Exporting Nuclear Technology From Babylon the Great to Iran

3 Iranians charged with exporting tons of substance used in missiles, nuclear centrifuges

July 16, 2019, 2:09 PM MDT

Federal prosecutors in New York have charged three Iranians with illegally exporting „many tons“ of carbon fiber, a controlled material with military and nuclear uses, to Iran.

Geoffrey S. Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the charges Tuesday following the successful extradition of one of the three, Behzad Pourghannad, from Germany on Monday.

The other two defendants, Ali Reza Shokri and Farzin Faridmanesh, remain at large, according to federal authorities.

Carbon fiber is critical to two technologies related to nuclear proliferation. It is used in the fabrication of nose cones for long-range missiles and the manufacture of the rotors in the centrifuges that enrich uranium. Iran is prohibited from acquiring carbon fiber under the provisions of U.S. sanctions against the nation.

According to the indictment unsealed in White Plains federal court, the three defendants, operating out of Iran, acquired „many tons“ of carbon fiber between 2008 and 2013 from an unidentified U.S. broker and shipped it to Iran through third countries. The material was falsely described as „acrylic“ in export documents, authorities said.

The indictment does not specify how much carbon fiber made it to Iran, but stated that In late 2007 and early 2008, Shokri and a Turkey-based co-conspirator „successfully arranged“ for the illegal export and transshipment of carbon fiber from the U.S. through Europe and the United Arab Emirates to Iran.

Shokri is charged with the procurement of carbon fiber. Pourghannad is accused of financing the transactions, and Faridmanesh is charged with the transshipment.

In a statement, Berman said, „Carbon fiber has many aerospace and defense applications, and is strictly controlled to ensure that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Pourghannad and his co-defendants allegedly went to great lengths to circumvent these controls and the United States‘ export laws. Together with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to protect our nation’s assets and protect our national security.“

„Iran remains determined to acquire U.S. technology with military applications, and the FBI is just as determined to stop such illegal activity,“ added Assistant FBI Director John Brown, who is with the bureau’s counterintelligence division.

Pourghannad was arrested May 3, 2017, in Germany and extradited to the U.S., arriving Monday. He made his first court appearance Tuesday in White Plains federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith C. McCarthy.

How Iraq Is Helping the Iran Horn Survive (Daniel 8)

How Iraq Is Helping Iran Survive US Sanctions

By Yigal Chazan

Iran is attempting to ease the economic pain of US sanctions by developing closer economic ties with its neighbor Iraq, which could leave America’s fragile Middle East ally falling increasingly under Iranian influence.

Iraq sees itself as a regional economic hub, establishing good trading relations with all its neighbors, and has stressed that it does not want to be part of any international or regional axes. Yet Tehran’s growing commercial relations with Baghdad may strengthen the Iranians’ already significant political leverage.

Sweeping US sanctions against Iran imposed last year after Washington’s withdrawal from the international nuclear agreement – which granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its atomic energy program – have caused considerable harm to Iranian finances.

The US was critical of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for failing to address Iran’s ballistic missile program and “malign influence” across the Middle East. But the Trump administration’s ability to pressure Iran into addressing these issues as part of a renegotiation of the nuclear deal may be hindered by gaps in its sanctions regime.

For Tehran, Iraq’s dependence on Iranian gas, electricity, refined petroleum products and non-energy exports generates revenue streams that help it to limit at least some of the economic damage resulting from American trade and investment restrictions. Washington cannot do much to reduce Baghdad’s reliance on its neighbor. Pressuring it to do so risks destabilizing the politically volatile country, just as it recovers from the devastation wrought by Islamic State.

America has little option but to continue extending sanctions waivers for Iraqi purchases of Iranian electricity and gas to supply its generators because of the poor condition of Iraq’s power-generation facilities. The US wants Baghdad to wean itself off Iranian energy, but Iraqi officials say it could take several years to find alternative sources. It may take just as long to fix the country’s electricity infrastructure.

The critical importance of Iranian energy was underlined last summer when Iraq’s failure to pay its bills prompted Iran temporarily to shut off supplies, leaving many Iraqis with limited air conditioning as temperatures soared. The suspension contributed in part to rioting in the oil-rich yet impoverished Basra region, where locals also protested over corruption and the lack of drinking water and jobs.

Overall, bilateral trade between the two countries is growing. Valued at $12 billion, three quarters comprised Iranian exports for the period March 2018 to March 2019 – a year-on-year increase of 36 per cent. The sanctions-induced fall in the value of the rial has contributed to the rise by making Iranian goods cheaper.

Tehran is hopeful that bilateral trade could increase to $20 billion in the coming years. Iraq is Iran’s second-biggest non-oil export destination after China, with Iranian merchants reportedly seeing Iraq as potentially replacing Dubai as a conduit through which their international trade could be channelled. Indeed, the Iraqi president Barham Saleh has spoken of his country becoming “the heart of a new Silk Route to the Mediterranean.”

Planned Iraqi-Iranian projects aimed at boosting commercial links include the setting up of industrial parks along their borders; the development of the Naft Shahr and Khorramshahr natural gas fields; the dredging of Shatt al-Arab waterway to facilitate shipping and provide clean water for Basra province; and the linking of the Iraqi and Iranian railway networks as part of a wider plan to enable Iran to transport goods to Syria and its Mediterranean ports.

