Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Iran's preconditions for nuclear talks

click photo to enlarge
Iran's preconditions for nuclear talks requested by the Group 5+1 have been announced by President Ahmadinejad, and they are:

• The Group 5+1 are to formally declare their position regarding Israel's nuclear weapons.

• They are to declare they abide by the terms of the NPT as an international treaty.

• They need to clarify if their ultimate goal from the negotiation process is friendship or enmity with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

There are two additional caveats added. The negotiation process will start in late August, and the group can be expanded to include others (likely Turkey and Brazil).

H/T Ataune @ ACW
Photo: Fars News Agency

Monday, June 28, 2010

Iran's potential response to USN shipping interdiction

By Mark Pyruz

IRIS Jamaran (76) and IRIS Alborz (72)

At his latest press conference, President Ahmadinejad today warned that any inspections of its ships related to sanctions could provoke a response by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

"If they make the slightest mistake we will definitely respond," Ahmadinejad said.

Some observers have criticized Iran's naval forces for being relatively weak in overall strength, particularly when compared to the US Navy Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf waters. They also point out Iran's naval forces are less than state of the art. But these naval forces, while relatively small and somewhat under-equipped, are adequately suited for selectively targeted merchant shipping interdiction, including boarding, inspection and search of a ship at sea; second, taking measures including any combination of arresting the vessel, arresting persons aboard or seizing cargo.

Naval vessels and armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) in the Persian Gulf, are able to conduct such operations. These include the Alvand class frigates, Moudge class frigate and Thondar class missile crafts.

Lineup of four IRGCN Thondar class missile craft

Of course, such actions are extremely risky for the Islamic Republic, as escalation could quickly follow. However, the same risks apply to the United States, which could lead to a cascading of events resulting in the breakout of open hostilities. Just the temporary stoppage or seizure of a merchant ship by Iranian naval forces, alone, particularly near the Straight of Hormuz, could lead to a dramatic spike in shipping insurance rates and the price of crude oil. It would likely even prompt some form of active USN escort coverage.

The previous round of sanctions technically called for a potential inspection regimen of "suspected" Iranian related shipping, but it was not acted upon in a meaningful or provocative manner. The ball is again in the court of the United States, on whether or not we'll see such a turn of events associated with this latest round of sanctioning.

Trio of Kaman class (Combattante IIB type) missile boats

Total ends fuel sale to Iran

The French energy company Total has stopped supplying fuel supplies to Iran, Total only makes up for a small amount of fuel deliveries to the Islamic Republic.

This has come as a result of the unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States, these sanctions aim to stop international companies such as Total from supplying Iran with petroleum products or investing in her oil and gas industries by preventing them from then trading in the US.

However these measures are not part of the all round sanctions approved by the UN to which China and Russia have objected.

Spain's Repsol has also pulled out of a contract to develop the South Pars gas field.

Even with its huge petroleum reserves Iran still relies on petroleum imports for 30-40% of its petrol requirements.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Israel 'plots Iran raid'

From a report out of Gulf Daily News:

MANAMA: Israel is massing warplanes in the Caucasus for an attack on Iran, it was revealed yesterday.
Preparations are underway to launch the military attack from Azerbaijan and Georgia, reports our sister paper Akhbar Al Khaleej, quoting military sources.

Israel was, in fact, training pilots in Turkey to launch the strike and was smuggling planes into Georgia using Turkish airspace, they said.

However, Turkey was unaware of Israel's intention of transferring the planes to Georgia, the sources said.

The unexpected crisis between Israel and Turkey following an Israeli commando raid on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza Strip hit Israeli calculations.

Azerbaijan-based intelligence units, working under the cover of technicians, trainers and consultants, have helped with the preparations, the sources said.

Military equipment, mostly supplied by the US, was transported to a Georgian port via the Black Sea.

Georgian coastguard and Israeli controllers are co-operating to hide the operations from Russian vessels, said the sources.

They point out that according to Israel, it will not be in a position to launch a strike on Iran without using bases in Georgia and Azerbaijan due to the limited capabilities of its nuclear submarines stationed near the Iranian coast.

Meanwhile, Iran's Press TV reported that a very large contingent of US ground forces had massed in Azerbaijan, near the Iranian border. The independent Azerbaijani news website Trend confirmed the report.

Those reports came just days after the Pentagon confirmed that an unusually large fleet of US warships had indeed passed through Egypt's Suez Canal en route to the Gulf. At least one Israeli warship reportedly joined the American armada.

Press TV also quoted Iranian Revolutionary Guard Brigadier General Mehdi Moini as saying that the country's forces are mobilized and ready to face Israeli and American "misadventures" near its borders.

This is quite a piece of intrigue. Striking Iran from Azerbaijan would shorten the distance, but would leave Azerbaijan bases particularly vulnerable to even SRBM counter-strikes. And if the US were serious about a strike against Iran, it has the forces already in place to do so, effectively. There's an element of PSYOP to this story. A further corroboration is required.

CIA Director on Iran Nuclear Program - UPDATE

CIA Director Leon Panetta said today that Iran probably has enough low-enriched uranium for two nuclear weapons, but that it likely would take two years to build the bombs. Panetta added that there is some debate as to whether Iran will proceed with the bomb. He made the remarks at ABC’s “This Week.”

On UN and Western sanctions against Iran, Panetta said they might not reverse Iran’s nuclear program.

