reza Kahlili, an Iranian former agent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency inside Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Citing Hamidreza Zakeri, a former officer in Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security, Kahlili said that the explosion severely damaged the nuclear enrichment plant in Fordo, centrally located in Iran’s Qom Province. According to Zakeri, the blast was strongly felt across a three-mile radius around Fordo and “destroyed much of the installation” itself. The former government official added that around 240 plant workers had been trapped underground by the powerful explosion. Following the blast, according to Zakeri, Iranian troops quickly cordoned off the plant and prevented anyone from getting closer than 15 miles from Fordo. A few hours after Kahlili’s report, Seyyed Shamseddin Barbroudi, Deputy Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency told Iranian media that there had been “no explosion in Fordo Nuclear Facility”. His denial was echoed by Alaeddin Boroujerdi, member of the Iranian Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Policy and National Security. He told the Islamic Republic News Agency that rumors of an explosion at Fordo were “Western-made propaganda” aimed at destabilizing Iran.  On Monday morning, however, the London-based Times newspaper said its “sources in Tel Aviv” had confirmed the blast took place in Fordo. Read more of this post

Iran accuses Israel of kidnapping former Deputy Defense Minster

Ali-Reza AsgariBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Iran’s Deputy Defense Minister has accused Israel of kidnapping his predecessor in 2006, while he was on an official visit trip to Turkey. Brigadier General Ali-Reza Asgari, who once commanded Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, disappeared on December 9, 2006, from his hotel room in Istanbul. His fate remains unknown. But on Saturday, Brigadier General Hossein Daqiqi, who is currently Tehran’s second most senior military official, pointed the finger at Israel’s foremost covert-action agency, the Mossad. He was speaking to reporters in the Iranian capital during a public ceremony to mark the sixth anniversary of Asgari’s disappearance. He told Iranian media that the government had “a lot of evidence proving that members of the Israeli intelligence service have kidnapped Asgari”. There are conflicting reports about Asgari’s whereabouts, but most observers seem to believe he is still alive. A year after his disappearance from Turkey, Hans Rühle, former Director of Policy Planning in the German Ministry of Defense, wrote in Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung that Asgari was in Western hands and that “information was obtained” from him. Israeli media have reported that the Iranian General is in the hands of the United States and that he is helping Washington crack the “most inner workings [of] Iranian nuclear development”. Danny Yatom, former director of the Mossad, told the London-based Times newspaper in 2007 that Israel had played no part in Asgari’s disappearance and that the Iranian General had willingly defected “to the West”, but that he didn’t know his exact whereabouts. Since then, other sources have echoed Yatom’s claim that Asgari defected willingly, including Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post and intelligence historian Gordon Thomas, in his 2009 book Secret Wars: One Hundred Years of British Intelligence (see intelNews book review). Read more of this post

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