Time to enter the Iranian bazaar on the nuclear issue

Iran plans nuclear-powered submarine, report says

Iran said on Tuesday it planned to build its first nuclear-powered submarine, a news agency reported, an announcement that came days before talks with world powers and may add to Western concerns over its atomic activities.

“Preliminary steps in making an atomic submarine have started and we hope to see the use of … nuclear submarines in the navy in the future,” deputy navy commander Abbas Zamini was quoted as saying by Iran’s Fars News Agency.

Many nuclear-powered submarines use as fuel uranium enriched to levels that could also be suitable for atomic bombs, said Mark Hibbs, a nuclear proliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a diplomatic think-tank.

He suggested Tehran could use the submarine project to justify refining uranium to higher levels.

However analysts say Iran at times exaggerates its nuclear and military advances to try to strengthen its bargaining position with world powers who want curbs on Tehran’s atomic program to ensure it is for peaceful ends only.

Iran denies Western accusations that it is seeking to build nuclear weapons, saying it simply wants to generate electricity.

Zamini said all countries had the right to use peaceful nuclear technology, including for the propulsion system of their vessels, Fars reported.


Tehran is now refining uranium to a fissile concentration of up to 20 percent. This is below the 90 percent concentration needed for nuclear arms and any attempt to process to higher levels would alarm the West and Israel.

Tehran is due to hold a new round of nuclear talks with the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain in Moscow on June 18-19.

European Union officials said on Monday that Tehran had agreed to discuss a proposal to curb its output of uranium enrichment.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the dispute.

Hibbs said only a few countries in the world – the United States, Russia, France and Britain – had nuclear-powered submarines. “If Iran moves forward on this project it would be for political reasons. Iran could easily defend itself with conventional submarine technology,” he said.

At talks in Baghdad in May, world powers proposed that Tehran stop production of 20 percent uranium enrichment, close the Fordow underground facility where such work is done and ship any stockpile out of the country.

In return, they offered to supply it with fuel for a medical research reactor in Tehran, which requires 20 percent uranium, and to ease sanctions on the sale of parts for commercial aircraft to Iran.

No agreement was reached in Baghdad but the seven countries agreed to continue discussions in Moscow.

Reporting by Zahra Hosseinian; additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Pravin Char

Report: Iran to build new nuclear research reactors

Iran plans to build “four to five” nuclear research reactors and will continue to enrich uranium to provide their fuel, a nuclear official said on Monday despite Western pressure on Tehran to curb atomic work.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoon Abbasi, said Tehran would build the reactors “in the next few years” to produce medical radioisotopes, according to the students news agency ISNA.

“To provide the fuel for these (new) reactors, we need to continue with the 20 percent enrichment of uranium,” ISNA quoted him as saying.

Israel reconsidering nuclear power plans in light of Japan crisis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with CNN that Israel is reconsidering its plans for a nuclear energy facility in light of what happened in Japan. The interview is set to be aired later on Thursday.

Japan is facing a nuclear crisis after a major earthquake and tsunami led to explosions and rising radiation levels in the country’s nuclear plants. The UN nuclear watchdog said on Thursday the situation at the damaged Japanese nuclear power plant remained very serious but no major worsening had occurred since Wednesday.

Israel created a plan for a nuclear energy plant to be located in the Negev several years ago but it has yet come into fruition.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Nation-World Briefs

U.N. Asks Israel to Stop Making Nukes
A U.N. commission recommended that Israel refrain from manufacturing any more nuclear weapons as a step to a nuclear-free Middle East. The United Nation’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, chaired by weapons inspector Hans Blix, released its 60 recommendations on Monday. Regarding the Middle East, Blix recommended that most nations commit to not possessing any nuclear weapons. However, with Israel he recommended only that it commit to not manufacturing any more weapons. Israel is highly unlikely to agree to dismantle the 200 warheads it is believed to possess as the region’s sole nuclear power. Israel’s agreement would be a start, Blix said.

State Dept. Blasts Israel for Human Trafficking
Israel is on a U.S. State Department watch list of nations that fail to effectively prevent human trafficking. Israel was classified as being on the Tier Two watch list in the report released Monday. Tier Three is the worst classification, reserved for countries that fail to comply with minimum U.S. standards. Israeli law enforcement has made strides in cracking down on sex trafficking, the report said, but the same was not true of labor trafficking and “the estimated thousands of victims of forced labor were not provided with protection.” It described fees demanded of laborers ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, “a practice that often leads to debt bondage and makes these workers highly vulnerable to forced labor once in Israel,” it said.

FDA Approves Israeli Parkinson’s Drug
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved an Israeli drug that treats Parkinson’s, a chronic disease characterized by uncontrolled shaking and muscle stiffness. Marketed under the name Azilect, this is the first once-daily oral treatment for Parkinson’s to be distributed in the United States; it was developed by Technion professors Moussa Youdim and John Finberg and is being manufactured by Tel Aviv-based generic pharmaceutical giant Teva. The drug is expected to become available by prescription in the United States by July or August.

While not a cure, the drug slows the progression of the disease. Azilect works by blocking the breakdown of dopamine, which tells the body how and when to move.

Parkinson’s currently affects 1 million people in the United States.

“This is a welcome development for the more than 50,000 Americans who are each year diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, ” said Dr. Steven Galson, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Parkinson’s is a relentless disease with limited treatment options, and each new therapy is an important addition to the physicians’ treatment options.”

However, the FDA is warning that the drug could carry an increased risk of hypertensive crisis — a precursor to a stroke — if taken with tyramine-rich foods (cheese, chocolate, red wine), dietary supplements or cough/cold medicines. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Nazi Papers Declassified
The U.S. government declassified more than 8 million pages of files related to Nazi war crimes. The material including documents relating to the CIA’s employment of suspected Nazi war criminals after World War II. The members of the government’s Interagency Working Group said at a news conference Tuesday that the revelations pointed to the dangers of working with war criminals, as the United States did after World War II. Among other revelations, the papers show that former Nazis employed by the United States were more susceptible to recruitment as double agents by the Soviet Union. Additionally, the papers show that the United States had a strong lead on the whereabouts of Adolf Eichmann in 1958, but did not pursue it because of fears that his capture would expose the Nazi past of high-ranking officials in the West German government, which was allied with the United States.

Trump Fires Jewish Contestant
An observant Jew failed in his bid to become Donald Trump’s next apprentice. Lee Bienstock was fired Monday on the season finale of “The Apprentice.” Bienstock and another Jewish contestant, New Jersey’s Dan Brody, observed Rosh Hashanah together early in the season missing the third episode’s task but only Bienstock, who grew up in the New York area, stayed in the show long enough to observe Yom Kippur, missing another task.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Iraq’s Defeat Raises Fears of Iran Threat

On the face of it, the U.S. military victory in Iraq has significantly enhanced Israel’s national security, removing a threat from weapons of mass destruction and opening new chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

However, there is a downside: Israeli leaders are concerned that Iran could emerge strengthened from Iraq’s defeat and continue to promote terror, while developing nuclear weapons that could pose a threat to Israel’s very existence.

One worry is that the defeat of Iraq could lead to a fundamentalist backlash in the region spearheaded by Iran, using its close ties with Syria and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah to wage a campaign of terror. Another is that Shiite Iran could build close ties with a new Shiite-dominated Iraq, projecting fundamentalist influence across the region.

However, of most concern by far is that, according to some Western experts, Iran is barely two years away from producing a nuclear bomb.

Israeli officials maintain that the two prongs of the Iranian threat — nuclear weapons and terrorism — are related. Ra’anan Gissin, a senior aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, declared that Iran uses terror to "create deterrence as it builds a nuclear weapons capability that has not yet become operational." In other words, the threat of Iranian-inspired terror is intended to make the United States or other would-be aggressors think twice before taking military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Over the past few months, Sharon has been urging visiting U.S. legislators and administration officials to take action to stop Iran from going nuclear. The message seemed to be getting through: After mid-March meetings in Jerusalem, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton announced at an Israeli-American strategic forum in Washington that "the U.S. will focus on stopping Iran getting nuclear weapons."