"Will it [sanction] deter them from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not," Panetta said.

On a potential Israeli military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, Panetta said he thinks Israel is giving the US room on the diplomatic and political fronts.

UPDATE - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Sunday that a CIA warning that Iran has enough uranium to build two atomic bombs was "worrying."

"This information has to be checked but such information is always worrying and all the more so because the international community does not recognize the Iranian nuclear program as transparent," Medvedev added [AFP, 27 June].

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Iran to Send Aid Ship to Gaza

Mohammad Reza Sheibani, Iran’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Arab Relations, told reporters in Tehran today that an Islamic Republic aid ship is indeed scheduled to leave for Gaza. He did not provide any timetable. [IRNA, 26 June]. Sheibani’s strong confirmation of Iran’s intentions to send a ship to Gaza came amid recent reports that the Iranian government has cancelled the mission due to hightened military risks involved in the operations.

Friday, June 25, 2010

IRGC Deputy Commander stresses naval readiness

FARS News Agency is reporting that a senior commander in the IRGC is on the record for stressing naval readiness to the "highest state possible" during his address at the 17th annual meeting of select IRGCN personnel at Bandar Abbas.

"The Navy is the military basis of our defensive strategy in the region [Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman]" declared IRGC Deputy Commander General Hossein Salami.

Pointing to the significance of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz in supplying global energy demands, and the presence of the foreign forces in the region, Salami stated: "The adversary [USA] has an extensive operational strategy in this region that is considered fundamental to its overall military-security. The adversary has changed its position from a strategic [passive defense] to operational [active offense] orientation. In such a context, naval forces have become an indispensable part of our strategy in the region."

New IRGCN Lieutenant Commander

IRGCN Lieutenant Commander AliReza Tangsiri
Photo: FARS News Agency

FARS News Agency is reporting that IRGC Commander Major General Ali Jafari has appointed General AliReza Tangsiri as a "Lieutenant Commander" of IRGC naval forces. In addition, Reza Torabi was introduced as the new IRGCN Commander of the 1st naval zone.

Judging by the report's accompanying photo (provided above), Tangsiri appears to be of the General rank directly below that of Brigadier General (Sartip Dovom), or the corresponding naval rank of Commodore (Daryadar Dovom). He is likely one of a number of Lieutenant Commanders in the IRGCN. (Not to be confused with the Western rank of Lieutenant Commander.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Khamenei Reacts to UN Sanctions

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday denounced new UN sanctions against Iran as "confused acts" and the “helplessness of world powers” in dealing with the Islamic Republic. These were Khamenei’s first reactions to the new sanctions.

"Their confused acts to adopt the resolution and the unrealistic exaggeration of sanctions followed by half-baked military threats are indications of the helplessness of the arrogant order in facing the great and respectable movement in the Islamic world," Khamenei said [Kayhan, 24 June].

“Sanctions are adopted as the emergence and the existence of the Islamic Republic establishment is the main cause of current problems for the domineering order. That is the reason for their animosity to the Islamic system,” Khamenei added.

The officials of the Islamic Republic use phrases “arrogant power” and “domineering order” to refer to US and the US-dominated Western world respectively.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Iran’s Uranium Enrichment, Ctd

Iran said it has produced more than 17 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium and is capable of adding some 5 kilograms a month. Ali Akbar Salehi, director of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, announced the news in Tehran.

"We have so far produced more than 17 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium and we can potentially produce five kilograms per month," Salehi said [ISNA, 24 June].

Salehi had previously announced that Iran had acquired the necessary technical expertise to convert the 20 percent enriched uranium into fuel plates required to power reactors [ISNA, 16 June].

The enrichment announcement represents a defiance of the UN Security Council resolution calling on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities.

Brazil that had helped brokered an agreement with Iran to send its LEU to Turkey in return for the reactor fuel; today issued a word of caution to Iran. The Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, on a visit to Bulgaria, said there were concerns over Iran’s nuclear program by the Vienna Group over the Tehran Agreement and “now it is up to Iran to react to these” [AFP, 24 June].

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Israel Launches Spy Satellite Over Iran

Israel launched a military spy satellite today to monitor Iran and its nuclear program. The Ofek 9, which the Israeli Defense Ministry said was launched from the Palmachim air force base south of Tel Aviv, will join three other Israeli spy satellites already in space. Israeli media reports said the satellite's high-resolution cameras would enable Israel to keep a closer eye on Iran. Israel has expressed concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, although the country is the region’s only nuclear power.

News Source: Reuters

Ofek means Horizon in Hebrew.

Iran Sanctions: Private Sector - UPDATE

In a testimony today at Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Stuart Levey, the top US Treasury Department official overseeing financial sanctions against Iran, spoke of Iranian vulnerabilities against private sector initiatives.

"Virtually all major financial institutions have either completely cut off or dramatically reduced their ties with Iran," said Levey. “Voluntary actions of the private sector amplify the effectiveness of government-imposed measures.”

Levy told the Senate committee that firms in the insurance, consulting, energy and manufacturing sectors were making decisions similar to banking institutions cutting off their ties with Iran.

The Foreign Relations committee was discussing accompanying unilateral sanctions against Iran beyond those imposed by the UN. The Congress is moving toward targeting American and non-American firms that sell goods, services or know-how to Iran’s energy sector, including insurance, financing and shipping companies. The centerpiece of the proposed new legislation is an effort to choke off Iran’s import of refined oil products, including gasoline.

