Daily Briefing: IRAN BUILDS UP STOCKPILE OF ENRICHED URANIUM

A view from the Busher Nuclear Power Plant in Iran. (Source:Flicker,Photo Credit: Paolo Contri / IAEA)

Table of Contents:

Iran’s Enriched Uranium Stockpile Is 12 Times Nuclear Accord’s Cap, U.N. Agency Says:  Lawrence Norman, WSJ, Nov. 11, 2020The

IDF’s New Iran and Strategy Directorate Takes the Big Picture Approach:  Yaakov Lappin, JNS, Nov. 16, 2020

Are Israel and the US Planning to Attack Iran?:  Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 14, 2020

Expert: US, Israel ‘Operate Freely in Tehran’ as al-Qaida No. 2 Killed:  Uri Cohen, The Media Line, Nov. 16, 2020

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Iran’s Enriched Uranium Stockpile Is 12 Times Nuclear Accord’s Cap, U.N. Agency Says
Lawrence Norman
WSJ, Nov. 11, 2020

Iran is continuing to build up its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and now holds roughly 12 times the amount permitted under the 2015 nuclear agreement, the United Nations Atomic Agency said in a report.

The report’s findings underscore the challenge the incoming Biden administration faces in persuading Iran to fully return to the 2015 nuclear deal: Besides the stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which when further refined can be used to fuel a nuclear weapon, Iran is also taking steps to potentially accelerate its production of low-enriched uranium and is continuing its nuclear research.

President-elect Joe Biden has said he is prepared to take the U.S. back into the 2015 nuclear deal provided Iran returns into full compliance with that deal and agrees to future negotiations for longer and more stringent constraints on its nuclear activities.

Mr. Biden, who was vice president when the Iran deal was struck, has criticized the Trump administration’s decision to quit the nuclear deal in May 2018 and impose sweeping sanctions on Tehran. In September, he said that approach “recklessly tossed away a policy that was working to keep America safe and replaced it with one that has worsened the threat.”

Iran has said it is open to negotiation but has placed various conditions on returning to the accord’s terms, including compensation for the U.S.’s withdrawal and sanctions. On Wednesday, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, was quoted in Iranian state media saying “the way back is open” for the U.S. to the deal.

Iran has gradually moved away from the nuclear deal’s limits since the summer of 2019 in response to the U.S.’s “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign.

Mr. Trump, in justifying his decision to take the U.S. out of the deal, said it would fail to stop Tehran from eventually obtaining nuclear weapons and ignored key issues, like Iran’s ballistic-missile capacity and its support for terrorism. Trump administration officials have indicated they could slap new sanctions on Iran in the final weeks before January’s transition.

In its latest quarterly report, sent to member states and seen by The Wall Street Journal, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had now accumulated a low-enriched uranium stockpile of 2,443 kilograms. That compares with a limit of 203 kg under the nuclear deal.

Of the total, which the agency said is enriched up to 4.5% purity, around a quarter has been produced in a way that nuclear experts say would be of little use for further enrichment. Nonetheless, Iran has now accumulated enough enriched uranium to produce the high-enriched uranium needed for two nuclear weapons, according to analysts at the Institute for Science and International Security. Weapons-grade material is of around 90% purity.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Iran’s government has said it is open to negotiating its return to the 2015 nuclear accord. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

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The IDF’s New Iran and Strategy Directorate Takes the Big Picture Approach
Yaakov Lappin
JNS, Nov. 16, 2020

The Israel Defense Forces recently formed Strategy and Third Circle Directorate (a reference to countries in Israel’s third-circle periphery with Iran being the focal point) represents a new approach to assessing and preparing for Israel’s most significant emerging security threats.

Speaking to JNS, an Israeli military source shed light on the reasons that led to the founding of the new directorate. The main reasoning, he said, was the need to create a comprehensive, holistic view of developing challenges to Israel, and to view threats that begin on Iranian soil and reach the borders of Israel through a unified lens, rather than narrowly viewing developments in isolation from one another.

“Against this, we have to develop a range of capabilities—both to be ready at any minute for any development and also for the other side to be sufficiently deterred—and to know that Israel has the ability to respond unequivocally to any action or desire by the enemy,” said the source.

Instead of looking at pinpoint incidents or challenges in a single sector, the new directorate analyzes threats (and opportunities) broadly and provides rapid recommendations on operative steps.

