Mojtaba Ahmadi, who served as commander of the Cyber War Headquarters, was found dead in a wooded area near the town of Karaj, north-west of the capital, Tehran. Five Iranian nuclear scientists and the head of the country’s ballistic missile programme have been killed since 2007. The regime has accused Israel’s external intelligence agency, the Mossad, of carrying out these assassinations.
Ahmadi was last seen leaving his home for work on Saturday. He was later found with two bullets in the heart, according to Alborz, a website linked to the Revolutionary Guard Corps. “I could see two bullet wounds on his body and the extent of his injuries indicated that he had been assassinated from a close range with a pistol,” an eyewitness told the website.
The commander of the local police said that two people on a motorbike had been involved in the assassination.
[…] Subsequently, a statement from the Imam Hassan Mojtaba division of the Revolutionary Guard Corps said that Ahmadi’s death was being investigated. It warned against speculating “prematurely about the identity of those responsible for the killing”.
Western officials said the information was still being assessed, but previous deaths have been serious blows to Iran’s security forces. Tighter security measures around leading commanders and nuclear scientists have instilled a culture of fear in some of the most sensitive parts of the security establishment.
The last victim of a known assassination was Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a chemist who worked in the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, who died when an explosive device blew up on his car in January last year.
The Israeli diplomats were instructed by Netanyahu to leave the hall demonstratively when the Iranian started to speak.
That was a stupid gesture. As rational and as effective as a little boy’s tantrum when his favorite toy is taken away.
It may be true that the rulers of Saudi Arabia are unhappy over some aspects of U.S. policy toward Syria, Iran and Egypt, but it does not follow that they will therefore seek to detach the kingdom from its longstanding security alliance with the United States. To understand why, it is useful to review the history of the U.S.-Saudi relationship and examine the reality of the security partnership today to evaluate whether Saudi Arabia would really consider recasting its international security ties. [more]
Last month, US officials were greeting the election of Reformist candidate Hassan Rohani as Iran’s next president as a hopeful sign, while simultaneously patting themselves on the back and taking credit for his election.
But if Rohani was really the candidate the US wants, they have a funny way of showing it, as US diplomats are now reassuring Israelis that the US will treat Rohani with intense hostility, and will up the sanctions and threats against Iran going forward.
The promises appear designed to assuage Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who fears that Rohani’s election has spoiled his assorted war plans and has been railing about the need to threaten Iran more often every chance he gets.
… [F]ew top officials in the intelligence world have become greater authorities on cyberconflict than the 69-year-old [Michael] McConnell … . He began his career as a Navy intelligence officer on a small boat in the backwaters of the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War. Years later he helped the American intelligence apparatus make the leap from an analog world of electronic eavesdropping to the new age of cyberweaponry.
President Bill Clinton relied on Mr. McConnell as director of the N.S.A., a post he held from 1992 to 1996. He then moved to Booz Allen as a senior vice president, building its first cyberunits. But with the intelligence community in disarray after its failure to prevent the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the fiasco of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the toll of constant reorganization, President George W. Bush asked him to be the second director of national intelligence from 2007 to 2009.
That was when he made his biggest mark, forcing a reluctant bureaucracy to invest heavily in cybercapability and overseeing “Olympic Games,” the development of America’s first truly sophisticated cyberweapon, which was used against Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. When Mr. Bush needed someone to bring President-elect Barack Obama up to speed on every major intelligence program he was about to inherit, including drones and defenses against electronic intrusions from China, he handed the task to Mr. McConnell.
But Mr. Obama was not interested in keeping the previous team, and Mr. McConnell returned to Booz Allen in 2009. He earned more than $4.1 million his first year back, and $2.3 million last year. He is now vice chairman, and the company describes him as the leader of its “rapidly expanding cyberbusiness.”
But Mr. Obama was interested in Olympic Games (NYT, 6/1/2012):
From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.
Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games — even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet.
Robert Fisk reporting. If true, Obama’s decision to (more openly) arm the “good” rebels may be the spark that sets off a bigger regional war.
— U.S. Dept. of Fear (@FearDept)
[…] The document says that agencies should consider the consequences of any cyber-action. They include the impact on intelligence-gathering; the risk of retaliation; the impact on the stability and security of the internet itself; the balance of political risks versus gains; and the establishment of unwelcome norms of international behaviour.
Among the possible “significant consequences” are loss of life; responsive actions against the US; damage to property; serious adverse foreign policy or economic impacts.
