Six Gulf states say they would support U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear program (& Fatah-Eilat bomb details)

January 29, 2007

MURDER IN EILAT

Although this morning’s suicide bomb attack in the Israeli southern resort town of Eilat (which killed at least three people) was the first in Israel for some time, the international media is this morning failing to note that dozens of other would-be bombers have been prevented from entering other parts of Israel in recent months due to Israel’s security fence. The media reports today have also failed to note that rockets continue to be fired almost daily into Israel from the Gaza strip.

Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades are among those groups that have claimed responsibility for this morning’s murders in Eilat. The U.S. government, European Union and the government of Ehud Olmert have all recently given money to Fatah. Israeli Police are currently searching for other bombers believed to be on the loose in the Eilat area.

A Hamas spokesman called this morning’s attack on ordinary Israelis “natural”.

The Palestinian Maan news just announced in Arabic that the suicide bomber is Mohammed Fasial al-Saqsaq, aged 21 from Gaza: www.maannews.net/ar/index.php

And in the last few minutes on the main webpage of Fatah, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, together with al-Quds Brigades and the “Army of Believers” claimed “full responsibility” for the attack and declared that al-Saqsaq is a “hero Shahid (martyr)”: www.kataebaqsa1.com/arabic/index.php. (Please note the photo of Yasser Arafat alongside the announcement.)

-- Tom Gross

 

CONTENTS

1. GCC would support U.S. strike on Iran
2. Bernard Lewis: No earthly deterrence against Iranian regime
3. U.S. presidential candidates talk tough on Iran
4. Rafsanjani: Iran should give up its nuclear program
5. Israel “drafting a strategy to join NATO”
6. Hizbullah officially opens an Iraqi wing
7. Diplomatic sources: Iranian spies killed former Egyptian ambassador in Iraq
8. IDF destroys two Hizbullah bunkers within Israeli territory
9. Lebanese army hesitates against Hizbullah
10. IDF: Olmert govt. won’t let us stop Hizbullah from rearming
11. Massive international aid for Lebanon
12. U.S. troops authorized to kill Iranian operatives in Iraq
13. Netanyahu asks U.S. pension funds to quit Iran
14. “Russia committed to Iran nuclear plant launch: Ivanov” (AFP, Jan. 28, 2007)
15. “Russian city may be source for uranium” (AP, Jan. 27, 2007)
16. “Russia completes delivery of missiles to Iran” (Deutsche Welle radio, Jan. 23, 2007)
17. “Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile delivery to Iran completed” (RIA Novosti, Jan. 23, 2007)
18. “N Korea helping Iran with nuclear testing” (Daily Telegraph, Jan. 24, 2007)
19. “Iran, Belarus sign defense agreement” (AFP, Jan. 23, 2007)



[Note by Tom Gross]

This dispatch contains items on recent developments concerning Iran and the Iranian proxy militia Hizbullah.

GCC WOULD SUPPORT U.S. STRIKE ON IRAN

The six Gulf Cooperation Council states would support a U.S. strike to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons program, according to a new report by the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center. “Teheran has to finally realize that if push comes to shove, if the choice is between an Iranian nuclear bomb and a U.S. military strike, then the Arab Gulf states have no choice but to quietly support the U.S.,” the report said.

The report cited Iran’s military buildup in the Gulf and its refusal to negotiate the seizure of two small islands from the United Arab Emirates.

BERNARD LEWIS: NO EARTHLY DETERRENCE AGAINST IRANIAN REGIME

Prof. Bernard Lewis, of Princeton University, the world’s leading expert on Islam, told the IDC Herzliya security conference last week that Iranian president “Ahmadinejad truly believes in the apocalyptic message he is bringing. This makes him very dangerous. [The Cold War philosophy of] Mutual Assured Destruction, [which prevented the former Soviet Union and the United States from using the nuclear weapons they had targeted at each other,] would not apply to Ahmadinejad’s Iran,” said Lewis. “It is not a deterrent, but an inducement to him.”

U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES TALK TOUGH ON IRAN

Several declared and potential U.S. Presidential hopefuls spoke out strongly against Iran’s nuclear program at the IDC Herzliya security conference (which I attended) last week.