The formation of the directorate is based on the IDF’s new strategy as formulated by the Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. The strategy envisions enhancements to the IDF’s Operations Directorate (responsible for planning the use of military force), the Intelligence Directorate and the Planning Directorate (responsible for building the IDF’s forces).

‘A holistic view of the geostrategic map’

Founded in the 1970s, the Planning Directorate traditionally dealt with force build-up, but also with strategy, and cooperation with foreign militaries. Under the IDF’s new Momentum program, the IDF’s General Staff decided to split the Planning Directorate into two organizations: one that would focus on force build-up in a dedicated manner, and a separate directorate that would focus on the increasingly complex strategic challenges developing in the Middle East.

The result was the creation of the Planning Directorate and the Strategy and Third Circle and Directorate, which “takes a holistic view of the main developments in the region and the geostrategic map,” said the source.

“States have to know why we do what we do.”

“Regarding Iran, we deal with the threat beginning from the country itself—its nuclear program, its surface-to-surface missiles. The regional Iranian threat and Iran’s desire to deepen its influence in the Middle East,” he stated.

In addition, he said, “the world of strategic threats is not only about dealing with bombs. There are soft strategic forces at work, too, and security agencies have to deal with that.”… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

______________________________________________________Are Israel and the US Planning to Attack Iran?
Yaakov Katz
Jerusalem Post, Nov. 14, 2020

In 2008, after the election that brought former US president Barack Obama to power, there were some officials in Israel who were confident that the previous president, George W. Bush, would not leave office with Iran’s nuclear facilities still standing. They were wrong. Iran’s nuclear facilities are not only still standing; they have grown in quality and quantity.

This is important to keep in mind amid speculation – once again during a presidential lame duck period – that in his last few weeks in office, Donald Trump will either order US military action against Iran or give Israel a green light, as well as some assistance, to do so on its own.

The speculation has a number of catalysts. First was the firing of Mark Esper as secretary of defense this past week and the replacement of him and other top Pentagon officials with Trump ideologues. Some media outlets in the US have raised the possibility that Trump wanted to get Esper out of the way, so he could more easily carry out controversial military moves.

In addition, there is no doubt that there is a lot of coordination already taking place on Iran. Elliott Abrams, the administration’s top envoy on Iran, was in Israel this week for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be here next week for three days to continue those conversations; and on Thursday night, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi held a video call with his US counterpart, chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley.

And then there was the interview that H.R. McMaster, Trump’s former national security adviser, gave to Fox News on Wednesday in which he raised the possibility that Israel – fearful of President-elect Joe Biden’s Iran policies – would attack Iran in the twilight of Trump’s term in office.

For veteran Israel-Iran watchers, this feels like a rerun of what happened in 2008 as well as in 2012 when Israel also seemed on the verge of an attack. While ministers later confirmed that Netanyahu had in fact wanted to launch an attack in 2012, he ultimately failed to muster support in the cabinet, so the IDF had no choice but to back down.

THIS IS all important to keep in mind amid the current speculation. While anything is possible – especially with Trump – there does not seem to be an immediate urgency right now to attack.

There are also no signs of activity in the IDF that would indicate a possible war, like beefing up forces in the North or preparing the home front for the missile onslaught that will likely follow. On the other hand, we should not necessarily expect to see moves that would give away a strike in the planning. In 2007, ahead of Israel’s bombing of Syria’s nuclear reactor, almost no one knew about it within the IDF, let alone throughout the country.

When it comes to the sense of urgency, while the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report this past week about Iran’s growing uranium stockpile is concerning, Tehran is still not at the point of building a bomb since it is not yet enriching uranium to military-grade levels. If that were to happen, the clock would definitely start ticking toward a possible bombing. But absent such enrichment – or some other piece of secret intelligence that the public is not aware of – there does not seem to be an immediate reason to attack right now.… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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Expert: US, Israel ‘Operate Freely in Tehran’ as al-Qaida No. 2 Killed
Uri Cohen
The Media Line, Nov. 16, 2020

The August assassination of a top al-Qaida operative in the heart of Tehran, according to The New York Times carried out by Israeli agents, raised a flurry of questions over the weekend about the presence of a Sunni jihadist leader in the Islamic Republic and the motivations behind making the slaying public.

On Friday, The Times reported that on August 7, two motorcycle-riding Israeli assassins killed Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, known as Abu Muhammad al-Masri, al-Qaida’s second in command and heir apparent and the man responsible for the 1998 bombings at two United States embassies in East Africa. The covert operation was carried out at the behest of the US government, the report said.

Yoram Schweitzer, senior researcher and head of the program on Terrorism and Low-Intensity Conflict at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and a veteran of the Israeli intelligence community, believes Israel’s involvement in the operation was minimal. “I see the Americans as the ones who probably carried most of this out. If you look at the larger context of recent American activity against al-Qaida’s ‘old guard’ operatives, this incident fits that pattern,” Schweitzer told The Media Line, noting similar US efforts against Masri’s counterparts in Syria.

“I assume the US is capable of doing this on its own,” he says.

Masri, 57, described by Schweitzer as “the most senior operational man in al-Qaida” and the slated successor to the group’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, was reportedly gunned down in his car alongside his daughter Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden.

He was one of several al-Qaida operatives arrested by Iranian authorities after fleeing to Iran from neighboring Afghanistan following the 2001 American invasion. In 2015, Masri was released alongside four other prominent al-Qaida members, all part of the organization’s founding generation, in a prisoner swap Tehran conducted with the group’s Yemen branch, which had abducted an Iranian diplomat.

The permanent residence of the top operative of al-Qaida – a Sunni jihadist group – in the Shi’ite theocracy of Iran, may seem puzzling, as the sides have been known to be bitter foes and at opposing ends of a historical enmity. They’re not friends, to put it mildly, but like anything with Iran, it’s a matter of interests Yet the phenomenon is not all that rare or surprising, explains Dr. Raz Zimmt, an expert on Iran from the INSS.

“The Iranians obviously won’t admit it, because it’s hard to own up to that when you present yourself as the standard-bearer of the fight against radical Sunni Islam,” Zimmt told The Media Line. “But we know this relationship has been going on for years.

“There’s a policy of ambivalence. They’re not friends, to put it mildly, but like anything with Iran, it’s a matter of interests,” he says, mapping out three main areas where the ayatollah regime could benefit from hosting al-Qaida leaders on Iranian soil.

“It gives them the ability to oversee and control the organization’s activity and prevent it from carrying out terror attacks in Iran. When you shelter or hold your opponent’s leaders in some form of house arrest or prison, you obtain leverage to prevent hostile activity against you,” Zimmt says. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

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For Further Reference:Iran Finishes Moving First Batch of Advanced Centrifuges Underground:  Algemeiner, Nov. 11, 2020 Iran has finished moving a first cascade of advanced centrifuges from an above-ground plant at its main uranium enrichment site to an underground one in a fresh breach of its nuclear deal with big powers, a UN atomic watchdog report showed on Wednesday.

Iran Nuclear Deal Will Be Back In Biden’s White House:  Alex Fishman, Ynet, Nov. 8, 2020 — The revival of the United States’ role in the Iran nuclear agreement is not a matter of if but when.

Iran Unveils Advanced Ballistic Missile Launch Facility Seth Frantzman, Middle East Forum, Nov. 5, 2020 — Iran unveiled a new ballistic-missile facility this week. Key military officials, including Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps head Hossein Salami, showed off the new site and its apparently unique train-mounted ballistic-missile launcher.

ANALYSIS – Iran’s Real Military Capacity in Context:  Dr. Can Kasapoğlu, AA, July 2, 2020 — With 2020 already marking sensational developments, Iran has been facing daunting challenges. The well-known commander of the Quds Forces, General Qasem Soleimani, was killed in a targeted U.S. strike. Tehran opted for retaliating against a number of U.S. bases in Iraq, where General Soleimani was killed, with a barrage of missile strikes, albeit falling short of delivering a major impact. In the meanwhile, Iran’s air defense units were caught red-handed after the downing of a Ukrainian airliner in the Iranian airspace.

If the Arms Ban Ends: Implications for Iran’s Military Capabilities: Michael Eisenstadt, The Washington Institute, July 29, 2020 — The ban on arms transfers to and from Iran is scheduled to “sunset” on October 18, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2231, the document that gave international legal force to the Iran nuclear deal. If the ban is not extended, what are the likely implications for the Islamic Republic’s military capabilities?