Iran Nuclear Talks–Intelligence Perspective and Worrisome Questions

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

For several weeks, members of the UN Security Council have been attempting to reach an agreement with Iran regarding its development of nuclear weapons. This month, President Obama announced the “key parameters of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” The terms of this plan and how will affect Iran’s neighbors remain to be seen.

 

US Secy. of Energy Ernest Moniz, US Secy. of State John Kerry, Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi at the Geneva talks, March 2015. Image by US Dept. of State, public domain

US Secy. of Energy Ernest Moniz, US Secy. of State John Kerry, Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi at the Geneva talks, March 2015.
Image by US Dept. of State, public domain

 

President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and the other negotiating nations’ representatives describe the pending agreement with Iran as being a major historic breakthrough in relations. Supporters of the agreement describe it as a historic triumph. Detractors are certain that it is a historic mistake. Since the final details of any agreement are not yet known, it’s difficult to say how good or bad it will be for any of the concerned nations.

Though the deadline might again prove flexible, the final agreement is scheduled to be finished by June 30. If the UN Security Council – comprised of permanent members Russia, China, France, the UK, and the US, and rotating member Germany – all accept the final terms and sign an agreement, then we will have an agreement to debate.

It’s easy to understand why any nuclear agreement with Iran might be difficult to sell to the majority of the American public. Many Americans remember President Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright proudly gushing enthusiasm about how she had gotten North Korea to agree to forego building nuclear weapons. That was in 1994. Madeleine was not available for comment once North Korea tested their first nuclear weapon in 2006.

Burn me with radiation once, shame on you. Burn me with radiation twice . . . well, I would be dead anyway, but you get the point.

 

 

President Obama and his supporters have presented the agreement as an alternative to war with Iran.

Framing it in those terms makes any agreement seem more palatable, but this ignores the various other options, including the status quo. We cannot forget that while the sanctions have been in place, they have helped prevent Iran from testing a nuclear warhead.

It’s clear that Iran has acutely felt the effects of the current sanctions.

Either keeping the sanctions in place or increasing them are both viable options. Just this past Wednesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that other options including increased sanctions were under consideration. Clearly the “we better sign it to prevent war with Iran” theory is salesmanship, and like most sales teams, the White House knows not to take their own marketing efforts too seriously.

If we compare the proposed terms of the pending agreement with past negotiation results, it appears, from a US point of view, to be an improvement over previous Iranian positions. However, some of the more worrisome terms of the agreement, as it is proposed thus far, include permitting Iran to retain illegally built facilities at Fordow and Arak, allowing Iran to preserve its stockpiles of enriched uranium, and phasing out most restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities after 10 years.

US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that expecting Iran to close the aforementioned facilities and reduce their stockpiles of enriched uranium would have amounted to “Iranian capitulation,” and therefore was not achievable.

I agree with the Secretary on this point. The entire reason for the sanctions during the last fifteen years has been to get Iran to capitulate on the point of nuclear weapons development. We could have achieved Iranian “non-capitulation” without the past fifteen years of negotiations and diplomatic breakdancing.

If we examine the current proposed terms without comparison to past proposals, then the framework for an agreement is probably better than what most skeptics (and experienced optimists) had expected.

 

Canstock 2015 Apr Time for Questions

 

However, some of the most worrisome questions have not been addressed . . .

  • Will the International Atomic Energy Agency be given unfettered access to all Iranian nuclear facilities?
  • When will sanctions be lifted, and in exchange for what action by Iran?
  • At what point will sanctions be imposed if there are violations?
  • What will happen to Iran’s current stockpiles of 20% uranium?

Regardless of any other terms, without addressing these questions, any agreement with Iran would be close to useless.

Iran continues to give heavy support to internationally identified terrorist groups, and Iran is in the middle of expanding its ballistic missile program. Otherwise, observers in the West might be more enthusiastic about an agreement with them.

Notice that we have not yet mentioned Israel . . .

Israel sees itself as the future target of any Iranian nuclear weapons. Given that the Iranian leadership has so often worked hard to convince the world that they wish to annihilate Israel, it’s easy to see how Israelis would not wish to place much stock on anything short of a completely enforceable, airtight nonproliferation agreement with Iran.

It might have been reasonable for the White House to assume that Israel would not accept any agreement with Iran. It might even have been reasonable for the White House to give up trying to placate the Israeli government. But it was unwise for the White House to do so openly and blatantly. In my opinion, the administration should have at least publicly dealt with Israel with its usual politically feasible feigned concern. After all, those are, in large measure, Israeli lives that the negotiators have taken to the poker table with Iran.

The Saudis and the Gulf States (as we so optimistically call those sheikdoms near Saudi Arabia) might not have any deep concerns for Israeli lives, but they have lived next to the Iranian theocracy long enough to worry about their own vulnerability to Iranian weapons developments. Iran’s current invasion of Yemen and its power grabbing efforts in Iraq have further raised the level of distrust in Iran’s Gulf neighbors.

What about the concerns of that other group of over-privileged playboys?

Let’s not forget that the White House will have to satisfy the collective wishes of the US Congress before the US is officially a party to any treaty with Iran. The White House has tried to disarm the US congress by calling the agreement a “not-a-treaty.” We shall see how well that flies.

 

Secy. of State John Kerry after meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif at the "not-a-treaty" conference. Image by Dept. of State, public domain.

Secy. of State John Kerry after meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif at the “not-a-treaty” conference.
Image by Dept. of State, public domain.

 

And the Iranians, themselves?

Alarmingly, the Iranians are already backpedaling from this agreement, even though they have not yet actually agreed to it. Currently, Iran is describing terms of an agreement that are vastly different than what the White House and UN Security Council are describing.

One glaring example is that the Iranian government says that the agreement will allow them to keep ten thousand uranium enrichment centrifuges while all other parties to the negotiation say that the agreement allows for a little over five thousand centrifuges. Doubling the uranium enrichment capacity makes a huge difference in any nuclear weapons program. Yet at the same time, the Iranian leadership is telling the world press that Iranian nuclear weapons programs are a figment of the US government’s imagination, while they are telling the Iranian people that they are not giving up their right to produce nuclear weapons.