In order to ensure economic cooperation does not run the risk of violating American sanctions, the two countries are reportedly setting up a non-dollar payment system similar to Europe’s special purpose vehicle, INSTEX, established to allow European companies to do business in Iran without incurring US penalties. Iranian conservatives are said to be pressing their government to rely more on Iraq than the Europeans. Tehran appears to be losing hope in the latter engaging, with good reason – the risks of being penalized by the US are too high for many.

Washington is no doubt monitoring Iran-Iraq business ties closely for sanctions infractions, recently penalizing a Baghdad-based company for allegedly trafficking hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-backed Iraqi militias.  Last year, an Iraq-based bank was sanctioned for alleged involvement in the funneling money on behalf of the IRGC to Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Iraq does not want to put its relations with the US at risk by serving as a sanctions-busting front for Iran, notably informing the Iranians that the planned joint railway project must be under Iraqi supervision and cannot be used to break the US embargo.

Yet the Iraqi government may struggle to curb commercial links with sanctioned entities in Iran given that the pro-Tehran Fatah Alliance, representing Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, the Popular Mobilisation Units, which played a critical role in defeating ISIS, is the second-largest group in the Iraqi parliament. Significantly, a spokesman for Fatah condemned the US decision in April to sanction the IRGC.

For the US, there is also the risk that if it were to escalate its conflict with Iran, Tehran might enlist its allies in Iraq to trigger a proxy war against American interests, unraveling efforts to stabilize the country. In May, as tension between Washington and Tehran rose over attacks on Saudi oil tankers and energy infrastructure, non-essential US diplomatic staff in the country were evacuated. Days later, a rocket hit a government compound in the center of Baghdad where foreign government offices, including the US embassy, are based.

Iraqi politicians are divided over the country’s ties with Iran. Fatah’s rival is Sairoon, part of the largest coalition in parliament, led by the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is vehemently opposed to both American and Iranian influence in the country. But given the strong likelihood that US sanctions against Tehran will deepen, Iran will probably look to expand its economic ties with Iraq to offset the impact of the embargo. And given the poor state of its economy, Baghdad would be in no position to resist.

At present, the Iraqi government is trying to remain as even-handed as possible in its dealings with the US and Iran, though in time greater reliance on the latter may tip the balance of power in Iraq in favor of pro-Iranian factions, especially if the US penalizes more Iraqi companies for breaking the Iran embargo and restricts, or ends, its sanctions waivers.

 

Yigal Chazan is the head of content at Alaco, a London-based business intelligence consultancy. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect Geopoliticalmonitor.com or any institutions with which the author is associated.

Iran Continues to Nuke Up (Daniel 8:4)

Khamenei: Iran to keep rolling back nuclear commitments

By Afp 08:19 EDT 16 Jul 2019, updated 08:20 EDT 16 Jul 2019

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gestures to the crowd during a ceremony attended by clerics in the capital Tehran

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday that the Islamic republic will keep rolling back its commitments under the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

„You did not carry out a single one (of your commitments), why do you want us to stick to our commitments?“ Khamenei said, criticising European countries which are party to the deal.

„We have just started to decrease our commitments (in the deal) and this process will certainly continue,“ he said in a speech in Tehran partly aired on state television.

Iran-US tensions have soared since last year when President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the hard-won 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic republic.

Angered that its beleaguered economy is not receiving sanctions relief it believes was promised under the deal, Iran has intensified its sensitive uranium enrichment work.

Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the nuclear deal, and it has also surpassed the 300-kilogram cap on enriched uranium reserves.

European parties to the deal have called on Iran to return to its commitments under the deal.

On Sunday, President Hassan Rouhani said Iran had changed its strategy from one of „patience to that of retaliation“.

„If they decrease then we too shall decrease our commitments (in the deal)… If they fully implement their commitments than we too shall fully implement ours,“ he said, quoted by the government website dolat.ir.

Tensions have since soared, with the US calling off air strikes against Iran at the last minute after Tehran downed an American drone, and Washington blaming Tehran for a series of attacks on tanker ships.

On July 4, British forces helped Gibraltar authorities detain an Iranian tanker which US officials said had been trying to deliver oil to Syria in violation of separate sets of EU and US sanctions — claims denied by Iran.

In his speech on Tuesday, Khamenei vowed to retaliate against the British for the ship’s seizure.

„The vicious British… have committed piracy and stolen our ship… God willing the Islamic republic will not leave these vicious acts unanswered,“ he said.

Trump Feeds the Nuclear Horns

Trump decides not to impose quotas on uranium imports

US President Donald Trump said, he will not impose quotas on importing uranium, backing away from a possible trade confrontation and breaking with a Commerce Department assessment that America’s use of foreign uranium raises national security concerns.

Uranium is a vital component for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, submarines and power plants, which prompted a months-long Commerce Department investigation into whether such materials fall under the national security umbrella. Mr Trump announced he was going to order a working group to use 90 days to make recommendations to increase domestic uranium production. The decision was a rare moment in which the Trump administration did not use the powers of the government to give American companies a trade advantage over international competition.

