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The reactor building at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran, 1200km south of Tehran. Picture: AFP
Tehran to break uranium stockpile limit in 10 days
The Australian
Tuesday, June 18, 2019

TEHRAN: Iran will break the uranium stockpile limit set by Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in the next 10 days, the spokesman for the country's atomic agency said yesterday. Behrouz Kamalvandi also warned that Iran had uranium enriched levels up to 20 per cent, just a step away from weapons-grade levels.

The announcement indicated Iran's determination to break from the landmark 2015 accord, which has steadily unravelled since the Trump administration pulled the US out of the deal last year and reimposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, sending its economy into free fall. "Today the countdown to pass the 300kg reserve of enriched uranium has started and in 10 days' time … we will pass this limit," Mr Kamalvandi said at Iran's Arak heavy water facility.

On May 8, President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran would stop observing restrictions on its stocks of enriched uranium and heavy water agreed under the deal. He said the move was in retaliation for the unilateral US withdrawal from the accord a year earlier, which saw Washington impose tough economic sanctions on Tehran.

Iran has threatened to go even further by July 8 unless remaining partners to the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — help it circumvent US sanctions and especially enable it to sell its oil.

Under the agreement, Iran pledged to reduce its nuclear capacities for several years and allow international inspectors inside the country to monitor its activities in return for relief from international sanctions. The deal set a limit on the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges, and restricted its right to enrich uranium to no higher than 3.67 per cent, well below weapons-grade levels of around 90 per cent.


Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Hossein Salami, second left, at prayers in Tehran. Picture: AFP
Same Day
Self funded guards cement their power, brush off sanctions
The Australian
Benoit Faucon, Sune Engel Rasmussen
Wall Street Journal

TEHRAN: Iran's top paramilitary force is maintaining support for armed groups in the Middle East and finding new sources of funding, defying US efforts to curb its activities abroad as tensions between Washington and Tehran soar following fresh attacks in the Gulf of Oman.

Iran's government has struggled to support an economy under pressure from US sanctions, but its elite defence force has found new sources of revenue, including recently signed infrastructure contracts in Syria and Iraq as well as expanded smuggling networks, according to advisers to the Guard and the US government.

The clout of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a group founded to protect the nation's security but which has expanded to include construction, banking and smuggling, appears to be growing in Iran as it helps to prop up the economy and keeps more powerful adversaries off balance.

"Everything you see today contributing to the Islamic Republic of Iran's defence power has been achieved under sanctions," the group's commander, Major General Hossein Salami, then a brigadier general, said in December.

The risk of a bigger conflict has come into sharp relief, as the Trump administration blames the Guard for explosions that crippled Japanese and Norwegian oil tankers on Thursday. Tehran denied involvement in these and previous attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf last month. Iranian officials have accused the US and its allies in the region of trying to create a false pretext to drag Iran into war.

The US has rolled out an unprecedented array of sanctions, designating the Guard a terrorist organisation to prevent foreign companies from doing business with it, and making it illegal for Iran's oil buyers to import its crude.

In March, the US Treasury banned dealings with the Guard-owned Ansar Bank, saying it was the key vehicle to pay salaries of the group's Quds Force — which directs Tehran's Middle East operations — and of its Pakistani and Afghan mercenaries in Syria. In addition, Ansar Bank extended the equivalent of millions of dollars as a loan to a front company controlled by Quds Force, it said.

But corporate records show Ansar Bank's cash deposits increased by 4 per cent over the past two months as it maintained higher returns on savings accounts. The Guard generates funds from construction works through its engineering arm, Khatam al-Anbia. In Syria, Khatam has in the past year signed contracts for construction and power equipment, a Guard adviser said. Khatam has built oil and gas pipelines in Iraq between Baghdad and the oil port of Basra, as well as a water-treatment plant in the country.

It also earns funds from smuggling fuel out of Iran, and taking consumer appliances and cigarettes back into the Islamic Republic, a former Guard official and the adviser to the force said.

The group has gained influence in western Iraq with a powerful Sunni clan and a local Shia group, a person familiar with US intelligence in the region said. In the past two months, the force has assisted the purchases of abandoned houses to benefit the groups, that person said. In return, the groups have allied politically and militarily with the Guard.

The wages of Iraqi militias — some trained by the Quds Force — are funded by the Iraqi government, so they aren't affected by sanctions on the Guard. The Iraqi embrace of militias hostile to the US is a source of tension between Washington and Baghdad. On Wednesday, the US Treasury Department blacklisted an Iraqi company it said had trafficked arms valued at hundreds of millions of dollars for Quds Force.

The Guard continue to send bags of cash by plane to the group's Lebanese proxy Hezbollah in Syria, said Hanin Ghaddar, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute who studies the group. Hezbollah hasn't commented.

Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen, who also tax food, fuel and tobacco, have stepped up attacks on Saudi Arabia's energy facilities and military airports.

Iranian military leaders say its network of allies around the region are offering Tehran a new advantage. When Iran fought Iraq in the 1980s, senior Guard commander Gholam Ali Rashid told parliament last month, the Islamic Republic was on its own. "Now it has allies all over the region," he said. "The enemy will pay a heavy price" if Iran is attacked.


Iran tanker seizure: May to chair Cobra meeting on crisis
BBC News, UK
Monday, 22nd July

The prime minister will chair the government's emergency committee Cobra on Monday after a British-flagged tanker was seized by Iran in the Gulf. Theresa May is expected to receive updates from ministers and officials and discuss maintaining the security of shipping in the area.

It comes amid reports ministers are considering freezing Iranian assets. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is expected to update MPs later on further measures the government will take.

On Sunday, ministers denied domestic politics meant the government had taken its "eye off the ball". Defence minister Tobias Ellwood said it was "impossible" to escort each individual vessel and suggested more money should be invested in the Navy if Britain wanted to continue to play a role on the international stage.

What happened?
On Friday, 19th July, the Stena Impero was seized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the key shipping route of the Strait of Hormuz after Tehran said it was "violating international maritime rules". A recording emerged of radio exchanges between HMS Montrose and Iranian armed forces vessels moments before the tanker was seized.
Iranian vessel can be heard telling the British frigate it wants to inspect the Stena Impero for security reasons. HMS Montrose was too far away to stop the seizure.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency said the tanker was captured after it collided with a fishing boat and failed to respond to calls from the smaller craft. Mr Hunt said it was illegally seized in Omani waters and forced to sail into Bandar Abbas port in Iran.

The seizure of the Stena Impero comes two weeks after Royal Marines helped seize Iranian tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar, because of evidence it was carrying oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. Mr Hunt said the Grace 1 was detained legally, but Iran said it was "piracy" and threatened to seize a British oil tanker in retaliation.

What happened to the tanker and its crew?
The Stena Impero is still being held in the port of Bandar Abbas, in southern Iran. The tanker's Swedish owner, Stena Bulk, has made a formal request to visit the 23 crew members, who are Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino. They have all been taken off the ship for "questioning", Iran's Press TV reported.

A relative of one Indian crew member, who did not want to be identified, told the BBC on Sunday the family was concerned and had not received any messages from him since the vessel was detained. But they said the family was being kept well informed by the Swedish company and felt reassured about diplomatic efforts to free the ship after meeting company officials on Sunday.
Although the crew and owners are not British, the Stella Impero carries the UK flag. "Historically speaking it means that the UK owes protection to the vessel," explained Richard Meade, from maritime publication Lloyds List.

What has Iran said?
Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif tweeted on Saturday that the UK "must cease being an accessory to #EconomicTerrorism of the US". He said Iran guarantees the security of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, and insisted its action was to "uphold international maritime rules". Iran's ambassador to London has warned the UK against escalating tensions, tweeting: "This is quite dangerous and unwise at a sensitive time in the region."

What's the background to tensions in the Gulf?
Relations have been deteriorating between Iran and the UK and US.
In April, the US tightened sanctions it had re-imposed on Iran after withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear deal.
The US blamed Iran for attacks on tankers since May, which Tehran denies. On Friday, the US claimed to have destroyed an Iranian drone in the Gulf.

The UK government has remained committed to the deal, which curbs Iran's nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions. However, the UK's help in seizing the Iranian tanker Grace 1 infuriated Iran.
Last week, the UK said Iranian boats also attempted to impede a British oil tanker in the region before being warned off by HMS Montrose. Iran denied any attempted seizure.

International reaction
The White House said Friday's incident was the second time in more than a week the UK had been "the target of escalatory violence" by Iran. US Central Command said it was developing a multinational maritime effort in response to the situation. The Pentagon said US troops are being deployed to Saudi Arabia to defend American interests in the region.