Republicans Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and John McCain, and Democrat John Edwards, all pledged in no uncertain terms that they would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and potential contender for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, said, “Iran must be stopped, Iran can be stopped, and Iran will be stopped.” He also called for economic sanctions on Iran that are “at least as severe” as those imposed on South Africa during its apartheid era. He compared the challenge posed by Iran and militant Islam to the great threats of the 20th century fascism and totalitarian communism. He also recommended that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be brought before an international court and tried for threatening genocide.

Gingrich said Israel faced the most serious threat to its existence since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. But many in Israel and the United States do not fully appreciate the nature, size and scope of the Iranian threat, he said.

McCain, the presidential front-runner, said he supported exploring a strengthening of ties between Israel and NATO as a means of easing Israel’s insecurity. “Military action is not our preference. It remains, as it always must, a last option,” McCain said. But he added, “There is only one thing worse than a military solution, and that is a nuclear armed Iran.”

Edwards, the only Democratic presidential candidate to address the conference, similarly called for tougher sanctions on Iran and held out the threat of military force, but he broke with the others by suggesting that Washington open a dialogue with Iran. He added that stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons “is the greatest challenge of our generation.”

RAFSANJANI: IRAN SHOULD GIVE UP ITS NUCLEAR PROGRAM

Former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani said in an interview with the British newspaper, The Guardian, last Friday that his country should give up its nuclear program in order to avoid the risk of a confrontation with the United States or Israel and the collapse of the Islamic regime.

He said he was trying to persuade the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in state matters, that further negotiations are essential to avoid a potentially disastrous conflict with the U.S. or Israel.

ISRAEL “DRAFTING A STRATEGY TO JOIN NATO”

In an effort to establish more effective deterrence in the face of Iran’s race to obtain nuclear weapons, Israeli government ministries are, for the first time, working on drafting a position paper that will include a strategy for turning Israel into a full-fledged member of NATO.

The paper is being drafted by an interministerial committee made up of representatives from the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry and headed by the National Security Council. It plans to complete its paper by the end of February and present it to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for approval.

At the Herzliya conference last week, former Spanish prime minister Jose Aznar said that “Israel, Australia and Japan should be asked to join NATO as soon as possible.” Aznar said that NATO needed to change its focus to counter the growing threat of global terrorism.

He added that Israel joining NATO would help deter Iran. (For more on this, see this article, in which I am quoted on this matter: www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3355577,00.html)

But the editor and publisher of German weekly paper Die Zeit, Josef Joffe, (who is also a subscriber to this email list) said he believed joining NATO would restrict Israel militarily. He said that NATO would likely make such restrictions a requirement for membership. “With that in mind, why would Israel want to join NATO?” he asked.

“From a technical perspective, Israel would make a wonderful partner for NATO. It would beat anything the Europeans could field. But from a rational perspective, would NATO leaders want to fight Israel’s wars? What NATO country wants to put its soldiers in Israel?”

HIZBULLAH OFFICIALLY OPENS AN IRAQI WING

The following two items were translated from Arabic especially for this email list:

The Saudi daily al-Watan reported that Hizbullah has strengthened its official presence in Iraq, by opening three offices in the center and north of the country under the name “The Iraqi Hizbullah”. According to the newspaper, Iraqi political sources say that the offices were opened in the al-Nassiriyah, Diyala and al-Najaf provinces. The newspaper says there is a wide basis of support and popularity in Iraq for the Lebanese Hizbullah following their “victory” over Israel, and their having previously trained Iraqi militias (as detailed in the past on this email list/website).

The Iraqi Hizbullah, ends the report, is led by Hassan al-Sari, the Iraqi Minister of State, and is one of the strongest groups that make up the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, headed by Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim. It centers its activity in the northern provinces of the country.

[1] Source: www.al-Watan.com.sa/daily/2007-01-18/first_page/first_page03.htm
[2] For a map of the global reach of Hizbullah (now a bit out of date, but still worth looking at), please visit www.intelligence.org.il/sp/hizbullah/hizbu_ag.doc
[3] Al-Watan is a leading reformist newspaper in Saudi Arabia. It received some notoriety when its editor, Jamal Kashoggi, was fired for speaking out against the country’s hardline Islamist clerics because they refused to denounce the May 2003 Riyadh compound bombings.
[4] Hizbullah in Iraq’s website, which has been located by this email list/website, and appears to still be under construction as not all the parts work yet, is: www.algalibon.com. According to the site, Hizbullah now has offices in all six provinces of Iraq.