The administration had previously levied tariffs on foreign steel and aluminium, leading to retaliatory tariffs from Canada, Mexico, China and Europe.

One of the Antichrist’s Men (Revelation 13:18)

Iran’s shadow warrior who sows chaos and discord in Iraq

Preachers of hate are unethical but smart. Deceit requires brains and minimum wit. But not all preachers of hate were created equal. Some are street smart and talkative, often making arguments that reveal their shallowness. To make up for their inadequate intellect, they outmuscle their rivals, lead militias, and spew hate that they copy from their superiors. Such hate preachers become guns for hire, even if they insist on wearing traditional garments and pretending that they are pious and knowledgeable clerics.

The Iraqi Qais Al-Khazali, a cleric who is also the leader of one of Iraq’s most notorious militias, is one such hate spewer who pretends to be a cleric, when in fact his claim to fame is working as the operative of one of the many Iranian clandestine networks that sow war and discord in Arab countries.

Aged 29, this graduate of geology accompanied Muqtada Al-Sadr — who had inherited the mantle of his father and one of Iraq’s foremost Shiite clerics Mohammed Sadeq Al-Sadr — to a meeting with Iranian operatives. They were promised arms and training, if they would take on US troops in Iraq, according to declassified US investigations with Al-Khazali. A few battles and months later, Al-Sadr realized that he had little reason to undermine a burgeoning sovereign Iraqi state. Al-Sadr disbanded his militia, the Mahdi Army, and transformed his organization into a political movement.

Politics is rarely the strong suit of people with modest intellectual skills and, without a militia, Al-Khazali might have lost his prominence. However, he did not lose his connection to his Iranian handlers, who sponsored his defection from Al-Sadr to set up a splinter group, the Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq (AAH) militia. Al-Khazali’s miltia played a central role in Iran’s two-pronged war in Iraq: One against US troops, the other against Iraqi Sunnis. Iran connected Al-Khazali to Musa Daduq, an operative from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah who helped to engineer a few of the most atrocious kidnappings and killings of US soldiers. Washington estimates that Tehran is responsible for the killing of 1,000 out of the 4,000 troops it lost in the Iraq War.

With US assistance, Iraqi government forces captured Al-Khazali in 2007 and jailed him for three years, when he was released in a prisoner exchange for a kidnapped British contractor.

Like Saddam, Al-Khazali’s propaganda is one of cult worship, with news about him participating in various activities and giving opinions about everything, opinions that are usually posted on his Twitter account, too.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Since then, Al-Khazali has been one of Iran’s most loyal militiamen in Iraq, so much so that he not only joined the Popular Militia Units (PMU), but also opened shop in Syria. Al-Khazali even appeared in Lebanon, checking out the border with Israel, in a flagrant offense against Lebanese sovereignty. But who’s keeping count in Lebanon anyway?

With Daesh almost annihilated, Al-Khazali has been left with little fighting and lots of time. He comes up with unsubstantiated accusations against Iraqi Sunnis, accusing towns such as Tarmiyah, to the north of Baghdad, of being a hotbed for Daesh fighters, calling for a military campaign against the predominantly Sunni town.

Al-Khazali has also been developing his brand. He has taken as his spiritual guide Kazem Al-Haeri, a firebrand Iraqi cleric who lives in Qom, in Iran.

“US President (Donald Trump) gives the countries of the Sheikhs of the Gulf a choice between funding his wars… and the demise of their governments,” Al-Haeri said in a statement. “This is the result of throwing themselves into the arms of the global arrogant powers after their loss of popular support,” Haeri added, claiming — without any substantiation — that Arab governments do not enjoy the popular support. “We also call on the Iraqi government not to be dragged into the lap of global arrogance in its economic, security and military contracts,” Al-Haeri argued, in a clear sign that the Iraqi cleric in Qom was unhappy with Baghdad’s warming relations with Gulf capitals.

In addition to toeing his mentor’s and Iran’s line about the “downtrodden” and about “global arrogance,” Al-Khazali echoes the official Iranian rhetoric, depicting an imaginary alliance between America, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, as the source of all evil in the region. At a conference in Tehran last year, Al-Khazali said that the Iraqi victory over Daesh was a victory over America, Saudi Arabia and Israel. That America offered extensive air cover and military advice on the ground in the battle against Daesh does not seem to register with Al-Khazali, or his audience. Hate speech, after all, is impossible without some spin and a ton of deceit.

On his militia’s website, Al-Khazali’s publicity seems to copy that of the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Al-Khazali calls himself Al-Sheikh Al-Amin, a play on words with Amin meaning both trustworthy and secretary general. Like Saddam, Al-Khazali’s propaganda is one of cult worship, with news about him participating in various activities and giving opinions about everything, opinions that are usually posted on his Twitter account, too.

Standing up to “cultural normalization with Israel,” Al-Khazali said in a sermon transcribed into Tweets, means “countering attempts to undermine Iraqi identity by spreading homosexuality in Iraq,” a line of reasoning that Al-Khazali seems to have come up with on his own and slipped into his speech, outside the Iranian-approved script. When speaking his mind Al-Khazali does not sound hateful, he sounds stupid.

• Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington bureau chief of Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai, and a former visiting fellow at Chatham House in London. Twitter: @hahussain

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News‘ point-of-view

The Threat of World War 3 (Revelation 16)

July 15, 2019

by Sanam Naraghi Anderlini

As Iran and the United States edge closer to war, while Europe scrambles to reduce tensions, the chorus of U.S. foreign policy and military experts and journalists criticizing the Trump administration’s tactics is also reaching a crescendo. Despite deep political divisions, on this issue there is broad agreement across the spectrum.

First, they remind the American public that the Iran war playbook is strikingly similar to the events that led us into the Iraq war. Sanctions, isolation, false claims of nuclear weaponry and fake ties to al-Qaeda were first order attempts at justifying an unjustifiable war in 2003. These allegations are now directed at Iran.

Second, the centerpiece of the anti-Iran war narrative is agreement that the Iraq war was a failure.

To recall: in 2002-03 the Iraq war was sold as a cake-walk, an easy means of toppling a violent dictatorship and replacing it with a liberal democracy, aligned with U.S. values and interests in the heart of the Middle East. It was meant to be a no-cost war, where Iraq, with its vast oil reserves, would pay the U.S. army’s costs and for the recovery of its national infrastructure.

The reality, of course, turned out differently. Thousands of U.S., British and other soldiers lost their lives or returned home, maimed, traumatized or suicidal. Meanwhile the occupation between 2003-2011 alone was executed so poorly that U.S. forces and their countless private contractors squandered some $1.06 trillion in taxpayer money but were unable to even restore basic electricity in many of Iraq’s major urban areas. Ongoing costs stemming from the Iraq and Afghan wars, including veteran services, could rise as high as $7 trillion. The U.S. treatment of prisoners and Iraqi civilians contributed to the rise of the Islamic State (IS or ISIS), which continues to plague the region despite its supposed demise.

To put it mildly, the original mission was categorically unaccomplished. Naturally, this makes Americans reticent about a new war, against a country with four times the land mass and double the population of Iraq.

But there are two problems with this narrative. First, what if the Iraq war had led to a stable democratic state? Would the more than one million Iraqis killed in the process be considered as acceptable collateral damage? Would that ‘success’ have galvanized the foreign policy community to support an Iran war now? Or would there be a modicum of concern about the inherent illegality and criminality of war? In Washington lore, senior figures in the Bush-Cheney administration are remembered for claiming that “boys go to Baghdad, but real men go to Tehran.”

The Iraq war was meant to be the appetizer. If indeed it had been a ‘cakewalk,’ there is little doubt that Iran was next on the menu, with likely many cheerleaders in the U.S. media and foreign policy establishment. 

Secondly and more worryingly is the undisputed notion in the U.S. that the Iraq War was a failure. The Bush administration sold it as a just war in the pursuit of freedom, liberation and justice for the Iraqi people, similar to current efforts regarding Iran. Certainly from a human standpoint and Iraq’s own perspective it was an abject failure. But viewed through the lens of regional geopolitics, the definition of failure and success change. Here’s the scenario to consider.

If Iraq had indeed been transformed into a credible liberal democratic state, with its oil revenue and human capital, the country would have become a major regional powerhouse. It is likely that such a state would have been a critical counter point to other regional states. For example, it could have pushed back and challenged the spread of Saudi Wahabbism. Even if it were strongly allied to the U.S., it would have been a watchful monitor of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and might have held it accountable on the international stage, forcing Europe and the U.S. to also implement the promise of the Oslo Accords. A democratic and dare I say secular Iraq would have also put a check on Qatar or the UAE’s military reach across the region. But Iraq as it today, a truly hobbled and broken state, not only poses no real threat, but its demise has enabled their ascent. For them, the Iraq war was successful. Saddam is gone, but nothing threatening has replaced him. America and its allies not only paid in blood and footed the bill, but they also became more reliant on Israel and the Gulf states. The formula was irresistible and it became their playbook for other countries.

In 2012, a full decade after the Iraq war, when the lessons and missteps were widely known, the Obama administration agreed to unleash the might of NATO onto Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, under the UN’s “Responsibility to Protect” mandate. But Libya in the aftermath of Gaddafi’s downfall played out even worse than Iraq. The U.S. didn’t deploy its forces and no UN Peacekeepers were sent to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of Libya’s government. Instead, the world allowed the Gulf States to pours millions of dollars and weapons into the country to fund Islamist parties and extremist militias of varying hues. Libya is a rich country. If it had emerged as a stable democracy it would have been a force of moderation against Saudi Arabia, the sheikhdoms and Israel. It could have also had immense positive influence across Africa. But the promise of democracy or even stability was thwarted. Instead, like Iraq, it is a fractured and traumatized nation.

Much the same scenario befell Syria. Despite Bashar al-Assad’s violent oppression, the masses of Syrians mobilizing and marching in the streets did not want a war. But once again the unrelenting flow of funds and weapons from Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia fueled the fragmentation of the country. Yet again the current outcome suits these powers. Neither a credible democracy has emerged that could challenge the Gulf States, nor a radical Islamic state that could terrorize the world. Instead, Assad, the known devil, remains but is hobbled. For Israel, next door, this is as good as it gets.