Levey warned the senators, however, not to see these sanctions as a cure-all, considering Iran had braced itself for such sanctions for the past year or so. Oil-rich Iran lacks extensive domestic refining capabilities which leaves it heavily dependant on imports of gasoline, jet oil and other refined products to meet domestic demands

“This is a vulnerability and we think it's one that could be exploited,” said Levey. “It's not a silver bullet.”

The US officials believe that Iran has already decreased its dependence on gasoline imports to 25 percent of domestic consumption, instead of 40 percent a few years ago. However, that figure is still too high for comfort on the part of the Iranian leadership.

"We do know that the Iranian leadership is quite concerned," said Levey.

Source: AFP

Stuart Levey is the US Undersecretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

UPDATE: US Congress passed Iran sanctions on Thursday 24 June by a vote of 408-8. Earlier in the day, the US Senate had passed the same bill by a vote of 99-0. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.

Iran Sanctions: Declining Trade with Dubai

Observing a more strict application of UN sanctions against Iran, the UAE government has taken measures that are resulting in significantly lower trade volume across the Persian Gulf.

- In the last two months, UAE authorities have closed down 40 trading firms doing business with Iran for dealing in “dual-use and dangerous materials” that violate UN sanctions [AFP, 22 June].

- All containers arriving at Dubai ports for trans-shipment by smaller boats to Iran have to be unloaded, inspected, and loaded into new containers, a process that costs traders 1,000 extra dollars per container.

- For years, Dubai was Iran’s top trading partner, with trade volume estimated at 10 billion dollars a year. Last year, the volume dropped to 7 billion dollars and in the recent months, Dubai trade volume has slipped to the third place.

Anti-Majlis Student Protest in Tehran

Student Demonstrators at Majlis
The sign at far right reads: 'How Much Money For Each Vote?'
Tehran. 22 June 2010. Fars Photo

In a large student demonstration in front of Majlis, the Iranian Parliament, the protesters demanded that the parliament reverses its recent vote to allow the Free Islamic University of Iran to continue as an endowed private institution. The Free University, as it is popularly called, is the largest and arguably the richest institution of higher learning in Iran. The Majlis action legalized its status as an endowed private institution governed by its board of trustees, a common arrangement in the West, but an oddity in Iran’s system of government ownership of universities and colleges.

The semi-official Fars News Agency reports from Tehran that the student demonstrators were chanting slogans against the Majlis and its speaker: “Traitor Deputies Shame on You!”, “Larijani Shame On You, Resign, Resign!”

Some fundamentalist deputies joined the demonstrations and spoke at the gathering condemning the 134-72 vote on Sunday legalizing Free University’s status.

Implicit in the angry protests is the fact that the university, created during the first years of the Islamic Republic by Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, is believed to be controlled by pro-opposition personalities. Fars News Agency highlighted related chants by protesters: “Larijani, Hashemi Have United!” , “Majlis, Mafia Have United!”

Monday, June 21, 2010

NAJA citation for improper attire

click to enlarge
Citation issued by NAJA (Iran police) to women for improper attire.

Citation photo: Sheila K at iranian.com
NAJA file photo: Iranian Students News Agency

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Protesters prevent unloading of Israeli ship

Hundreds of demonstrators, gathering at the Port of Oakland before dawn, prevented the unloading of an Israeli cargo ship.

The demonstrators, demanding an end to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, picketed at Berth 58, where a ship from Israel's Zim shipping line is scheduled to dock later today. The day shift of longshoremen agreed not to cross the picket line.
International pressure to end the Gaza closure has increased since Israeli commandos stormed a flotilla of ships attempting to run the blockade on May 31, killing nine people. Last week, Israeli officials announced that they would loosen but not lift the blockade, allowing more goods to enter the impoverished area.

"Our view is that the state of Israel can not engage in acts of piracy and kill people on the high seas and still think their cargo can go anywhere in the world," said Richard Becker, an organizer with ANSWER, one of many peace and labor groups involved in Sunday's action.

Becker estimated that 600 to 700 people joined the demonstration, many of them arriving at 5:30 a.m. Oakland police, who estimated the crowd at 500 people, reported no arrests.

The demonstrators want to block the unloading of the Zim ship for a full day. After convincing the day shift of longshoreman to honor the picket line, the demonstrators dispersed around 10 a.m., Becker said. The ship is scheduled to arrive in mid-afternoon, and the demonstrators plan to gather again around 4:30 p.m. and re-establish their picket line before the evening shift of longshoremen arrives at 6 p.m- SF Gate

Not directly Iran-related, but newsworthy nonetheless.

Jundallah Leader Executed

Abdulmalik Rigi, the former leader of Jundallah, was hanged today at Evin prison in Tehran on charges of “corruption on earth.” Rigi was arrested in February by Iranian intelligence agents when he was flying over the Persian Gulf en route from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan. He had led a bloody campaign in his province of Iranian Baluchistan against the country’s security forces and the IRGC.

Rigi's younger brother, Abdulhamid, was executed last month in Zahedan. He had been captured in Pakistan in 2008 and extradited to Iran. The two brothers were the young heads of Rigis, historically the most prominent Sunni family in Baluchistan. Their executions are major blows to Jundallah. The militant group had been involved in many terrorist acts. Their bombing attacks have killed dozens in recent years, including five senior IRGC commanders.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Gates and the Iran Missile 'Threat'

By Mark Pyruz

US intelligence has shown Iran could launch an attack against Europe with "scores or hundreds" of missiles, prompting major changes to US missile defenses, Pentagon chief Robert Gates said on Thursday.

