November 30, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

Iranian Diplomat Accused of Plotting to Bomb Dissidents Goes on Trial in Belgium - Steven Erlanger (New York Times)
    An Iranian diplomat based in Vienna and three other Iranians went on trial on Friday in Antwerp, Belgium, over a plot to blow up a rally in France of a prominent Iranian opposition group.
    Belgian and French authorities, who were tipped off by Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, said the plot was organized by Iran's intelligence services.
    The Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, 48, brought the bomb, more than a pound of TATP explosives and a detonator, to Vienna from Iran in his luggage on an Austrian Airlines flight.
    He then drove it to Luxembourg and handed it over to Iranian agents on June 30, 2018, who then drove to Paris.
    Assadi was arrested in Germany, where he had no diplomatic immunity.

List of Iran's Assassinations and Plots - Andrew Hanna and Garrett Nada (U.S. Institute of Peace)
    Iran has assassinated at least 21 opponents abroad and killed hundreds in bombings of foreign military, diplomatic and cultural facilities since 1979.
    20 attacks or plots targeted Iranian dissidents, 19 targeted Israelis or Jews, and 20 were against Western or Arab targets, including a 2011 plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. at a restaurant in Washington.
    The Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been linked to most of the attacks.
    See also Targeted Killings and Double Standards - Justus Weiner (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2012)
    This study compares the use of targeted killings by the Israel Defense Forces and several Western armies (the U.S., the UK, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia).

Iran Seeks to Open a New Front Against Israel in Syria - Avi Issacharoff (Times of Israel)
    In 2018 the Russians told Israel they had successfully brokered an agreement to keep Iranian and Hizbullah forces in Syria 70 km. from the Israeli border on the Golan Heights.
    On Wednesday, Israel's air force dropped leaflets over Syrian villages near the Golan border warning them to stay away from Hizbullah and Iranian facilities in the area for their own safety. Meaning - an Iranian and Hizbullah presence along Israel's border.
    There is a general feeling that despite extensive Israeli airstrikes against Iranian facilities and outposts in Syria intended to distance Iran from Israel's borders, the Iranians, via Hizbullah, are coming closer and closer.

Iran's Security Apparatus under Scrutiny - Shabnam von Hein (Deutsche Welle-Germany)
    Nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was one of the best-protected people in Iran.
    He had survived an assassination attempt in 2008, when motorcycle-riding attackers attached an explosive device to his car. He jumped to safety just before the vehicle exploded.
    When Israeli Mossad agents in Tehran stole 55,000 pages of top-secret intelligence documents during a 2018 operation, there was no way they could have known where to find the documents without inside help.

Another Bold Strike Against Iran - Reuel Marc Gerecht (Wall Street Journal)
    If Tehran's most prized personnel can be killed and its guarded facilities damaged, and it can do little in response, then the clerical regime's haybat, its unchallengeable awe, is degraded for all to see.
    For a regime that knows the extent of popular anger against it, that is a perilous situation.
    America's will to intervene in the Middle East is declining rapidly, and Israel's position is significantly stronger than it was in 2012, when President Obama began secret negotiations with Tehran in Oman.
    The writer, a former Iranian-targets officer in the Central Intelligence Agency, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Lebanese Singer: Israel Is Not Really Lebanon's Enemy (MEMRI-TV)
    Lebanese singer Elissar Zakaria Khoury, known as Elissa, told MTV (Lebanon) on Nov. 12, 2020, that Israel is not really Lebanon's enemy, and that she supported peace with any country.

Video: Israeli Gymnast Linoy Ashram Wins Gold at European Championships (Times of Israel)
    Israeli rhythmic gymnast Linoy Ashram won a gold medal in the all-around category at the European Championships in Kyiv on Sunday.
    Ashram, 21, has won over a dozen medals in world championships over the past few years.
    See also Israeli Team Wins Gold at Rhythmic Gymnastics European Championships (Times of Israel)

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Gunmen Assassinate Iran's Top Nuclear Scientist - David E. Sanger
    Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the guiding figure behind Iran's secretive nuclear weapons program, was killed Friday in a roadside ambush 40 miles east of Tehran. A brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Fakhrizadeh ran the Iranian project to create a warhead small enough to fit atop a missile and make it survive re-entry into the atmosphere. Israeli officials, backed up by American intelligence officials, said the scientist had kept the nuclear weapons program alive as head of an organization within Iran's defense ministry known as SPND. (New York Times)
        See also The World Should Thank Israel for Acting Against the Iranian Nuclear Program - David D. Kirkpatrick and Ronen Bergman
    A senior Israeli official involved for years in tracking Mohsen Fakhrizadeh said Israel would continue to act against the Iranian nuclear program as necessary. Iran's aspirations to nuclear weapons, promoted by Fakhrizadeh, posed such a menace that the world should thank Israel, the official insisted. (New York Times)
        See also below Commentary - Mohsen Fakhrizadeh: The "Father" of the Iranian Atomic Bomb Program
  • Nikki Haley Calls to Release Classified Report on Actual Palestinian Refugees - Adam Shaw
    Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley on Wednesday urged the administration to release a classified report which shows how many Palestinians currently receiving aid from the UN were actually displaced in 1948.
        "The outgoing Team Trump should issue an updated, unclassified report that provides a current estimate of the number of people receiving UNRWA assistance today who were personally displaced in 1948, aren't residing within the borders of the Palestinian Authority and aren't citizens or permanent residents of another country, such as Jordan," noted Jonathan Schanzer and Richard Goldberg of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The "Palestinian refugee problem is much, much smaller than UNRWA claims it to be."  (Fox News)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israeli Opposition Leader Condemns EU Reaction to Killing of Iranian Nuclear Scientist
    Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid on Saturday bristled at European condemnation of the hit on Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, saying, "the fact that the European Union is condemning the justified assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist instead of [condemning] Iran's efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction and export terrorism all over the world represents moral bankruptcy and abject cowardice."  (Times of Israel)
  • Israel Authorizes Tax Transfer to PA, Minus Pay-to-Slay Funds - Lahav Harkov
    Israel's Diplomatic-Security Cabinet approved on Sunday the transfer of $700 million in tax funds Israel collects for the Palestinians. The cabinet deducted $200 million from the full amount, in accordance with the law requiring Israel to freeze the amount the PA pays to terrorists and their families. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Coronavirus in Israel
    Israel's Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center said there has been an overall increase in the spread of the infection over the past week. There were 985 new cases in the past 24 hours, with 263 patients in serious condition, of whom 114 are ventilated. Over the past week, 50.4% of newly-infected patients are from the Arab sector. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:

    Mohsen Fakhrizadeh: The "Father" of the Iranian Atomic Bomb Program

  • Killing of Nuclear Scientist Will Impair Iran's Atomic Weapons Program - Nick Schifrin
    Analysts say Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was the J. Robert Oppenheimer of Iran's nuclear program, its lead scientist. [Oppenheimer was credited with being the "father" of the U.S. atomic bomb.] In 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a stolen archive of Iran's nuclear plans, and said Fakhrizadeh was responsible for continuing the program secretly.
        Norman Roule, former national intelligence manager for Iran at the Office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, told PBS on Friday that the killing of Fakhrizadeh "removes from Iran its greatest institutional memory on its weaponization program. It will be very difficult for Iran to replace this, and it will actually impair their ability to reestablish a weaponization program."
        "In Tehran right now, anyone they might put in his place is probably wondering at what point he or she would fall under the focus of Western institutions who might undertake a similar assassination." The new U.S. administration is "going to have to respect the security concerns of regional actors to a greater extent to avoid other incidents such as this upsetting nuclear negotiations."  (PBS)
  • Gen. Yadlin: Slain Iranian Nuclear Scientist Nearly Impossible to Replace - Raphael Ahren
    Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was so central to Iran's secret nuclear weapons program that it will be hard to replace him with someone of equal stature, Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, former head of IDF military intelligence, said Sunday. "There is no doubt that he was the core source of authority, knowledge and organization of this program....The damage to the covert weaponization program is huge."
        Yadlin, who in 1981 was one of the pilots who bombed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor at Osiraq, said some people are so important that eliminating them is worth the effort, notwithstanding any negative repercussions. He listed Fakhrizadeh in this group, together with former Hizbullah number two Imad Mughniyeh (killed in 2008), and IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani (killed in January 2020). "There's really no replacement for their capabilities, knowledge, leadership, and the ways they knew how to lead a strategic effort."  (Times of Israel)
  • Iranian Scientist Was Identified by UN as Central Figure in Work to Develop Atomic Bombs - Peter Beaumont
    Nuclear engineer Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was identified by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2011 as a central figure in suspected Iranian work to develop technology and skills needed for atomic bombs, and suggested he may at that time still have had a role in such activity. At the time, the IAEA judged the allegations of work on nuclear weapons "to be, overall, credible." Documents pointed to research into how to weaponize warheads and the explosives technology required to detonate a nuclear bomb. (Guardian-UK)
  • Iran's Fakhrizadeh: A Crucial Figure with Unparalleled Nuclear Knowledge - Sune Engel Rasmussen
    Officials who have been involved in nuclear diplomacy with Iran say Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was a crucial figure in Iranian nuclear work over the past two decades, with unparalleled knowledge. He was effectively the manager of Iran's nuclear-weaponization program, deciding where to put people, how to recruit them, and how to keep the program secret. "His expertise involved not only technical and programmatic issues but likely the mechanics of building the personnel base and infrastructure of a nuclear-weapons program in an atmosphere of extreme secrecy," said a former senior U.S. intelligence official. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Who Was Mohsen Fakhrizadeh? - Adam Taylor
    Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was a key figure in Iran's drive for a nuclear weapon. He was described in Iranian media as head of the Research and Innovation Organization in the Iranian Defense Ministry. As a former leader of Iran's military-linked Physics Research Center, he was involved in drawing up plans and acquiring parts for Iran's first uranium enrichment plant, according to UN officials.
        He has been recognized as the leader of Iran's secret nuclear weapons program, known as the AMAD Plan. Iranian documents stolen by Israeli operatives and smuggled out in 2018 portray Fakhrizadeh as the project's leader since 1998. After the nuclear weapons program was formally halted in 2003, Fakhrizadeh continued to supervise successor organizations that continued to employ most of the AMAD Plan's scientists in conducting nuclear-related research, U.S. and Israeli analysts say.
        A June 2020 report by the U.S. State Department stated that workers in the nuclear weapons program had been kept employed on projects with "weaponization-relevant dual-use technical activities" under the leadership of Fakhrizadeh. (Washington Post)

  • In the Aftermath of the Killing of Fakhrizadeh

  • Biden Will Confront a New Middle East - Thomas L. Friedman
    On Sept. 14, 2019, the Iranian Air Force launched 20 drones and precision-guided cruise missiles at Abqaiq, one of Saudi Arabia's most important oil fields and processing centers, causing huge damage. Israeli military analysts called the Iranian precision missile strike the Middle East's "Pearl Harbor." President Trump did not launch a retaliatory strike on behalf of Saudi Arabia.
        The shift in the American posture gave birth to the peace agreements between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain - and a whole new level of secret security cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia. In effect, Trump forced Israel and the key Sunni Arab states to become less reliant on the U.S. and to think about how they must cooperate among themselves over new threats - like Iran - rather than fighting over old causes - like Palestine.
        In the wake of the Abqaiq attack, some Israeli military experts say Iran's new preferred weapons are the precision-guided missiles that it used on Saudi Arabia. In the 2006 war in Lebanon, Iran's proxy Hizbullah fired 20 unguided rockets in the hope of damaging a single Israeli target. With precision-guided missiles manufactured in Iran, Hizbullah - in theory - just needs to fire one rocket each at 20 different targets in Israel with a high probability of damaging each one.
        That is why Israel has been fighting a shadow war with Iran for the past five years to prevent Tehran from encircling Israel with proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Gaza, all armed with precision-guided missiles. That is why Israel and its Gulf Arab allies are not going to want to see the U.S. give up its leverage on Iran to curb its nuclear program before it also uses that leverage to secure some commitment to end Iran's export of these missiles. (New York Times)
  • Targeted Killings Won't End the Iranian Nuclear Program - But Could Make a Deal More Likely - Max Boot
    Iran's response to the killing in Baghdad of Maj.-Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Quds Force, was limited to a dozen missiles fired against two U.S. bases that killed no U.S. personnel (although they did cause a number of brain injuries). Soleimani's death made headlines but changed little. The same is likely to be true of Fakhrizadeh's death, despite Tehran's vows of revenge.
        An earlier round of killings of Iranian nuclear scientists - four dead and one wounded between 2010 and 2012 - helped make a diplomatic solution more, not less, likely. Michael Hayden, CIA director from 2006 to 2009, told Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman "that the death of those human beings had a great impact on their nuclear program." The killings hurt Iran in three ways: "the loss of the know-how in the dead men's minds; the significant delays in the program resulting from the need to beef up measures to prevent penetration by Western intelligence; and the abandonment of the program by experienced experts for fear that they would suffer a similar fate."  (Washington Post)
  • Fakhrizadeh Killing Is about Far More than Biden - Herb Keinon
    In response to the Iranian nuclear program, the whole game for decades has been about buying time, kicking the can down the road in the hope that either the regime of the ayatollahs would change, or the Iranian leaders would realize that the price for continuing their nuclear program is just too high.
        That Iran has been unable to realize its nuclear ambitions up until now - though it has been trying since the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988 - is not because of a lack of trying, or because they are any less capable than any of the other countries that have nuclear weapons. Rather, it's because of actions that Israel and others in the West have taken over the years to bar their path. So far, Iran has been kept from reaching its nuclear goals through numerous actions, of which the killing of Fakhrizadeh is just the most recent example.
        To present the killing of Fakhrizadeh as a move intended simply to make things more complicated for Biden is to fail to fully appreciate the degree to which the Israeli government genuinely believes a nuclear Iran is an existential threat that must be stopped at all costs. Israel is not going to sit idly by and allow what it deems to be an existential threat to develop, regardless of who is the U.S. president. (Jerusalem Post)

  • Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh appeared on Nov. 17 at the Council on Foreign Relations in a disappointing display of the same old rhetoric that led the Palestinian leadership to its current quagmire.
  • When asked by the moderator, Richard Engel of NBC News, about the situation of the Palestinians today, Shtayyeh chose to begin with an attack on Arab states for their relations with Israel.
  • Shtayyeh wants the Palestinians to continue to hold their past veto power over the Arab world. Essentially, he wants the Arabs to be Iranians, who supply Palestinian organizations like Hamas with weapons and money while taking the most extreme positions against peace.
  • It is possible to identify at least six separate occasions since Camp David when the Palestinian leadership turned down offers to make peace. In the last episode in 2014, then-Secretary of State John Kerry worked tirelessly to advance yet another American peace plan.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yes to peace. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas just walked away. Asked by President Barack Obama in the Oval Office if he accepted Secretary Kerry's plan, he just replied, "I'll get back to you." But he never did.
  • When new people are coming to Washington to take over in January, Shtayyeh is probably hoping that selective reinterpretations of the Middle East peace process can be used to the Palestinians' advantage.

    The writer, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is former director general of Israel's Foreign Ministry and Israeli Ambassador to the UN.

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