In the meantime—particularly since the war on Yemen began in 2015—the UAE’s de facto leader, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), has emerged as a regional player, exercising military muscle and pursuing expansionist aims. His ally, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), may be an international pariah after the Jamal Khashoggi assassination, but on regional matters—and especially regarding Iran—he is still a whisperer of war in the ears of the United States government. As for Israel, the story continues. A détente with the Saudis has emboldened the Netanyahu regime. Given the turmoil in the region, there are fewer eyes on Palestine, where Israel’s land grabs and attacks on people continue unabated.

With these benefits accruing at no cost to them, while their various regional foes have shrunk into insignificance, it is no surprise that these three Horsemen of the Middle East are the greatest cheerleaders of a potential U.S. war on Iran. But they understand the reticence of the U.S. in getting embroiled in a new conflict, so the trio’s playbook this time has been more sophisticated. On the geopolitical stage, they have championed the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA), which has led to the reimposition of U.S. sanctions as part of what the Trump administration calls its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia has also been on a media spending spree, footing the bill for Persian language satellite TV stations such as ManoTo and Iran International. They beam directly into Iranian living rooms, juxtaposing nostalgic stories of the Shah’s era with stories of rising poverty and popular distress today. These stories conveniently sidestep the role of U.S. sanctions in causing and deepening that distress. They are trying to rile up a base of protest domestically.

Simultaneously, with financial and political incentives they have also co-opted Iranian diaspora opposition groups ranging from the reviled Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) to the more benign but beleaguered Reza Pahlavi, son of the former Shah. Pahlavi and his supporters are the ideal window dressing. They offer a tantalizing promise of a utopian non-violent Iranian uprising that culminates in a democracy.

As appealing as this is to Iranians the world over, in reality though, as with Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, the last thing that the Saudis, Emiratis, and Israelis want is a stable, democratic and wealthy Iran that could one day have the international clout to challenge their domestic and regional abuses. Their preferred outcome therefore is the Iraq war scenario—Iran crushed economically, politically, and militarily, and fragmented socially and geographically.

For Europe such a scenario would be disastrous for many reasons. There is the threat to its oil flows and the threat of a new tsunami of refugees on its borders. Iran also cushions Europe from the flow of heroin and other drugs originating in Afghanistan. If Iran’s security fails, those drugs and related organized crime would flood European markets.

But the U.S. is far enough away to withstand any such blowback. It also has many bones to pick with Iran, the biggest dating back to the pain and humiliation of the 1979 U.S. embassy hostage crisis. So a military attack to settle scores is tempting.

To get their war, the whisperers have to convince President Trump that it would be beneficial to his 2020 reelection bid. They will have to drown out the anti-war voices, by promising regime change but making the case that a weakened and chaotic Iran is actually the desired outcome. But the U.S. should be wary of these whisperers, for while it foots the bill and the world pays for unknowable and uncontainable consequences, the three will once again reap the rewards. Success or failure, like beauty, is clearly in the eye of the beholder.

Babylon the Great Loses the Support of the Iranian People

Inside Iran: What Iranians think of stand-off with US – BBC News

Inside Iran: Iranians on Trump and the nuclear deal

As tensions rise between Iran, the US and its allies, the BBC has been given rare access to Iran.

Iranians remain furious that US President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal last year and has imposed crushing sanctions on the country.

BBC correspondent Martin Patience, along with cameraman Nik Millard and producer Cara Swift, have been in Tehran and the holy city of Qom, talking to Iranians about the escalating crisis.

While in country, recording access was controlled – as with all foreign media the team was accompanied by a government representative at all times.

The hills provide respite from the heat and the pollution that choke Tehran

Even in the sweltering summer months, you can still see snow on the towering peaks of the Alborz mountains that form the stunning backdrop to the Iranian capital.

Tehran’s wealthiest suburbs cling to the slopes, which provide respite from the heat and the pollution that choke this city of almost nine million people.

At the weekends, many Iranians – young and old – take to the trails with their rucksacks and hiking sticks to leave the city behind them. But even up in the clean mountain air there is no escape from the US sanctions.

• What do Iranians think of US sanctions?

• How reinstated sanctions have hit Iranians

• Is the Iran nuclear deal finally dead?

„Who’s not suffering?“ asks one man rhetorically. As if to make the point, he shows me his climbing clip, hanging from his belt. It now cost four times what it did a year ago.

Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran last year after he unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers.

The US president said the previous deal was too generous to Iran and gave the country a free hand to develop ballistic missiles and meddle in the Middle East.

Mr Trump wants to use „maximum pressure“ to force Iran back to the negotiating table. Many fear it could lead to conflict.

Iran is furious. It feels betrayed by the US and abandoned by European countries that still support the deal – the UK, France and Germany.

America’s decision has strengthened the hardliners here who say that Washington should never have been trusted in the first place. That mistrust of the US (and the UK) runs deep in Iran, after both countries orchestrated a coup that ousted Iran’s democratically elected prime minister in 1953.