The US is understood to have already participated in at least one major cyber attack, the use of the Stuxnet computer worm targeted on Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges, the legality of which has been the subject of controversy. US reports citing high-level sources within the intelligence services said the US and Israel were responsible for the worm.
In the presidential directive, the criteria for offensive cyber operations in the directive is not limited to retaliatory action but vaguely framed as advancing “US national objectives around the world”.
The United States on Monday ratcheted up its efforts to isolate Iran for its suspected nuclear weapons program, targeting Tehran with currency and auto-sector sanctions.
U.S. President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on foreign financial institutions that conduct or facilitate significant transactions in the Iranian rial currency.
In an executive order, the president also approved sanctions against people who do business with Iran’s auto sector, which the White House said was a major source of revenue for Tehran.
The United States and Western powers have imposed a series of economic sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran into halting what they say is a drive to build a nuclear weapon. Tehran says its nuclear program is purely for generating power and for medical devices.
Last week, the United States blacklisted eight companies in Iran’s petrochemical industry.
“We hold the door open to a diplomatic solution that allows Iran to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their obligations,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “However, Iran must understand that time is not unlimited. If the Iranian government continues down its current path, there should be no doubt that the United States and our partners will continue to impose increasing consequences.”
The sanctions imposed on the rial on Monday included a ban on maintaining significant accounts outside Iran denominated in that currency. It is the first time that trade in the rial has been targeted directly for sanctions, the White House said.
Canada follows suit:
Canada bans all imports, exports with latest Iran sanctions
More on the sanctions:
Congress Moves Toward Full Trade Embargo on Iran by Jim Lobe
Congress moved closer here Wednesday to imposing a full trade embargo against Iran and pledged its support to Israel if it felt compelled to attack Tehran’s nuclear programme in self-defence.
The Senate voted 99-0 to adopt a resolution that urged President Barack Obama to fully enforce existing economic sanctions against Iran and to “provide diplomatic, military and economic support” to Israel “in its defense of its territory, people and existence”.
Washington, it said, should support Israel “in accordance with United States law and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force” if Israel “is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”
The measure also re-affirmed the official policy of the administration of President Barack Obama that it would take whatever action necessary to “prevent” Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
At the same time, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Republican-led House of Representatives unanimously approved new sanctions legislation that, if passed into law, would blacklist foreign countries or companies that fail to reduce their oil imports from Iran to virtually nil within 180 days.
The same bill would expand the current blacklisting of companies that do business with Iran’s financial sector to include those engaged in the country’s automotive and mining sectors, as well.
In perhaps its most controversial section, the bill also eliminates President Obama’s ability to waive most sanctions for national-interest or national-security reasons. [++]
Nothing will be left to chance – even the hint of a green protest wave.
In 2009, 475 candidates registered to run for Iran’s presidency. Only four were approved by the Guardian Council – the all-powerful, vetting clerical committee. This year, no fewer than 686 registered for the upcoming June 14 elections. Eight were approved.
Among them, one won’t find the two who are really controversial; former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, aka “The Shark” – essentially a pragmatic conservative – and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, adviser and right-hand man to outgoing President Mahmud Ahmadinejad are both out.
Those who will run are not exactly a stellar bunch; former vice president Mohammad Reza Aref; former national security chief Hassan Rowhani; former telecommunications minister Mohammad Gharazi; the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili; Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf; the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s foreign policy adviser Ali Akbar Velayati; secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei; and Parliament Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel.
But they do read like a who’s who of ultimate Islamic Republic insiders – the so-called “principle-ists”.
According to the Interior Ministry, The Shark is out because of his advanced age (78). Not really. The Shark is out because he was the top moderate running – and was already catalyzing the support of most (excluded) reformists.
Mashaei is out because he would represent an Ahmadinejad continuum – supported by quite a few of Ahmadinejad’s cabinet ministers and profiting from a formidable populist political machine that still seduces Iran’s countryside and the urban poor. He would deepen Ahmadinejad’s drive for an independent executive. This may not be a done deal – yet. Both Rafsanjani and Mashaei cannot, in theory, appeal. But the Supreme Leader himself could lend them a hand. That’s unlikely, though.
Rafsanjani waited for the last day, May 11, to register as a potential candidate. Former president Khatami – of “dialogue of civilizations” fame – did not register, and announced his support for Rafsanjani the day before. One can imaginealarm bells ringing at the Supreme Leader’s abode.
The Shark was recently reconfirmed as chairman of the powerful Expediency Council – which oversees the government (Khamenei had this post while Ayatollah Khomeini was still alive). This may be interpreted as a sort of consolation prize.
Ahmadinejad, for his part, had been hinting at blackmail – threatening to spill all the beans on corruption by the Supreme Leader’s family. He will hardly be handed any favors.
Assuming the Supreme Leader remains immobile, himself and his subordinates across the conservative political elite do run a serious risk – that of totally alienating two very significant political factions in the Islamic Republic. By then, arguably the Guardian Council will have cleared the field for an easy victory by the former Revolutionary Guard Air Force commander and current Mayor of Tehran Qalibaf.
Qalibaf would be the ultimate politically correct vehicle for what I have described since 2009 as the military dictatorship of the mullahtariat – that is, the grip on Iran’s institutional life by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and conservative clerics under the real decider, Supreme Leader Khamenei.
This report alludes to the not exactly gentle side of Qalibaf. That, in itself, is not surprising. Infinitely more crucial is the question of whether Khamenei and the ultra-conservatives can afford to remain ensconced in an ivory tower as the internal economic situation deteriorates further and a vociferous Sunni Arab axis – amply instigated by the US and supported by Israel – is barking at Iran’s doors. [continue]
And then there are the wild cards. Israel has announced that it intends to carry out further air strikes against Syrian territory. According to the (London) Sunday Times, Assad has given orders that any further attacks will be responded to by missile strikes on Tel Aviv. A second wild card is ‘chemical weapons,’ which was a focus of President Obama in his statements while visiting Turkey. As numerous analysts and Syrian military leaders have commented, it would be senseless for Syria to use chemical weapons while having control of the air and being able to bomb rebel positions. Thus it is clear that the only military purpose of using chemical weapons at this point would be to encourage US intervention. Who would have the motive for such a step? Hardly Syria.
If anyone had doubts that Syria’s gruesome civil war is already spinning into a wider Middle East conflict, the events of the past few days should have laid them to rest. Most ominous was Israel’s string of aerial attacks on Syrian military installations near Damascus, reportedly killing more than 100.
The bombing raids, unprovoked and illegal, were of course immediately supported by the US and British governments. Since Israel has illegally occupied Syria’s Golan Heights for 46 years, perhaps the legitimacy of a few more air raids hardly merited serious consideration.
But it’s only necessary to consider what the western reaction would have been if Syria, let alone Iran, had launched such an attack on Israel – or one of the Arab regimes currently arming the Syrian rebels – to realise how little these positions have to do with international legality, equity or rights of self-defence.
Israeli officials have let it be known that the attacks, launched from Lebanese airspace, were aimed at stockpiles of Iranian missiles bound for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia resistance movement and governing party. They were not, it was said, intended as an intervention in Syria’s civil war – but as a warning to Iran and protection against Hezbollah attacks in a future conflict.
That’s not how it seemed to the Syrian rebel fighters on the ground, filmed greeting the attacks with cries of “Allahu akbar”, unaware of who had actually carried them out. By bombing the Syrian army, which has recently made advances in some rebel-held areas, Israel is clearly intervening in the war.
The raids follow the public declaration by Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah last week that his fighters are supporting government forces inside Syria – which are also backed by Iran, Russia and China. It is Syria’s role as the pivot of Iranian influence across the Middle East that has turned the Syrian war into a potential regional conflagration.
Having hedged its bets, Israel has now started to make clear it regards the prospect of Islamist and jihadist groups taking over from the Assad regime as less threatening than the existing “Syria-Iran-Hezbollah axis”, as the Israeli defence ministry official Amos Gilad put it recently.
… [W]hat began in Syria more than two years ago as a brutally repressed popular uprising has long since morphed into a vicious sectarian war, manipulated by outside forces to change the regional balance of power and already dangerously spilling over into neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq.
The consequences for Syria have been multiple massacres, ethnic cleansing, torture, a humanitarian crisis and the risk of the country’s breakup. The longer the war, the greater the danger of a Yugoslavian-style fragmentation into sectarian and ethnic enclaves.
The Assad regime bears responsibility for that, of course. But so do those who have funded and fuelled the war, bleeding Syria and weakening the Arab world in the process. The demand by Cameron and other western politicians to increase the flow of arms is reckless and cynical.
The result will certainly be to ratchet up the death toll and spread the war. If they were genuinely interested in saving lives – instead of neutralising Syria to undermine Iran – western leaders would be using their leverage with the rebels’ regional sponsors to negotiate a political settlement that would allow Syrians to determine their own future.