But it could be too late.

Over the past few years, undetected by the world’s most vaunted intelligence agencies or the United Nations’ watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran developed two sites capable of producing the fissile materials from which nuclear bombs are made.

One, near the desert town of Natanz, 200 miles south of Tehran, will be able to produce weapons-grade uranium. The other, farther west at Arak, will be able to make plutonium from heavy water.

The tip-off on the two sites came last August from an Iranian dissident group, the National Council of Resistance. Until then, the Iranians had claimed that the Natanz site was for "desert irrigation."

Satellite photos released in December by the American Institute for Science and International Security proved otherwise. When Mohammed Baradei, an Egyptian who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency, visited the Natanz site in late February, he counted 160 new centrifuges capable of producing weapons-grade uranium, as well as parts for assembling 1,000 more.

Baradei’s Iranian hosts acknowledged that by 2005, they planned to have 5,000 centrifuges fully operational at the desert site. Experts say that would enable Iran to produce enough enriched uranium for at least two nuclear bombs a year from 2005 onward.

Experts believe Iran had some help from Pakistan in developing the Natanz technology, but the centrifuges are unique in shape and clearly were engineered by the Iranians themselves. Moreover, Iran has begun mining its own uranium ore in the Yazd area, 400 miles southeast of Tehran.

Taken together, these two facts mean that Iran has passed the point of no return: Its nuclear program can no longer be stopped by getting third parties to withhold materials or technologies.

The same is true of Iran’s missile technology.

"The Iranians cannot be stopped anymore," said Uzi Rubin, former head of Israel’s Arrow anti-missile defense program. "They have their indigenous capability now, and they will continue their programs, regardless of what the international community thinks."

One of the Iranian-developed missiles, the Shahab-3, has an estimated range of nearly 800 miles, able to reach targets in Israel from western Iran.

What makes the Iranian threat most chilling is that Iran’s fundamentalist leaders remain formally committed to Israel’s destruction. For example, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president who retains an influential post, in December 2001 called publicly for the Muslim world to develop nuclear weapons in order to annihilate Israel.

Iran also has shown a marked capacity to act against Israeli interests. According to Israeli intelligence, Iran was behind the 1992 and 1994 terrorist attacks on the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires; regularly supplies Hezbollah with weapons, including long-range rockets, through Damascus, and in 2002, tried to sell arms to the Palestinian Authority for use against Israel.

Israeli experts say it was the January 2002 interception by Israel of the Karine A, a vessel loaded with Iranian arms for the Palestinians, that led President Bush to include Iran in the "axis of evil" in his State of the Union address later that month.

So what can be done to contain or assuage the Iranian threat? First, Israeli experts say, Israel must enhance its defensive and deterrent posture.

The Arrow, which could intercept incoming Shahab missiles, does both. Moreover, according to foreign sources, Israel has mounted special launchers on its submarines that are capable of firing nuclear warheads. This would give it a "second-strike" capability, hopefully deterring potential enemies from contemplating a first strike.

To weaken Iran’s terrorist capacity and ability to spread its fundamentalist message, Israeli experts propose putting pressure on Syria, rather than Iran. Syria, they maintain, is more susceptible to Western pressure and also has the power to disarm Hezbollah relatively quickly.

Once Hezbollah is disarmed and Damascus distances itself from Tehran, Iran’s scope for terror and political influence will decline, the argument goes.

No one in the Israeli establishment believes that after the war in Iraq, the United States will be in any mood for a far more difficult military campaign against Iran. Moreover, many are convinced that it is too late to stop Iran from going nuclear; therefore, they argue, the best way to neutralize a nuclear Iran is to promote regime change from within.

David Menashri of Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center proposes a dialogue with young reformist forces in Iran, while hanging tough with the conservative clerics who run the country today. That way, in case of regime change, at least the weapons would be in more enlightened hands.

Moreover, Menashri adds, if the reformists come to power, the once-flourishing ties between Israel and Iran might even be renewed.