Hadi (right) says the US sanctions have united Iranian liberals and conservatives

„We Iranians have a very long history, and we’re always standing up against difficulties,“ says Hadi, who runs one of the small cafes that offer refreshments to passing hikers.

His cafe is half-built, there is a tarpaulin for a roof, but he invites me inside for tea and fruits – cherries, apricots and watermelon.

Hadi says that the Americans thought the sanctions would lead to rioting and the Iranian government would have no choice but to compromise.

But he says the sanctions have done the exact opposite uniting both liberals and conservatives across the country.

„We have national unity here, and the more difficult the situation the more united the people become.“

The BBC’s James Landale went to Tehran’s Grand Bazaar see what people think of the stringent sanctions

Away from the mountains and down below in the hazy fog of Tehran’s sprawling southern suburbs is where sanctions are being felt hardest.

It is a maze of narrow alleyways and homes piled on top of each other. This is where Iran’s working classes live.

They were already on the margins before sanctions but the past year has tipped many of them over the edge.

Food prices have more than doubled and because the economy is slumping many are struggling to find work and make ends meet.

„I’m not sure what Donald Trump gains by hurting us,“ said Zohreh Farzaneh, a mother-of-three who folds clothes for living. She makes about $2 (£1.60) a day.

She says the sanctions have plunged her family into poverty and that she can no longer afford meat for family or an inhaler for her asthma.

She’s sending her 11-year-old son to a charity so that he can get at least one decent meal a day. The humiliation that she feels at having to ask for help pains her.

„We thank god that we have a piece of bread and cheese to eat,“ she told me. „At least we have peace in Iran – there’s no war.“

Every Iranian I spoke to on this 10-day trip believed it was unlikely there would be a war with the United States, despite tensions escalating after the US blamed Iran for attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and Iran shot down of a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran’s former Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Sheikholislam said that was because it war was in neither country’s interest.

„There is not going to be a war. Of course, it’s possible somebody will make a mistake. But we do not want a war.

„And I believe that Mr Trump understands a war is not in his favour because a war against us means dead American soldiers – and he is not ready to make a funeral in Washington DC,“ Mr Sheikholislam said.

Hiking is a popular pastime for many Iranians

Back on the mountain, I keep pushing higher up the trail, passing a stream gushing with crystal clear water.

I met a young woman, Nasim, who was hiking with a group of friends.

I asked her what she thought of President Trump. She laughed. She raised her hands, palms turned upwards, gesturing that she didn’t know what to say.

But then what she said surprised me.

„Maybe it would even be better for us if a war happens,“ she said.

I asked: Why would someone want war?

„It might actually lead to a change in our ruling system. It might lead to a better situation. But if it’s going to lead to a civil war then no, it’s not going to be good at all,“ she replied.

• Iran nuclear crisis in 300 words

• Why do the limits on uranium enrichment matter?

• The nuclear fuel cycle

In 2009, people like Nasim, took to the streets in protest after the disputed re-election of then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It was dubbed the „Green Revolution„, after the colour used by one of the defeated opposition presidential candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been held under house arrest since then.

The authorities cracked down hard on the mass protests and insist there is no powerful opposition movement in Iran.

But this is a country of many political opinions.

You have the hardline religious conservatives, as well as liberals – and probably a majority of Iranians who just want to keep their heads down. It’s these divisions that President Trump believes he can exploit.

Make no mistake, it’s the hardliners who run this country.

But when Iran is confronted by America, most Iranians, conservative or liberal, will put their country first.

Could This Be the Modern Lusitania?

UAE oil tanker disappears in Iranian waters in the Strait of Hormuz

The Panama-flagged, Japanese owned oil tanker Kokuka Courageous, which the U.S. Navy says was damaged by a limpet mine, is anchored off Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, during a trip organized by the Navy for journalists, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Fay Abuelgasim/AP)

July 16 at 8:40 AM

 A United Arab Emirates oil tanker traveling through the Strait of Hormuz stopped in Iranian waters and switched off its transponder more than two days ago, according to shipping tracking data, amid heightened tensions over a spate of incidents involving commercial vessels in the Persian Gulf.

The Panama-flagged Riah stopped transmitting its position late Saturday and was last shown off the coast of Iran’s Qeshm island in the Strait of Hormuz. It was unclear Tuesday what happened to the tanker, which was on its way to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates before diverting sharply toward Iranian waters and slowing to a halt, tracking data showed.

A UAE government spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Since May, at least six vessels have been attacked near the strait, the world’s most important oil chokepoint, in incidents that the United States has blamed on Iran. Britain said last week that Iranian naval forces attempted to block a British oil tanker traversing the strait but were repelled by a navy frigate escorting the ship.

Iran has denied involvement in the incidents but also threatened to retaliate against British shipping interests after an Iranian oil tanker was seized off the coast of Gibraltar earlier this month.

The vessel, Grace 1, was carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil and was suspected of seeking to travel to the Syrian port of Baniyas in violation of European Union sanctions, authorities in Gibraltar said. Gibraltar is a British territory.