President Barack Obama in September cited a mounting danger from Iran's arsenal of short and medium-range missiles when he announced an overhaul of US missile defense plans.

The new program, called the "phased adaptive approach," uses sea and land-based interceptors to protect NATO allies in the region, instead of mainly larger weapons designed to counter long-range missiles.- AFP

I suppose the US IC is including Turkey and Israel in this threat projection, otherwise the geography makes little sense for the types of MRBM and numbers of SSMs possessed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Also unclear are any sort of first or second strike threat projections against Europe "proper" from potential (re: imagined) SSM forces of the IRI.

This sounds a lot like a military-industrial sales pitch, as well as a duplicitous rationale for US forces positioned in areas to maintain strategic dominance and counter Russian influence.

Iranian MRBMs are under-tested, and as such represent a deterrence force far more than any actual effective offensive capability. That is to say they are almost purpose-built primarily to counter the weekly threats of Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear power infrastructure.

Update: Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Vahidi's response to Gates.

Pew Poll On War With Iran

Majorities in many Western and some Muslim countries are willing to consider military action against Iran to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons, a poll conducted by Pew Research Center in 22 countries has revealed.

Americans are among the most supportive of a military option to deal with Iran with 66 per cent of those who oppose a nuclear-armed Iran saying they would consider the use of force. Nigerians are the most supportive, with 71 percent in favor of military action.

Among Europeans, the views are more mixed. In France, 59 percent said they would consider the use of military force, but a sizeable minority of 41percent rejected this option.

Support for the military option is softer in Germany (51pc), Spain (50pc) and Britain (48pc). Russians were divided on the use of force, with 32pc in each camp.

In the Muslim world, there is support for military action in Egypt (55pc), Jordan (53pc) and Lebanon (44pc). In Turkey, 37 percent said avoiding a military conflict should be the priority while 29 percent would consider the use of military force.

The poll surveyed 24,000 people in 22 countries between April 7 and May 8.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

'Sanctions will not undermine Iran's defense': Defense Minister

Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi says the UN Security Council sanctions targeting Iran's defense sphere will not undermine the Islamic Republic's military might.

He noted that the earlier sanctions against Iran all failed to undermine the "solid will of the Iranian nation."

"In the recent resolution, arrogant powers banned weapons sales to Iran, but we do not need their weapons and we can even export such weapons," Fars news agency quoted Vahidi as saying on Thursday.

"Iran is self-sufficient in making and mass-producing artillery, tanks, helicopters and warships," the defense minister noted.

Iran Will Not Withdraw From NPT

Speaker of Iranian Majlis Ali Larijani said in Tehran today that Iran will not withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) Treaty, despite new sanctions imposed against the country.

"The western countries' reactions should not make us angry and cause our withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)," Larijani said [Mehr News Agency, 17 June].

"I think we should not withdraw from the IAEA or the NPT. We must provide the grounds for implementing the rules by strengthening them instead," Larijani added.

Reacting to the news that European leaders had agreed to impose new sanctions on Iran, Larijani said the Europeans should realize that these measures “will have no effect on Iran's nuclear stance.”

EU Leaders Impose New Sanctions On Iran

European leaders decided today to impose accompanying new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program beyond those already approved by UNSC. The EU sanctions include a ban on new investment, technical assistance and transfer of technology to Iran’s oil and gas industry, adding more pressure on global energy majors to end their activities in Iran. The new sanctions also target IRGC as well as the country's transportation and banking system [AFP, 17 June].

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Iran Oil Exports: 2.3 million bpd

During the Iranian calendar year 1388, ending 21 March 2010, Iran exported an average of 2.3 million barrels of oil a day. 35 percent of Iran’s oil exports constituted light crude, with 65% heavy crude [IRIB, 16 June].

Japan, China, South Africa, Brazil, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Spain, India and the Netherlands were the main importers of Iran's crude oil.

Oil income accounts for more than 80 percent of Iran's foreign currency revenues.

IRGC Mobilized in Iranian Azerbaijan

IRGC has announced that it has mobilized its forces in the western border regions of Iran.

"The presence of US and Israeli forces along Iranian borders is the reason behind Iran's military movements in the region," Brig. General Mehdi Moini, commander of IRGC in Iran’s West Azerbaijan Province, told reporters on Tuesday [Press TV, 16 June].

Gen. Moini also accused the West of attempting to destabilize the western province under his command by inciting rebel groups.

"Through magnifying the ethnic, religious strife in the region and inciting terrorist groups, they seek to destabilize our province," he said.

The IRGC commander added that during recent clashes [presumably with rebel groups], no IRGC base has been overrun.

West Azarbaijan Province is located in northwest Iran. It shares border with Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Iranian Ship Heading to Gaza Despite Israeli Warnings

Iranian foreign ministry confirmed today that an Iranian ship carrying food supplies, building materials and toys are heading to Gaza. Meanwhile, Israel said today that it will prevent the Iranian vessel from reaching Gaza.

Israeli daily Yediot Ahranot reported today that the Israeli navy is preparing to deal with two ships expected to reach the region by the end of the current week, which are an Iranian ship, and another sent from Lebanese Hezbollah Party.

Tragedy In The Philippines

A bus carrying Iranian medical students in the Philippines plunged into a ravine off a mountain road in Balamban in central Cebu province, killing 20 Iranian students and the bus driver. Sunday 13 June 2010. AP Photo.

Monday, June 14, 2010

EU Foreign Ministers Approve Iran Sanctions

The European Union today approved "accompanying measures" to the UN sanctions against Iran. The EU foreign ministers had met in Brussels to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. Before approving the new sanctions, the foreign ministers heard from Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, who argued Iran’s case.

The new sanctions include further restrictions on trade insurance and financial transactions, and target Iran's transport sector particularly its shipping and air cargo operators. Investments in Iran’s oil industry would also be affected.

"Some (European) companies ask what does that mean for their business, but what would nuclear bombs in the hands of Iran cost us," Germany’s Westerwelle asked. "We have to contribute our own European measures in addition to the Security Council sanctions to press Iran back to the negotiation table,” he added [AFP, 14 June].

EU heads of government would need to approve the new sanctions on Thursday during their meeting in Luxemburg before they go into effect.

Meanwhile in Tehran, the all-powerful IRGC said it was “not worried” by new sanctions against Iran.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Iran to Extend IPI Pipeline to Pakistani Border

In yet another signing ceremony, Iran formally committed itself to start supplying Pakistan with natural gas from 2014. Iran also announced that it will start building the next 300-kilometre (187.5 miles) leg of the pipeline from the southeastern city of Iranshahr to the Pakistani border, through the Iranian port of Chabahar.

Iran has already constructed 907 kilometres of the pipeline between Asalooyeh, the main port connected to South Pars field, and Iranshahr.

If the Iranian-Pakistani agreement is executed by 2014, Iran will export more than 21 million cubic meters (742 million cubic feet) of natural gas daily to Pakistan.

India had originally agreed to join the project as well, known as Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline, but has since withdrawn its participation. IPI project has been discussed for nearly two decades, with many signing ceremonies in between. So far, the construction of Assalooyeh-Iransharh leg of the pipeline has been the only tangible result of those discussions.

Saudi Arabia refutes airspace claim

According to the Israeli news source Haaretz Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf has denied that Saudi Arabia would or intend to give use of its airspace to Israel.

He has stated that it would be "illogical to allow the Israeli occupying force, with whom Saudi Arabia has no relations whatsoever, to use its land and airspace."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Saudi Arabia gives Israel use of its airspace to attack Iran

The Times Online has revealed that Saudi Arabia "has conducted tests to stand down its air defences to enable Israeli jets to make a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities."

This story has also made headlines on PressTV.

Anyone who has followed the saber rattling that has been going on between Israel and Iran will have seen this story pop up occasionally in the past few months, and has been covered on this blog.

However that doesn't mean we shouldn't take it seriously and is a development worthy of keeping a close eye on.

Iran to Announce Nuclear Advancement

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization announced today that it will unveil nuclear achievements at its research reactor in Tehran. Last February, the agency had announced that it had started enriching uranium to 20 percent purity to fuel the reactor.

On 16 May, Iran signed an agreement with Turkey and Brazil to swap its low enriched uranium for the 20 percent fuel needed for its research reactor. It was not clear if the expected announcement would confirm that Iran has produced enough fuel on its own to run its reactor.

UPDATE: Iran’s atomic energy chief says Iran will begin construction of a new uranium enrichment plant by March of next year.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Iran: A Year Later

By Nader Uskowi

On 12 June 2009, Iranians went to the poll to choose their president. A significant segment of the population, especially in the country’s major cities, expected former prime minister and now the opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi to become the new head of the government. In a series of events that are still in dispute, the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner and the country’s supreme leader personally and famously certified his re-election during 19 June 2009 sermon at Tehran’s Friday’s Prayer. Pro-Mousavi protesters came out on the streets in a spontaneous movement we now call Green. At the biggest Green demonstration in Tehran, some three million Iranians demanded a runoff or a new election to no avail. More than 80 people were killed during the government crackdowns on street protesters and thousands were detained, with hundreds still in detention. Many were charged and few were executed. Pro-reform newspapers were shut down and an atmosphere of political oppression and intimidation backed by armed forces of IRGC, the Basij and the police became prevalent in the country. So much so, that this year the opposition leaders cancelled all organized protest activities marking the first anniversary of the Green movement.

On its face, the government came out as the victor, the Green movement was defeated, and the opposition leaders silenced. If I were a pro-government partisan, however, I would not have congratulated myself on the victory. The re-election of Ahmadinejad came with a stiff price for the Islamic Republic. The regime did not need to use heavy-handed tactics to prevent Mousavi from forming the new government; he had already headed the government during the most critical period in the country’s history, the eight-year was with Iraq, between 1980 to 1988, under no less an authority than Khomeini himself. Ayatollah Khamenei, on that 19 June sermon, could have easily ordered for a runoff that would have immediately calmed the streets. Instead a year later, the Islamic Republic is regarded by a significant segment of the population as a police state, the kind of which the Islamic Republic was created to replace. Even if Mousavi were the president, the real power would have rested with Khamenei. Preventing his victory at the cost of loosing political legitimacy among so many citizens was the biggest political mistake of Khamenei’s twenty-year rule.

Iran faces many challenges. Its leaders have consciously decided to meet those challenges through policies of confrontation and not compromise, both within the country and outside its borders. An ideology of extreme right is taking hold in the country. This lowly blogger believe extremism is a sign of weakness and not strength; and this is true not just in Iran. At the end of the day, the extremists have to rule through intimidation and terror, illegitimating their own rule. The leaders need to realize that Iran’s economic, political and foreign policy issues are best addressed through the creation of the broadest possible coalition that would include the opposition. The policies of exclusion and intimidation are not long-run solutions to the country’s problems.

Russia to Freeze Delivery of S-300 Missiles to Iran

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has told France that Moscow will freeze the delivery of S-300 missiles to Iran, the French Office of the President announced today [AFP, 11 June].

EU New Sanctions to Target Iran’s Oil Sector

The European Union is expected to impose its own set of sanctions on Iran beyond the measures approved by UNSC on Wednesday. AFP is reporting that the new EU sanctions would target Iran’s oil and gas industry with “prohibition of new investment, transfer of technologies, equipment and services” [AFP, 11 June].

The EU's "accompanying measures" to the UN sanctions will be discussed by European foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday then by the heads of state and government in Brussels on Thursday.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Moments ago this blog had its 1,000,000th visitor. Mark Pyruz and Paul Iddon join me in thanking you for your continued interest and support – it means the world!

President Ahmadinejad in China

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Shanghai today to attend Iran's National Day ceremonies at the Shanghai Expo 2010. The visit has been overshadowed by Chinese vote at the UNSC in favor of imposing new sanctions against Iran.

Director of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi severely criticized China over its yes vote, saying it was an indication that the West was "holding dominion" over the Beijing government [Press TV, 10 June].

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

US Names New Iran Sanctions Czar

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today announced the appointment of Robert Einhorn to head a new administration-wide team charged with implementation of the newly approved sanctions against Iran. Clinton made the announcement in Bogota.

"We want to be sure that we don't just pass the sanctions and then leave it to chance as to whether or not they are being implemented," Clinton said [AP, 9 June].

Ambassador Einhorn is currently the State Department’s Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control. From 2001 to 2009, he was a senior advisor at Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. Einhorn has also served as Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation from 1999 to 2001.

UN Approves New Sanctions Against Iran - Updated

UNSC Approving New Sanctions Against Iran
New York. 9 June 2010. AP Photo

The UN Security Council today imposed its fourth round of sanctions against Iran. Twelve member states, including all permanent members, voted for the resolution. Two countries (Brazil, Turkey) voted against and Lebanon abstained. The new sanctions broaden three earlier sets of sanctions imposed on Iran, the last of which was adopted on 31 March 2008. The highlights of the new UN resolution:

- Calls on countries (but not requiring countries) to block financial transactions with Iranian banks if they have information that provides "reasonable grounds" to believe the banking transactions could contribute to the Iranian nuclear program.

- Authorizes states to conduct high-sea inspections of vessels believed to be ferrying banned items from or to Iran.

- Expands arms embargo against Iran. It prohibits Iran from developing ballistic missiles and from purchasing several categories of heavy weapons, including attack helicopter and missiles.

- Prohibits Iran from investing in uranium mining anywhere in the world.

- Expands a list of individuals and entities subject to travel restrictions and financial sanctions, including asset freeze. Among 40 entities added to the list, 22 are linked to Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, 15 are owned by IRGC, and three controlled by Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

UNSC resolution notes Turkey and Brazil’s efforts toward an agreement with Iran on Tehran Research Reactor that could serve as a confidence building measure. It emphasizes the importance of political and diplomatic efforts to find a negotiated solution guaranteeing that Iran's nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes. It also calls on Iran to address the core issues related to its nuclear program.

UPDATE I: Iran’s ambassador to IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told the meeting that "illegal resolutions" by the council will not stop Iran from exercising its "legitimate right to develop its nuclear program" [AP, 9 June].

UPDATE II: Reacting to new UN sanctions, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said they were like a "used handkerchief that should be dumped in a garbage can…They cannot harm the Iranian nation" [ISNA, 9 June].

Major Powers Reject Tehran Agreement

The major powers of the so-called Vienna Group-- the US, Russia and France, today dismissed the Iranian proposal to swap 1,200kg of its low enriched uranium (LEU) for higher enriched reactor fuel. The Iranian proposal was based on the agreement reached in Tehran between Iran, Brazil and Turkey, the so-called Tehran Agreement. The three major powers said that unlike the original plan drawn up eight months ago, the new swap proposal would leave Iran with enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. They also raised objections to a series of questions within the Iranian proposal that would in effect stall any negotiations on the key issues involving the Iranian nuclear program.

The IAEA confirmed receipt of the three-nation response and said it would pass it to Tehran.

The UN Security Council is in session now, and it is expected to pass a new sanctions resolution against Iran.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

President Ahmadinejad at CICA Conference

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joins 39 other presidents and senior officials at the third Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building Measures in Asia (CICA). The crisis in Gaza, the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula are the main topics of discussion. Istanbul. 8 June 2010.

Photo: Jamal Salehi, IRNA

By the Numbers: Iranian Journalists Detained

Reporters Without Borders (RWB), better known by its French name Reporters sans frontiers, a Paris-based global NGO advocating freedom of the press, has released its latest report on Iran detailing the number of journalists detained in the aftermath of last June’s disputed presidential election in the country.

