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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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

Who leaked Iranian nuclear document that turned out to be a hoax?

The leaked documentBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On November 27, the Associated Press published an alleged Iranian document which it said proved Iran was working on a nuclear bomb. The news agency said the disclosure was the latest in a series of similar leaks to the media by “officials from a country critical of Iran’s atomic program”. However, the authenticity of the document, which contained a diagram calculating the explosive force of a nuclear weapon, is now heavily disputed. An analysis of the leaked document in the latest issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists concluded that it was either massively erroneous or a hoax designed by amateurs. The Bulletin, a specialist publication founded by physicists involved in the Manhattan Project, said the document was “unlikely to have been made by research scientists working at a national level”. The obvious question is who leaked the disputed document and why? An article in British newspaper The Guardian cites unnamed “Western officials” who claim that the diagram, along with several previous disclosures of a similar nature, was leaked by Israel “in an attempt to raise international pressure on Tehran”. If this is so, the leak appears to have seriously backfired and may have compromised the credibility of an ongoing investigation into the Iranian nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This is because the leaked document was part of an intelligence file on Iran’s nuclear program, compiled by the IAEA, which formed the factual basis for a new set of penalties and sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and the European Union in November of 2011. The question that some United Nations officials are now asking is, if the leaked document is indeed a hoax, how could the IAEA guarantee the authenticity of the remaining documents on its file on Iran? Read more of this post

News you may have missed #811

Efraim HalevyBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Former Mossad chief pushes for dialogue with Iran. After Meir Dagan, another former chief of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has publicly called for a dialogue between the West and Iran. Speaking to Al-Monitor, an American website covering Middle-East news, Halevy, who directed the Mossad from 1998 to 2002, said that “the Iranians, in their heart of hearts, would like to get out of their conundrum”. IntelNews readers may remember Halevy’s comments in August, when he warned that Israel’s threats of a military attack on Iran were “credible” and “serious”, adding that, if he were an Iranian, he would be “very fearful of the next 12 weeks”.
►►UK says attack on Iran ‘not right course at this time’. The British government has reiterated that it does not believe military action against Iran would be appropriate at the moment, following the disclosure that Britain has rebuffed US requests to use UK military bases to support the buildup of forces in the Gulf. US diplomats have lobbied for the use of British bases in Cyprus, and for permission to fly from US bases on Ascension Island in the Atlantic and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, both of which are British territories.
►►German spy agencies disclose spy tools in rare move. Most law enforcement agencies refuse to reveal the surveillance technologies they use, claiming doing so could threaten national security. But authorities in Germany have shown it is possible to be transparent without the sky falling in —by disclosing how they have spent millions on spy tools to help monitor Skype, email, and mobile phones. Earlier this year, German politician Jan Korte submitted a series of written questions to the country’s federal ministry of home affairs regarding surveillance tools. The answers Korte received were published in German in July, but have only this month been translated (.pdf) into English.

News you may have missed #809 (Obama-Iran edition)

Iran and its regionBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Will re-elected Obama take a new line on Iran? Barack Obama returns to office after an election campaign in which Iran’s nuclear program often dominated foreign-policy debates. Mitt Romney frequently accused him of taking too soft a line toward Tehran. Now, as Obama begins a second term, the question is how much he has been stung by such criticism. Will Obama retain confidence in his dual strategy of squeezing Iran with economic sanctions while also extending offers of rapprochement? Or will the fact that Iran keeps building centrifuges and enriching uranium despite Obama’s efforts persuade the White House it needs to try something new?
►►Obama’s victory vindicates his Iran policy. President Barack Obama’s re-election victory represents an important vindication of his approach to Iran and its potential nuclear ambitions —and, for the world, a new face of American policy in the Middle East that will relegate the aggressive policies of George W. Bush into the distant past. The election confirmed what polls have clearly shown, that while Americans are deeply concerned about the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon, they also view addressing the problem through vigorous diplomatic engagement and sanctions as the most appropriate exercise of American power and leadership.
►►Iranians see reduced risk of war in Obama’s reelection. In Iran, there is a sense of relief these days, as concerns of a military attack by US and Israeli forces over Iran’s nuclear energy program if Mitt Romney were elected, had become widespread. While there continues to be no official response from Iran’s leadership about US election results, Iranian media is still heavily focused on covering American polls. Commenting on one of Iran’s most popular political Web sites, Asriran, one reader wrote, “At least we know we won’t be going to war during the next four years”. And Iran’s state-run English language television channel, Press TV, carried a live and uninterrupted broadcast of President Barack Obama’s acceptance speech.

Mossad, IDF ‘resisted order’ to prepare for Iran war in 2010

Ehud Barak and Gabi AshkenaziBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The heads of Israel’s army and main spy agency resisted an order issued by the Israeli Prime Minister to prepare for an all-out military attack on Iranian nuclear installations in 2010, according to a report aired today. According to Monday’s edition of Uvda (Fact), a popular investigative program on Israel’s Channel 2 television, the command to prepare for an attack was given by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. The two men delivered the order to a meeting of senior cabinet ministers, telling them that the Israeli military’s preparedness level would be elevated to ‘P plus’, effective immediately. According to Uvda, ‘P plus’ meant that the Israeli armed forces should prepare to take military action at a moment’s notice. However, the then-Director of Israeli spy agency Mossad, Meir Dagan, who was present at the meeting, asked to speak and, according to Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, which said it has seen the Uvda program, “came out sharply” against both Netanyahu and Barak. He told those present that elevating the military preparedness to ‘P plus’ was something that technically could only be decided at a meeting of Israel’s Political-Security Cabinet. Also known as “the inner cabinet”, the group, which consists of over a dozen Ministers and is led by the Prime Minister, is tasked with outlining and implementing Israel’s foreign and defense policy. Dagan told the two men that “only the [inner] cabinet is authorized to decide this” and warned them that they were “likely to make an illegal decision to go to war”. Dagan’s objection was later reinforced when General Gabi Ashkenazi, then-leader of the Israel Defense Forces, told the Prime Minister that the Israeli army was not ready to elevate its preparedness level to a ‘P plus’. Read more of this post

Former CIA senior analyst argues in favor of US deal with Iran

Paul R. PillarBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former senior analyst in the United States Central Intelligence Agency has come out in support of a bilateral compromise between Iran and the West on Tehran’s nuclear program. In an article published last week, Georgetown University professor Paul R. Pillar, who spent nearly three decades with the CIA, dismissed the widespread view that the differences between Iran, Israel, and the West are insurmountable. Commenting on news of a nine-step negotiation plan offered by Tehran in early October, but dismissed by Washington as “unworkable”, Pillar said the offer provided the initial steps of an “eminently achievable agreement” between the interested parties. The CIA veteran, who rose to be one of the Agency’s top analysts prior to his retirement in 2005, argued that a possible outcome of bilateral negotiations would be for Iran to curtail its enrichment of uranium to the 20 percent level in exchange for the lifting of most economic sanctions imposed on Iran by Western countries. “An agreement along these lines makes sense”, he added, “because it would meet the major concerns of each side” in the dispute. He cautioned, however, that, under such an agreement, Tehran would not only be prohibited from continuing its uranium enrichment process, but would also be required to surrender all quantities of uranium previously enriched to a level above 20 percent. Such an agreement, claimed Pillar, would mean that neither Iran nor Israel and the West would receive everything they wanted at once. Instead, the process would depend on a gradual implementation of several bilateral agreements in stages, “each side giving something and getting something at each stage”. Read more of this post

CBS re-broadcasts Iran comments by former Mossad chief

Meir DaganBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One of the few certainties in the spiraling crisis between Iran, Israel and the United States, is that Tel Aviv and Washington do not agree on how to respond to Tehran’s nuclear program. Nowhere is this lack of unity more noticeable than in the difference of opinion between the Office of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the White House. Netanyahu, a leading hawk in Israeli political circles, has made it clear that, unlike United States President Barack Obama, he believes that the time for diplomacy has run out, and that Israel has no option but to consider direct military strikes on Iran. Last weekend he even took the unprecedented step of advising American voters to elect a leader willing “to draw a red line” on the issue of Iran. It is worth noting, however, that senior figures in Israel’s intelligence community seem to be siding with the US on this dispute. Leading the wave of dissention within the ranks is Meir Dagan, former Director of the Mossad, Israel’s most revered intelligence agency. In November of 2010, Meir Dagan stepped down from his post as the head of the Mossad after having led the agency for over eight years —the longest tenure of any Mossad director in history. Soon afterwards, he admonished calls by Netanyahu’s people to bomb Iran as “the stupidest idea” he had ever heard. On Sunday, September 16, the CBS flagship investigative program 60 Minutes aired again an important interview with Dagan, which was first broadcast on March 11 of this year. The timing of the re-broadcast is critical, as observers in the Middle East appear increasingly certain that an Israeli military attack on Iran is imminent. Read more of this post

MI6 chief paid ‘extremely rare’ secret visit to Israel: newspaper

Sir John SawersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Director of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, widely known as MI6, visited Israel in secret in late August in an effort to convince the Israelis not to launch military strikes on Iran, according to a British newspaper. In an article published on Tuesday, The Daily Mail said Sir John Sawers, who leads Britain’s foremost external spy agency, held private meetings with leading Israeli officials, among them Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. His message, according to the paper, was that London wanted more time so that the economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed on Iran by the international community to bear fruit. Sanctions are considered by some in the West a viable alternative to calls by Israeli officials for direct military attacks on Iran, aimed at stopping the country’s nuclear program. If confirmed, Sir John’s visit to Israel would represent a near-unprecedented move; this is because, unlike his counterpart at the United States Central Intelligence Agency, the Director of MI6, known informally as ‘C’, does not routinely travel to foreign countries as a diplomatic messenger of the British government. Many, therefore, will see Sawers’ alleged trip to Israel as yet another sign that the Jewish state is beginning to lean heavily in favor of attacking Iran using overt military means. In a possibly related development, Israel’s Minister for Intelligence and Atomic Energy said on Wednesday that he supported international sanctions on Iran. Read more of this post

Israeli PM had ‘sharp exchange’ with US Ambassador over Iran

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A United States Congressman, who chairs the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, says he witnessed a “sharp exchange” between the Israeli Prime Minister and the American Ambassador to Israel, over the Iranian nuclear program.  Earlier this week we reported that Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI), who visited Israel in an official capacity last week, said that he did not believe Israel would attack Iran before the US Presidential elections in November. But in a radio interview with the Detroit-based WJR station on Thursday, Rogers said he thought Israeli leaders were “at wits’ end” over what he described as indecisiveness by the Barack Obama administration in responding to the Iranian nuclear program. The Republican politician said that the meeting he attended at the Israeli Prime Minister’s office was supposed to be a “discussion on intelligence and technical issues”. But it quickly “spun out of control”, he said, when the Israeli leader allegedly criticized the US Ambassador to the country, Dan Shapiro, over the US government’s perceived unwillingness to go beyond imposing diplomatic sanctions on Iran. Rogers described the situation as “a very tense [...], very sharp exchange” between the two men, which revealed “elevated concerns on behalf of the Israelis” about the unfolding Iranian nuclear stalemate. Responding to a question from the interviewer, Rogers added that he did not think he had ever witnessed “such a high-level confrontation” between a representative of the American government and a foreign official. Read more of this post

Ex-CIA Director cautions Israel against attacking Iran

Michael HaydenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The former Director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency has warned that an Israeli attack on Iran would likely backlash and might actually push Tehran to build nuclear weapons earlier than currently projected. General Michael Hayden, the only person to lead both the CIA and the US National Security Agency, told Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz on Monday that Iran is not yet close to building a nuclear weapon and that Israel should carefully consider how to respond to its neighbor’s alleged nuclear weapons ambitions. During his CIA tenure, General Hayden supervised the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate, produced cooperatively by all 16 agencies of the US intelligence community, which concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons activities. In his interview on Monday, Hayden said that, in his view, the conclusion of the 2007 NIE “still holds”, as Tehran has not yet made the decision to weaponize its missile and fissile material. Hayden, who was recently appointed as national security adviser to Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, said that, by rushing to attack Iran now, Israeli military leaders would “actually push [Tehran] to do that which [an attack] is supposed to prevent: getting nuclear weapons”. The retired General added that any military attack on Iran would “pose a difficult challenge” in terms of its strategic outcome, since “there is no absolute certainty that all targets are known” inside Iran. Furthermore, he said, even if Israel decided to attack Iran militarily, it would have to go beyond mere air raids, and would soon discover that its resources were limited. Read more of this post

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