Before we can know if any agreement with Iran is good or bad, we have to know what the agreement is. Thus far, we don’t. The sales campaigns for any agreement with Iran are at this point premature.

Let us hope that if any agreement does take place, it actually prevents Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. If it doesn’t prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, it will be less than meaningless. It will trigger greater risks from Iran by halting the very economic sanctions that have so far slowed Iranian weapons development. We look forward to reviewing an actual agreement, if and when one is proposed.

The Geneva Discord: Nuclear Peace Breakthrough or Historic Mistake?

By Jay Holmes

On November 23, 2013, the White House announced that it had just finalized the Geneva Accord, an “interim” agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear program. Given that other Geneva Accords have been concluded, and subsequently disregarded, it might be useful to specify it as the 2013 Geneva Accord. Since the announcement of the Accord, we have heard constant news chatter about what it means, who it impacts, and whether we should celebrate it or curse it. The answers to those questions depend on who is talking.

2013 Geneva Accord image from U.S. Dept. of State

2013 Geneva Accord
image from U.S. Dept. of State

Click on the link below to find out who is saying what, and how this is driving Saudi Arabia and Israel, traditional enemies, into an alliance. Will Saudi Arabia be the next nuclear power in the region?

While you’re at our new site, remember to subscribe. We wouldn’t want to lose you in the move.

Bayard & Holmes

2013 Geneva Discord:

Nuclear Peace Breakthrough or Historic Mistake?

Special Edition Iran – Part VII, The Hostage Crisis and Operation Eagle Claw

By Jay Holmes

As an intelligence operative, I need a good foundation in history to do my job. After all, if we don’t understand what happened in the past, we can’t understand what is happening today or why. This series outlines Iran’s past as we move toward an analysis of that country’s current nuclear capability and what it means to the West. (See Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V, and Part VI.)

Today, we look at the Hostage Crisis and Operation Eagle Claw.

Invasion of US Embassy in Iran, image from cia.gov

On November 4, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini’s thugs invaded the US Embassy in Tehran and kidnapped 52 Americans. Rather than attack Iran, President Carter authorized the Pentagon to order US Army Special Forces Delta Force, commanded by Colonel Charles “Chargin’ Charlie” Beckwith, to plan and train for a hostage rescue mission known as Operation Eagle Claw.

Delta Intelligence Officer, Captain Wade “Ish” Ishimoto, began long hours working with multiple agencies outside of the Army to construct an accurate picture of the situation in the Embassy. Ishimoto and Beckwith shared relaxing breaks together from their work by burning up ammo at the firing range. These guys didn’t intend to miss. Given any chance, they wouldn’t.

Wade “Ish” Ishimoto

The CIA was willing and ready to implement a wide variety of operations against the Ayatollah, and American CIA members volunteered in droves for clandestine operations in Iran. President Carter approved little activity against Iran.

“Old Hands” and “Youngsters” alike were deeply frustrated by the White House’s unwillingness to engage in HUMINT operations and covert action in Iran and other locations. However, the CIA and military intelligence agencies still gained some valuable HUMINT (human intelligence), and the US 5th Fleet in the Indian Ocean was reinforced.

November 20, 1979

Iran released 13 US hostages.

April 24, 1980

Operation Eagle Claw commenced. Helicopters launched from the USS Nimitz for a low level, nighttime flight into Iran. It would be a long flight to “Desert One” where they would refuel from fuel brought in by a C-130. The pilots, flying below Iranian Air Defense at 100 feet, faced a heavy sand storm.

The helicopters and pilots were worn down from hours of flying through wind-blown sand. Two helicopters broke down on the flight to the refueling stop. After a third helicopter collided with a C-130 at the fueling stop, causing the deaths of eight members of the mission, Delta was left with three helicopters.

The agreed upon minimum was six birds to reach Tehran. The President ordered the abortion of the mission. Beckwith was in agony, but he accepted that there was no rational way to continue the mission. Delta and their accompanying Army Rangers withdrew from Iran. Out of the failed mission came an eventual major reorganization of US Special Forces teams with direct funding and permanent infrastructure for the support of their missions.

President Jimmy Carter, image from public domain

The continuation of the Iranian Hostage Crisis played a part in President Carter’s defeat in his re-election bid. We should remember that, in spite of what other criticisms we might make of President Carter, he insisted on taking the full blame for the failure of Operation Eagle Claw. In other times, on other occasions, other, less honorable men in the Oval Office have behaved very differently.

July 11, 1980

One American Hostage was released.

September 22, 1980

A not very fast but reasonably savage tribe from the Northwest (the Iraqi Army) invaded Iran.

Iran had been organizing a Shia resistance against the Sunni minority Ba’ath government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The Iranians wanted Iraq’s oil, but Iran was in economic chaos thanks to Khomeini and his undereducated, over-empowered Mullahs. Saddam and the Ba’ath party wanted Iran and its oil, but the geographical obstacles were considerable. The mountains of northwestern Iran once again play a part in its defense.

The Iraqi Army, equipped with older, inferior Russian equipment, was unable to move fast enough, and Iran mustered an effective defense. A bloody stalemate ensued.

The Iranians announced that the “Hand of God” had stopped the Iraqi invasion. What more likely saved them was the meddling hand of the militarily inadequate Saddam Hussein in the planning and conduct of the war.

June 1981

In a wild and reckless move, Iranian President Abulhassan Banisadr dared to question the absolute authority of the Ayatollah. Khomeini tossed him from office. A defecting Iranian Air Force pilot smuggled Banisadr out of the country and he fled to France. His closest friends and supporters were executed. Banisadr remains under heavy guard in France today.

January 20, 1981

President Reagan was inaugurated. Khomeini ordered the release of the remaining US hostages.