170: Number of journalists and web-journalists detained.

32: Number of female journalists/web-journalists detained.

22: Number of journalists sentenced to prison terms, for total of 135 years in prison.

85: Number of journalists/web-journalists awaiting trial or sentencing.

5,230,000,000 in toman (more than 5 million dollars): Amount of money posted by the journalists/web-journalists who are free on bail awaiting trial.

23: Number of newspapers shut down.

37: Total number of journalists in prison today, second largest number of detained journalists in the world (after China).

100: Number of journalists/web-journalists who have left the country since last June.

RWB’s numbers are alarming, depressing and very unfortunate for Iran.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Iran Military Reportedly Crossing Kurdish Border- Iraqis Protest

The Iraqi government today said it has protested to Iran over shelling and “improper use of force” in Iraqi Kurdistan. Iranian troops have been reportedly shelling the region for at least 12 days in pursuit of Iranian Kurdish rebels of PJAK.

Lt. Saleh Ahmed, a spokesman for Kurish security forces, Peshmerga, said Iranian troops with artillery and tanks crossed the Iraqi borer into the country’s Kurdish region last Thursday and began building an outpost and a road leading back to Iranian side of the border [AP, 7 June].

Deputy Iraqi Foreign Minister Labeed Abawi told The Associated Press he summoned the Iranian ambassador to complain about shelling in the Kurdish region.

The Iranian authorities and the country’s media have been silent on the situation.

Iran TV: Iranian Scientist Says Abducted by US - Updated

The Iranian state-owned TV has broadcast a video reportedly showing the missing Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri claiming that he had been abducted by US agents while on a trip to Mecca in June 2009 and later transferred to the US against his will.

Amiri was believed to have defected to the US. The state TV report said the video was obtained by Iranian intelligence but did not say how. The authenticity of the video has not yet been confirmed by independent sources. The US authorities have not made any comments on Amiri’s disappearance last year or on the newly released video.

In the video, the man identified as Amiri claimed Saudi intelligence cooperated with the CIA in his abduction on 3 June 2009, and took him to an unknown location and injected him with a tranquilizer.

"When I became conscious, I found myself in a plane on the way to the US," Amiri said. "Since I was abducted and brought to the US, I was heavily tortured and pressured by US intelligence," he added.

Before he disappeared, Amiri worked at Tehran’s Malek Ashtar University, an institution closely connected to IRGC.

UPDATE- In a new video released on YouTube, Shahram Amiri says that he is in the US freely and pursuing post-graduate studies. The Iranian state TV had broadcast a video in which Amiri was reportedly claiming that he had been kidnapped by the US intelligence. No independent confirmation of the authenticity of either of the two videos were available.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Ahmadinejad’s Provocative Statement on Obama’s Presidency

By Nader Uskowi

The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today that US President Barack Obama must change his policy toward Iran; otherwise his presidency will be “ended.” Ahmadinejad made the statement during a TV interview with Turkey’s ITV. Iran’s official new agency, IRNA, carried the story.

“The US president should accept realities and change his policy toward Iran. Otherwise that would mean the end of his presidency,” Ahmadinejad said [IRNA, 6 June].

Ahmadinejad must know well that the first four-year term of Obama’s presidency can only end through general election, but he still elects to make such provocative statement. His irresponsible proclamations is costing Iran dearly, loosing allies and collecting enemies, and risking to bring more hardship to the Iranian people.

Stand by Me!

Iranian superstar Andy with Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora: Stand by Me! A year later.

Source: YouTube

Tehran Hints at Gaza Intervention

Hojatoleslam Ali Shirazi
Press TV File Photo

Ayatlollah Khamenei’s Representative at IRGC (Iran’s Soviet-style political commissar) told Mehr News Agency today that the IRGC naval forces are ready to provide military escort to international aid cargo ships trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Hojatoleslam Ali Shirazi added that IRGCN will start the escort operations as soon as the supreme leader gives the order.

"IRGC naval forces are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities," Shirazi said.

"If the Supreme Leader issues an order for this then the Revolutionary Guard naval forces will do their best to secure the ships," Shirazi added. "It is Iran's duty to defend the innocent people of Gaza." [Mehr News Agency, 6 June].

It was not clear if Shirazi’s remarks had been cleared in advance with the office of the supreme leader. If so, the remarks can signal a serious deterioration in Iran's already tense relations with Israel and can lead to a major military conflict. It is also possible that the political commissar’s remarks were just the latest of boastful menacing talks coming out of Tehran.

Toman Hits Historic Low Against Dollar

Dollar Traded on a Tehran Street
Tehran. 6 June 2010. Mehr Photo

Iranian toman has hit an all-time low of 1,055 tomans per dollar in Tehran’s FX market. Since the beginning of the current Iranian calendar year (20 March 2010), the toman has started a sharp decline against dollar, starting with 950 tomans per dollar, and now hitting the historical low of 1,055. [Each toman is 10 rials, which remains the nominal official currency of Iran].

Prevention of Khomeini’s Speech Orchestrated by Ahmadinejad- Tehran Deputy

Yesterday, during a government-sponsored memorial service marking the twenty-first death anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini, the invited crowd prevented Khomeini’s grandson, Seyed Hassan Khomeini, to make a scheduled speech honoring his grandfather’s contribution to the Islamic Revolution. The controversial action by the crowd, believed to be orchestrated by the office of the Iranian president, has brought sharp criticism within the high-ranking echelons of the Islamic Republic.

Dr. Ali Mottahari, Tehran’s deputy in Majlis, the Iranian parliament, today was the latest dignitary to express shock and dismay at government organizers.

“On a day that promoting the national unity should have been the main agenda of the ceremony, they followed a policy of divisiveness; this was not in the best interest of the nation,” said Mottahari [Tabnak, 6 June].

“The tragic event (preventing Hassan Khomeini from speaking) was pre-planned and the esteemed President (Ahmadinejad) personally had orchestrated it,” said Mottahari.

“The president’s own speech (during the ceremony) also was not geared toward promoting the national unity, and was as divisive,” Mottahari added.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ahmadinejad Calls Nuclear Agreement “Manifesto” for Rights of Nations- Warns Russia

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
during interview with LBC. Tehran. 5 June 2010. LBC

By Nader Uskowi

The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defending the recent tri-partite nuclear declaration between Iran, Brazil and Turkey, said that Tehran Agreement is a global manifesto for the equal rights of all nations.

“Tehran Agreement showed that Iran, Brazil and Turkey could recognize the international conditions and responsibilities and put their emphasize on justice. The Agreement does not belong to these three countries, but is a manifesto of the just demands of the countries in the world, those who are seeking equal rights for all nations,” Ahmadinejad told Lebanon’s LBC TV network [LBC, 5 June].

He then warned Russian leaders again against cooperating with the West over Iran’s nuclear program.

“The warning (to the Russian leaders) was intended so they watch their behavior… We do not expect them to side with those countries who are openly plotting against Iran, and this is a logical expectation,” Ahmadinejad said.

Meanwhile in Germany, the visiting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called upon Iran to end its “irresponsible behavior” and heed the world community over the nuclear issue.

"The situation is this: an agreement on sanctions exists," he said in Germany after talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel. "We hope that the voice of the international community is heard by Iranian leadership.

"Expressions of irresponsible behavior cannot be continued. What is said internationally needs to be listened to. Only this way can the most complex tasks be solved," Mevedev added [AFP, 5 June].

The five permanent Security Council members -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France – and Germany have agreed on a new draft resolution that includes fresh sanctions against Iran over the country’s nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad, by elevating the Tehran tri-partite agreement to the level of a global rights manifesto, is seemingly positioning himself for Iran’s coming defeat at UNSC. He could then claim the Security Council vote was not against Iran’s nuclear program, but against Iran’s leadership to forge a new global alliance for the rights of nations. Facing severe economic conditions at home, Ahmadinejad needs to justify the forth UN setback during his six years of presidency as a moral struggle for national rights, a continuation of behavior dubbed as “irresponsible” by Mevedev.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Iran Leaders Praise Khomeini, Attack Opposition

The Large Crowd at Khomeini Mausoleum
Commemorating 21st Death Anniversary of Khomeini

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei Accompanied by Seyed Hassan Khomeini, the Grandson of the Founder of the Islamic Republic, at the Commemoration Ceremony

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the occasion of the 21st death anniversary of the Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to lash out at the opposition and its leader Hossein Mousavi, who was Khomeini’s long-time prime minster.

Speaking to a huge crowd gathered at Khomeini Mausoleum in Tehran, Ayatollah Khamenei said those who led “the fiascos during the Ashura and Quds days, are not Imam (Khomeini)’s true followers,” [Fars News Agency, 4 June]. Mousavi led hundred of thousands of marchers during those days protesting the results of the disputed presidential elections, even though Khamenei had already declared Ahmadinejad the victor. The protests became known as the Green Movement, which marks its first anniversary on 12 June.

President Ahmadinejad speaking in the same forum said his opponents are “thrown away” by the people.

"Whoever deviates from the path of Imam (Khomeini), despite whatever power he holds, he will be thrown away by the strong hand of the people," Ahmadinejad said [Fars News Agency].

Later in the program, the crowd prevented Seyed Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the Islamic Republic’s founder and the host of the commemoration ceremonies, to make his scheduled speech with repeated shouts of “Death to Mousavi.” Hassan Khomeini is believed to be a Green supporter.

The harsh and uncompromising tone of the leaders of the Islamic Republic towards the opposition and its leader at such venue were surprising and unexpected. It was ironic that Khomeini’s prime minister until Khomeini's death and his grandson who was the host of the ceremonies to be attacked so harshly during a gathering commemorating Khomeini’s death and “Imam’s Path.” But that is the nature of politics in today’s Iran.

Top Photo: Fars News Agency

Bottom Photo: Mehr News Agency

Thursday, June 3, 2010

$19 Billion: Iran’s Annual Contraband Trade

Saeed Mortazavi, Iran’s head of anti-smuggling department and former prosecutor of Islamic Revolutionary Court, said today that the country’s contraband trade has reached 19 billion dollars a year.

"Some 16 billion dollars worth of goods have been smuggled into Iran, while three billion dollars worth have been exported illegally during the last Iranian year (ending March 2010)," Mortazavi said [Donya-e Eqtesad, 3 June].

Smuggled imports represents one third of all imports, estimated at 50 billion dollars last year.

“Only three percent of smuggled goods are identified and seized by the police,” Motazavi added.

Much of the illegal trafficking takes place between Iran and its biggest trade partner, the United Arab Emirates.