Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts

15 July 2020

Iran Under Attack – Analysis

By Neville Teller

Iranian media reported an explosion in western Tehran in the early hours of Friday, 10 July, causing electricity to be cut in surrounding suburbs. It was the latest in a string of mysterious blasts to rock the country. At least three are known to have occurred in or around Iranian nuclear facilities, and initial reports claimed that the latest explosion was at a missile depot belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Occurring over some ten days, they cannot be easily explained away. The regime is undoubtedly under attack. The question so far unanswered is, from whom?

Is this a covert onslaught masterminded by Israel, the US, or the two acting in concert? Did Israeli F-35 fighters actually bomb one of the sites? Are a group of anti-regime activists, working within Iran’s nuclear industry, taking covert action to prevent the regime acquiring nuclear weapons? Were the incidents the result of sophisticated cyber attacks, or were they sabotage, caused by old-fashioned explosives? There is a great deal of speculation, but so far nothing definitive has emerged.

It was on June 26, 2020 that the first of this series of incidents occurred. Despite initial assertions by the Iranian Defense Ministry that there had been a minor detonation in the Parchin military complex, satellite images showed that it was at the nearby missile production complex at Khojir that a bomb had damaged a cache of gas tanks. The blast was later described as “a massive explosion” that had “burned a hillside”. Parchin, near Tehran, is where Western powers suspect Iran carried out tests related to nuclear warhead detonations more than a decade ago.

14 July 2020

Iran’s influence in Afghanistan

Vinay Kaura

Despite strong religious and cultural ties and a long shared border, Iran has a somewhat complicated relationship with Afghanistan. Revolutionary Iran’s tumultuous birth coincided with the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan some four decades ago. Since then, Iran’s attempts to preserve its interests in conflict-ridden Afghanistan have not received much attention from the outside world, but it remains one of the most important neighboring countries for Tehran’s foreign policy.

Iran is an ambitious regional player with a clear understanding of its complex surroundings and a cautious plan to chart a path through them. The complicated nature of Iran’s relations with Afghanistan is in part a result of the fluctuating pattern of its interactions with the relevant stakeholders, which are meditated by the interplay of many identity or interest groups and intermediaries that have the potential for influencing social, political, and economic developments in what is a deeply contested society. More often than not, these groups and intermediaries have conflicting positions in Afghan society.

Another part of Iran’s complicated ties with Afghanistan can be attributed to its unremitting opposition to the United States, which is a strong partner of the Kabul regime. As a Shi’a-dominant country, Iran had a long history of ideological differences and political rivalry with the Afghan Taliban. During the ill-fated Taliban regime in the late 1990s, Iran supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, a non-Pashtun coalition of other ethnic groups. Although Iran held back-channel diplomatic talks with the U.S. following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 on how to stabilize Afghanistan and eliminate al-Qaeda, several structural barriers prevented the informal talks from being institutionalized.

Mysterious Fire and Explosion in the New Natanz Advanced Centrifuge Assembly Facility

by David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, and Frank Pabian

Following closely on the heels of two unexplained incidents in Iran involving explosions and fires that in one case reportedly killed 19 people,1 media reported early on July 2, 2020 that a fire and apparent explosion had occurred at the Natanz Enrichment Site, which houses large underground enrichment halls and several above-ground workshops, the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP), and support buildings.2 The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) stated that “one of the sheds under construction in the open area of the Natanz site suffered damage this morning” and published a photo of a damaged building.3 Correlation of the information from the ground photo with commercial satellite imagery allowed for the geolocation of the building using Google Earth.

The satellite imagery revealed that describing the damaged site as a “shed” is a vast understatement. The fire occurred at a centrifuge assembly workshop, first identified by the Institute in 2017,4 which only operated for a maximum of two years after taking at least six years to be completed (see Figures 1 and 2). Construction started in 2012, and when it was near operation in June 2018, a promotional video of the workshop followed a press announcement by AEOI-head Ali Akbar Salehi. 5, 6 A photo with many people standing in front of the entrance appeared in the media in the spring of 2019, likely from an inauguration ceremony or similar celebration of the new facility.7 The name of the facility is written in English above the entrance: Iran Centrifuge Assembly Center (ICAC).

11 July 2020

The annexation conversation is far from over


Annexation by Israel of occupied Palestinian territory in the West Bank was never likely to happen on July 1, as many observers assumed. The date was not a deadline; it was a window opened by the Israeli government to carry out annexation before US President Donald Trump leaves office.

Unhappily for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that window could slam shut in a matter of months, if current polling trends continue and Mr Trump loses the presidential election in November.

Certainly, the fact that no dramatic move took place last week does not indicate that annexation is off the table. Indeed, following meetings in Israel with US officials last week, Mr Netanyahu’s office suggested that a US announcement on annexation could happen within days.

The dithering, according to the Israeli media, reflects divisions inside the US administration – despite the fact that its so-called “Middle East peace plan”, published earlier in the year, approved Israel’s annexation of as much as a third of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.

Don't Be Fooled: Iran's So-Called 'Stealth Fighter' Can't Actually Fly

by Sebastien Roblin
Source Link

Here's What You Need to Remember: Tehran’s predilection for fabricating easily disproven evidence of its military capabilities testifies to the revolutionary state’s enduring sense of insecurity.

There can be such a thing as posturing too hard.

Iran’s aviation industry has accomplishments to boast about despite operating under heavy sanctions for nearly forty years. It has managed to keep once state-of-the-art U.S.-built F-4 Phantom and F-14 Tomcat fighters in operational condition for decades, including nine years of high-intensity aerial warfare with Iraq, despite being cut off from spare parts from the United States. It has refurbished the rusting hulks of old F-5 Freedom Fighters into twin-vertical stabilizer Saeqeh fighters, reverse-engineered their J85 turbojet engines, and created a variety of viable capable drones.

All of these scrappy-underdog accomplishments fall far short of developing a working stealth fighter. Russia, which possesses a mature military aviation industry, has basically thrown the towel on its Su-57 stealth fighter program (at least on the short term) because the expenses and technical challenges have proven so prohibitive. Much wealthier countries ranging from France, Germany, India, Japan and the UK are only in the early stages of developing their own.

10 July 2020

Turkey Makes Strides in Diversifying Its Natural Gas Imports

By: Rauf Mammadov

For two months in a row this past spring, during March and April, Azerbaijan surpassed Russia in delivering natural gas supplies to Turkey (Hellenic Shipping News, June 2). At the same time, Turkey’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports have also been skyrocketing, with LNG suppliers from the United States continuing to carve out a lucrative and growing share of the Turkish market (Caspianbarrel.com, April 5). And while the March and April numbers have been staggering, they were not unexpected—and in fact, are fully indicative of the trends observed over the past several years.

During the last four decades, Turkey has been dependent on mainly Russian, Iranian and, more recently, Azerbaijani-borne pipeline gas. But that picture is changing, mostly due to the global supply gluts. Chronic natural gas abundance, combined with plummeting oil prices, have led to low costs for gas, while tangible progress in improved efficiency of LNG transportation has eroded logistical obstacles. Ankara has exploited the opportunity stemming from this confluence of market factors to opt for cheaper LNG volumes, mainly thanks to its timely deployment of several floating storage and regasification units (FSRU) in recent years (Anadolu Agency, November 20, 2017; Daily Sabah, July 5, 2019). As a result, Turkey, which was almost 50 percent dependent on Russian pipeline gas in 2016, has since then managed to reduce that reliance to only 14 percent today (Epdk.gov.tr, June 29). Meanwhile, US LNG has been carving out an ever-larger share of Turkish imports: in April 2020, making up 10 percent of purchased foreign volumes of gas, compared to 0 percent just three years ago.

Iran and Saudi Arabia Battle for Supremacy in the Middle East


The struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia for dominance in the Middle East has insinuated itself into nearly every regional issue, fracturing international alliances and sustaining wars across the region, while raising fears of a direct conflict between the two powers.

Saudi Arabia has ramped up its regional adventurism since Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful son of King Salman known as MBS, was appointed crown prince in 2017. And it has cracked down on its opponents, including the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. That appears to have had little effect on the crown prince’s increasingly close ties to the Trump administration, though. Determined to undermine the Iranian regime, Washington has pulled out of the nuclear deal with Tehran and used its economic might to suffocate Iran’s economy. Months of tensions over Iranian provocations, including a drone and cruise missile strike against Saudi oil facilities in September, culminated in January with the U.S. assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, followed by an Iranian ballistic missile barrage targeting U.S. troops there.

Though both sides quickly backed away from escalation to open warfare, the Middle East is rife with other ongoing conflicts, including a civil war in Yemen that has fueled one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, another in Syria that may finally be reaching a no-less bloody endgame, and one in Libya that is once again escalating after a short-lived cease-fire. These conflicts exist on two levels: domestic battles for control of the countries’ futures, and proxy wars fueled by the regional powers, as well as Russia and—in the case of Libya—France.

9 July 2020

Did a Cyber-Weapon Blow Up an Iranian Missile Factory—And Is This Cyber-War?

by Matthew Petti 
Source Link

An Iranian general would not rule out that a massive explosion east of Tehran last week was caused by “hacking,” amidst speculation that the incident was an act of sabotage.

Iranian authorities had attempted to downplay the blast—which tore through a missile factory east of Tehran—as a gas tank explosion at a different industrial park. But one official refused to rule out an act of cyber-sabotage.

“On the explosion of the Parchin gas facilities, it has been mentioned that the incident was caused by hacking the center's computer systems,” said Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Jalali, head of the Passive Defense Institution, at a conference on anti-chemical weapons defense. “But until we come to a conclusion on the dimensions of this incident and the claim, we cannot comment.”

The explosion damaged the Khojir missile production complex, according to satellite imagery, but Iranian authorities have insisted that it actually took place at the Parchin industrial park forty kilometer away.

The apparent coverup—along with international tensions around Iran’s missile program—have raised suspicions of foul play.

A new direction in Israel's war-between-wars campaign?

By ANNA AHRONHEIM
A series of mysterious “accidents” targeting Iran’s missile and nuclear program is a significant rise in tensions between Israel and the Islamic Republic, leading many to wonder if the IDF’s war-between-wars campaign has expanded to target key nuclear sites.

It started last Thursday when an explosion rocket a facility close to Iran’s Prachin military complex. While Tehran said the explosion was caused by a gas leak, satellite photos later showed that the blast took place at a nearby missile production facility.

It was followed by an explosion at a hospital in Tehran that killed 19 people. And on Friday, a large fire caused extensive damage to a building at the nuclear complex at Natanz, Iran’s largest uranium-enrichment facility. A previously unknown dissident group, saying that it was opposed to Iran’s security apparatus and calling itself the Homeland Cheetahs, claimed responsibility.

8 July 2020

Did a Cyber-Weapon Blow Up an Iranian Missile Factory—And Is This Cyber-War?

by Matthew Petti 
Source Link

An Iranian general would not rule out that a massive explosion east of Tehran last week was caused by “hacking,” amidst speculation that the incident was an act of sabotage.

Iranian authorities had attempted to downplay the blast—which tore through a missile factory east of Tehran—as a gas tank explosion at a different industrial park. But one official refused to rule out an act of cyber-sabotage.

“On the explosion of the Parchin gas facilities, it has been mentioned that the incident was caused by hacking the center's computer systems,” said Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Jalali, head of the Passive Defense Institution, at a conference on anti-chemical weapons defense. “But until we come to a conclusion on the dimensions of this incident and the claim, we cannot comment.”

The explosion damaged the Khojir missile production complex, according to satellite imagery, but Iranian authorities have insisted that it actually took place at the Parchin industrial park forty kilometer away.

The apparent coverup—along with international tensions around Iran’s missile program—have raised suspicions of foul play.

Turkey and Qatar: Love in Bloom

by Burak Bekdil

Few Qataris who fought the Ottoman colonialists to gain their independence in 1915 and end the 44-year-long Turkish rule in the peninsula would ever have imagined that their grandchildren would become Turkey's closest strategic allies.

Qatar, a tiny but extremely wealthy sheikdom, has a constitution based on sharia (Islamic religious law), while Turkey's constitution is strictly secular (officially, if not in practice). In Qatar, flogging and stoning—unthinkable in Turkey—are legal forms of punishment. In Qatar, apostasy is a crime punishable by death, while in Turkey it is not a criminal offense.

But the ideological kinship between the two Sunni Muslim countries, which is based on passionate political support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood (and a religious hatred of Israel), seems to have produced a bond that threatens Western interests.

7 July 2020

Israel Reauthorizes Shin Bet’s Coronavirus Location Tracking

By Amir Cahane

In its attempts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, Israel has employed a measure that has not been used by any other democratic country. Since mid-March, the Israeli government has sought the assistance of the General Security Service (also known as the Israeli Security Agency, the ISA, the Shabak or Shin Bet) in conducting epidemiological investigations by providing the Ministry of Health with the routes of coronavirus carriers and lists of individuals with whom they have been in close contact. The ISA queries its communication metadata database to identify the route of confirmed carriers and the individuals with whom they have been in close contact.

The legal framework authorizing ISA location tracking evolved from emergency regulations promulgated by the government, through a government resolution approved by the 
Knesset’s Intelligence Subcommittee, to a government-drafted bill. The draft Law to Authorize the ISA to Assist in the National Effort to Contain the Spread of the Novel Coronavirus 2020-5780 (Coronavirus Location Tracking Bill) was prepared pursuant to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Ben Meir v. Prime Minister. Under the Ben Meir ruling, the government resolution to harness the capabilities of the ISA for coronavirus location tracking (a purpose outside the ISA’s statutory remit, which requires special approval by the subcommittee) could be extended by no more than a few weeks and only to allow for the drafting of a new law.

6 July 2020

Did a Cyber-Weapon Blow Up an Iranian Missile Factory—And Is This Cyber-War?

by Matthew Petti 

An Iranian general would not rule out that a massive explosion east of Tehran last week was caused by “hacking,” amidst speculation that the incident was an act of sabotage.

Iranian authorities had attempted to downplay the blast—which tore through a missile factory east of Tehran—as a gas tank explosion at a different industrial park. But one official refused to rule out an act of cyber-sabotage.

“On the explosion of the Parchin gas facilities, it has been mentioned that the incident was caused by hacking the center's computer systems,” said Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Jalali, head of the Passive Defense Institution, at a conference on anti-chemical weapons defense. “But until we come to a conclusion on the dimensions of this incident and the claim, we cannot comment.”

The explosion damaged the Khojir missile production complex, according to satellite imagery, but Iranian authorities have insisted that it actually took place at the Parchin industrial park forty kilometer away.

The apparent coverup—along with international tensions around Iran’s missile program—have raised suspicions of foul play.

The Two-State Solution Is Dead. What Comes Next Is Worse.

BY DALIA HATUQA
Source Link

On July 1, Israel could move to annex parts of the occupied West Bank under the terms of a coalition agreement signed in April. Palestinians, meanwhile, are left questioning their leadership and wondering how they became so far removed from their original goal of a Palestinian state.

As Israel slowly carved out parts of the West Bank over the years, its settlements swallowing hilltops and displacing Palestinians by destroying their homes, the Palestinian leadership cravenly chose its political dominance and economic interests over holding the occupier of its land accountable. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has often resorted to empty threats: this time, opting not to lodge a war crimes case at the International Criminal Court over whether Israel is breaking Articles 47 and 49 of the Geneva Conventions, citing the looming annexation and the country’s long-standing practice of transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

And as the Trump administration proved willing to change decades of U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has grown emboldened. First came the U.S. decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, then the recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. In January, Netanyahu renewed his vow to “impose Israeli sovereignty on the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea.”

5 July 2020

The Monarchs’ Pawns?

By: Alexandra Stark

This report examines the combined influence of four factors by about 2014 led three Gulf monarchies to change their calculations and adopt proxy warfare strategies aimed more consistently at managing crises that threatened their spheres of interest and maintaining the political status quo for the region rather than revising the regional balance of power. After introducing you to the three Gulf monarchies the report is divided into four sections. The first section examines each of these three Gulf monarchies’ strategic interests in the early post-Arab Spring period from 2011 through 2014 and goes on to look at how these interests shaped their proxy interventions in Bahrain, Libya, and Syria. The second section examines the four factors that led the Gulf states to change their strategic assessments, and the third section examines the interventions that followed that turning point in Yemen. Finally, the conclusion discusses what the Gulf states’ shifting approach means for U.S. policy in the Middle East.

4 July 2020

The Houthi Art of War: Why They Keep Winning in Yemen

By: Michael Horton

Executive summary: After five years of war against the Saudi-led coalition and its allies, Yemen’s Houthi rebels remain defiant and are once again on the offensive. The Houthis’ keen understanding and consistent application of the algebra of insurgency are fundamental to their martial success in Yemen. Ironically, the greatest threat to the Houthi leadership may be peace. Peace will bring internal tensions within the Houthi leadership and growing discontent among the Yemeni people to the fore.

Introduction

Underestimating or having contempt for an enemy, argues Lao Tzu, is among the costliest mistakes a commander can make. [1] This alone has led to more defeats than any other miscalculation. Conversely, underestimating the enemy is a great asset to those who are underestimated. The military and political capabilities of Yemen’s Houthi rebels have been underrated for nearly two decades. First, by the government of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and then by Saudi Arabia and its supporters, including the United States.

From 2004-2010, the government of Ali Abdulla Saleh fought and lost six wars against the Houthis. The Houthi takeover of the Yemeni capital of Sana’a in September 2014 and their subsequent move southward toward Aden partly prompted Saudi Arabia and the UAE to launch their ill-fated intervention in Yemen in March 2015. The Saudis and Emiratis bet on a quick victory over the Houthis. Now, more than five years on, it is clear they have lost their bet. The Houthis and those allied with them have proved themselves to be resilient, capable, and strategically and tactically creative.

Saudi Arabia: UN Aramco Attacks Report ‘Leaves No Doubt’ Over Iran’s Hostile Intentions


Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed Tuesday a UN report confirming Iranian involvement in attacks on Saudi Aramco facilities in September 2019.

A foreign ministry statement said the findings of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ report “leaves no doubt for the international community about Iran’s hostile intentions towards the Kingdom in particular, the Arab region and the wider world in general.”

Guterres presented his report to a virtual gathering of the Security Council on Tuesday, implicating the Iranian regime in attacks last year on oil installations in Abqaiq and Khurais in the east of the Kingdom.

The ministry’s statement also echoed calls made during the virtual meeting by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for an extension of an arms embargo on Iran.

It said the report’s findings also highlighted Iran’s continuous aggressive approach to destabilizing the region’s security, and the regime’s logistical, military and financial support for armed terrorist militias in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon — something it did with “no regard for international laws and treaties or the principles of good-neighborliness.”

3 July 2020

What Cyber Command’s ISIS operations means for the future of information warfare

Mark Pomerleau

The Defense Department’s information warfare leaders want to know what they can learn from U.S. Cyber Command’s online offensive against the ISIS.

Defense officials have been applying lessons learned in combat to the hotly contested information space. To date, this process has involved a variety of reorganization efforts across the services, but the approach is changing. One starting point includes Joint Task Force-Ares — U.S. Cyber Command’s online offensive against the Islamic State group — and its Operation Glowing Symphony, the command’s largest and most complex operation.

That operation targeted ISIS media and online operations, taking out infrastructure and preventing ISIS members from communicating and posting propaganda.

New documents received via the Freedom of Information Act reveal new details regarding Operation Glowing Symphony, Cyber Command's largest operation to date.

The task force’s former director of plans and strategy, Col. Brian Russell, is now leading II Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, or MIG, one of the Marine Corps’ new information warfare units.

Hot Issue – The Houthi Art of War: Why They Keep Winning in Yemen

By: Michael Horton

Executive summary: After five years of war against the Saudi-led coalition and its allies, Yemen’s Houthi rebels remain defiant and are once again on the offensive. The Houthis’ keen understanding and consistent application of the algebra of insurgency are fundamental to their martial success in Yemen. Ironically, the greatest threat to the Houthi leadership may be peace. Peace will bring internal tensions within the Houthi leadership and growing discontent among the Yemeni people to the fore.

Introduction

Underestimating or having contempt for an enemy, argues Lao Tzu, is among the costliest mistakes a commander can make. [1] This alone has led to more defeats than any other miscalculation. Conversely, underestimating the enemy is a great asset to those who are underestimated. The military and political capabilities of Yemen’s Houthi rebels have been underrated for nearly two decades. First, by the government of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and then by Saudi Arabia and its supporters, including the United States.

From 2004-2010, the government of Ali Abdulla Saleh fought and lost six wars against the Houthis. The Houthi takeover of the Yemeni capital of Sana’a in September 2014 and their subsequent move southward toward Aden partly prompted Saudi Arabia and the UAE to launch their ill-fated intervention in Yemen in March 2015. The Saudis and Emiratis bet on a quick victory over the Houthis. Now, more than five years on, it is clear they have lost their bet. The Houthis and those allied with them have proved themselves to be resilient, capable, and strategically and tactically creative.

2 July 2020

Hagia Sophia and Erdogan


Hagia Sophia is not part of the Greek-Turkish agenda. It is a world heritage site located in Turkish territory. However, its possible reconversion into a mosque would poison relations between the two countries and peoples for many years.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has his own perspective on the issue. He reads the polls and sees that a large part of the Turkish public wants the “Great Church” to become a mosque once more. He is under pressure from polls and his far-right allies. This is an opportunity to overturn a historic decision taken by Kemal Ataturk 86 years ago that is still controversial in the neighboring country. Erdogan is well aware that such a symbolically weighted move on Hagia Sophia would divide our peoples, possibly more than anything else. He knows that Greeks feel very strongly about this monument and that transforming it into a mosque will not only anger the rabid nationalists but all Greeks, stoking extremist sentiment and further limiting the scope of diplomacy.

I don’t know how we got from the Erdogan of the early days, who did not have Greek-Turkish relations on his “radar,” to today’s; from an Erdogan who believed that the deep state consistently stokes tensions with Greece to strengthen its role and undermine his position, to the current marriage of the traditional deep state with the “Palace” in Ankara. But here we are. It’s possible we missed important opportunities for the two countries 15 or eight years ago.