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Iran

Thinking the Unthinkable: ISIS, Iran, Al Qaeda & Syria. by Nehad Ismail (See also Axis of Opportinity Part 3 published by Defence Viewpoints on 25th June 2014)

Part Two

That leading members of al Qaeda were based in Iran from 2002 onward was known to the U.S. government at the time. In a letter that bin Laden wrote just five days before he died, he described a document from his son Saad, who had lived in Iran for years. The document exposes the truth of the Iranian regime's relations with al-Qaeda.

A letter to bin Laden from his chief of staff, dated 11 June 2009, contains a detailed account of a group of "mid-level" al Qaeda members recently released by Iran, including three Egyptians, a Yemeni, an Iraqi and a Libyan. In Feb 2014, the Lebanese Daily Star reported that the Obama administration accused Tehran of assisting al-Qaeda operatives based in Iran to transfer Sunni fighters to Syria.

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By Nick Watts, Great North News Services

The Middle East is described by commentators variously as a powder keg, a region on a precipice and other dramatic metaphors. From the standpoint of a policy practitioner from the region, it seems like a three dimensional chess puzzle. Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London yesterday, Dan Meridor gave his reflections on recent changes in the region, and on continuing uncertainties. Meridor combines the role of Israeli Deputy Prime Minister along with the posts of Minister of Intelligence and of Nuclear energy. This and his long experience in Israeli politics gives him a very good perspective.

 

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The Institute of War and Peace Reporting has an interesting blog about Iran (http://www.mianeh.net/en/)

Amongst their latest postings are:

Goodbye to YouTube
Amir Mansouri | Tehran | 29 January 2009
In November, the Iranian authorities placed the video-sharing website YouTube on the list of officially blocked sites, in a bid to stop people looking at it or worse still, uploading their own images.

Another Term for Ahmadinejad?
Fardad Farehi | Tehran | 29 January 2009
As Iran’s conservative and reformist factions try to come up with a single candidate for the June presidential election, it’s becoming clear that each of the two broad groupings is driven with internal power-struggles.

Talk of Obama in Tehran Taxis
Sara Shams | Tehran | 29 January 2009
As in many other cities throughout the world, people in Tehran get much of their news from radio programmes they hear in taxis. But unlike in other places, passengers here also receive lengthy and sometimes contradictory analyses of current affairs from taxi drivers and fellow passengers.

Who’s Afraid of BBC Persian TV?
Amir Mansouri | Tehran | 29 January 2009
Politicians, officials and BBC radio fans in Tehran tuned into the first airing of the British broadcaster’s new TV channel on the evening of January 14.

Outspoken Cleric Draws Reformist Fans
Fardad Farehi | Tehran | 24 January 2009
Ex-minister, once jailed for his views, urged to declare himself a presidential candidate.

Health Workers Hail Bid to Counter HIV Spread
Maryam Jalali | Tehran | 24 January 2009
Tehran’s House of th e Sun is a safe haven for women addicted to drugs.

Hard-Line Youth Take on “Pro-Israel” Firms
Amir Mansouri | Tehran | 23 January 2009
A group of young Iranians are mounting a campaign against the international food manufacturer Nestle, accusing it of Zionist sympathies. Their stand is in stark contrast to the views of the many young people who are avid buyers of western-brand goods, especially the latest fashions.

 

Here's the full text published on 17 February 2012. It covers Libya, Combined Joint expeditionary force and headquarters, defence equipment and industry, research and technology, nuclear issues, cyber, counter terrorism, security, Iran, Somalia, and Burma 

    

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By DAVID E. SANGER and WILLIAM J. BROAD of the New York Times

Published: February 18, 2010

WASHINGTON — The United Nations' nuclear inspectors declared for the first time on Thursday that they had extensive evidence of "past or current undisclosed activities" by Iran's military to develop a nuclear warhead, an unusually strongly worded conclusion that seems certain to accelerate Iran's confrontation with the United States and other Western countries.

Yukiya Amano, the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is being watched to see how he deals with Iran.

The report confirms that Iran has enriched small quantities of uranium to 20 percent, but makes no assessment of how close it might be to producing a nuclear weapon, which Tehran denies it is seeking to do.

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By Bruce Klingner

North Korea has established an independent military division responsible for controlling and deploying its intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs).  Known as the Musudan, these IRBMs are a strategic-level asset controlled by the senior leadership. Little is known about the missile, but U.S. assessments consider it to be a single-stage, road-mobile IRBM with a range of 1,800 to 3,000 miles--capable of targeting U.S. military bases in Japan, Okinawa, and Guam.

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Abridged by Adam Dempsey , Research Associate, U K Defence Forum, from an article, originally published by the New York Times on January 16th 2011, written by William Yong

Iran has embarked on a sweeping program of cuts in its costly and inefficient system of subsidies on fuel and other essential goods that has put a strain on state finances and held back economic progress for years. The government's success in overcoming political obstacles to make the cuts and its willingness to risk social upheaval suggest that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have consolidated power after the internal fractures that followed his bitterly disputed re-election in 2009.

Analysts also believe that the successful implementation of the cuts could influence Iran's position at nuclear talks in Istanbul this month. "The initial success of the subsidy reform will increase the regime's confidence generally," said Cliff Kupchan, a former State Department official who is now a director at the Washington-based Eurasia Group. "This could make them more assertive in the talks. But more importantly, a confident and unified regime is better positioned to reach consensus on some initial agreement."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said recently that international sanctions had slowed Iran's nuclear program, and the restrictions do seem to have disrupted sectors of the economy, particularly banking and export-related industries. But the sanctions do not seem to be the driving force behind the subsidy cuts.

Iran's foreign exchange revenues also sank in recent years as oil prices fell from prerecession highs, creating greater budget pressures. But Tehran has long sought to cut the subsidies — even under the reformist administration of President Mohammad Khatami — and particularly for oil.

The logic is compelling: artificially low prices encourage greater consumption, leaving less oil to export for cash. And the higher oil prices rise, the greater the "opportunity costs" in lost exports. But the timing, whether for political or economic reasons, was never right to cut the subsidies.

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Abridged by Alex Shone , Research Associate in Residence, U K Defence Forum, from an article, originally published by the New York Times on January 15th 2011, written by William J Broad, John Markoff and David E Sanger

The Dimona complex in the Negev desert is famous as the heavily guarded heart of Israel's never-acknowledged nuclear arms program, where neat rows of factories make atomic fuel for the arsenal. Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role — as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermine Iran's efforts to make a bomb of its own. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive programme that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran's nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran's ability to make its first nuclear arms.

Many mysteries remain, chief among them, exactly who constructed a computer worm that appears to have several authors on several continents. In early 2008 the German company Siemens cooperated with one of the United States' premier national laboratories, in Idaho, to identify the vulnerabilities of computer controllers that the company sells to operate industrial machinery around the world — and that American intelligence agencies have identified as key equipment in Iran's enrichment facilities.

The worm itself now appears to have included two major components. One was designed to send Iran's nuclear centrifuges spinning wildly out of control. Another seems right out of the movies: The computer programme also secretly recorded what normal operations at the nuclear plant looked like, then played those readings back to plant operators, like a pre-recorded security tape in a bank heist, so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually tearing themselves apart. The attacks were not fully successful: Some parts of Iran's operations ground to a halt, while others survived, according to the reports of international nuclear inspectors. Nor is it clear the attacks are over: Some experts who have examined the code believe it contains the seeds for yet more versions and assaults.

Officially, neither American nor Israeli officials will even utter the name of the malicious computer programme; much less describe any role in designing it. But Israeli officials grin widely when asked about its effects. In recent days, American officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity have said in interviews that they believe Iran's setbacks have been underreported. The project's political origins can be found in the last months of the Bush administration. President Obama, first briefed on the programme even before taking office, sped it up, according to officials familiar with the administration's Iran strategy. Israel has long been seeking a way to cripple Iran's capability without triggering the opprobrium, or the war, that might follow an overt military strike of the kind they conducted against nuclear facilities in Iraq in
Perhaps the most secretive part of the Stuxnet story centres on how the theory of cyber-destruction was tested on enrichment machines to make sure the malicious software did its intended job. The account starts in the Netherlands. In the 1970s, the Dutch designed a tall, thin machine for enriching uranium. As is well known, A. Q. Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist working for the Dutch, stole the design and in 1976 fled to Pakistan. The resulting machine, known as the P-1, for Pakistan's first-generation centrifuge, helped the country get the bomb. And when Dr. Khan later founded an atomic black market, he illegally sold P-1's to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

How and when Israel obtained this kind of first-generation centrifuge remains unclear, whether from Europe, or the Khan network, or by other means. But nuclear experts agree that Dimona came to hold row upon row of spinning centrifuges. By early 2004, a variety of federal and private nuclear experts assembled by the Central Intelligence Agency were calling for the United States to build a secret plant where scientists could set up the P-1's and study their vulnerabilities. The resulting plant, nuclear experts said last week, may also have played a role in Stuxnet testing.

In November, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, broke the country's silence about the worm's impact on its enrichment programme, saying a cyber attack had caused "minor problems with some of our centrifuges." Fortunately, he added, "our experts discovered it." The most detailed portrait of the damage comes from the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington. Last month, it issued a lengthy Stuxnet report that said Iran's P-1 machines at Natanz suffered a series of failures in mid- to late 2009 that culminated in technicians taking 984 machines out of action. The report called the failures "a major problem" and identified Stuxnet as the likely culprit.

Stuxnet is not the only blow to Iran. Sanctions have hurt its effort to build more advanced (and less temperamental) centrifuges. And last January, and again in November, two scientists who were believed to be central to the nuclear program were killed in Tehran. The man widely believed to be responsible for much of Iran's programme, Mohsen Fakrizadeh, a college professor, has been hidden away by the Iranians, who know he is high on the target list. Publicly, Israeli officials make no explicit ties between Stuxnet and Iran's problems. But in recent weeks, they have given revised and surprisingly upbeat assessments of Tehran's nuclear status.

 

Afghan News Roundup for July 2013 is compiled by Elayne Jude for Great North News Service

Ironic icon, torturers released, Safi & Safi reinvented, slap gets lethal

Afghan Air Force for the Chop ?

At the 2013 Paris Air Show, Russia announced the Kamov company's Ka-52 Alligator's readiness for export.

The Alligator can handle "hot-and-high" operating conditions. "Kamov-52 was conceived when Russian experience of combat operations in Afghanistan were quite alive," said the chopper's chief designer, Sergey Mikheev.

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By Justin Hamilton

NATO leaders and heads of state met in Lisbon this weekend for what can only be described as the most amicable summit in recent memory. For the spectator, amiability rarely makes for an interesting spectacle. However, amongst the expected statements concerning forces in Afghanistan and future relations with NATO's prior raison d'être, Russia, were a series of far less publicised announcements surrounding the future development of NATO's Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) programme.

Often ridiculed as a 'Star Wars' concept during the Regan administration, BMD could become a central pillar within NATO's new strategic concept, promising to provide a protective missile shield across all member states within the next decade. This is a development of particular reassurance to European countries feeling intimidated by the Shahab 3; Iran's most advanced Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile, capable of delivering a payload over distances of up to 3,000km.

In the current climate there can be little doubt that most of the dangers faced by NATO are of a less conventional kind, arguably none more so than the threat of rogue states wielding weapons of mass destruction. For a stated cost of $800 million over 14 years, the proposed Active Layered Theatre Missile Defence (ALTBMD) programme would provide ballistic missile protection for active forces within NATO's area of operations. It is estimated an additional $200 million, spread over 10 years, could expand the programme to include European populations and territory as well.

With an annual budget currently exceeding $3.3billion, $200million (or even a combined $1 billion) spread over more than a decade and between 28 member states would seem like good business. NATO's bullish Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, claims that BMD represents 'a lot of defence at an affordable price'. With Britain delaying the renewal of its Trident nuclear arsenal and the German Luftwaffe set to retire their nuclear delivery system, the Tornado strike aircraft, in 2015, BMD seems an increasingly attractive option. The programme offers not just a potential shield against ballistic missile attack, but a powerful weapon against the threat of hostage posed by a nuclear Iran. Although repeatedly denied by President Obama, some NATO insiders have even begun to see BMD as a viable alternative to nuclear deterrence.

In an age of fiscal austerity does it make financial sense to spend more than $1 billion on a questionable technology such as BMD, much less to consider it as a replacement to nuclear deterrence? The additional cost of $200 million has also been disputed by a number of news agencies, who place the current figure somewhere closer to $270 million. This is a relatively minor correction perhaps, but who knows how much it could increase between now and the projected completion date of 2020?

Far beyond the concern of increased costs however is the hidden reliance on US technology and ultimately, funding. In 2011 alone the US Department of Defence has budgeted more than $9.9 billion for BMD research and technology, much of which will be directly transferred to the NATO programme. In addition, BMD requires a symphony of support vehicles including unmanned aerial vehicles and low orbit satellites, each with affiliated support costs.

It is by no means unusual for a NATO programme to be dominated by US capabilities, even less so during a period of extreme fiscal austerity and power depreciation among the European powers. Nonetheless, the wisdom behind implementing a programme of such fundamental importance to Europe's potential future security framework that is almost wholly dependent on US technology must be questioned. Should the European nuclear powers seriously consider BMD as an alternative security measure to nuclear deterrence, it would represent an erosion of national sovereignty and more deeply entrench the global status quo.

Of course NATO leaders were quick to reinforce their unswerving commitment to mutual defence, enshrined under NATO's most sacrosanct clause, Article 5. Yet given the obvious move towards a more Eastern orientated foreign policy under the Obama administration one must question the future value of NATO as far as US defence policy is concerned. Outsourcing vital defence capabilities is always a dangerous option :One the European powers may wish to re-think before making any lasting decisions.

 

An index of U K Defence Viewpoints SixtySecondSoundbites (video clips) on Youtube (filmed by 17dragonsphotography )

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The Wall Street Journal has recently reported on new evidence of Iran's effort to avoid UN imposed sanctions by acquiring high-grade metals from China, suitable for the production of ballistic missiles. In its article titled, "Fresh Clues of Iranian Nuclear Intrigue," The Wall Street Journal indicates that Iranian companies such as ABAN Commercial and Industrial Ltd. has been using intermediary firms to attain specialized copper, aluminum and titanium from China.

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The Guardian newspaper in the UK reported today:

Live television is hardly the most convenient setting in which to be reminded of the age-old proverb that only children and fools speak the truth.

So the father who nicknamed his child's toy monkey after Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, must have been mortified to have his private joke cruelly exposed when the youngster took part in one of the country's most popular TV phone-ins.

The embarrassing disclosure was made on Amoo Pourang (Uncle Pourang), a programme watched by millions of Iranian children three times a week on state TV. It came when the unsuspecting presenter, Dariush Farziayi, asked the name of the toy animal his young caller had been given as a reward for good behaviour.

"Well, my father calls him Ahmadinejad," the child replied.

Now the father's discomfort has spread to the programme-makers after the state broadcaster, IRIB, responded by withdrawing it from viewing schedules.

The final episode will be screened next week after a successful seven-year run.

A conservative website, Jahan News, quoting "reliable sources," said the decision was prompted by the "high financial and spiritual damage" inflicted by live broadcasts. Stopping short of identifying the president by name, it highlighted an incident in which "a child in a live telephone line compared its doll to one of the well-known authorities and managers".

The incident is believed to have been the last straw following several other naive indiscretions by callers, which caused acute embarrassment and offended Iran's religious conservative mores.

In one instance, Farziayi was left open mouthed and groping for an appropriate response when, after asking a participant to hand the phone to his mother or father, he was told: "They are in the shower."

On another occasion, asking which of two twins was kissed first by their father on his return home from work, he was answered: "My daddy always kisses mummy first."

It is not the first Iranian broadcast to become a victim of the pitfalls of live transmissions. In the 1980s, the spiritual leader of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, pronounced death sentences for the makers of a radio programme in which a female respondent named a Japanese soap opera character as her role model, rather than Fatimah, the Prophet Muhammad's daughter. They were later pardoned.

 

The war of words over an Israeli attack on Iran is splitting the political leadership from military and intelligence chiefs. And that dangerous divide in Jerusalem might well lead to real war.

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By Anthony Etchells, UKDF Research Associate

 The future is challenging. The Arab Spring has shaken the region, and the UK will have to review and possibly reset its relationships with certain states after new governments have taken power and established ones have made various concessions. Iran seems as determined as ever to realise its nuclear ambitions. Syria's Bashar al-Assad is accused of widespread human rights violations against his citizens, but has shown no willingness to step down; international partners have so far achieved little but rhetoric; al-Assad agreed to a Kofi Annan's peace plan, but it remains to be seen whether he will stick to his word. British troops are still in Afghanistan, with the government aiming to withdraw all combat troops by 2015 to leave behind a strong and stable country. The final US combat troops quit Iraq in December 2012, and since then the country has shown signs of returning to the bombings and sectarianism that marked its darkest days after the 2003 invasion.

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By George Friedman

Successful revolutions have three phases. First, a strategically located single or limited segment of society begins vocally to express resentment, asserting itself in the streets of a major city, usually the capital. This segment is joined by other segments in the city and by segments elsewhere as the demonstration spreads to other cities and becomes more assertive, disruptive and potentially violent. As resistance to the regime spreads, the regime deploys its military and security forces. These forces, drawn from resisting social segments and isolated from the rest of society, turn on the regime, and stop following the regime's orders. This is what happened to the Shah of Iran in 1979; it is also what happened in Russia in 1917 or in Romania in 1989.

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Extract from speech by Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton 29 September 2009

"The heroism of our fighting men and women is unsurpassed and we owe them a debt we can never fully repay.

"The British armed forces truly are the finest in the world. All British forces will always have all the equipment they need and the best support we can give.

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By Nikos Lampas

A rather wide discussion takes place these days, due to the fact of the ongoing Nuclear Summit in D.C, regarding the possibility of a nuclear attack originating from non-state actors. The international community in general seems to come in terms with the possibility of terrorist organizations mounting an attack of non-conventional nature. The recent statement of President Obama that "the single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short-term, medium-term and long-term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon," clearly enhances the insecurity that states experience regarding the dimensions of the terrorist threat. Many analysts, including highly esteemed scholars such as Sam Nunn, precipitate the insecurity that states feel by adding, "President Obama is focusing high-level attention on the threat that already exists out there, and that's tremendously important." A fundamental belief that permeates the ongoing summit is that "its key objective is to get basic consensus that nuclear terrorism is a global threat -- and needs to be a core mission of the IAEA".

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By Alex Shone, UK Defence Forum Research Associate in Residence

On 8th March, Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani, an 80-year-old conservative cleric, was elected as the chairman of Iran's Assembly of Experts. Mahdavi-Kani replaced Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who had headed the Assembly for the previous four years. Yesterday, in the House of Commons, it was asked of the UK Government what their assessment was of Rafsanjani's departure from the Assembly. The answer was that this event was not anticipated to seriously impact the current course of Iran's internal and external policies, though these will remain of great concern.

Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani

Born in 1931 in the village of Kan, near Tehran, he began his education in Tehran and left for Qom to study at a seminary in 1947, aged 16. One of his teachers was Imam Khomeyni (later Ayatollah Khomeyni). He was imprisoned and tortured due to his political activity in the 1970s. Mahdavi-Kani has a history of medical conditions. He has been hospitalised with heart problems three times in 1985, 2001 and 2005.

Iran's Assembly of Experts

There 86 members of the Assembly of Experts and their role is to appoint the Supreme Leader, monitor his performance and remove the Leader from post if he is deemed incapable of fulfilling his duties. The Assembly's members are elected by the public for 8 year terms in a general election. The candidates are carefully vetted before being allowed to stand and the Assembly is dominated by religious conservatives.

Political career

Mahdavi-Kani was among the founding members of the Military Clergy Association, the jame'eh-ye rowhaniyat-e mobarez, (JRM). The Association started in 1977 as an anti-Shah movement and gained power after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

After the Revolution, Mahdavi-Kani was appointed a member of Guardian Council in 1980 and served as Iran's interior minister between 1980 and 1981. He served as acting Prime Minister from September to October 1981, after the assassination of his predecessor, Mohammad Javad Bahonar. Mahdavi-Kani has also served as a member of the Council of the Islamic Revolution Committee and the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution.

In 1984, Mahdavi-Kani became provisional Friday prayer leader for Tehran for two years. In 1997, he was elected to the Expediency Council, and in 1989 Ayatollah Khamene'i appointed him as the Director of Mosques. In 1999, Mahdavi-Kani was elected as secretary-general of the JRM, a position he holds to this day. He is also the chancellor of the Imam Sadeq University in Tehran.

Mahdavi-Kani is a traditional conservative cleric who elects to stay behind the scenes. He is a loyal follower of Ayatollah Khomeyni and has expressed criticism towards President Ahmadinejad. Mahdavi-Kani actually refused to receive the President during the latter's visit to Imam Sadeq University in 2007, though he supported Ahmadinejad's candidacy in the 2009 presidential election.

In memoirs published in 2007, Mahdavi-Kani said that he had always been opposed to the siege of the USA embassy in Tehran in 1979 demanding the extradition of the Shah from the USA to face trial in Iran.

 

Recent American and South Korean intelligence reports speculate that North Korea may be preparing for its first nuclear tests since 2009. Satellite images show that North Korea has dug an 800 metre tunnel at its test site at Punggye-ri. Experts believe that the tunnel will be ready for a nuclear test when it reaches 1 kilometre, which South Korea believes may occur in early April.

Adam Dempsey, Research Associate for the UK Defence Forum, has recently undertaken a study of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme. His report outlines the development of Pyongyang's programme and ballistic missile capabilities.

In keeping with many aspects of North Korean life, Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme is shrouded in secrecy and subject to speculation. Official estimates of North Korea's programme are varied and remain primarily reliant on open-source intelligence. To complicate matters, Pyongyang's nuclear missile development may have benefitted from illegal exchanges involving the A.Q. Khan network.

Adam's full report is available here.

 
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