“The vicious British government committed piracy and attacked our ship,” Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a speech Tuesday. Iran “will not leave such acts without a response,” he warned.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Saturday that Britain would help facilitate the Grace 1’s release if Iran could provide guarantees that the ship’s cargo would not go to Syria. Iran has said that it is not subject to E.U. sanctions.

The confrontation comes as Europe struggles to keep Iran in a nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015, following a U.S. withdrawal from the pact last year.

The agreement curbed Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for major sanctions relief, including from the United States. The Trump administration violated the accord and reimposed sanctions on Iran in the fall, prompting Tehran to scale back its own commitments under the deal, Iranian officials said.

European nations have urged Iran to reverse recent moves to breach the agreement, including boosting uranium enrichment levels beyond a limit set by the deal. Iran says it will continue to reduce its obligations to the nuclear pact in 60-day intervals until Europe compensates Tehran for economic losses suffered as a result of U.S. sanctions.

Also Tuesday, Iran’s judiciary confirmed the arrest of French Iranian scholar Fariba Adelkhah, the latest dual national to be detained by Iranian security forces. French President Emmanuel Macron called on Tehran on Monday to explain why Adelkhah, 60, was arrested.

“What has happened worries me a great deal,” Macron told reporters during a visit to Belgrade, Agence France-Presse reported.

“I have expressed my disagreement and asked President [Hassan] Rouhani for clarification,” he said.

Argument for the Australian Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Prominent Australian academic suggests building nuclear weapons 

By Peter Symonds

11 July 2019

Strategic analyst Hugh White has reignited a debate in media and security circles about building nuclear weapons to defend the country against the alleged threat posed by nuclear-armed powers, particularly China. His recently published book, How to Defend Australia, argues that nuclear weapons need to be considered because the United States is in relative decline and can no longer be relied upon to defend Australia in a “more contested and more dangerous” region.

This discussion is taking place in the context of a broader dispute in the political establishment over how to position Australian capitalism amid the increasingly belligerent US confrontation with China over economic issues and the US military build-up in the Indo-Pacific in preparation for war.

The dominant position in ruling circles is that Australia has no choice but to stick with the US military alliance, even if it damages relations with its top trading partner, China. Indeed, since US President Barack Obama announced his aggressive “pivot to Asia” against China in the Australian parliament in 2011, Australian military and military bases have been integrated ever more closely with the US, and governments—Labor and Coalition—have toed the line from Washington.

White, a former senior defence official, Labor government adviser and now professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, is one of the dissident voices. He has previously advocated for the US to strike a power-sharing deal with China to defuse tensions, but now suggests that Australia has to be prepared to go it alone. Amid the rising dangers of a US-China war, White lines up with others who, either directly or indirectly, advocate for a more “independent” foreign policy.

White makes clear that the necessary corollary of a so-called independent foreign policy is a huge build-up in the Australian military. He calls for a virtual doubling of military spending—from 2 percent to 3.5 percent of gross domestic product. Such an increase would be extracted from the working class via the further gutting of essential social services.

White’s argument—in public at least—is based on the hoary old lie that the military build-up is purely defensive in character. In reality, the military’s mission has always been to prosecute the economic and strategic interests of Australian imperialism, which, in more recent times, has included interventions in East Timor and Solomon Islands. Australian participation in British and US-led wars has always sought to secure the backing of the major powers for its own regional and international interests. Now, White is arguing, Australia requires more military muscle to do the same.

White claims he is not advocating the acquisition of nuclear weapons but merely encouraging a debate, which he is now fostering with the assistance of the media. It is not the first time that White has advanced this proposal, but the publication of his book has become the occasion for his appearance on a number of TV and radio programs, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s high-profile “Q&A” last Monday night.

Well aware that any decision to build nuclear weapons would face huge public opposition, White was at pains to stress that it was “the hardest issue I’ve ever dealt with in 40 years of thinking about the unpleasant business of war.” White, however, is doing far more than just encouraging a general discussion. He is outlining an entire agenda, including what would be needed to build nuclear weapons and the necessary delivery systems. He advocates creating a nuclear arsenal along the lines of Britain and France, based on submarine-launched missiles.

For all his attempts to disguise the provocative character of his arguments, White was adamant on the central point, saying: “At the moment, we depend on US nuclear weapons to deter any possible nuclear attack on Australia. The less confident we are of that, the less confident we are that we can rely on America to do that, the stronger the arguments for Australia to acquire its own.” Asked whether China or other powers were a future existential threat, he declared they could pose “at least a very, very serious threat, and one which we can no longer rely on America to defend us from.”

White is standing reality on its head. While it is true that the US faces a historic decline vis-a-vis China and other powers, the response of Obama and now Donald Trump has not been to withdraw from Asia but to confront China on all fronts—diplomatically, economically and militarily—to maintain American domination. US imperialism has no intention of being eclipsed in Asia or any other region of the world and is recklessly engaged in an economic war and military provocations in contested waters close to the Chinese mainland that could trigger open conflict. The danger to Australia’s population is not primarily from Chinese aggression, but from being dragged by the US into a war on China that would have incalculable consequences.