1982

Iran financed and founded “Hezbollah” in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a radical Shia group dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the conversion of Lebanon to a Shia Islamic state.

1983

Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and civilians, as well as their own Kurdish citizens.

October 23, 1983

Iran used Hezbollah suicide bombers to attack the US Marine barracks in Lebanon. Two hundred, twenty American Marines, 18 US Sailors, three US Army soldiers, 60 French servicemen, and six civilians were killed in the attack.

It is now public information that the NSA intercepted the order issued from the Iranian government to their chief terrorist in Beirut to attack the Embassy. The NSA failed to pass on the information to the Pentagon or the White House in time to prevent the attack.

1985

The Iran Contra scandal. As the war with Iraq continued, the US attempted to broker weapons deals with Iran in exchange for the release of kidnapped Americans. Profits from the sales went (unseen by most, but not all, Congressmen) to support anti-communist contras in Nicaragua and bordering nations. Americans in the jungles and occasionally in the air of Central America were fighting a war on a shoe string, but that’s a tale for another day.

July 3, 1988

The Ticonderoga class cruiser USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian Airliner with two hundred, ninety passengers and crew. The airliner deviated from the normal route and seemed to be descending toward the Vincennes. At that point in history, the people at Vincennes had no technological way of identifying the aircraft as an airliner full of passengers.

July 18, 1988

Iran agreed to a UN Peace Treaty ending the war between Iran and Iraq. Depending on who you ask, the war cost Iraq nearly 400,000 deaths, and cost Iran close to 1,000,000.

Victims of Saddam’s chemical weapons in Halabja, 1988. Photo by Zaxo at Wikimedia.**

February 14, 1989

In yet another of his many political blunders, the aging and never very rational Ayatollah Khomeini declared a “fatwa” against UK author Salman Rushdie for publishing The Satanic Verses. The “fatwa” meant that any Islamic could murder Rushdie and get extra virgins in heaven for doing so.

June 3 1989

Khomeini finally did something useful for Iran and the Iranian people. He died. The actual date is disputed. TV cameras transmitted live scenes from his funeral. A mob of zealots tore open his coffin and ripped his body apart in attempts to obtain sacred relics from the dead mullah.

June 4, 1989

President Khamenei was appointed as new Supreme Religious Leader. Islamic clerics around the world were shocked by his selection. They claimed that his religious training was very limited, like the rest of his education. His main qualification for the job seemed to be that he was Khomeini’s favorite “gopher” during his exile. Over time, Khamenei would prove to be as incompetent as his critics claimed he was.

Ayatollah Khamenei, a.k.a. Supreme Leader 2.0. Image by http://www.sajed.ir at Wikimedia.

August 1989

Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani was sworn in as the new president. Rafsanjani made slightly conciliatory remarks concerning the “Great Satan.” The USA released the last half billion of frozen Iranian assets from US banks.

June 21, 1990

An earthquake in Iran killed 40,000 people. 700 villages were destroyed. Five hundred thousand people were left homeless.

Iran remained neutral during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and during Operation Desert Storm, the allied invasion of Iraq.

1995

The US imposed economic sanctions on Iran for seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

In our next article, we will examine the long nuclear weapons argument between the international community and Iran up to the current time.

**Note from Piper Bayard: I don’t normally choose such graphic photos, and this is one of the least graphic from this attack, but the use of chemical weapons by Iraq was so brutal and devastating to the Iranians and the Kurds that I felt, in the interest of truth, it would be negligent of me to omit it. There is the widespread belief in America that Saddam never had chemical WMD’s. Clearly, this is not the case.

Iran’s Approaching Nuclear Capability

By Jay Holmes

For the past several weeks, we have reviewed Iran’s history in our efforts to understand current dynamics with that nation. After all, if we don’t understand what happened in the past, we can’t understand what is happening today or why. (See Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIII, and Part IX.)

image by Fastfission at wikimedia commons, public domain

In February of 2012, Iran publicly threatened to attack any US Navy ships that entered the Arabian Sea via the Straits of Hormuz. In response, the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, joined by warships from France and the UK, sent a carrier task force through the Straits. Iran did not attack them. That same month, Iran denied International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors access to the Parchin site, south of Tehran. The Parchin site is where the US and the UK believe Iran is attempting to construct an 800-mile range missile for the delivery of nuclear warheads.

In March of this year, UN inspectors announced that traces of uranium enriched at 27% were found at Iran’s Fordo nuclear site. Europe, Canada, and the US held talks with Iran about its nuclear program. Iran continued to stall and the talks proved to be as useless as the last hundred or so attempts at diplomacy with the Iranian government.

From March 2 to May 4, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, getting testy and wanting more money and power, ran his own anti-Western/anti-reason supporters against Ayatollah Khomenei’s anti-Western/anti-reason supporters in parliamentary elections. Not surprisingly, the Ayatollah’s supporters won. No one else did. Approximately 60% of Iranians are in neither of these two extremist camps, but their opinions and votes don’t matter because no serious challengers were allowed to run in the elections.

In June, the US exempted India, Malaysia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Turkey from any economic penalties for continued trade with Iran in exchange for them agreeing to cut oil imports from Iran. The original deal was that no one could import any oil. These countries wanted to violate the embargo so the US negotiated this reduction in consumption of Iranian oil.

The European Union boycott of Iranian oil took effect in July. The Iranian economy took yet another turn for the worse. Social unrest increased, but unarmed protestors were beaten and arrested by the Republican Guards and the regime’s other supporters.

An unarmed majority cannot influence a well-armed minority, and a well-armed minority rules Iran. If the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, freedom of speech must be instituted in Iran before reason can conquer ignorance and brutality in that country.

The IAEA announced in September that Iran doubled its production capacity at Fordo uranium enrichment facility. It also significantly hampered an IAEA attempted to inspect the Parchin military site. Canada broke off diplomatic relations with Iran due to Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s continued support for the Assad regime in Syria.

Now, in October, Iran’s currency is at a record low against the US dollar. The Iranian Rial has lost 80% of its value since 2011, in part because of international sanctions and in part because of waning public confidence in Iran. Black Market currency trading is increasing in that country.

The EU announced more economic sanctions against Iran. The Iranian regime ordered that more riot police and political thugs be kept on alert, but it made no policy changes to alleviate the stress on the Iranian people.

Ahmadinejad’s mouthpieces now claim Iran has achieved a uranium enrichment concentration of 83%. They will need better than 90% concentration for fission weapons. The Iranian government continues to stall the West as it attempts to produce such weapons in the form of nuclear warheads and nuclear armed missiles. The West continues to make that easy for Iran by procrastinating in taking any effective action.

Clandestine operations have thus far prevented the Iranian regime from adequately refining uranium to the high concentration necessary for the assembly of a nuclear warhead. This success has been helped by the fact that not all of Iran’s scientists and members of government agree with the regime’s desire to create a nuclear arsenal. Low cost, “low kinetic” operations against Iran are attractive because of the low political risks to Western governments that such operations present, but such operations cannot prevent the assembly of a nuclear weapon indefinitely.

It is possible that the US will become more aggressive in opposing Iran’s nuclear weapons program, its Hezbollah operations in Lebanon, and its support for the Assad regime in Syria after the November elections are concluded.

The Iranian regime has been consistent and predictable in its foreign policy and military objectives since the 1979 founding of the Islamic Republic. They are quite open about the fact that they see themselves as the Pan-Islamic Caliphate and have said as much in the past.

Predicting the reaction of Western governments remains the more difficult challenge both for the Iranian regime and for Western voters. Those voters can only hope that the continued procrastination of their governments does not enable Iran to field a credible nuclear force. If the West finds Iran difficult to deal with under present circumstances, it will not find it any easier once Iran has obtained nuclear weapons.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

*‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

You may contact them in blog comments, on Twitter at@piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at piperbayard@yahoo.com

© 2012 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

Special Edition Iran – Part IX, Playing Nuclear Chicken

By Jay Holmes

As an intelligence operative, I need a good foundation in history to do my job. After all, if we don’t understand what happened in the past, we can’t understand what is happening today or why. This series outlines Iran’s past as we move toward an analysis of that country’s current nuclear capability and what it means to the West. (See Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VII, and Part VIII.)

Today, we review Iran’s history from 2005 up to the present in preparation for an analysis of Iran’s current nuclear capability and what it means to the West.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Ahmadinejad and Vladimir Putin

image from the Presidential Press and Information Office of the Russian Federation, wikimedia

August 2005

After the election of ultra-conservative hand puppet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President of Iran, his boss, the Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei, ordered the International Atomic Energy Agency (“IAEA”) seals at the Isfahan nuclear site to be broken. The seals had been installed as part of an economic agreement with the European community. Europe responded by quietly attempting to get Iran to adhere to the agreement that it pretended to agree to in 2003.

January 2006

Iran broke the IAEA seals at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Muhammad al Baradei was concerned and showed it publicly. US President George Bush announced that the US would not accept uranium enrichment by Iran. He failed to mention what “non-acceptance” would consist of beyond condemnations.

April 2006

Ahmadinejad proudly announced that Iran had enriched uranium to 3.5% concentration. This level of uranium was concerning, but not anything like the approximately 80% that is needed for a uranium fission weapon. Ahmadinejad understood this, and he knew the US wouldn’t go to war for 3.5% uranium. However, he hoped to show that he defied the US and the West. His minority of supporters in Iran cheered. The majority of Iranians were not thrilled by the news.

July 31, 2006

UN Security Council Resolution 1696 demanded that Iran stop enriching uranium. Russia and China both cooperated with the resolution because both were trying to sell Iran reactor grade enriched uranium at high prices. The resolution proved to be as effective as most UN resolutions. Not at all.

December 2006

The Iranian regime hosted an international conference for Holocaust denial. Ahmadinejad pretended to think that Western allies invented the Jewish Holocaust after World War Two. Iranian apologists in the West would later pretend that Ahmadinejad never said the many hateful things that he frequently said. More than anything, the “conference” showed how ignorant Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei is about how people outside of Iran think.

Iran’s Holocaust denial scheme backfired on Iran. The UN passed a previously stalled resolution blocking all vendors from selling Iran any nuclear equipment and technology that could be used in the development of a nuclear weapon.

February 2007

The IAEA said Iran ignored yet another deadline for ceasing its uranium enrichment and called for more economic sanctions. Hand puppet Ahmadinejad screamed more of his usual nonsensical denouncements against the evil Western World and the Zionists. Everyone wished this guy would get another speech writer. Most Iranians were embarrassed every time he opened his mouth near a microphone.

March 2007

Operating on the principal that one can never have enough enemies to fully enjoy in one lifetime, Iran kidnapped fifteen British sailors from international waters near Iran. The UK protested. Iran thumbed its nose. A few of the UK’s least intelligent journalists questioned how “this disaster could occur.”

It’s always a comfort to know that not all of the West’s most asinine journalists live in the US.

May 2007

The IAEA announced that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon within three to eight years if left unchecked in its efforts.

June 2007

Riots broke out in Iran over gasoline rationing. It occurred to Iranians that it takes a truly talented and gifted government to produce a gasoline shortage in a petroleum exporting nation. The various embargos had some impact. Iran couldn’t manage its oil industry well without outside help.

October 2007

The US came to its senses and finally cut off the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their many lucrative corporations from US banks. The White House admitted what lots of folks knew for a long time. Iran was financing, training, and controlling the most active and best armed insurgents in Iraq. Big surprise. Not.

February 2008

Iran launched a test missile and said it was for scientific research.

Yes. That particular branch of science is called, “Hitting Europe and Israel with nuclear weapons.”

March 2008

Ahmadinejad visited Iraq for a rousing round of denouncements of Zionists and the West. Everyone outside of his Shia radical supporters in Iraq and Iran yawned.

After disqualifying all of the opposition from running for office, the “conservatives” won another round of uncontested elections in Iran. In Iran “conservative” means, “I support Ayatollah Khamenei.”

May 2008

The IAEA announced that Iran was still withholding information about its atomic programs. I was in Washington that day. My friends and I chuckled about the “shocking” news.

November 2008

Ahmadinejad congratulated Barack Obama for winning the US Presidential elections. Obama cringed.

December 2008

The Iranian police state raided the office of the human rights coalition led by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi. Iran said the office was acting as an illegal organization.

This is true. Human rights in Iran are certainly not legal.

March of 2009

Iran’s support for US President Obama ran out. Iran accused him of being another Zionist. Obama was relieved by the denouncement.

Being liked by Iran is even more damaging to an American politician’s reputation than being liked by Fidel Castro. I can only assume the White House considered it a good day PR-wise.

April 2009

Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi was convicted of spying for the US by an Iranian court. She was sentenced to eight years in prison. That it was an eight year sentence rather than hanging was clear proof that the Iranians knew she was not spying.

May 2009

The US State Department announced that Iran was the world’s leading terrorist supporter. The folks over at CIA shrugged. Many employees remembered to be grateful they didn’t work for State and didn’t have to talk to the press.

Iran freed Roxana Saberi and she returned to the US. I’m not sure who got it done. I’m glad they did.

June 2009

After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated a popular opposition leader named Mir Hossein Mousavi in a rigged presidential election, protests erupted across Iran. Mousavi was hardly a reformer, but he wasn’t Ahmadinejad so the public supported him beyond what the regime had calculated they would. Khamenei ordered crackdowns against the protestors.

After the murder of a female protester named Neda Agha-Soltan was filmed on a cell phone and posted on YouTube, cell service was interrupted in Iran. Approximately one hundred protesters were believed to have been murdered by the Khamenei’s goons. Hospitals reported over a thousand seriously wounded protestors.

The international press caught on to what teenagers with cell phones were aware of for over a week and started covering the protests as well as they could. Several foreign journalists suffered beatings, arrest, and banishment from Iran. Several Iranian journalists and journalism students who covered the protests vanished.

August 2009

Ayatollah Khamenei got tired of Ahmadinejad pretending to be a real president and humiliated him by publicly demanding that he dismiss some of his key appointees. Ahmadinejad was filmed pouting.

Khamenei announced that he decided the “opposition candidate” and his top supporters were not actually foreign agents. Brilliant.

September 2009

Iran stopped denying that it was building another uranium enrichment plant at Qom, Iran. The IAEA was angry, and it only took them two months to formulate a statement denouncing the Qom uranium plant.

The denouncement was so effective that Iran announced it would build ten more uranium enrichment plants. Given that they were already operating 1,300 uranium processing centrifuges, ten more plants would be eleven more plants than they could possibly need for running nuclear reactors for generations of electricity.

December 2009

The death of the one time Ayatollah Khomeini supporter-turned-dissident, Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri, triggered a new wave of protests in Iran.  About twelve people were murdered or vanished. Montazeri was once considered Khomeini’s natural successor, but had broken with Khomeini because of the mass murder of opposition members in Iran, and because of Khomeini’s insistence on absolute authority.

January 2010

Nuclear physicist Masoud Ali-Mohammadi was murdered in Tehran. The regime blamed the killing on Israel and the US in an attempt to damage Iran’s nuclear program. However, Mohammadi was not important to Iran’s nuclear program. He likely was murdered for openly supporting opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and for refusing to step back into line. He had told his students to not fear death when considering protest because death can only hurt for a few seconds, but that the regime had hurt Iran for decades.

January 2010

Iran stepped up missile production. The US announced that US Patriot Air Defense Missiles would be deployed to Bahrain and other parts of the Persian Gulf to defend against possible missile attacks.

February 2010

Iran announced that it was “willing to ship its uranium overseas for conversion to fuel rods for peaceful use in Iran.” The offer was welcomed, but not followed by action. Russia had been offering the service to Iran for years. Nobody took Iran too seriously in its announcement. In any event, the process did not prevent them from continuing to enrich uranium beyond the levels needed for fuel rods.

June 2010

The UN imposed its fourth set of economic sanctions against Iran. Iran responded with its standard anti-American/anti-West/anti-Zionist nonsense.

July 2010

The international community condemned Iran for condemning Sakineh Ashtiani to death for “adultery.” Iran changed its mind about the stoning. Instead, it stoned her to death for an imaginary murder plot.

This sort of thing happens frequently in Iran, along with publicly hanging of juveniles who are accused of homosexuality. Few cases make it to the attention of the international community so when they do, some people are shocked. The condemnation means nothing to the police state that runs Iran under the guise of a theocracy.

September 2010

Someone in the Bushehr Nuclear Facility forgot to not open porn on their work computer, and the system was infected with the Suxtnet Worm. The infection spread to other Iranian nuclear facilities. The press said it could have been a “Nation State” that did it. Yeah. Maybe so.

December 2010

Switzerland hosted international talks with Iran. It proudly announced that a diplomatic breakthrough had occurred. The breakthrough? They had agreed to hold more talks in the future.

February 2011

Protests started up again in Iran.

Iran is an old hand at dealing with this now. They have a regular “protest response crisis team.” They beat a few hundred protestors bloody, kill a few more, and the others go home.

Iran sent one war ship and a support ship through the Suez to Syria. This was the first time that an Iranian war ship had transited the Suez since the mullahs came to power in Iran in 1979.

April 2011

In the dark comic opera that we call Iran, the rebellious child Ahmadinejad again made the mistake of pretending to be a grown up president, and again Khamenei publicly humiliated him by flexing his “supreme authority muscles.” Remember, Ahmadinejad ran on a sickening sycophantic political platform of “anyone who suggests disagreement with the Supreme Leader must be stoned to death twice.” The Iranian president’s restrained temper tantrums were rather hilarious to observe. Most Iranians found it the only thing about him that’s funny at all.

September 2011

Iran announced that the Bushehr Nuclear Power plant was on the grid. It was the first Middle Eastern nuclear power plant to go on line. The plant was originally a joint project between Iran and the US during the reign of the Shah. The funny thing was that if Khomeini had not forced Iran back into his personal Dark Age in 1979, the plant would have been on line around 1985.

October 2011

The US foiled a plot by Iranian intelligence forces to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the US. Iran denied responsibility.

November 2011

An unexplained explosion occurred at an Iranian Missile Development Center. A Revolutionary Guards General was killed.

The IAEA announced that it had irrefutable evidence that Iran was attempting to build a trigger for a nuclear weapon. The US, Canada, and the UK increased financial sanctions against Iran and froze Iranian assets. The European community did not follow suit.

In its state of financial crisis, the EU could not ignore Iranian oil. The first Iranian missile could fall on Paris some day, but in the meantime, Paris could not survive without the oil. The US and Canada could promise the UK that it would reopen wells and keep the UK supplied, but it could not promise to do so for all of Europe.

Apparently concerned that not everyone on the planet was completely despising his regime, the Ayatollah Khamenei’s thugs attacked the British embassy in Tehran. Some of the younger thugs wanted to attack the US embassy, as well. The old timers had to remind them that the US has no embassy in Iran. The the average person in Iran wondered why in the name of God after thousands of years of seeking to refine a civilization they must endure such madness.

December 2011

European intelligence services anguished over the increase in uranium refinement in Iran. Iran had the missiles. Successive Western politicians had put the day off for “tomorrow” for a long time. Tomorrows ran out. Faced with threats of yet more sanctions, Iran announced it would close the Gulf to oil traffic. It didn’t. Within the confines of White House instructions, the Pentagon tried to answer media questions about “what if.”

January 2012

The EU decided it couldn’t wait any longer to act, and it announced an embargo against Iranian oil. Iran responded by claiming that it would destroy any US naval vessels that attempted to transit the Straits of Hormuz. The US Navy sent another carrier into the Gulf, joined by British and French war ships. Iran did not attack them.

The value of Iranian currency plummeted on world markets. Financial panic set in in Iran. Many Iranians had their accounts frozen.

Oil prices climbed. Saudi Arabia (our “friend”) reduced oil production.

February 2012

Iran denied IAEA inspectors access to critical nuclear sites in Iran. The IAEA gave up and left Iran.

The US and Israel openly held joint meetings. The US started issuing more direct statements concerning possible joint strikes by the US and Israel. At that point, the only substantial, unsettled question between Israel and the US was what would be the trigger to any strikes against Iran.

The White House was told that within two months, Iran could build a nuclear weapon. During the last week of February, doors in the Capitol started opening, and people started talking across the aisle. The political chatter decreased. Congressmen were looking more serious and less theatrical. Hell, they were starting to look like a “government.”

Welcome to the fight, people.

February 29, 2012

The Pentagon entertained the press openly. It announced that it was determined to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program. When the press asked if the US had the capability to destroy the deep underground uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordo, the Pentagon stated that it could destroy these sites with large, conventional weapons.

Short of a substantial strike, nothing would dissuade Khamenei from seeking nuclear weapons. My best guess was that he was not convinced that Obama would make that strike, and especially not before the 2012 election. So far, Khamenei’s been right.

In the next installment, we will analyze Iran’s current nuclear capability and what it means to the West today.

Special Edition Iran – Part VIII, Crossing the Nuclear Rubicon

By Jay Holmes

As an intelligence operative, I need a good foundation in history to do my job. After all, if we don’t understand what happened in the past, we can’t understand what is happening today or why. This series outlines Iran’s past as we move toward an analysis of that country’s current nuclear capability and what it means to the West. (See Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VI, and Part VII.)

Today, Holmes takes us behind the intelligence scene as he walks us through Iran’s Nuclear Age up to the current players.

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image by Semhur, CC-BY-SA-3.0, wikimedia commons

The Year is 1995 . . .

Intelligence agencies from various Western nations voice concern that Iran has started a nuclear weapons program. The Western press is saying that Iran can build a bomb in five years. Western leaders are assured that a bomb will not be produced by Iran within ten years, based on where they are with resources and science. For most Western leaders, ten years is beyond their political shelf life.

The Israelis start whispering a little louder about the US needing to lead a coalition against Iran and destroy their atomic energy facilities. The diplomacy game begins.

I feel sorry for the poor State Department employees who have to take this particular diplomatic initiative seriously.  It’s not my “group,” “team,” “desk,” or “task.” I have plenty to chew on already, but I can’t help but notice the situation. However, when it comes to Weapons of Mass Destruction there are still bundles of loose ends in Iraq. Iran is less urgent in this regard.

During the Cold War, the USSR was, in a sense, everyone’s second task if they weren’t on the USSR full time. In 1955 or 1975, all roads led to Moscow, even the ones that wound through Beijing. Now, in 1995, it feels like most roads lead to a nuclear weapon in Iran or Iraq regardless of whatever other road one might be driving at the moment.

I’m at a casual “only us” party in Virginia. It’s not work, but we rarely leave that “work” very far away. It’s on everyone’s mind.

When a rule needs breaking, I somehow seem to be the natural first choice. I wish I wasn’t. I see myself as the peacemaker not the trouble maker.

I’m getting that expectant “Jay, tell us a story” look. I break the rule, and I ask, “What’s the deal with Iran?” We try, but we can’t envision this thing in Iran getting anything but worse.

I look at the three very good scientific analysts in the room. They decline to offer me any warm assurances. We conclude that the greatest challenge will be getting a politician to take effective action before it’s too late.

Life goes on. There’s no shortage of troubles and dangers in this world. I concentrate on the particular pieces of it that belong to me and “my guys.”

1996

China and Iran announce a joint project to build a uranium enrichment plant in Iran. Iran is feeling pretty cool about being big China’s new little friend. China wants the oil.

Within a couple of months, China has a mysterious change of heart and backs out of the program. I’m not sure who pulled which genie out of which cute little bottle, but I’m glad they did. Somebody will tell me the story when it’s okay to tell me. In the meantime, the Secretary of State swears it was diplomacy that did it. Hell, she might even believe it herself.

1997

Iranian intelligence forces murder four Iranian Kurdish refugees in Germany. Europeans don’t think it’s funny.

Educated people in Iran are looking at the thousands of years of dues their ancestors paid on the long road to civilization, and they are wondering why they are living under an idiot regime lead by a fake cleric with enforcers made up primarily of Iran’s least intelligent people, the Revolutionary Guards.

Supreme Con Man Ayatollah Khamenei starts believing his own cooked statistics and mistakenly allows a moderate candidate to run against the hardline lackey that he knows will win. Even with a little help from poll monitors in Tehran, the moderate candidate, a.k.a. the intended sacrificial lamb, roasts the regime favorite in a lopsided election. It turns out that not many Iranians think that the Dark Ages policies of the regime are all that funny.

The new President Mohammad Khatami still has to answer to the unelected Supreme Con Man Khamenei so nobody is expecting him to drag Iran very far back toward this century, but it’s still a victory for hope and reason in Iran.

I’m sitting in a leaky aircraft hangar in rural Florida with close friends enjoying a rain storm when a bright and talented young communications specialist brings us the news from his communications shack in the corner of the hangar. We toast Khatami’s victory with our last two bottles of Gatorade and my personal stash of chocolate. The joke get’s told one more time that Jay can always be counted on for extra water, extra ammo, and extra chocolate. I chuckle as though I haven’t heard it a few hundred times already.

The road is too muddy to drive to town so we sleep in the plane. It’s nice and dry. I don’t pray much, and never for Iranian clerics, but I find myself saying a silent prayer for Khatami before I drift into sleep, right after I ask God to protect my family and loved ones and these guys I’m with tonight.

Khatami struggles against the dictator Khamenei and his goons, but he can’t get much done.

Hoseyn Ali Montazeri, a senior Iranian cleric (a real one with real training), publicly criticizes Khamenei’s dictatorial political power. He is placed under house arrest.

1998

Iranian scientists are ordered to increase Iran’s tunneling technology and skill in order to shield future nuclear facilities.

US intelligence services detect, track, and confirm the launching of a medium range ballistic missile by Iran. The missile has the range to reach Israel.

Israel orders its defense industry to step up efforts on missile counter measures. The CIA reports to the Senate Intelligence Committee and the President that Israel is now significantly less safe. A few days later, the Secretary of Defense reports to Congress that Iran could build an intercontinental ballistic missile with the range to reach the US within five years.

North Korea needs oil and has been selling Chinese missile technology to Iran for oil and cash.

Iran’s new radical pals in Afghanistan, the Taliban, cut the heads off eight Iranian diplomats and send the heads to Iran in a box. Iran is not happy. They send several army brigades to the Afghan border. Iran overflies Afghanistan. The threat doesn’t work. They are Taliban, not Pakistanis or Iraqis. They have no idea that they’ve suffered the indignity of being overflown by a hostile air force. Dignity isn’t really their thing anyway.

1999

The fun continues. Supreme Con Man Khamenei’s press controllers order the closing of a newspaper for being less than 100% devoted to the adoration of Khamenei. Students in Tehran are angered and they protest peacefully. Revolutionary Guard thugs disguised as angry civilians raid the dormitory and beat and kidnap students. Six days of escalating protests ensue. Over 1,200 students are arrested. Some of them are never heard from again.

2000

Iran holds elections for the Majlis (the parliament). In spite of creative, Chicago-style election practices in Tehran, the reformers win an overwhelming majority. Once again, rural (more pure and devout) Iranians show that their devotion to God does not extend to the Khamenei.

Iranian reformer Saeed Hajjarian becomes President Khatami’s political adviser. The Revolutionary Guards suspect him of releasing information to the press about the routine murders of moderates in Iran. Hajjarian is shot in the face on the steps of the city council, but he lives. Khamenei can’t believe his bad luck.

2001

Moderate Khatami wins re-election. Khamenei asks his elections specialists what he is paying them for.

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Germany when I find out. Before long, I get a call from friends in the US. We have a good laugh. We ask ourselves what Khamenei is paying his election specialists for.

2002

US President George Bush accuses Iran of being a member of the Axis of Evil. The Western press frets that Iran will become angry at us . . . As compared to what?

The exiled Iranian National Council of Resistance reports to the Western press that Iran is building a secret underground nuclear facility at Natanz. The President and US allies already know. They’ve already been told.

2003

Iranian Sunni leader Abdolmalek Rigi founds Jundullah to fight against the Iranian regime. Most folks assume that the Saudis and their Gulf State Sunni pals are funding him. When IED bombs produced in Iran for use in Iraq start occasionally blowing up in Iran, Khamenei wonders what he is paying his bomb makers for. Most Iranians hate the regime that they live under, but they are not about to rally to the banner of Sunni brand terrorists.

Students protest in Tehran again. The press coverage is more intense this time, and fewer students vanish into thin air. Protesting in Iran takes more than a little courage. You might not survive.

image by Shahram Sharif, wikimedia commons

Shirin Ebadi becomes Iran’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner. She is a lawyer who had become Iran’s first female judge in 1975, but she was fired after the 1979 revolution. She is a human rights activist in Iran. Even with her family’s many political connections, it’s amazing that she survives.

Forty thousand people are killed in an earthquake in south-east Iran.

2004

A train crash in Iran kills about 260 people. It may or may not have been an accident. It may or may not have been an act of sectarian terrorism.

The Supreme Con Man Ayatollah Khamenei finally stops believing his own propaganda. He accepts that most Iranians hate him and his thugs. He outlaws all candidates except his hand picked lackeys. Finally, the conservatives manage to eek out a victory against themselves in the elections.

2005

One ultra-conservative by the name of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wins the presidential election after all reasonable adults are removed from the ballot. This guy had run on the most ridiculous, obsequious Khamenei worship platform imaginable. You just know his mother wasted that money she paid for those acting classes.

My pals and I start taking guesses for the month in which Ahmadinejad will try to get off his knees and take a little power for himself. All his pals will want a piece of that imaginary pie he is hoarding, too. That pie pan is empty. He is nothing more than a cheap facade. No one thinks he’s the president of anything.

In the next post, we’ll take a look at Iran’s nuclear development up to President Obama’s inauguration.

Special Edition Iran – Part VI, The Rise of the Ayatollahs

By Jay Holmes

As an intelligence operative, I need a good foundation in history to do my job. After all, if we don’t understand what happened in the past, we can’t understand what is happening today or why. This series outlines Iran’s past as we move toward an analysis of that country’s current nuclear capability and what it means to the West. (See Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV, and Part V.)

Today, we look at the rise of the Ayatollahs.

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Ayatollah Khomeini, image from public domain

September 2, 1945

In Tokyo Harbor on the deck of the USS Missouri, General Douglas MacArthur, representing the Combined Allied Forces, accepted the surrender of Japanese General Yoshijiro Emezu and Japanese Rear Admiral Tadatoshi Tomioka, ending World War Two. Admiral Chester Nimitz signed on behalf of the United States of America. The War was so vast and hideous that between fifty-five and seventy million people died worldwide, and another fifteen million human beings would remain forever unaccounted.

1946

As a direct result of the political maps drawn up at Potsdam Conference at the end of World War Two by the UK, USA, and USSR, both the Soviet Union and the UK departed from Iran. The agreement did not require the UK to leave, but it choose to voluntarily.

June 26, 1950

Haj Ali Razmara became Prime Minister of Iran. Though he had attempted a better deal, he planned to sign a new agreement with British Petroleum and the UK government that was less favorable to Iran than other agreements in force in Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Razmara also planned on instituting more democratic reforms and granting local authority to locally elected officials. This frightened the Shia religious leaders.

March 7, 1951

A member of the Fadayan e Islam assassinated Razmara. The Shia religious leaders controlled the Fadayan e Islam, but no plot was tied to them.

Nationalist Muhammad Mossadeq became prime minister. He nationalized the oil industry, and Great Britain declared an embargo on Iranian oil. A power struggle brewed between the Shah Reza Pahlavi and Mossadeq.

August 16, 1953

Prime Minister Mossadeq, supported by a growing communist movement, refused an order from the Shah to resign his office. The Shah went into exile in Rome.

August 19, 1953

Before the Shah and his entourage could finish unpacking, the CIA and MI-6 arranged a counter coup against Mossadeq. Because of their fear of communism, the Shia Mullahs quietly supported the coup.  General Fazlollah Zahedi was installed as prime minister. The Shah returned to Iran.

1955

Great Britain, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan signed the Baghdad Pact. The Pact granted Great Britain a leadership role in the region’s fight against communism.

1957

The CIA trained a secret police organization for the Shah named the SAVAK. SAVAK answered directly to the Shah, and not to the elected members of the Majlis.

1963

The Shah announced the White Revolution. The plan was to increase local democratic institutions, build more industry, complete land reforms, and lessen rural Iranians’ dependency on the Mullahs. The White Revolution included voting rights and equal protection under the law for Iranian women. The Mullahs were incensed and did all they could to resist modernization. “Ayatollah” Khomeini was jailed for plotting against the government.

1964

Khomeini was released from jail. He immediately attempted to organize a revolution against the government and against the modernization of Iran. He was exiled to Iraq, where he continued his work against the government of Iran.

1972

US President Richard Nixon agreed to arm the Shah with the intention of preparing Iran to better resist threats by the USSR. Iran purchased $4 billion USD in arms shipments.

1975

Continued military expenditures and a drop in oil revenue caused economic problems in Iran. Khomeini’s forty-nine year old son died, and the Mullahs accused SAVAK of murdering him. Others suspected the Soviet KGB of the murder.

1978

The Shah announced more modernization reforms. The Mullahs were angered and organized more protests. Rioting broke out. The Iranian police killed several hundred protestors in Tabriz, Tehran and Qom. Ayatollah Khomeini was exiled to Paris. Khomeini did a great job playing the Western press. He managed to sell himself as a democratic reformer and a supporter of freedom.

January 16, 1979

The Shah and his family fled Iran as the government collapsed.

February 1, 1979

Posing as a religious leader, political con man Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran with promises of new freedoms and democracy. He brought, instead, a new Dark Age of ignorance and oppression to Iran.

Khomeini’s return from exile, image from public domain

February 14, 1979

The Mullahs’ thugs invaded the US Embassy in Tehran, but withdrew.

April 1, 1979

Happy April Fools Day. The Islamic Republic of Iran was announced. The Ayatollah declared himself “Supreme Leader.” The people of Iran lost judicial protection. Politicians could only run for office if Khomeini approved of them. The “Revolutionary Guards” become the new enforcement arm of the Ayatollah.

The Revolutionary Guards were new in the secret police business, and they used many SAVAK members to build their organization. Women lost their civil rights. The Ayatollah announced that America was the great Satan and kicked off his “Great Satan” PR campaign. He nationalized all foreign assets, and book burnings began. Witch hunts against non-Muslims became a new recreational pastime.

November 4, 1979

After the USA allowed the exiled Shah to enter the USA for cancer treatment, Khomeini’s thugs invaded the US Embassy in Tehran and kidnapped 52 Americans. Many American reservists started reporting for duty voluntarily. They knew President Carter would likely order a mobilization and attack on Iran. The order never came.

Next time, we will look at the action President Carter did take, which was the attempted hostage rescue, Operation Eagle Claw.