On Sunday, the Foreign Office confirmed Mr Hunt spoke with his French and German counterparts, who have both condemned Iran's actions. France's Jean-Yves Le Drian and Germany's Heiko Maas agreed that safe passage through the Strait of Hormuz is a top priority for European nations, while avoiding any possible escalation.

Latest News Tuesday 23rd July

The crew of a British-flagged tanker that was seized in the Gulf are "safe", the vessel's owner has said after speaking to them for the first time. The British-flagged Stena Impero and its 23 crew were taken by Iran's Revolutionary Guard on Friday.

The owner, Stena Bulk, made contact on Tuesday with the ship's master who said they were safe and there was good co-operation with the Iranians on board.


The Adrian Darya, formerly known as Grace 1 and seen earlier Sunday, is at the center of a dispute between Tehran and the West on enforcement of Syrian sanctions. It left Gibraltar despite a US effort to block its release.
Photo: Johnny Bugeja/AFP/Getty Images
Iranian Tanker Leaves Gibraltar Over US Objections
US Wall Street Journal
Benoit Faucon
Monday, 19th August, 2019

LONDON: The Iranian tanker impounded by Gibraltar sailed out of the British overseas territory on Sunday over the objections of the US, a Gibraltar official said, raising hopes that Iran would reciprocate and release a British-flagged tanker in the Persian Gulf. The ship, renamed the Adrian Darya 1 and given an Iranian flag, left Gibraltar's waters around 11 pm local time after the territory's Justice Ministry rejected a US Justice Department warrant seeking the seizure of the Iranian vessel and its 2.1 million barrels of crude oil. Gibraltar officials said the territory follows the European Union's laws, not the US's.

The US warrant and difficulty finding a crew had delayed the ship's departure. Gibraltar had already decided to release the ship last week after receiving assurances from Iran that the ship's oil wouldn't go to Syria. The EU bans oil exports to Syria as part of a sanctions regime against President Bashar al-Assad, but it doesn't prohibit Iranian oil sales in general, as the US does.

The Adrian Darya's release is expected to pave the way for Iran to free the British-flagged tanker, Stena Impero, which it captured in the Persian Gulf last month on accusations that it broke international maritime rules. The UK and Iran didn't say if the release of the Iranian tanker was linked to the British-flagged vessel's freedom. But Iranian officials have previously indicated such a move would help end the Stena Impero's detention.

The two tankers have become important pieces in the escalating tensions between Iran and the US, and by extension allies and partners like the UK and Saudi Arabia. The conflict stems from the American withdrawal from a nuclear deal with Tehran and reimposing sanctions in a bid to force Tehran to pull back militarily and politically in the Middle East.

Iran has responded this year by reducing its commitments to the nuclear deal still in effect with European countries, Russia and China and downing an American drone over the Strait of Hormuz. The US also says Iran has harassed and attacked commercial vessels in the area, which Iran denies.

Gibraltar's release of the Iranian tanker is a setback for the US's attempts to enforce American sanctions in international maritime waters. Since deciding on a total ban on Iran's crude exports, the Trump administration has put pressure on both Iran's oil buyers and those providing services to its tankers. American officials say they have succeeded in getting more than 80 Iranian tankers stripped of maritime flags provided by other countries, including the Adrian Darya, previously named the Grace 1, which lost its Panama flag under US pressure, according to a person familiar with the vessel.

But Gibraltar's decision shows US sanctions aren't universally accepted. China imported 200,000 barrels a day of Iranian crude in June, according to its customs data. In the case of the Adrian Darya, the US said the tanker was assisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which it has designated a terrorist organization, by transporting oil from Iran to Syria. As a result, the US would bar its crew members from entry into the US.

The Adrian Darya turned off its satellite-tracking systems after leaving Gibraltar, according to FleetMon, the ship-tracking service. The Iranian tanker is likely to sail to Moroccan waters as its owners hold talks with potential Portuguese and Spanish buyers, a person familiar with its plans said. Iranian-controlled TNC Group, which owns the vessel, couldn't be reached for comment. Washington bans all purchases of Iran's crude and has warned any buyer of its oil could be cut off from the US financial system.

A top Iranian commander said the Islamic Republic's navy would be ready to protect the Adrian Darya if needed, though it had no plans to do so at this stage. "If top authorities ask the navy, we are ready to escort out tanker Adrian," Rear Adm Hossein Khanzadi was quoted as saying by Mehr news agency.

After a meandering journey eastwards, she arrived off the coast of Lebanon on September 1. She then turned north towards Syria and her AIS signal disappeared. Satellite imagery consultancy TankerTrackers confirmed that she remained in place off the port of Tartus in laden condition throughout the month of September.

Satellite imagery showed the blacklisted Iranian VLCC Adrian Darya 1 finally offloading her cargo at the port of Baniyas, Syria, despite US and EU sanctions.

According to the US State Department, a satellite image dated October 2 shows the Adrian Darya 1 rafted up with the Iranian LR1 Jasmine for an apparent ship-to-ship transfer. An image from October 4 shows the Jasmine at the offshore terminal for the Baniyas refinery.

"Oil from the Adrian Darya 1 has been offloaded in Syria, proving that Iran lied to the UK and Gibraltar," said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a Twitter post. "This terrorist oil will fund Assad's war and Iran's sectarian violence. EU members should condemn this action, uphold the rule of law, and hold Iran accountable."


A US soldier observes from the top of a fighting vehicle at a US military base in northeastern Syria.
Picture: AP
US 'to double Mid-East troop footprint'
The Australian
Gordon Lubold and Nancy A Yousef, Wall Street Journal
Friday, 6th December, 2019

Washington: The US is weighing sending up to 14,000 more troops to the Middle East in the face of a perceived threat from Iran. The expansion of its military footprint would include dozens more ships and other military hardware, US officials say.

The deployment could double the number of American military personnel who have been sent to the region since the start of a troop build-up in May. Donald Trump is expected to make a decision on the new deployments as soon as this month, the officials said. The US President, facing an election next year, has long sought to exit foreign entanglements and avoid new conflicts, but on Iran — and partly at the behest of Israel — he is convinced of the need to counter the threat his aides say Tehran poses.

There is growing fear among US military and other administration officials that an attack on US interests and forces could leave the US with few options in the region. By sending additional military resources to the region, the administration would be presenting a more credible deterrent to Tehran, blamed for a series of attacks, including one in September against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Iran has denied involvement.

On Wednesday, France, Germany and Britain announced they believed Iran had developed nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, which goes against a UN Security Council call on Tehran not to undertake any activity related to such missiles. Ambassadors from the three countries urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to inform the council in his next report that Iran's ballistic missile activity was "inconsistent" with the call in a council resolution endorsing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Mr Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement in May last year, but it is still supported by the five other parties — France, Britain, Russia, Germany and China.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday the country was willing to return to the negotiating table over its nuclear program if the US dropped sanctions, which have hampered the country's economy and may have contributed to recent domestic turmoil sparked by fuel price hikes.

Feeding US fears was a "significant cache" of suspected Iranian guided missile parts seized by a US Navy warship last week headed to rebels in Yemen. It was the first time such sophisticated components have been taken en route to the war there. Officials said the incident illustrated the continuing illegal smuggling of weapons to Houthi rebels and came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met, with Iran as the main topic.

The proposed new US deployment would also be designed as a deterrent against possible Iranian retaliation for mounting sanctions under the administration's economic-pressure campaign. Some officials worry, however, that adding more American military resources to the mix could provoke another attack, or put the region on track for a dangerous and unpredictable conflict.

The additional forces would join about 14,000 US service members sent to the region since May, when American intelligence identified a threat from Iran, and US Central Command commander Marine General Frank McKenzie requested extra ships, missile-defence platforms and troops.


The Pentagon confirmed that US forces had killed Gen Soleimani
Qasem Soleimani: Strike was to 'stop war', says Trump
BBC News
Saturday, 4th January, 2020

President Donald Trump has said the US killed Iran's top military commander Qasem Soleimani "to stop a war, not to start one".

He said Soleimani's "reign of terror is over" after the strike at Baghdad airport in Iraq on Friday. Soleimani spearheaded Iran's Middle East operations as head of the Quds ("Holy") Force for 21 years. Iran has vowed "severe revenge" on those responsible for his death.

The killing marks a major escalation in tensions between the two countries. US officials have said 3,000 additional troops will be sent to the Middle East as a precaution.

Iraqi state television says there has been another air strike in the country, 24 hours after the killing of Soleimani. However, there has been no comment on this from Washington. An Iraqi army source told Reuters news agency that six people have been killed in the fresh strike, which hit a convey of Iraqi militia in the early hours of Saturday morning (local time).

What did President Trump say?
Speaking at a news conference at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Mr Trump said of Friday's attack: "The United States military executed a flawless precision strike that killed the number one terrorist anywhere in the world Qassem Soleimani." He said: "Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel but we caught him in the act and terminated him."

How has Iran and Iraq reacted?
In a statement following Soleimani's death, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: "His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands."

Iraq's parliament will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi labelled the missile strike as a "brazen violation of Iraq's sovereignty and a blatant attack on the nation's dignity".

Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the strike. He commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah group, blamed by Washington for a rocket attack that killed a US civilian contractor in northern Iraq last Friday (a week ago).

The US State Department has warned Americans in Iraq to leave "immediately".

Who was Qasem Soleimani?
The 62-year-old was widely seen as the second most powerful figure in Iran, behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), reported directly to the ayatollah and Soleimani was hailed as a heroic national figure.

Under his 21-year leadership of the Quds Force, Iran bolstered Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militant groups in Lebanon, expanded its military presence in Iraq and Syria, and orchestrated Syria's offensive against rebel groups in that country's long civil war.

How did the strike take place and who was killed?
Soleimani and officials from Iran-backed militias were leaving Baghdad airport in two cars at 1:12am Friday morning (local time) when they were hit by several missiles from a US drone strike near a cargo area. The commander had reportedly flown in from Lebanon or Syria. Iran's Revolutionary Guard said 10 people were killed, including five of its members and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Some Background to the Attack
The Australian
Extract from The Times
January 6th 2020

On Sunday 29th December, US airstrikes hit Kataeb Hezbollah posts in eastern Syria and western Iraq, killing 25 fighters and wounding dozens. Washington said the strikes were in retaliation for an attack on a base in northern Iraq that killed an American contractor and wounded four others.

The following Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr Trump was watching television and saw pro-Iranian militias lead crowds of supporters, from the mass funeral of the Kataeb Hezbollah fighters who had been killed by that presidential order, into the centre of Baghdad, storming unchallenged into the supposedly secure international green zone.

They broke into the US embassy, setting fire to the reception. This happened on both days, before they withdrew. For some TV commentators, and Mr Trump, this was all too reminiscent of the capture of the US embassy and its diplomats in Tehran in 1979 and the terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012 when the US ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed.

Mr Trump and his Republican backers had repeatedly castigated then president Barack Obama over that. He could not allow himself to appear weak now. No matter that the "protesters" in Baghdad restrained themselves and withdrew on both days: in the meantime, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, appeared to be goading him.

"Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities," Mr Trump tweeted. The response on the ayatollah's Twitter account read: "That guy has tweeted that we see Iran responsible for the events in Baghdad and we will respond to Iran … You can't do anything."

The speed of the events that followed happened largely by chance.

Soleimani used to operate in the shadows but has made himself increasingly a public figure. During the battle against Islamic State in Iraq, he often appeared in photographs with leading Iraqi militia leaders. He was said to be confident enough to use scheduled flights on a Syrian airline, Cham Wings, to travel to Damascus. In what now seems an extraordinary lapse in personal security, he did the same again. On New Year's Day, he was driven, apparently from Damascus, to Beirut for a meeting with Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah. Nasrallah said he warned his friend that he could be assassinated. "He laughed and told me, I hope so, pray for me," Nasrallah recounted in a speech on Sunday.

Later, he travelled back by road to Damascus, a two-hour trip, and then on Thursday evening caught the late-night Cham Wings flight that took off for Baghdad at 10.28pm local time.

All of this was being watched by the CIA and the National Security Agency, who realised the Pentagon had a golden opportunity but only if it acted fast, with little time for consultations.

It remains unclear whether the Pentagon realised that it would also be killing Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, the Kataeb Hezbollah leader and deputy head of the Iraqi government body that oversees the militias, or whether it cared.

Two MQ-9 Reaper drones were launched from the US al-Udeid military base in Qatar for Baghdad 1100km away. When Soleimani landed at 12.34am local time, they were waiting.


Extract - CCTV captures moment plane was downed as Iran makes 'first arrests'
The Australian
Rob Gillies and Babak Dehghanpishneh, AP
January 15th 2020

CCTV footage has emerged of the moment Ukrainian airliner was shot down in Tehran last week, as Iran announces its first arrests after a third night of protests over the outrage. The video shows two separate missile launches that targeted and ultimately brought down the commercial flight. This came after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the victims of the missile attack that killed 176 people, including 57 Canadians, would be alive right now if tensions had not escalated in the region.

He was speaking as protesters were taking to the streets of Iran to denounce the country's clerical rulers and riot police deployed to face them in a third day of demonstrations after authorities acknowledged shooting down Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 by mistake.

The crash came at 6:14am (local time) on Wednesday 8th January, about four hours after Iran launched retaliatory missile strikes on US positions in Iraq for the killing of Major General Qasem Soleimani on 3rd January. There were no survivors.

For days, Tehran denied Western claims based on US intelligence that the Boeing 737-800 had been downed by a missile. It came clean on Saturday when Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps aerospace commander Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh acknowledged that a missile operator had mistaken the plane for a cruise missile and opened fire independently.

At a televised news conference, the judiciary announced the first arrests had been made over the blunder, without specifying how many. "Extensive investigations have been carried out and some people have been arrested," said spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili.

The announcement came shortly after President Hassan Rouhani said everyone responsible for the disaster must be punished. "For our people it is very important in this incident that anyone who was at fault or negligent at any level" face justice, Mr Rouhani said. "Anyone who should be punished must be punished. The judiciary must form a special court with a high-ranking judge and dozens of experts … The whole world will be watching. It cannot be that only the person who pressed the button is at fault. There are others, and I want this to be explained to the people explicitly."

Mr Trudeau has been careful to avoid blaming Donald Trump for the deaths of the passengers after the US President ordered the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a US airstrike in Baghdad. "If there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families. This is something that happens when you have conflict and war. Innocents bear the brunt of it," he told Global News Television.

Some Canadians, including a leading business figure, blame Mr Trump in part for the deaths. Mr Trudeau has spoken to the US President. "I've talked about the tremendous grief and loss that Canadians are feeling and the need for clear answers on how this happened and how we're going to make sure it never happens again," he said. Mr Trudeau added that he would have "obviously" liked a warning before Trump ordered the killing of the Iranian general. Canada has troops in Iraq as part of a NATO training mission.

Canada's Transportation Safety Board, meanwhile, said Iranian officials had invited it to participate in analysis of the voice and flight data recorders from the Ukrainian jetliner. Natacha Van Themsche, the director of investigations, said Canadian experts also had been invited to inspect the wreckage and the crash site – an unusual step since the plane was not produced in Canada and the crash did not occur in Canada.


The damaged car of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh after it was attacked near the capital Tehran.
Picture: Iran TV
Iran vows revenge after top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh killed
The Australian
Saturday, 28th November, 2020

Iran said one of its most prominent nuclear scientists was assassinated on Friday afternoon, succumbing to his wounds late afternoon (their time), in an attack outside Tehran, blaming arch foe Israel and warning of “severe revenge”. The assassination threatens to escalate tensions between Iran and the US and its close ally Israel, with some warning of the risk of a major conflict in the Middle East.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, 59, was “seriously wounded” when assailants targeted his car before being engaged in a gunfight with his bodyguards, the defence ministry said. It added that Fakhrizadeh, who headed the ministry’s research and innovation organisation, was later “martyred” after medics failed to revive him.

The United States slapped sanctions on Fakhrizadeh in 2008 for “activities and transactions that contributed to the development of Iran’s nuclear programme”, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once described him as the father of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme.

Fakhrizadeh was targeted while travelling near Absard city in Tehran province’s eastern Damavand county. A state television reporter said a pickup truck carrying explosives concealed under a pile of wood exploded in front of his car, before it was sprayed with bullets from an SUV. Images from the scene showed a black sedan on the side of the road, its windshield pockmarked with bullet holes. A pool of blood was seen on the asphalt.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said there were “serious indications of an Israeli role” in the assassination. “Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today,” he tweeted. “This cowardice — with serious indications of Israeli role — shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators.” Zarif called on international community to “condemn this act of state terror”. The New York Times said an American official and two other intelligence officials confirmed Israel was behind the attack, without giving further details. A spokesman for Netanyahu questioned by AFP in Jerusalem declined to comment on the attack.

Iran’s Defence Minister Amir Hatami said Fakhrizadeh had a “significant role in defence innovations” and had been repeatedly “threatened with assassination and (was) followed.” Speaking on television, Hatami said he “managed nuclear defence and did extensive work”, without elaborating. He linked Fakhrizadeh’s assassination to the killing of Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani as “completely related”. Soleimani, who headed the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was killed in an American air strike near Baghdad airport in January. Days later, Iran launched a volley of missiles at Iraqi bases housing US and other coalition troops, but Trump refrained from any further military response.

Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri called Fakhrizdeh’s death “a bitter and heavy blow to the country’s defence system” and warned of “severe revenge”. Hossein Dehghan, military adviser to Iran’s supreme leader and a former senior officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, accused Israel of trying to provoke a war through the assassination. “In the last days of the political life of their gambling ally (Trump), the Zionists are trying to intensify pressure on Iran to create a full-blown war,” he tweeted. “We will strike the killers like lightning.”

Many Iranian newspapers covered Fakhrizadeh’s assassination on the front pages of their Saturday editions. The conservative Resalat called him the “pride of (Iran’s) nuclear industry” and said his killing showed “the West cannot be trusted”. Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that controls Gaza, condemned the assassination. “This assassination comes against the background of persistant American and Zionist threats against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” it said.

Ellie Geranmayeh of the European Council on International Relations said on Twitter that the “objective behind the killing wasn’t to hinder (Iran’s) nuclear programme but to undermine diplomacy.” She noted that recent high-level visits by US officials to Israel and Saudi Arabia “raised flags something being cooked up” to “provoke Iran and complicate Biden’s diplomatic push.” The killing of Fakhrizadeh is the latest in a series of assassinations of nuclear scientists in Iran in recent years that the Islamic republic has blamed on Israel.

The New York Times reported earlier in November that Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command was secretly shot and killed in Tehran by two Israeli operatives on a motorcycle at Washington’s behest. Iran said the report was based on “made-up information” and reaffirmed its denial of the presence of any of the group’s members in the Islamic republic.

Fakhrizadeh’s assassination comes less than two months before Joe Biden is to take office as US president. Biden has promised a return to diplomacy with Iran after four hawkish years under Trump, who withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing crippling sanctions. At the time, Trump said the deal did not offer sufficient guarantees to stop Tehran from acquiring an atomic bomb. Iran has always denied it wants such a weapon. Trump on Friday retweeted reports on Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, without commenting on it himself.

A strong critic of President Donald Trump, former CIA director John Brennan warned the assassination risked sparking a wider conflagration in the Middle East. “This was a criminal act and highly reckless. It risks lethal retaliation and a new round of regional conflict,” Brennan tweeted. “I do not know whether a foreign government authorized or carried out the murder of Fakhrizadeh,” he said. “Such an act of state-sponsored terrorism would be a flagrant violation of international law & encourage more governments to carry out lethal attacks against foreign officials.”

Brennan noted that Fakhrizadeh was not a designated terrorist nor a member of Al Qaeda or the Islamic State group, designated terror groups which would be legal targets. “Iranian leaders would be wise to wait for the return of responsible American leadership on the global stage and to resist the urge to respond against perceived culprits.”

Brennan was director of the CIA from 2013 to 2017, under the administration of president Barack Obama and then-vice president Biden. Brennan did not take part in Biden’s election campaign and has not appeared to be involved in his preparations for taking office on January 20. But early this week Biden named Brennan’s former deputy director at the CIA, Avril Haines, as his director of national intelligence.


Smoke billows from the refinery fire in Tehran
Iran investigates fire that sank one of its largest ships
The Australian
Sune Engel Rasmussen, Wall Street Journal
Friday, 4th June 2021

Iran is investigating a fire that sank one of its largest navy ships in the Gulf of Oman, according to Iranian state media, the latest blow to the country’s vital infrastructure and military assets. Hours after the ship fire on Wednesday, a large fire broke out at an oil refinery near the Iranian capital. See photo. Leakage in a liquefied petroleum gas pipeline at the facility caused an explosion and fire, the head of Tehran’s crisis management team told state television. He said no one had been harmed. It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the fire. Hot summer weather has caused similar fires in the past.

The ship, named the Kharg after an Iranian island, had been deployed to international waters to participate in a training exercise when it caught fire near the port of Jask, the Tasnim news agency said. The fire started in the engine room and caused parts of the ship to melt and fall into the sea, state news agency IRNA said. Rescue workers tried for 20 hours to extinguish the fire but couldn’t prevent it from spreading, Tasnim said, citing Iran’s navy. Nearly 400 crew members were evacuated safely from the ship, 33 of them with minor injuries, according to the Hormuzgan governor’s office, which oversees the area where the ship sank.

The commander of the navy and several senior officers were in the region to investigate the incident, according to IRNA. Other Iranian media outlets broadcast footage from the Gulf of Oman of what they said was the ship burning in the distance. The Kharg was an oil replenishment tanker, built to enable smaller vessels to embark on extended deployments by supplying them with fuel and dry stores at sea, and capable of carrying large helicopters. Its logistics capacity also made it able to carry heavy cargo, such as military equipment, which could make it suspicious in the eyes of its enemies, US Navy commander Joshua Himes wrote for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in 2011.

The ship’s sinking follows a string of recent explosions and fires at nuclear and military sites, and attacks on Iranian naval vessels. While Tehran hasn’t accused anyone of attacking the Kharg, the incident comes amid tensions between Iran and its regional foes.

Israel is opposed to ongoing talks to revive the international nuclear deal with Iran, and is pushing the US to do more to contain what it calls Iran’s malign behaviour in the Middle East, including support for militias that threaten Israel.

In recent years, a new front in the confrontation between Iran and Israel has opened up at sea. Since late 2019, Israel has targeted at least a dozen Iranian vessels bound for Syria, US and regional officials say, mostly carrying oil that Israel says funds Iranianbacked extremist groups. Israel’s military has declined to comment on the alleged attacks on Iranian ships. In July 2020, a blaze at Iran’s southern port of Bandar Abbas damaged seven ships and raised suspicion of co-ordinated sabotage.

Iran has also suffered devastating accidents. In May last year, an Iranian warship struck one of the country’s naval vessels during an exercise near a strategic Persian Gulf waterway, killing at least 19 sailors.

Tehran has also accused Israel of being behind several recent attacks on its nuclear program, including two fires and explosions on its Natanz nuclear facility, in April and last July, as well as the killing of its top nuclear scientist in November. Israel usually doesn’t comment on such allegations.

The vessel that sank on Wednesday, a modified OL-class vessel originally built for the shah in the late 1970s by Britain, was part of an ageing Iranian fleet that has deteriorated over the years under US and international sanctions. It was delivered to Iran in 1984 and had been in commission since.


Israel readies to attack Iran nuke site
The Australian
David Rose, The Times, AFP
Tuesday, 22nd June 2021

BEIRUT: Israel is dusting off plans to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities in response to a hardline judge known as the “Butcher of Tehran” being elected as the next president of its bitterest enemy.

New Prime Minister Naftali Bennett used his first cabinet meeting in Jerusalem to declare that the world must “wake up” to the election of the “mass murderer” Ebrahim Raisi, and vowed never to allow “a regime of brutal hangmen” in Tehran to obtain a nuclear weapon. His warning came as diplomats from other world powers on Sunday resumed – and quickly adjourned – talks in Vienna on restoring a 2015 non-proliferation deal that Iran previously agreed to limit its nuclear activities in return for the easing of crippling international sanctions.

Mr Bennett said that Mr Raisi’s election was “the last chance for the world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement and to understand who they’re doing business with. These guys are murderers, mass murderers: a regime of brutal hangmen must never be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction that will enable it to not kill thousands, but millions,” he said.

As Israel’s foreign ministry described Mr Raisi as “an extremist responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iranians”, an unnamed government source told a television broadcaster: “There will be no choice (now) but to go back and prepare attack plans for Iran’s nuclear program. This will require budgets and the reallocation of resources.”

While Iran continues to insist that its research program is peaceful, Israel has long accused Tehran of secretly trying to develop nuclear warheads, which it regards as an existential threat.

This month departing Israeli intelligence chief Yossi Cohen signalled that the Mossad spy agency was behind a string of recent sabotage attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear sites and personnel. The most recent attack, an explosion at an underground facility in Natanz in April, happened as diplomats first met in Vienna to salvage the 2015 deal that Israel has vehemently opposed.

Former US president Donald Trump abandoned the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action three years ago in favour of a policy of “maximum pressure” sanctions against key industries and regime figures. Tehran responded by stepping up production of enriched uranium, the raw materials for a weapon.

Among those targeted by Washington’s sanctions was Mr Raisi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, who was confirmed as the next president on Saturday after receiving 62 per cent of the vote. Viewed as the favoured candidate of – and even a potential successor to – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mr Raisi was widely expected to win, after a rigged election in which hundreds of potential rivals were blocked from standing by the regime’s Guardian Council.

While Mr Khamenei’s hardline supporters hailed the result as a triumph against “foreign intervention” in Iran, the official turnout at polling stations was just 48.8 per cent, a record low in the Islamic republic. About 3.7 million spoiled ballots were cast, more than the votes received by all candidates except for the winner. In a short statement published by state media, Mr Raisi promised to “form a hard-working, revolutionary and anti-corruption government” when he takes over in August from President Hassan Rouhani, who was not allowed to stand after eight years in power.

Iran’s moderate Jomhouri-e Eslami daily newspaper highlighted that conservatives had now cemented their hold on power, from parliament and the Guardian Council to the court system and armed forces. With a touch of irony, it wrote that “we, the people of Iran, owed the conservative faction a homogeneous government” and “the people have delivered”.

As a former member of clerical “death committees”, Mr Raisi has been accused of ordering the mass execution of thousands of prisoners in 1988. He has said that he supports the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal “as long as it serves Iran’s interests.”

Since April, diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the EU have been mediating in indirect talks between Washington and Tehran to rescue the deal. It would require the US lifting sanctions and Iran agreeing to strict limits on uranium enrichment, to be monitored by UN experts.

Iran’s sole nuclear power plant in the port city of Bushhehr has undergone an emergency shutdown for the first time since 2011, state TV reported on Sunday. without giving details.

Aftermath reported New York Post December 2021

Mossad’s attention had turned to the production of the centrifuges themselves, to disrupt the regime’s attempt to restore the Natanz facility. The crosshairs moved to Karaj, 30 miles northwest of Tehran, where the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company (TESA) is located. In recent months, a team of Israeli spies and their Iranian agents had jointly smuggled an armed quadcopter — weighing the same as a motorcycle, a source confirmed — into the country, piece by piece. Now it was time to deploy it.

On June 23, the team assembled the kit and took it to a location 10 miles from the TESA factory. The operatives launched it, piloted it to the factory and released the payload, causing a large explosion. Then the drone returned to the launch site, where it was spirited away to be used again.


Colonel Sayyad Khodai Picture: IRNA via AFP
Iran accuses ‘US allies’ of gunning down Guards officer
The Australian
Tuesday, 24th May, 2022

An Iranian Revolutionary Guards colonel was shot dead outside his Tehran home on Sunday, the Guards said, blaming his “assassination” on assailants linked to the US and its allies. The killing of Colonel Sayyad Khodai is the most high-profile murder inside Iran since the November 2020 killing of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Iran had accused Israel of ­masterminding the attack on Fakhrizadeh’s convoy near Tehran, and later identified him as a deputy defence minister. It was reported Israel had used a remote-controlled machinegun to kill ­Fakhrizadeh.

On Sunday, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps said “elements linked to global arrogance” – a reference to the US and its allies, including Israel – were responsible for the “terrorist act” that claimed Colonel Khodai’s life. In a statement on their website, the Guards said Colonel Khodai “was assassinated in an armed attack carried out by two motorcyclists on Mojahedin-e Eslam street in Tehran”, outside his home.

The Guards – the ideological arm of Iran’s military – described Colonel Khodai as a “defender of the sanctuary”, a term used for anyone who works on behalf of the Islamic republic in Syria or Iraq. Iran wields considerable influence in Iraq, home to key Shia holy shrines, where it says it has “military advisers” tasked with training foreign “volunteers”.

Major general Qasem Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of the Guards, was killed in a US drone attack in the Iraqi capital Baghdad in January 2020.

The Islamic republic is also a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has backed his government in that country’s 11-year civil war. Tehran says it has deployed forces in Syria at the invitation of Damascus, but only as advisers. State television said Colonel Khodai was “well-known” in Syria, without elaborating.

The official news agency IRNA said Colonel Khodai was killed by five bullets as he returned home about 4pm. The agency published pictures showing a man slumped over in the driver’s seat of a white car, with blood around the collar of his blue shirt and on his right upper arm. He is strapped in with his seat belt and the front window on the passenger side has been shot out.

Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh deplored the killing of Colonel Khodai. “This inhuman crime was perpetrated by terrorist elements linked to global arrogance,” he said, denouncing “the silence of countries that pretend to fight against terrorism”. The Guards said they had launched an investigation to identify the “aggressor or the aggressors”.

The Fars news agency reported the state prosecutor visited the scene of the killing and ordered the “quick identification and arrest of the authors of this criminal act”. Hours earlier on Sunday, the Guards said they had arrested a gang of “thugs linked to the intelligence agency of the Zionist ­regime (Israel)”. A statement said the suspects were involved in a series of crimes, including “robberies, kidnappings and vandalism”.

Colonel Khodai’s killing came as talks between Iran and world powers to restore a 2015 nuclear deal have stalled since March. One of the main sticking points is Tehran’s demand to remove the Guards from a US terrorism list – a request rejected by Washington.

The 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program to prevent Tehran from developing an atomic bomb – something it has always denied wanting to do. It fell apart after then US president Donald Trump pulled out of the deal unilaterally in 2018 and reimposed biting economic sanctions on Tehran, prompting Iran to begin rolling back on its own commitments.


Vladimir Putin, Ebrahim Raisi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Tehran on Tuesday AFP
Putin visits his brothers in arms
The Australian
Jared Malsin, Aresu Eqbali and Evan Gershkovich
Wall Street Journal
Thursday, 21st July, 2022

TEHRAN Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with the leaders of Iran and Turkey on Tuesday in a trip intended to demonstrate his continued international influence during the invasion of Ukraine.

The summit with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran nominally focused on peace talks in the war in Syria, but the conversation among the three leaders was overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine. Mr Putin used the trip to shore up friendly relations with both Iran and Turkey, and to push back on the international isolation imposed on him by the US and Western allies.

The three leaders gathered on Tuesday evening around a vast round table, trading prepared statements about the situation in Syria. Earlier in the day, the agenda for a series of separate meetings included discussions on security, Turkish involvement in the war in Ukraine, and a United Nations-backed proposal to resume exports of vital Ukrainian grain supplies via the Black Sea.

Mr Putin said after the talks that the West must remove restrictions on exports of Russian grain. "We will facilitate the export of Ukrainian grain, but we are proceeding from the fact that all restrictions related to air deliveries for the export of Russian grain will be lifted," he said.

Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish negotiators reached agreement on the broad outlines of a plan to ship the grain, which has been trapped in the country in part by mines laid by both Ukraine and Russia.

Russia and Iran also agreed to deepen cooperation on energy, signing a $40 billion memorandum of understanding for oil-and-gas projects on Tuesday. Mr Putin’s trip comes days after President Biden’s visit to the region last week in which he sought to rally Middle East nations against China and Russia in a broader confrontation among world powers resulting from the attack on Ukraine.

“It’s the definition of pushback,” said Ali Vaez, the Iran project director and senior adviser to the president of the International Crisis Group. “They now share a vision of a coalition of sanctioned states, comprised of countries like Iran, Russia, China, Venezuela.”

The trip is only the second time Mr Putin has left Russia since he ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, and his first foray outside his immediate sphere of influence, following a visit to the small Central Asian country of Tajikistan in June. “Our relations are developing at a good pace,” Mr Putin said at the start of his meeting with the Iranian president. “We are strengthening our cooperation on international security issues, making a significant contribution to the settlement of the Syrian conflict.”

Mr Putin also met Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, part of a visit intended to deepen ties with one of Russia’s closest partners in the region. The two countries both back the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and are both the target of US sanctions. Earlier Tuesday, the Turkish president held talks with Mr Raisi and met Mr Khamenei.

The invasion of Ukraine and resulting Western sanctions have drawn Russia and Iran closer together. Russian and Iranian officials say the two countries are hoping to extend economic ties, despite them both being energy exporters competing for market share with their shared buyer, China. It follows years in which Russia has carefully cultivated relations with a range of Middle Eastern nations, including opponents of the West and traditional US security partners such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, preying on fears of Washington scaling back its commitment to the region, analysts say.

“Putin is a vulture in this regard. He is able to exert outsized influence compared to the size of Russia’s economy and its actual power by feeding off the insecurity of nations,” said Natasha Hall, a senior fellow with the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Mr Putin was to discuss security ties with Iran. The Iranian government is planning to provide Russia with armed drones, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said this month. Iran denied the accusation. Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov told Russian state news agency RIA that Mr Putin didn’t discuss drone purchases with either Mr Raisi or Mr Khamenei on Tuesday.

The summit in Tehran is also an official meeting of the so-called Astana format negotiations over Syria, a diplomatic process launched in 2017 between Turkey, Russia and Iran. Mr Erdogan renewed threats to launch a new incursion against Kurdish militants in northern Syria, an operation that would further destabilize Syria while possibly displacing tens of thousands of people. Any such attack by Turkey would likely require Moscow’s approval due to the presence of Russian troops in the area. Mr Erdogan said a new operation was necessary to clear two areas of Syria of what he called terrorists.

Iran, whose own forces are also deeply involved in the Syrian conflict, warned against a new Turkish military operation in Syria. Ayatollah Khamenei told Mr Erdogan during their meeting, “Any military attack in north Syria will definitely be a detriment to Turkey, Syria and the entire region,” he said.


Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Tuesday Nov 1, 2022 (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Officials: Saudis tell U.S. that Iran may attack the kingdom /
plus Iranian ire at Iran International, a Saudi-funded Farsi TV channel in London
Aamer Madhani, Matthew Lee and Lolita C. Baldor
Tuesday, 1st November, 2022

WASHINGTON (AP) — Saudi Arabia has shared intelligence with American officials that suggests Iran could be preparing for an imminent attack on the kingdom, three US officials said Tuesday. The heightened concerns about a potential attack on Saudi Arabia come as the Biden administration is criticizing Tehran for its crackdown on widespread protests and condemning it for sending hundreds of drones — as well as technical support — to Russia for use in its war in Ukraine.

“We are concerned about the threat picture, and we remain in constant contact through military and intelligence channels with the Saudis,” the National Security Council said in a statement. “We will not hesitate to act in the defense of our interests and partners in the region.”

Saudi Arabia did not respond to requests for comment. Iran’s mission to the United Nations told The Associated Press on Wednesday the US claims are “baseless.”

“Western and Zionist regimes spread biased news aimed at creating a negative mood towards the Islamic Republic of Iran and destroying the current positive trends with regional countries,” the mission said in a statement.

One of the officials who confirmed the intelligence sharing described it as a credible threat of an attack “soon or within 48 hours.” No US embassy or consulate in the region has issued alerts or guidance to Americans in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in the Middle East based on the intelligence. The officials were not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Asked about reports of the intelligence shared by the Saudis, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said US military officials “are concerned about the threat situation in the region. We’re in regular contact with our Saudi partners, in terms of what information they may have to provide on that front,” Ryder said. “But what we’ve said before, and I’ll repeat it, is that we will reserve the right to protect and defend ourselves no matter where our forces are serving, whether in Iraq or elsewhere.”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said America was “concerned about the threat picture,” without elaborating.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the Saudis sharing the intelligence earlier on Tuesday. Iran has alleged without providing evidence that Saudi Arabia and other rivals are fomenting the dissent on its streets by ordinary Iranians.

Of particular ire is protest coverage by Iran International, a London-based, Farsi-language satellite news channel, having funding and ownership by Saudi nationals.

The US and Saudis blamed Iran in 2019 of being behind a major attack in eastern Saudi Arabia, which halved the oil-rich kingdom’s production and caused energy prices to spike. The Iranians denied they were behind the attack, but the same triangle-shaped, bomb-carrying drones used in that attack are now being deployed by Russian forces in their war on Ukraine.

The Saudis have also been hit repeatedly in recent years by drones, missiles and mortars launched by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Saudi Arabia formed a coalition to battle the Houthis in 2015 and has been internationally criticized for its airstrikes in the war, which have killed scores of civilians.

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has imposed sanctions on Iranian officials for the brutal crackdown on demonstrators after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September after her arrest by Iran’s morality police. The administration has also hit Iran with sanctions for supplying drones to Russia for use in its war in Ukraine.

At least 288 people have been killed and 14,160 arrested during the protests, according to the group Human Rights Activists in Iran. Demonstrations have continued, even as the feared paramilitary Revolutionary Guard has warned young Iranians to stop.

US relations with Saudi Arabia have also been strained after the Riyadh-led alliance of oil producing nations, OPEC+, announced in October that it would cut production by 2 million barrels per day starting in November. The White House has said it is reviewing its relationship with the Saudis over the move. The administration said the production cut is effectively helping another OPEC+ member, Russia, pad its coffers as it continues its war in Ukraine, now in its ninth month.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Tuesday reiterated that the administration remains concerned that Iran may also provide Russia with surface-to-surface missiles. “We haven’t seen that concern bear out, but it’s a concern we have,” Kirby said.

Even as the US and others raise concerns about possible Iranian action, the administration has not ruled out the possibility of reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which was brokered by the Obama administration and scrapped in 2018 by the Trump administration. The US special envoy to Iran, Robert Malley, said on Monday that the administration was not currently focused on the deal, which has been stalled since August.

Still, Malley refused to declare the deal dead and said the administration “makes no apology” for “trying to do everything we can to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” The deal had provided Tehran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for the country agreeing to roll back its nuclear program. It includes caps on enrichment and how much material Iran can stockpile and limits the operation of advanced centrifuges needed to enrich.

Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.


Iran's killers force TV station to close
The Australian
Dipesh Gadher, Glen Keogh, The Sunday Times
Monday February 20, 2023

London: A dissident Iranian television channel has been forced to stop broadcasting from its headquarters in Britain after police warned staff that it could not safeguard them from Tehran-backed assassins or kidnappers. The “exceptional” advice given by counter-terrorism police chiefs to Iran International to relocate its operation from London to Washington comes after a string of foiled plots targeting the opposition station’s journalists in recent weeks.

Things are believed to have come to a head last weekend when a 30-year-old Austrian citizen flew into Britain on a one-way ticket and was allegedly caught filming security arrangements outside the channel’s premises on a business park in Chiswick, west London. The man has been charged with a terrorism offence, but continuing investigations into the incident prompted the police to declare that they still had “serious concerns” about employees’ safety.

About 100 staff work at the headquarters, many of them long-term British residents. Mahmood Enayat, the channel’s general manager, said in a statement on Saturday: “I cannot believe it has come to this. A foreign state has caused such a significant threat to the British public on British soil that we have to move. “Let’s be clear, this is not just a threat to our TV station, but [to] the British public at large. This is an assault on the values of sovereignty and free speech that the UK has always held dear.”

Last November, London’s Metropolitan Police temporarily deployed armoured vehicles and firearms officers at Iran International’s offices after warning staff that they faced an imminent and credible threat to life. At about the same time Ken McCallum, the director-general of MI5, revealed that the regime in Tehran had sought to murder or kidnap individuals in Britain on at least 10 occasions since the start of that year.

On Thursday police disclosed that the number of foiled plots had increased sharply, to 15. Some of the later plots are believed to revolve around employees at Iran International. Matt Jukes, the country’s head of counter-terrorism policing, said the decision to advise the channel to close its British operations on Friday had not been taken lightly.

In an unprecedented statement released on Saturday, Mr Jukes said police and the security services had worked closely to “foil 15 plots since the start of 2022 to either kidnap or even kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the [Iranian] regime. Those affected continue to be given appropriate advice and support and a number of protective security measures have been put in place to mitigate against these threats. Despite extraordinary security measures, we still have serious concerns for the safety of people working at this company. This has led to us giving further advice and the company is now relocating. The situation that journalists face around the world and the fact that some journalists face such hostile intentions of foreign states while in the UK is a challenging reality that we are determined to confront. This is reflected in the fact that our overall workload in investigating threats from foreign states has quadrupled over the past two years. Any attempt to intimidate, harass or to harm British citizens or those who have come to live in the UK is completely unacceptable.” Mr Jukes said the force was determined to work with the government and others “to ensure the UK is a safe environment for the media and for this company”.

Last Tuesday Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev, an Austrian citizen of Chechen origin, appeared before Westminster magistrates court charged with collecting information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. The court was told Mr Dovtaev flew into Gatwick from Vienna on the morning of February 11 and took a taxi to Chiswick Business Park. He is alleged to have put on a face mask and baseball cap before appearing to take images on his phone of security arrangements outside Iran International’s offices. Mr Dovtaev raised suspicions among private security guards and was later arrested by police in a branch of Starbucks at the business park.

Iran International, which broadcasts online and can be received through satellite in the Middle East, says it is watched by more than 30 million viewers in Iran and among the diaspora. The Sunday Times revealed this month that Tehran has been recruiting members of organised crime groups to carry out “hit jobs” against opponents in the West, including an alleged plot to murder an Iranian-born women’s rights activist in New York.


Iran steps up nuke program, says UN
The Australian
Laurence Norman, Wall Street Journal
Friday November 17th, 2023

London: Iran continued to expand its nuclear program, including its stockpile of near-weapons-grade enriched uranium in recent months, although it hasn’t accelerated the pace of its production of nuclear fuel amid the current turmoil in the Middle East. In its confidential quarterly report circulated to member states, the UN nuclear agency also said Tehran has largely refused to co-operate on several outstanding disputes, including the country’s withdrawal of permission for several European inspectors to continue working there.

Wednesday’s International Atomic Energy Agency report showed that while Iran has slowed its accumulation of 60 per cent enriched uranium since the start of summer, it continues to build up large amounts of material that could be used to fuel nuclear weapons. Iran added 6.7kg of 60 per cent enriched uranium, taking its stockpile to 128.3kg in the 2½ months to October 28, the agency reported. That is enough material — once refined to weapons-grade uranium at 90 per cent purity — to fuel about three nuclear weapons. Iran is the only state without nuclear weapons to produce 60 per cent enriched uranium.

US officials have said it would likely take Iran less than two weeks to produce enough weapons-grade material for a weapon. However, they also have said they believe Tehran hasn’t completed research on building an atomic bomb.
Additionally, Iran has more than half a ton of 20 per cent enriched uranium, which experts say would take several weeks to convert into 90 per cent weapons-grade fuel, potentially allowing Tehran to field a number of nuclear weapons in a short period.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for entirely peaceful civilian programs and that it would never develop nuclear weapons.

The IAEA’s estimates of Iran’s nuclear fuel stockpile were made on October 28, three weeks after the Hamas attack on Israel which killed 1200 people and unleashed a massive Israeli military offensive in Gaza. A person close to the agency said Iran had accumulated 60 per cent nuclear fuel at a roughly steady pace of three kilograms a month throughout the latest period, indicating there was no sudden surge in Iran’s nuclear program after October 7. The agency also reported that during the period Iran didn’t start operating any new centrifuge cascades, machines that spin enriched uranium into higher levels of purity.

Israel has been at the forefront of efforts to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, including killing Iranian scientists involved in such research, attacking some Iranian nuclear facilities and pushing the international community to keep pressure on Tehran.

In the wake of the October 7 attack, Western countries are concerned that the Israel-Hamas war could spiral into a regional conflict involving Iran, with Iran’s proxy forces throughout the region attacking Israeli and US forces. Tehran has long sent weapons and funding to Hamas and openly celebrated the October 7 attack on Israel. Earlier this year, the US and Iran attempted to de-escalate tensions, including over Iran’s nuclear program. However the US cancelled indirect talks with Iran due last month in Oman following the Hamas attack. There has been no sign so far of reviving them. That leaves Iran effectively as a threshold nuclear state with no clear diplomatic or other plan to defuse the threat. President Joe Biden, like his predecessors, has pledged to prevent the country from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Meanwhile, Iran has stonewalled for years an investigation by the UN nuclear agency into unexplained traces of enriched uranium found in the country. Tehran has removed agency cameras at Iranian nuclear-related facilities, preventing it from developing a clear picture of the full scope of Iran’s nuclear program. Ahead of Wednesday’s report, Tehran refused to allow back eight of the IAEA’s most experienced inspectors whom it had recently banned from working there.


Iran adds to pressure on US with nuclear program acceleration
The Australian
Laurence Norman, Michael R. Gordon, Wall Street Journal
Wednesday December 27th, 2023

Iran has tripled production of nearly weapons-grade uranium in a move likely to deepen its confrontation with the West as Tehran helps allied militias to attack Israel and US forces in the region. Iran’s decision to triple its production rate of near-weapons-grade uranium marks the collapse of quiet diplomatic efforts between Washington and Tehran to ease tensions. It comes amid a proliferation of flashpoints between the US and Iran, whose proxies have repeatedly traded fire with US forces in the Middle East since the bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas erupted on October 7. U.S. and European navies are also shooting down drones launched by the Iran-backed Houthis in the Red Sea.

The Pentagon said on Saturday that a drone launched from Iran struck a chemical tanker in the Indian Ocean, signalling a widening risk to shipping after Yemeni rebels started attacking vessels in the Red Sea. In a report to International Atomic Energy Agency member states, director-general Rafael Grossi said that agency inspectors had confirmed on December 19 and December 24 an increased production of highly enriched uranium at both of Iran’s main nuclear facilities that the agency said Tehran had started on November 22.

The increase took Iran’s production of 60 per cent enriched uranium back to the rate of nine kilograms a month, where it stood early this year, before Tehran curbed work on the most dangerous part of its nuclear program.

Iran is the only country in the world that isn’t a declared nuclear power currently producing 60 per cent enriched uranium, which can be converted to weapons-grade material within days. US officials have said it would take Iran less than two weeks to convert enough 60 per cent material into a form that could be used in a nuclear weapon.

Experts say Iran already has a sufficient stock of highly enriched uranium to fuel three weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for purely peaceful civilian use. US officials have said in recent months that they have no evidence Tehran is currently working on completing its ability to build a nuclear weapon.

In its confidential report to member states, the agency also said that Iran had also linked its centrifuges again in a way that would allow it to start producing weapons-grade material even faster, a move likely to deepen concerns that Tehran is considering stepping over the 90 per cent weapons grade threshold. The agency said that Iran had connected up two sets of advanced centrifuges using so-called modified sub-headers. The agency discovered in January that Tehran had previously produced a small amount of 83 per cent highly enriched uranium, a level just shy of weapons grade.

US and European officials have warned that if Iran produces weapons-grade material, it would spark a crisis that could prompt a sharp escalation in economic and diplomatic pressure on Tehran. Israel has warned it could take military action against Iran if Tehran starts producing uranium enriched to 90 per cent.

After a series of indirect talks in Oman in the spring, where the hosts played go-between for senior US and Iranian officials, Tehran and Washington floated steps the US hoped would reduce tensions and avoid a crisis ahead of US elections in November. The diplomacy took place because of the collapse of negotiations in the summer of 2022 on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, which lifted broad international sanctions on Iran in exchange for tight but temporary restrictions on its nuclear work.

US officials sketched out several steps they hoped Iran would take. They included a prisoner swap that took place in September, a halt to firings by Iranian proxies at US forces in the region, and a curbing of Iran’s nuclear program, in particular a sharp reduction or pause in Tehran’s production of highly enriched uranium. Iran began throttling back in June. In exchange, the US was prepared to give Iran access to billions of dollars trapped under US sanctions. Washington also sent signals it wouldn’t sharpen its enforcement of oil sanctions on Iran and would be open to resuming talks about Tehran’s nuclear program.

Further indirect negotiations were scheduled to take place in Oman in mid-October but the US cancelled them after Tehran came out in support of the Hamas terrorist attack of October 7, which Israel says killed more than 1200 people.

A State Department spokesman said the administration is “greatly concerned” with the IAEA report and that Iran has “no credible civilian justification” to enrich up to 60 per cent. “Iran’s nuclear escalation is all the more concerning at a time when Iran as well as Iran-backed militant groups and Iran’s proxies continue their dangerous and destabilising activities in the region,” the spokesman said. “Iran must fully co-operate with the IAEA.”

Iran’s nuclear-program acceleration adds another potential flashpoint between Tehran and Washington at a time of heightened volatility across the region over Israel’s conflict in Gaza, which authorities in the Hamas-controlled Strip say has cost more than 20,000 lives.

There have been almost daily attacks by Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria against US forces. On Monday, the U.S. said it struck three drone facilities used by a Shiite militant group and other groups in Iraq in response to a series of attacks by the groups on American positions in Iraq and Syria, including an attack Monday in northern Iraq, in which three US troops were wounded, including one critically.

The US sent two aircraft carrier strike groups and a nuclear submarine to the eastern Mediterranean to bolster deterrence against Hezbollah, Iran’s most powerful militia, in a bid to prevent a conflict between Israel and Lebanon in the weeks after October 7. More recently, it created a special naval task force in the Red Sea to deal with broadening attacks against commercial shipping from Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen and deployed one of the two aircraft carriers, the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, to the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Yemen. Iran also continues to aid Russia in its war with Ukraine, part of a growing axis between Iran and Washington’s top international foes.

The breadth of Iran-linked provocations in the region and beyond has led to a sharper debate in the Biden administration over how to approach Tehran in the coming months if the Gaza conflict dies down, US officials say. While parts of the administration still favour finding diplomatic solutions to ease the range of tensions, officials say there are louder voices than previously arguing that the breadth of Tehran’s militia-linked capabilities has reached an unprecedented level and that it needs to be tackled.


The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon transits the Suez Canal last month for the Red Sea. Picture: US Department of Defence via AFP
UK and US ready airstrikes on Iran-back Houthi rebels
The Australian
Larisa Brown, The Times
January 10, 2024

Britain and America were on the brink of launching military strikes against the Houthis in Yemen on Wednesday night after repelling the largest attack yet by the Iran-backed rebels in the Red Sea. UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps suggested that military action was imminent as he warned “enough is enough” hours after carrier-based jets and destroyers shot down a barrage of drones and missiles launched by the group. “This cannot continue and we won’t allow it to continue so watch this space,” he said at a press conference in central London.

As tensions in the region intensified, Mr Shapps accused Iran of being “heavily behind” the attacks by providing the “eyes and the ears” for Houthi missions. It is believed that the Houthis are provided with intelligence from an Iranian surveillance ship, the Behshad, which is disguised as a general cargo vessel.

Britain, the US, Australia and nine other nations threatened military action against the Houthis this month if they did not stop their attacks in the international waterway. They now accept that one of the worst-case scenarios is being realised because the Houthis are not listening to their warnings and are showing a new level of aggression. British Ministers are deeply concerned about the economic impact of the attacks. A Treasury assessment warned before Christmas that disruption to shipping could shrink the British economy by as much as 0.3 per cent. That figure is now expected to be worse.

Under the plans, a US-led coalition is expected to target key Houthi bases and boats with fighter jets and warships. Britain could send warplanes, possibly Typhoons based at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. It also has two ships in the region, including HMS Diamond, a Type 45 destroyer, which shot down seven drones in an attack on Tuesday night. A third ship, HMS Richmond, a Type 23 frigate, is on its way.

“We cannot have a situation where a major sea route, a major ability to move goods around the world is being cut off by terrorists and thugs and we therefore must act,” Mr Shapps said. He said the world was living in “much more dangerous times” as he vowed to push for 3 per cent of GDP for defence.

Nerves are high in the Foreign Office that the situation could quickly spiral out of control and so any military action is expected to be limited. Experts at the Royal United Services Institute said that although the Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Middle East had largely been ineffective and inaccurate, it may prove difficult for the West to effectively degrade Houthi capabilities. Sidharth Kaushal, a research fellow for sea power, and Sam Cranny-Evans, an associate fellow, said that the Houthis were able to deploy a range of missiles, drones and uncrewed kamikaze boats. They said there were several possible next steps for the West, including limited actions with the threat of more to come. This would entail striking a target of marginal value, such as a missile launcher or a coastal radar.

Update January 12 (10am Friday Brisbane Time)

US President Joe Biden has confirmed that UK and US military forces on Thursday night local time launched air strikes against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen in “defensive action” after attacks on shipping in the Red Sea. In a statement, Biden said he “will not hesitate” to order further military action if needed.

The strikes involved fighter jets and Tomahawk missiles, the US Air Forces Central Command said in a statement. Sixty targets at 16 Houthi locations were hit by more than 100 precision-guided munitions, it said.

Houthi officials reported massive explosions in the capital, Sanaa, and the provinces of Hodeida, Saada, and Dhamar. The Houthis have stockpiled their missiles in bunkers built by former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, a densely populated area, the person close to the Houthis said.

The White House rubbished claims Houthis were attacking allied ships in the Red Sea because of Israel’s military operations since the October 7th terrorist attacks. "That is completely baseless… most of the ships that have come under attack have no connection at all to Israel”. The officials also accused Iran, which has long sponsored rebel Islamist groups throughout the middle east, including Hamas, of being the principal backer of the group and having been "involved operationally" in their attacks. "I can't give you an exact percentage" of how badly Houthi capabilities have been hurt, the official said, describing the damage caused as “significant”.

Update Sunday January 14
US Central Command said its forces attacked a Houthi radar site early on Saturday as “a follow-on action” related to the previous day’s strikes.

Later on Saturday, a Houthi-allied military source told AFP that a site on the outskirts of the Red Sea port city of Hodeida which the rebels used to launch a rocket was hit. A police source confirmed the latest strike, which a US defence official told AFP was not carried out by the United States.


Firemen and security staff inspect the rubble of a building hit by a missile launched by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Arbil on Tuesday. Picture: AFP
Mid-East conflict spreads: Iran strikes jihadists in Pakistan
The Australian
Saeed Shah and Benoit Faucon, Wall Street Journal
Aresu Eqbali contributed to this article
January 17, 2024

Iran hit a jihadist group in Pakistan with a missile and drone strike on Tuesday, according to Iranian state media, as a series of conflicts continue to spread across the Middle East in the wake of Israel’s war in Gaza. The target of the unusual attack inside Pakistan was a militant Sunni group, Jaish al-Adl, in Pakistan’s remote western province of Balochistan, which has a long border with Iran. Islamabad condemned the attack, which it said had killed two children and injured three more.

The strike came after Iran said on Monday that it had launched ballistic missiles at targets in Iraq, in retaliation for the killing of some of their officers and allies, and also in Syria, at another militant target.

Tehran is in an indirect confrontation with Israel and the US, in response to the Gaza war, working with a network of regional allied groups. It is also defending against attacks against its regional allies and attacks at home — including a bombing this month in the Iranian city of Kerman claimed by a branch of the Islamic State group which killed around 100 people. “Iran knows it is on the edge of the abyss,” said an Iranian official. “So it is only taking calculated risks and keeping the regional conflict contained.”

Tehran has long complained about Jaish al-Adl’s presence on Pakistani soil, an allegation denied by Islamabad. Iranian state media reported that the group’s training centre and homes were struck on Tuesday in Pakistan. Relations between Pakistan and Iran are uneasy but not hostile. Islamabad privately says that some groups that attack inside Pakistan are based in Iran.

“This violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty is completely unacceptable and can have serious consequences,” Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday. “Pakistan has always said terrorism is a common threat to all countries in the region that requires co-ordinated action.” Jaish al-Adl is aiming to separate Iran’s mostly Sunni eastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan from the rest of the Shi’ite-dominated country. Last month, Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for an attack on a police station in Sistan-Baluchistan that killed at least 11 Iranian security personnel. At the time, Iran’s interior minister threatened a response.

Tehran believes that the group operates from bases in Pakistan. There are ethnic Baloch minorities on both sides of the border. In Pakistan’s Balochistan, the authorities are fighting multiple insurgencies and don’t have full control of the territory.

On Monday, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps took the rare step of launching strikes out of Iran into Syria, despite having its own military presence there. The Iranian paramilitary force said it had fired four ballistic missiles at Islamic State targets from Khuzestan in southwest Iran toward Idlib, a rebel-held enclave in northern Syria. In Syria, Idlib, while not under Islamic State control, has long hosted its leaders, many of which have been killed over the years in Western strikes. Mohammad Sheltuki, an Iranian expert on defence issues, told state television that Islamic State’s Afghan branch had trained in Idlib before carrying out the Kerman attack this month. Iranian state TV showed what it said were Islamic State-controlled buildings reduced to rubble but gave no details on casualties.

Iran’s IRGC also launched ballistic missiles on Monday at what they claimed were Israeli spy bases in Arbil, Iraq, in retaliation for the killing of some of their officers and allies, according to an IRGC statement carried by Iranian state media. In recent weeks, Israel has allegedly killed a top Guards adviser in Syria and senior members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Hamas. Israel hasn’t commented on the strikes.

Iraqi Kurd officials, who have denied any Israeli intelligence presence in Erbil, said the IRGC had struck a private home, killing five civilians. The strike was near the local US consulate, but no American facilities were affected, according to US officials. The Israeli prime minister’s office declined to comment. “The attack on terrorists in Idlib and the Mossad headquarters in Erbil was a response to the terrorist explosion in Kerman and the martyrdom of IRGC guards in Syria,” Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force who oversaw the strikes, told conservative news agency Tasnim.

Iranian officials and advisers say the strikes were a way to respond to domestic pressure over the killing of IRGC officers in Syria by Israel without entering a direct fight with Israel and the US.

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