Rising geopolitical tensions and rivalries, and the growing danger of a global conflict, have sparked debate not only in Canberra but in other capitals, including Tokyo, Berlin and Seoul, about building nuclear weapons. A nuclear arms race would multiple many-fold the danger of a nuclear war. This prospect barely rated a mention among the politicians and commentators on the “Q&A” program. Both Liberal Senate President Scott Ryan and Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong differed with the need for nuclear weapons, but did not emphatically rule out building a nuclear arsenal. They praised White, in Wong’s words, for grappling with “the most challenging set of external circumstances since World War II.”

Scant reference was made to the fact that acquiring nuclear weapons would be a clear breach of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty that Australia has signed. Diana Sayed, a human rights lawyer, declared that it was “astonishing” that the issue was being canvassed. After branding nuclear weapons as “inhumane and indiscriminate” and an environmental disaster, Sayed said: “The fact that Australia would even be entertaining this thought is unfathomable and unconscionable to me, and it goes against everything in international law.” Her remarks were quickly brushed aside.

The growing prominence being afforded in the media to building nuclear weapons is a sure sign that behind the scenes a more intense discussion is underway. This would concern not only the advisability of a nuclear arsenal, but also how to overcome the intense public opposition and anti-war sentiment that such a decision would trigger. The debate is another warning of the advanced preparations being made in capitals around the world for war, not decades down the track, but in the not-too-distant future.

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Renewed push for Australia to building nuclear weapons
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The Fatal Ignorance of Trump (Revelation 16)

There Is No Such Thing As a ‚Small‘ Nuclear War (But Trump Wants Mini Nukes)

The Democratic lawmakers who control the U.S. House of Representatives are pushing back against Pres. Donald Trump’s plan to expand the United States’ nuclear arsenal with new and smaller “tactical” weapons.

The Democrats’ version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which funds the military, faces opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate, as well as from the president himself. Trump has threatened to veto the NDAA, potentially setting up a budgetary showdown that could force the Pentagon to operate on so-called “continuing resolutions” that essentially copy previous years’ budgets.

Trump in 2017 laid out a plan for a host of new and modernized nuclear weapons, including less-powerful nukes that some hardliners believe are more useful than larger-yield weapons are and could make limited atomic wars feasible and survivable on a planetary level.

But many nuclear experts disagree. No nuclear war is “small,” they argue. And any nuclear war would be devastating for the entire human race and the only planet that’s known to support life.

The House bill “signals a new, much-needed change in direction for U.S. nuclear weapons policy, one that would reduce the nuclear threat and cut some spending on these weapons,” wrote Eryn MacDonald, an expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Massachusetts.

The House bill stands in stark contrast with the version the Senate passed easily in late June [2019], which would fully fund the Trump administration’s nuclear programs and in some cases even increase funding.

We support passage of the House version of the NDAA; if its version becomes law, it will be a victory not only for U.S. security, but also for common sense.

The House bill is chock-full of positive provisions. For example, it would prohibit deployment of the Trump administration’s new ‘low-yield’ nuclear warhead; cut funding for an unnecessary replacement for the current ground-based intercontinental ballistic missile; and reduce the excessive, but congressionally mandated, requirement for the number of plutonium pits that the National Nuclear Security Administration has been told to produce.

The House’s version of the NDAA defunds the W76-2 low-yield warhead for the U.S. Navy’s Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which MacDonald described as “an ill-conceived attempt to lower the threshold for nuclear war.”

The W76-2 “would thrust U.S. ballistic-missile submarines into regional conflicts instead of reserving them for their crucial role as a nuclear deterrent, providing a secure means of retaliation if they should ever be needed,” MacDonald added.

The Trump administration requested $19.6 million for the Navy to begin installing these new warheads on missiles later this year. The House defense authorization bill sensibly zeros out this money, but Republicans plan to offer an amendment to the bill on the House floor that would restore that funding.

Fortunately, the amendment is unlikely to pass. Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee have twice attempted to restore the money and failed along party lines both times.,

The House Appropriations Committee also eliminated funding for the low-yield warhead, and the full House already rejected an attempt to restore the W76-2 money in an appropriations bill by a 236 to 192 vote.

The Democrats also want to cut $103 million from the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, the intercontinental ballistic missile the U.S. Air Force is developing to replace the existing Minuteman III missile.

“The bill also initially called for an independent study of options that could extend the Minuteman III’s life to 2050,” MacDonald wrote. “This would postpone spending on the new ICBM, which some estimates expect to cost $100 billion.”

Republicans in the Armed Services Committee, however, succeeded in removing that study requirement. Fortunately, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has submitted an amendment that would restore a version of the independent study.

Extending the life of the Minuteman III instead of building a new missile is a reasonable, cost-saving option that could facilitate an eventual phase out of the land-based leg of the U.S. nuclear triad as the older missiles reach the end of their lives.

The House could vote on its version of the NDAA by early July 2019, after which the House and Senate would reconcile their competing versions of the authorization.

The president could veto the resulting conference bill. No only has Trump objected to the Democrats’ cuts to nuclear weapons, he also opposes language in the House NDAA that would limit the president’s ability to divert military funding toward his signature campaign initiative: a wall along the southern border that Trump claims would stop migrants from crossing into the United States in order to seek asylum.

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels  War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad.