Iran has hit on the perfect recipe for keeping its nuclear bomb program moving along, while luring the US and world powers into never-ending diplomacy in pursuit of a deal for curbing its drive for a nuclear weapon. The pursuers never catch up with their goal. Iran keeps them running in place by negotiations that never come down to earth or tie its nuclear hands.
As DEBKA Weekly reported first at the end of 2014, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei articulated this prescription by allowing Iranian officials to engage in negotiations with the world powers led by the US – so long as they never entered into any commitments to curtail Tehran’s national nuclear program.
This open-ended diplomacy, into which the five other world partners were drawn, also suited the book of US President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry.
DEBKA Weekly 655 of March 13 captioned an article: Likely Death Blow to Obama’s Nuclear Diplomacy: Khamenei Finally Vetoes Nuclear Deal.
Yet the two US leaders, while understanding that the current round of talks was going nowhere, made sure it stayed afloat and kept the world on tenterhooks for a deal that was predestined never to come about.
Iranian negotiators haggle, while following Khamenei’s diktats
When the Iranian delegation proposed winding up this stage with face-saving spoken communiqués, in place of a proper framework accord, Kerry insisted on two documents to show that the US had come away with something solid from the excruciatingly tiresome talks. He wanted one to say that more talks were scheduled to remove remaining differences and the other specifying areas of agreement.
Tehran dug in its heels even on that compromise, because it defied a Khamenei diktat.
President Obama had laid down the procedure to be “agreement in two stages” - the first ending on March 31 and the second, a comprehensive accord to be negotiated by June 30.
But as early as Feb. 18, the supreme leader said he objected to this procedure. An agreement must be reached not in two stages, but in one against the June deadline, he said, and carry with it “the removal of all sanctions on Iran.”
The Iranian delegation knew better than to give ground on the supreme leader’s directive – or, for that matter, on almost any of the original positions held at the outset of the talks.
The Iranian negotiators therefore faithfully followed the course he laid down, which was to knock down, one by one, the US demands for diminishing Iran’s nuclear capabilities, while demanding a faster pace for the easing of sanctions.
Iran ends this round of talks with a row of noes
DEBKA Weekly lists hereunder Tehran’s ten rejections:
Diplomacy rolling for the rest of Obama’s term
Given this record of “progress,” it is hard to understand how anyone could have expected the talks to have a successful outcome – especially after they overran the March 31 deadline. The negotiations were not defined by their goal, which was to ascertain that Iran would not be able to make a nuclear bomb, but by Iran forcing the world powers led by the US, step by step, to give up on the be-all and end-all of the process.
It turned out that President Obama and the Iranian leader shared a common desire, which was to keep nuclear diplomacy staggering on between “crises” until the US president leaves the White House in January 2017 and during that time, keep a military collision between their countries at bay.
This tactic would allow Tehran to use the mostly aimless palaver to forge ahead with its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile development – untroubled by US interference.
For years, Iran has used the “nuclear diplomacy” tactic for making large strides towards its nuclear objective
The result for America was to be to leave the next president with a fully-fledged nuclear-armed Iran. The Islamic Republic would have by then raced far past the “nuclear threshold” goalpost, in which many Western columnists and pundits appear to believe.
Obama and Kerry didn’t appear too worried by this prospect. America has, after all, lived for years with a nuclear-armed Israel, North Korea, India and Pakistan. So what if Iran joins the roster?
Iran was already cheating on the interim accord
There is no point in protesting to the White House that this policy is begetting a nuclear race, joined by Saudi Arabia, Japan, Turkey, Egypt and other less stable Asian and Middle East nations. Obama has always been willfully deaf to this warning, although it figured large in every intelligence forecast put on his desk.
Khamenei cannily played on Obama’s attitude with a well-judged scam. In 2013, he fixed the election of Hassan Rouhani as president and presented Washington and the West with a smiling moderate, a welcome relief from the ferocious Ahmadinejad and a friendly partner for negotiations on Iran’s suspect nuclear program.