DIPLOMATIC SOURCES: IRANIAN SPIES KILLED FORMER EGYPTIAN AMBASSADOR IN IRAQ

Yesterday’s edition (Sunday, 28 January 2007) of al-Watan, reported the following:

“Diplomatic sources from the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram have revealed that Iranian intelligence was behind the killing of Ihab al-Sherif, Egypt’s former ambassador to Iraq. Sharif had been appointed ambassador to Iraq, and arrived on June 1, 2005. He was kidnapped five weeks later on July 3. His abductors killed him four days after he was seized.

“In light of this, the diplomatic sources said, the Egyptian, Jordanian and Gulf States would be even more supportive of the new American plan to send more troops to Iraq, which they said was justified. They pointed out that the Egyptian support of the plan did not arise out of a vacuum. It would help rescue Muslims, who are our brothers, and victims of ethnic cleansing, particularly in Baghdad, at the hands of armed militias.”

IDF DESTROYS TWO HIZBULLAH BUNKERS WITHIN ISRAELI TERRITORY

The Israel Defense Forces destroyed two Hizbullah bunkers on Friday. The bunkers had been located within internationally-recognized Israeli territory. One of the bunkers was discovered during the war with Hizbullah terrorists last summer in southern Lebanon, according to Ha’aretz. The other was discovered last Wednesday while soldiers were searching the Katamon Valley close to the border with Lebanon.

The two connected bunkers had been used by Hizbullah as a forward base for its attacks. Inside the bunkers Israel found food, shovels and other equipment. The bunkers were detonated in a controlled environment by IDF engineering forces. The goal of the search operation, said the IDF, was to prevent Hizbullah terrorists from returning to posts they manned before the recent war.

LEBANESE ARMY HESITATES AGAINST HIZBULLAH

Lebanese security forces have acknowledged that they have been slow in confronting Hizbullah’s efforts to paralyze the country. Officials acknowledged that Lebanese Army troops and security forces responded inadequately to Hizbullah’s latest anti-government campaign. They said Lebanese troops, many of them Shi’ites, ignored orders to prevent Hizbullah from blocking roads and services.

“There was either collusion [between Hizbullah and the security forces], dawdling or unclear decisions,” Lebanese Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis said.

The assessment came amid rising violence between anti- and pro-government factions in Lebanon. On Wednesday, dozens of people were injured in gun battles in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city. On Thursday, riots between Sunni and Shi’ites in south Beirut left four dead and 152 injured, and prompted the Lebanese army to impose an overnight curfew for the first time in a decade. The Iranian-backed Hizbullah is seeking to bring down the pro-Western government.

Hizbullah supporters held up images of their leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and burned those of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, whose assassination in 2005 triggered Lebanon’s latest political turmoil.

IDF: OLMERT GOVT. WON’T LET US STOP HIZBULLAH FROM REARMING

Israel’s political echelon has “tied the IDF’s hands” and is preventing military operations that could stop Hizbullah from rearming and gaining strength ahead of a possible new round of violence this summer, a high-ranking IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post on condition of anonymity.

According to the officer, the IDF is not responsible for the lack of action against Hizbullah which Israeli intelligence says is receiving almost daily arms shipments from Syria and the Israeli cabinet has decided the military should refrain from initiating operations to thwart the smuggling. The IDF believes that Hizbullah has restored its strength to the level it was at before last summer’s war.

Separately, Director of IDF Strategic Planning Brig.-Gen. Udi Dekel has said that Hizbullah was busy rearming, receiving “nonstop” weapons shipments from Syria. This was the first time a high-ranking IDF officer has publicly confirmed that Damascus is shipping weapons to Hizbullah. The weapons originated in Iran, he said.

MASSIVE INTERNATIONAL AID FOR LEBANON

At last Thursday’s international donors conference in Paris, billions of dollars in cash and loans were pledged to Lebanon. The United States has promised to triple its aid to some $770 million, France will give $650m, and the European Union itself will give $520m. Some 35 nations made pledges totaling $7.6 billion.

Saudi Arabia headed the list of donors with a promise of $1.1 billion. Of the American pledge of $770 million, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said $250 million will be “liquid cash assistance” and the rest will fund “projects.”

The UAE promised $300 million and the Arab Investment Bank $250 million. The Islamic Development Bank offered $250 million. Most European countries pledged to make generous individual contributions in addition to their EU donations.

The families of kidnapped Israel Defense Forces soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev asked French President Jacques Chirac to work with the donor countries to ensure that UN Security Council Resolution 1701 is implemented in full, and not just the clauses regarding rebuilding Lebanon. In a letter timed to coincide with the Paris opening of the conference, the families wrote: “We support the transfer of financial aid to rebuild Lebanon as agreed under 1701, but the same resolution also requires the immediate unconditional release of our sons... Our sons have been held in inhuman conditions by Hizbullah in overt violation of international law and the Geneva Convention for more than six months. We call on the donor nations: Don’t forget the part that calls for Udi and Eldad’s release.”

U.S. TROOPS AUTHORIZED TO KILL IRANIAN OPERATIVES IN IRAQ

The Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq as part of an aggressive new strategy to weaken Teheran’s influence across the Middle East and compel it to give up its nuclear program, counterterrorism officials have told the Washington Post.

For more than a year, U.S. forces in Iraq have secretly detained dozens of suspected Iranian agents, holding them for three to four days at a time. The “catch and release” policy was designed to avoid escalating tensions with Iran while intimidating its emissaries.

Now senior administration officials decided that a more confrontational approach was necessary, as Iran’s regional influence grows and U.S. efforts to isolate Teheran appear to be failing. Iranian intelligence officers, plus members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Command, are believed to be active inside Iraq.

NETANYAHU ASKS U.S. PENSION FUNDS TO QUIT IRAN

Israel’s Likud opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has asked one of the biggest U.S. pension funds to pull money out of companies doing business with Iran because of fears over Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

“This allows you to use economic pressure that might obviate the need to use different measures,” former prime minister Netanyahu told reporters. Massachusetts Treasurer Tim Cahill and Michael Travaglini, executive director of the state’s $46 billion pension fund, said they would consider the request. Representatives of Rhode Island and New Hampshire, which have smaller pension funds, also attended the meeting.

Netanyahu was also due to meet with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose state’s Public Employees’ Retirement System, Calpers, manages the world’s biggest pension fund with $225 billion.

In the past, Massachusetts divested from South Africa and Northern Ireland over social and political issues.

***

I attach six news reports about Iran below.

-- Tom Gross



FULL ARTICLES

RUSSIA COMMITTED TO IRAN NUCLEAR PLANT LAUNCH

Russia committed to Iran nuclear plant launch: Ivanov
Agence France-Presse (AFP)
January 28, 2007

Visiting Russian security chief Igor Ivanov said that Moscow is committed to launching Iran’s first nuclear power plant on schedule in September, the official IRNA news agency reported.

“Russia is determined and serious in fulfilling its obligation to finish Bushehr plant on the scheduled date,” Ivanov was quoted as saying today (January 28) after meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

In September 2006, Russia and Iran signed an agreement setting September this year as the deadline for the launch of the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power station which lies on the Gulf coast in southwestern Iran.

The plant will actually produce electricity from November 2007, and the nuclear fuel for the plant is to be delivered no later than March.

Ivanov, the Russian Security Council secretary, is also due to meet Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and national security chief and top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani. He is expected to hold a press conference with his Iranian counterpart later.

Russia supports Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear technology but voted for a UN Security Council resolution in December that imposes sanctions on Tehran over its repeated refusal to freeze uranium enrichment.

 

RUSSIA’S THIRD LARGEST CITY MAY BE SOURCE FOR URANIUM

Russian city may be source for uranium
By Jim Heintz
The Associated Press
January 27, 2007

Novosibirsk is located in the depths of Siberia, but despite the remoteness it’s one of Russia’s main areas for nuclear activity and a cause of concern for those worried about nuclear materials falling into terrorists’ hands.

The concerns about Russia’s third-largest city rose to the forefront this week after officials in the former Soviet republic of Georgia announced the arrest of a Russian man for allegedly trying to sell weapons-grade uranium to an undercover agent.

The man, who was arrested last year, initially told his interrogators the uranium came from Novosibirsk, 1,600 miles east of Moscow, Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told The Associated Press on Saturday. He later recanted his statement, but Georgian authorities sent a letter to Russia’s Federal Security Service inquiring about the possible link to Novosibirsk, Utiashvili said. The agency declined to comment Saturday.

A top Russian science official has said the sample of the alleged contraband uranium provided by Georgia was too small for analysis that could determine its origin.

The episode appeared to cast doubt on Russia’s ability to halt the black-market trade in nuclear materials and renewed concern about security at Russia’s array of nuclear facilities.

The Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant is one of Russia’s main facilities for producing enriched uranium both for use in nuclear reactors and in the higher concentration that could be used to make an atomic bomb.

In addition, highly enriched uranium has been shipped into Novosibirsk in recent years from former Soviet bloc countries, including Poland and Romania. Under a program backed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the uranium is to be blended down into lower concentrations.

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration funded a program to improve security at the Novosibirsk plant as part of a wider initiative to boost security at facilities throughout Russia. The NNSA says the Novosibirsk plant completed its upgrade in late 2004.

However, security apparently was lax in Novosibirsk for years before that. In 2002, the head of the agency that was then responsible for security at nuclear facilities admitted that weapons-grade nuclear material had disappeared from Russian facilities.

“Most often, these instances are connected with factories preparing fuel” including Novosibirsk’s, the official, Yuri Vishnyevsky, said at the time.

Novosibirsk was also the site of the 1997 arrest of two men who officials said intended to smuggle some 11 pounds of enriched uranium to Pakistan or China. That uranium reportedly was stolen from a plant in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.

Security at Russia’s nuclear facilities was seen as deteriorating rapidly in the early years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when economic hardships made black-market activities increasingly widespread and as political chaos left official lines of command and supervision shaky.

The U.S.-based organization Nuclear Threat Initiative said in a report last year that Russia remains the prime country of concern for contraband nuclear material.

“Russia has the world’s largest stockpiles of both nuclear weapons and the materials to make them, scattered among hundreds of buildings and bunkers at scores of sites. Over the past 15 years security for those stockpiles has improved from poor to moderate, but there remain immense threats those security systems must confront,” the NTI said.

 

RUSSIA COMPLETES DELIVERY OF MISSILES TO IRAN

Russia completes delivery of missiles to Iran
Deutsche Welle German radio
January 23, 2007

The head of Russia’s state arms exporter has said that the country has fulfilled a contract to deliver anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. The official Itar-Tass news agency quoted Sergei Chemezov, head of Rosoboronexport, as saying that they completed delivery of the TOR-M1 missiles at the end of December last year.

The United States and Israel say Iran could use the missile systems to attack its neighbours and undermine security in the Middle East. Russia says the missiles only operate over a short-range and are a purely defensive weapon.

The United Nations has banned sensitive nuclear trade with Iran but there are no sanctions on conventional weapons like the TOR-M1 systems.

 

TOR-M1 ANTI-AIRCRAFT MIDDILE DELIVERY TO IRAN COMPLETED

Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile delivery to Iran completed Exporter
RIA Novosti
January 23, 2007

Russian arms export monopoly Rosoboronexport confirmed Tuesday it has completed delivery of Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran under a contract.

“The [Tor-M1] systems were delivered in late December of last year,” Rosoboronexport Director General Sergei Chemezov said.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov first announced the completion of the delivery last week.

Russia undertook to supply 29 Tor-M1 missile systems to Iran under a $700 million contract signed at the end of 2005. The United States protested the deal, which it feared could bolster the military capabilities of the Islamic Republic, classified by Washington as a “rogue state” and part of “the axis of evil.”

Russia has insisted that the contract for the delivery of the Tor-M1 missiles to Iran was concluded in line with international law, and that the system is intended for defense purposes only.

Last December, the UN Security Council adopted a revised version of a resolution to punish Tehran for its refusal to its halt uranium enrichment, but Russia managed to uphold its economic interests and ensured the implementation of its earlier signed contracts with Iran, including on the construction of a light-water reactor in Bushehr and the delivery of the Tor-M1 and S-300 air defense systems.

The Tor-M1, developed by the Russian company Almaz-Antei, is a high-precision missile system designed to destroy aircraft, manned or unmanned, and cruise missiles flying at an altitude of up to 10 kilometers (6 miles). It was introduced at the Russian aerospace show MAKS in 2005. Each system is equipped with 8 short-range missiles, associating radars, fire control systems and a battery command post.

 

N. KOREA IS HELPING IRAN PREPARE AN UNDERGROUND NUCLEAR TEST

N Korea helping Iran with nuclear testing
By Con Coughlin
The Daily Telegraph (London)
January 24, 2007

www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml;jsessionid=S0AC2I0PZBYATQFIQMGSFF4AVCBQWIV0?xml=/news/2007/01/24/wiran24.xml

North Korea is helping Iran to prepare an underground nuclear test similar to the one Pyongyang carried out last year.

Under the terms of a new understanding between the two countries, the North Koreans have agreed to share all the data and information they received from their successful test last October with Teheran’s nuclear scientists.

North Korea provoked an international outcry when it successfully fired a bomb at a secret underground location and Western intelligence officials are convinced that Iran is working on its own weapons programme.

A senior European defence official told The Daily Telegraph that North Korea had invited a team of Iranian nuclear scientists to study the results of last October’s underground test to assist Teheran’s preparations to conduct its own possibly by the end of this year.

There were unconfirmed reports at the time of the Korean firing that an Iranian team was present. Iranian military advisers regularly visit North Korea to participate in missile tests.

Now the long-standing military co-operation between the countries has been extended to nuclear issues.

As a result, senior western military officials are deeply concerned that the North Koreans’ technical superiority will allow the Iranians to accelerate development of their own nuclear weapon.

“The Iranians are working closely with the North Koreans to study the results of last year’s North Korean nuclear bomb test,” said the European defence official.

“We have identified increased activity at all of Iran’s nuclear facilities since the turn of the year,” he said.

“All the indications are that the Iranians are working hard to prepare for their own underground nuclear test.”

The disclosure of the nuclear co-operation between North Korea and Iran comes as Teheran seems set on a collision course with the West over its nuclear programme, although it insists it is entirely peaceful.

Both countries were named in President George W Bush’s famous “axis of evil” State of the Union speech in 2002.

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously authorised the imposition of “smart” sanctions against Iran.

This is because of its refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment programme, which most Western intelligence agencies believe is part of a clandestine nuclear weapons programme.

France expressed concern yesterday over an Iranian decision to bar 38 UN nuclear inspectors from Iran, claiming that Teheran appeared to be singling out westerners from the inspection team.

Intelligence estimates vary about how long it could take Teheran to produce a nuclear warhead. But defence officials monitoring the growing co-operation between North Korea and Iran believe the Iranians could be in a position to test fire a low-grade device less than half a kiloton within 12 months.

The precise location of the Iranian test site is unknown, but is likely to be located in a mountainous region where it is difficult for spy satellites to pick up any unusual activity.

Teheran successfully concealed the existence of several key nuclear sites including the controversial Natanz uranium enrichment complex until their locations were disclosed by Iranian dissidents three years ago.

Western intelligence agencies have reported an increase in the number of North Korean and Iranian scientists travelling between the two countries.

The increased co-operation on nuclear issues began last November when a team of Iranian nuclear scientists met their North Korean counterparts to study the technical and political implications of Pyongyang’s nuclear test.

The Iranians are reported to have been encouraged by the fact that no punitive action was taken against North Korea, despite the international outcry that greeted the underground firing.

This has persuaded the Iranian regime to press ahead with its own nuclear programme with the aim of testing a low-grade device, which would be difficult for international inspectors to detect.

 

IRAN SIGNS DEFENSE COOPERATION AGREEMENT WITH A EUROPEAN COUNTRY

Iran, Belarus sign defense agreement
Agence France-Presse (AFP)
January 23, 2007

www.defensenews.com/story.php?F=2499718&C=mideast

Iran and its top European ally Belarus on Jan. 22 signed an agreement on defense cooperation, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.

Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar signed the memorandum of understanding with his Belarussian counterpart Leonid Maltsev, who was on a two-day visit to Tehran.

“Exchanging expert delegations, transfer of defense experience and cooperation in technical and educational fields are included in this memorandum of understanding,” the agency said.

Maltsev also met President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the chief of the elite Revolutionary Guards, Yahya Rahim Safavi. Belarus has emerged as a prominent supporter of Iran, openly backing Iran’s contested nuclear program.

Despite fierce Western criticism, Belarus has also sold Russian-made conventional military equipment and spare parts to Iran. The deal was signed as Iran launched a round of war games to test short-range missiles amid the mounting international pressure on Tehran over its failure to suspend nuclear work.

The two countries already signed a raft of deals to massively increase bilateral trade in a November 2006 visit by Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko to Tehran.

Lukashenko’s government has been fiercely criticized by the European Union and the United States, who accuse him of running an authoritarian regime that clamps down on human rights.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.