It soon turned out that Rouhani was just as much a pawn on Khamenei’s policy chessboard as his predecessor.
The next piece of trickery was the interim nuclear accord – the Joint Plan of Action – JPOA – signed with the six powers in November 2013 and touted by Tehran as a step on the road to a comprehensive accord on its controversial nuclear program. Obama and Kerry swallowed the bait to the point of ignoring Iran’s brazen violation even of that preliminary deal. Using the “creep-out strategy,” Tehran topped up its approved quota of 7.5 tons stock of 3.5 percent grade enriched uranium and raised it to 8.5 tons, instead of converting the extra material to oxides in compliance with its JPOA commitment.
No way will Iran ship its uranium stocks abroad
Given that behavior, how could anyone realistically expect Iran to say yes to shipping out its enriched uranium stock to Russia?
In case anyone did entertain this illusion, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi set them straight with a statement on Sunday, March 29: “The export of stocks of enriched uranium is not in our program and we do not intend sending it abroad.”
US officials refrained from criticizing Araqshi’s comment, although it contradicted the versions of the deal they had put out. They took the line that the issue had never been decided in closed-door talks, even tentatively.
If that is so, the powers had better forget about exporting Iran’s enriched uranium stocks – even under the comprehensive accord they have scheduled for negotiation up until June 30.
Worth noting here is the view of the nuclear experts consulted by DEBKA Weekly that, even if Iran did agree to ship the bulk of its enriched uranium overseas and kept only 500 kilos, that amount would still be sufficient to build two to three bombs.
Washington and Tehran alike are smarting over the success of the new Saudi rulers to pull the wool over their eyes and surprise them by launching a general offensive against the Yemeni revolt in their southern back yard. This operation was planned in total hush by the new monarch, King Salman, Defense Minister and Royal Court Chief, Prince Muhammad bin Salman and Deputy Crown Prince Muhammed bin Nayef.
The failure of US and Iranian intelligence services to pick up on Riyadh’s intentions was all the more inexplicable when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt had already been deep in operational planning for three months.
This secrecy was all the more remarkable in the notoriously leaky Arab world and the Middle East. Indeed, on Wednesday, March 25, the day before the Saudi operation began, debkafile’s military sources reported: Saudi Arabia has moved significant mechanized infantry forces with heavy military equipment including artillery to its southern border with Yemen… The Saudis appear poised to intervene in the civil war.
Saudis suddenly emerge as independent operators
Tehran in particular was still haring off on the wrong track. Just hours before the Saudi Air Force went into action over Yemen, Iran’s national television channels were still reporting that Houthi factions were in control of the city of Aden in the south and that President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi had fled the country.
Neither claim was accurate. Iranian intelligence services had clearly not taken the trouble to find out what was going on, relying on the easy availability of information in a country over which they exerted dominance through the Houthi rebels they championed. Up until then, the Houthis had held the upper hand in their anti-government insurgency.
The Iranian government also relied on the Obama administration, its ally in Iraq, to look after Tehran’s interests in Yemen too, by extending support to the Yemeni Houthis as their shared gun for containing Al Qaeda in Arabia (AQAP).
No one in Tehran imagined that Riyadh would flout Obama administration’s policies and launch its own independent venture in Yemen, or be able to quietly muster a coalition of 10 Sunni Muslim nations for the effort.
No intelligence heads-up for US or Iran
The CIA was no less taken aback. And so, there were no heads-ups on the coming Saudi intervention in the Yemeni conflict for President Obama, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, or the US Central Command chief, Gen. Lloyd Austini.
Washington was given notice of the event just one hour before it started - and only then, politely and formally, by the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Adel Al-Jubeir, in person.
By then, it was too late for the Obama administration to intervene and hold the Saudis back and, not least, too late for Washington to tip off Tehran in time to forewarn the Houthis.
Our Saudi experts point out that the action taken by the new king in Riyadh and the advisers closest to him was totally at odds with the royal house’s traditional wary, non-proactive style of conduct. Two younger-generation princes Muhammad bin Nayef and Muhammad bin Salman, suddenly emerged as key players at the court of King Salman. What’s more, they handled a crisis in a manner that was quite new to the House of Saud. The two princes were clearly ready to gamble their future on the success of the Yemen expedition to support heir claim for prominence in the heavily overcrowded princely dynasty.
The anti-Iran coalition in the Mid East gathers adherents
In the first five days of the operation, the Saudis employed electronic surveillance to evaluate the military capabilities and electronic equipment in the service of the Houthi forces and the military units loyal to Yemen’s ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, which had joined the rebel cause.
Our military sources report that the Saudi military plan was accordingly organized into seven unfolding stages: (1) Destruction of Yemeni air power and air defense systems; (2) Demolition of air bases; (3) Control of Yemeni air space; (4) Control of the war arena; (5) Hunting down and apprehending rebel leaders;
(6) The redeployment of national Yemeni army forces; (6) The deployment of Yemeni Army Special Forces for ground combat in conjunction with the tribes and factions loyal to President Hadi; (7) The intervention of Arab coalition forces with air support for ground operations.
Click HERE for the full-sized map.
As a counterweight against the regional coalition against the Islamic State headed by the United States and Iran, Riyadh enlisted a Sunni bloc, which numbered, in addition to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, Sudan and Pakistan. This project snowballed for months – again without either the US or Iran paying heed.
Even Sudan’s breakaway from its close alliance with Iran escaped their notice.
Since February, President Omar Al-Bashir , who gave Iran naval bases last year, has had a change of heart and moved into the Gulf Arab sphere. It was Sudan’s role in the anti-Houthi operation in Yemen which was discussed during Al-Bashir’s visits to Abu Dhabi and Riyadh last week.
Turkey is another candidate for the Sunni coalition against Iran. President Reccip Tayep Erdogan has taken to inveighing against Iran’s imperial pretensions. He too has turned to the Gulf from which he distanced Turkey during the years he backed the Muslim Brotherhood.
Last minute war developments:
Heavy Saudi air bombardments Wednesday and Thursday slowed the advance, but failed to prevent, Houthi rebels and the Yemeni army’s 11th Brigade fighting under ex-president Ali Saleh from entering the key Red Sea port town of Aden. The brigade’s tanks reached the town center. By late Thursday, after heavy fighting with forces loyal to President Hadi for control of the city, the rebel forces were forced to retreat from the town center under massive Saudi air bombardment, but held onto the presidential palace.
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report that the Saudis had to delay their plan to land ground forces from the sea to save Aden because of a shortage of landing craft to drop their marines units ashore. Subsequently, there were unconfirmed reports of some Saudi and Egyptian troop landings.
Our sources do confirm that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sent four warships to the Red Sea as back-up for Saudi-Egyptian operations against the Iranian-backed Houthis.
Ankara and Istanbul, along with most of Turkey’s main cities, were hit by devastating power outages Tuesday, March 31, a scary foretaste of the power of cyber warfare to wreak mass havoc when wielded by a hostile government or malicious groups of terrorists.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources and cyber experts were able to uncover the source of the attack and its methods. Their findings are reported here exclusively.
A piece of code acting as a ticking bomb, fitted with a monitored delayed action device, subject to remote control by malware, was planted deep inside the computers controlling the Turkish electricity grid – almost certainly by Iran’s cyber warfare unit.
Half of Turkey was thrown into chaos. Its neighbors were also affected by the shutdown of Turkey’s blacked out airports and traffic, which also cut off the lighting, heating, computers, traffic lights, medical facilities and elevators in 44 out of Turkey’s 81 provinces.
A population of more than 80 million, half of Turkey, was for twelve hours plunged back into the Stone Age.
Turkey’s unforgivable sin: Impugning Iran’s national honour
This was a demonstration of how far the Islamic Republic of Iran next door was prepared to go when it believed its national honor had been impugned by none other than Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
On March 26, he defended the Saudi intervention in Yemen by accusing Iran of trying to dominate the Middle East. He said that its actions had begun to annoy Ankara as well as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates.
Erdogan posed a rhetorical question: “Can this be allowed [Iran’s meddling in other countries]? This is really intolerable and Iran must see this.”
The Turkish ruler had committed the unforgivable sin of querying Iran’s pretensions to regional dominance, and further advancing his own counter-claim.
Monday, March 30, Iran summoned Turkey’s top diplomat in Tehran, its charge d’affaires, to respond to “the Islamic Republic’s objections and regret for the president’s inappropriate and unusual comments.” The Iranian foreign ministry’s spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham stressed: “We demand a clear and convincing response.” When no response came from Ankara, Tehran’s cyber experts were sent into action to punish Turkey with the plague of darkness.
DEBKA Weekly’s cyber experts attribute this digital offensive to the information technology specialists employed by Iran’s secret cyber army. One of its units is known as the Ashiyane Digital Security Team. It is totally committed ideologically to the regime.
Their technical prowess has been demonstrated in the past by repeated intrusions of Western government and intelligence networks by breaking through their defense measures.
Iran may have planted similar digital “bombs” in Western infrastructure too
Ironically, Iran’s clandestine cyber army is under the jurisdiction of the office of President Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian leader singled out in the West as a moderate with whom it is possible to do business.
Iran’s cyber offensive against Turkey exposed two new facts:
Firstly, that its cyber warriors stand ready for swift responses. After downing Turkey’s power network, they may have already planted fresh pieces of code in other critical systems, such as civil aviation, finance, water, transportation, health or security – all waiting for an electronic signal to go into deadly action.
Iran must also be presumed to have similarly invaded infrastructure in key Western countries, including the United States, planting pieces of code that stand idle until triggered by remote signals.
As in most Western countries, the Turkish national electrical grid has two sections: production and transmission. Power stations are distributed across the country, most of them near seaports for access to the regular shipments of coal and oil and usually operated automatically.
A simultaneous strike on the command and control systems of a large number of power stations is virtually impossible.
Iran’s cyber attack targeted the transmission control room
But the transmission system feeding current to the power stations, which supply the nation’s infrastructure, government, industry and homes, is by contrast much more vulnerable.
One central control room distributes and gauges consumption, its screens displaying at all times a comprehensive view of all sections and sub-sections of the grid.
This hub was the target of the Iranian cyber attack Tuesday.
Secondly, Tehran clearly commands the vast resources needed to shut down a central electricity control room on foreign soil, together with the necessary capabilities, skills, experience, multi-disciplinary technological expertise and advance intelligence for the act of cyber aggression committed against Turkey.
The Iranians must have counted on an insider for assistance. After hackers attacked the computers, Iranian electrical engineers familiar with the target took control of the mechanisms for switching the current off then on again.
They also had the experience. Under a longstanding economic treaty between Turkey and Iran, the Iranian electricity grid supplies power to some Turkey’s eastern provinces near their common border – hence Iranian engineers’ familiarity with the Turkish network and easy access to its operations.
This March, Iran committed a vast fortune, funneled through its Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), to supporting six armies fighting in four wars in four Middle East lands, which are targeted for embrace in the Islamic Republic’s expanding sphere of influence.
Month after month, Tehran forks out close to half a billion dollars - and sometimes more - to keep those conflicts on the boil – spending all in all, a grand total of $6-8 billion dollars a year.
How Iran manages to keep this war chest flowing so abundantly from an economy crippled by international sanctions has never been explained.
DEBKA Weekly finds the Iranian military thrusting for dominance in an increasing number of Middle East war arenas:
Four Iranian command centers run Assad’s war
As the Syrian war enters its fifth year, Iranian Revolutionary Guards are found running it from four command and control centers, DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report:
1. In Damascus, the IRGC operates as a part of the Syrian General Staff, with two imported pro-Iranian militias at its independent disposal. This command center has three tasks: To oversee the Syrian general staff and monitor its operational planning; to guard President Bashar Assad’s regime and his family; and defend key locations such as the military airport and Shiite shrines.
2. In the Aleppo region of the north, IRGC officers are engaged in drawing up plans for the impending general offensive to rout rebel forces out of positions they have captured in the city. Tehran attaches prime importance to a peak effort for the recapture of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. The IRGC command has transferred large-scale Hizballah forces from Lebanon to this arena, along with Afghan and Pakistani Shiite militias. Thousands of these combatants underwent training at specialist IRGC bases.
3. In the Qalamoun Mts., which are situated athwart the Syrian-Lebanese frontier, Tehran has given high priority to flushing rebel forces, including the Nusra Front and the Islamic State, out of the pockets they have seized on the mountain slopes, so as to clear the mountain roads for the passage of Hizballah units.
4. In South Syria, Iranian officers have been leading a large-scale offensive for more than a month to drive rebel forces out of the area they hold between Deraa and Damascus, in order to position Iranian-led Hizballah and pro-Iranian militia forces face to face with the Israeli army on the Golan.
Tehran establishes – and pays for - new Syrian army
Iranian officers have established, trained and equipped a new 70,000-strong fighting force called the Syrian National Defense Force. Its operations, including the soldiers’ wages, are financed from Tehran’s pocket.
Iran runs airlifts day by day to re-supply the Syrian army with weapons systems and ammunition, and the Syrian Air Force with bombs and ordnance for attacks against rebel forces. Intelligence sources estimate that Iran’s expenditure in the Syrian conflict now hits $200 million per month – around $2.5 billion a year.
Iran bankrolls Hizballah from top to bottom
The 25,000-strong Lebanese Shiite Hizballah operates under the direct command of IRGC officers. All its military equipment comes from Tehran, which also draws up its annual budget. Each month, Iran transfers to Beirut $150-200 million, as well as paying for all the Lebanese militias’ expenses in the maintenance of an expeditionary force in Syria. Hizballah costs Tehran an approximate $2 billion per annum.
An all-Shiite “people’s national army” for Iraq, re-supplies for Yemen
Iran’s deep military intervention in Iraq (which has been covered in detail by DEBKA Weekly) includes the creation of an all-Shiite “people’s national army.” If follows the same template as the Syrian National Defense Force and consists of the same number of fighters – 70,000 troops.
Tehran has also invested in barricades to fortify Baghdad against invasion from the north and the west.
The offensive to retake the Sunni town of Tikrit from the Islamic State is led by Iranian officers, and fed constantly with high-quality weapons systems, including missiles and tanks.
All the war materiel required by the Iraqi army and Shiite militias fighting the Islamic State is airlifted to Baghdad, some directly from Iran.
There is no reliable estimate of the Islamic Republic’s current contribution to Iraq’s war budget (estimated at a quarter of a billion dollars per month) because part of the cost is carried by the Iraqi government from oil revenues.
In Yemen, Iran is directly involved in the civil war as the champion, sponsor and moneybags of the Zaydi Houthi rebels. Tehran runs military supplies by air and sea to the Houthis and their allies, Yemeni army units who have thrown in their lot with the insurgency.
This year alone, Iran has so far invested an estimated half a billion dollars in a Houthi victory.
Sanctions are no deterrent to Iran’s ambitious
This arithmetic attests to Iran’s mysteriously deep pockets and the inefficacy of US, European and UN sanctions as levers for deterring Tehran’s military push to the pinnacle of power as hegemon of the Middle East and Gulf regions, no matter how many billions of dollars of national treasure this may cost.
The crushing burden of this aspiration plus sanctions on the economy weigh heavily on the lives of ordinary Iranians. The partial relief from sanctions offered Iran for signing an interim nuclear agreement (the Joint Plan of Action) last November has not eased daily living conditions. Businesses are hamstrung by restricted access to international banks. Galloping unemployment hits university graduates hard and the housing market is stagnant.
President Hassan Rouhani, who won election on a pledge to improve the lives of ordinary Iranians by getting international economic sanctions lifted, finds his government has to struggle to pay out regular cash subsidies to citizens.
In the chaos of the civil war besetting Yemen, the disappearance of a huge arsenal of new American military equipment long escaped notice (click HERE for the full-sized diagram).
The US has supplied more than $500 million in military aid to Yemen since 2007 through programs managed by the Defense Department and State Department for combating terror. But in January, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, whose regime was recognized by the West and Saudi Arabia, was driven out of Sanaa, the capital, by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, partly in protest against US drone strikes against Al Qaeda in Arabia (AQAP) terrorists, which had set up bases in the country.
It was only belatedly that the valuable US weaponry and equipment was found to have been mislaid.
Why did it take so long?
The president’s flight put the government in Sanaa in total disarray, making it impossible for the Defense Department to track the whereabouts of the missing war equipment. US officials also explained that the volatility of the Yemen conflict is such that weapons move around unpredictably and at random among diverse combatants.
The equipment became harder than ever to trace after the US closed its embassy in Sanaa in February and withdrew its military advisers.
Challenged in Congress to account for the disappearing hardware, Pentagon officials were forced to admit in closed sessions that Al Qaeda in Yemen or the Houthis – or both - had walked off with enough gear to outfit a small army. Some may have been purloined for trading in the illicit weapons bazaars which do a roaring trade in the Middle East.
Here is a list of the items unaccounted for to date:
March 27, 2015 Briefs
March 28, 2015 Briefs
Iranian general in Sanaa to organize Yemeni rebel counter-offensive against Saudis
28 Mar. Iran’s top war commander, Al Qods Brigades chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, landed in Sanaa Friday, March 27, debkafile reports, to organize a counter-offensive for the Saudi-Gulf-Egyptian operations against Tehran-backed Houthi rebel advances. By opening its third direct Middle East warfront after Syria and Iraq, Tehran is holding the Obama administration to its promise of support for its role as the leading Middle East power, in return for signing a nuclear framework deal by March 31. Solemeini’s must urgently restore Iran’s sea and air supply lines to Yemen, cut off by Saudi-led air strikes, and determine whether or not to co-opt Iranian air and sea forces to the Yemeni front for head-to-head battles against Saudi Arabia and its ten Sunni allies.
March 29, 2015 Briefs
US surrender on breakout time to a bomb in hope of negotiating breakthrough
29 Mar. US leaders assured the world that the nuclear deal to be signed with Iran in Switzerland this week would give the powers a year’s warning from the Islamic Republic break-out to an operational weapon. debkafile: To clinch the framework deal in Lausanne, even this concession, which imperils Israel, the Gulf and the Middle East at large, was not enough. The president authorized the US delegation to fall back again and cut this year down to six or seven months.
March 30, 2015 Briefs
Pakistan minister due in Riyadh with troop airlift for Saudi coalition in Yemen
30 Mar. The US-led world powers and Iran Monday, March 30, entered the last tense hours for a nuclear deal as though Lausanne was on a different planet from the Middle East, where the Yemen war, in which Iran is deeply involved, abruptly scooped up a power outside the region, Pakistan, whose defense minister is due in Riyadh following a government pledge to support its Saudi ally. debkafile: Several Pakistan brigades are being airlifted to relieve Saudi forces of border and oil security tasks for ground operations in Yemen. Egyptian air and warships forces blast Aden.
March 31, 2015 Briefs
Khamenei sends naval forces to Bab el-Mandeb. Iran arms store bombed in Libya
31 Mar. Control of the strategic Red Sea Bab el-Mandeb Straits passed Tuesday, March 31 to pro-Iranian Yemeni forces when the Yemeni Army’s 117th Brigade handed positions guarding the waterway to two Houthi commando battalions, debkafile reveals. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered two task forces to sail to the region to reinforce Houthi control of the strategic straits. Iran was involved in another regional development Tuesday, when unidentified aircraft bombed a base in Burak, southwestern Libya, used by Iran to store arms purchased in Sudan for transfer to Hamas in the Gaza Strip by smuggling routes through Egypt a d Sinai. The weapons were destroyed.
April 1, 2015 Briefs
April 2, 2015 Briefs