PM 120502

Former head of Shin Bet warns against “messianic” war on Iran

 

(1) Former head of Shin Bet warns against “messianic” war on Iran

(2) Olmert warns against attack on Iran, condemns Netanyahu’s confrontational style

(3) Ready to hit Iran if ordered: Israel military chief

(4) Iran’s oil ministry under “cyber attack”

(5) Iranian ‘terror’ group MEK financed & trained by Mossad – Seymour Hersh

(6) Israel’s attack base in Azerbaijan

(7) Azerbaijan Denies Giving Israel Military Air Access

(8) Iran agrees to receive part payment for Oil in rupees through Indian banks

 

(1) Former head of Shin Bet warns against “messianic” war on Iran

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/28/us-iran-nuclear-israel-idUSBRE83R07N20120428

 

Israel ex-spy warns against “messianic” war on Iran

 

By Dan Williams

 

JERUSALEM | Sat Apr 28, 2012 2:58pm EDT

 

(Reuters) – A former Israeli spymaster has branded the country’s leaders as “messianic” and unfit to tackle the Iranian nuclear program, in the strongest criticism from a security veteran of threats to launch a pre-emptive war.

 

Other retired officials have also criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defence minister, but the censure from Yuval Diskin, who stepped down as head of the Shin Bet domestic intelligence service last year, was especially harsh.

 

He was also unusual in using the language of religious fervor that Israelis associate with their Islamist foes.

 

“I have no faith in the prime minister, nor in the defence minister,”

Diskin said in the remarks broadcast by Israeli media on Saturday. “I really don’t have faith in a leadership that makes decisions out of messianic feelings.”

 

Government officials rebuked Diskin and questioned his motives, implying that he had his eye on a political career or was settling scores after Netanyahu denied him a promotion.

 

The catastrophic terms with which Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak describe the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran have stirred concern in Israel and abroad of a possible strike against its uranium enrichment program.

 

Iran says the project is entirely peaceful and has promised wide-ranging reprisals for any attack.

 

World powers, sharing Israeli suspicions that Iran has a covert bomb-making plan, are trying to curb it through sanctions and negotiations. Those talks resume in Baghdad on May 23, but Barak on Thursday rated their chance of succeeding as low.

 

Although Israel has long threatened a pre-emptive strike if diplomacy fails, some experts believe that could be a bluff to keep up pressure on the Iranians, making it harder to interpret the swirl of comments from the security establishment.

 

FALSE IMPRESSION

 

Commenting on Diskin’s remarks, Amos Harel of the liberal Haaretz newspaper said the temperature was rising in anticipation of the nuclear talks.

 

“Nothing has been determined in the Iranian story, and the spring is about to boil over into another summer of tension,” said Harel.

 

Diskin spoke days after Israel’s top military commander, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, told Haaretz he viewed Iran as “very rational” and unlikely to build a bomb, comments that apparently undermined the case for a strike.

 

The former Shin Bet chief was specifically damning of Netanyahu and Barak, who have often crafted strategy alone and whose rapport dates back four decades to when they served together in a top-secret commando unit.

 

“They’re creating a false impression about the Iranian issue,” Diskin told a private gathering on Friday, where the comments were recorded.

“They’re appealing to the stupid public, if you’ll pardon me for the phrasing, and telling them that if Israel acts, there won’t be an

(Iranian) nuclear bomb.”

 

Diskin said he was not necessarily opposed to an attack on Iran, though he cited experts who argue this risked backfiring by accelerating its nuclear program.

 

Netanyahu’s former Mossad foreign intelligence director, Meir Dagan, last year also ridiculed the Israeli war option.

 

Diskin went a step further by saying that Netanyahu and Barak were not up to the job of opening an unprecedented front with Iran and, potentially, with its allies on Israel’s borders.

 

Netanyahu is a second-term premier with solid public approval ratings and a broad conservative coalition. Barak, a former prime minister, is Israel’s most decorated soldier. But they are both technically subject to security vetting by the Shin Bet, which added punch to their panning at Diskin’s hands.

 

“I have seen them up close,” he said. “They are not messiahs, the two of them, and they are not people who I personally, at least, trust to be able to lead Israel into an event on such a scale, and to extricate it.”

 

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman dismissed Diskin’s alarm as irresponsible “speculation,” telling Israel’s Channel Two TV that such big decisions would be made at cabinet level rather than by the prime minister and defence minister exclusively.

 

Lieberman said Diskin, who was considered as a potential Dagan successor but was passed over, might be angry. One Barak confidant sarcastically wished Diskin “welcome to political life,” implying he was angling for a slot in an opposition party ahead of an Israeli national election scheduled for next year.

 

(Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

 

(2) Olmert warns against attack on Iran, condemns Netanyahu’s confrontational style

 

From: “Sadanand, Nanjundiah (Physics Earth Sciences)”

<sadanand@mail.ccsu.edu> Date: Mon, 30 Apr 2012

 

Interesting comment from Olmert on US-based die-hard Israel/Netanyahu/Bomb Iran supporters:

“As a concerned Israeli citizen who lives in the state of Israel with his family and all of his children and grandchildren,” he said, “I love very much the courage of those who live 10,000 miles away from the state of Israel and are ready that we will make every possible mistake that will cost lives of Israelis.”

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/30/world/middleeast/olmert-ex-premier-of-israel-assails-netanyahu-on-iran.html

 

April 30, 2012 – By ANNE BARNARD, NY Times

 

Former Israeli Premier Assails Netanyahu on Iran

 

Ehud Olmert, a former prime minister of Israel, spoke Sunday at a conference in Manhattan held by The Jerusalem Post. The former prime minister of Israel, plunged on Sunday into the country’s growing debate over Iran policy with harsh criticism of his successor, Benjamin Netanyahu.

 

As several recently retired top security officials have done, Mr. Olmert urged Mr. Netanyahu’s government not to rush into unilateral military action against Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

 

But Mr. Olmert went much further. Drawing boos from a largely American audience in New York, he fired off a wide-ranging broadside against Mr.

Netanyahu’s foreign policy, saying that the prime minister was unprepared to offer meaningful compromise to Palestinians, disrespectful to the United States and dismissive of the international community at a time when Israel particularly needs foreign support to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

 

“A nation has the right to determine what it should do to defend itself,” Mr. Olmert said at a conference held in a Manhattan hotel by The Jerusalem Post. “But when at the same time we ask the United States and other countries to provide us with the means to do it, no one is entirely independent to act, irrespective of the positions and attitudes and policies of other countries.”

 

Since leaving office in 2008, Mr. Olmert has often urged caution concerning Iran. His remarks on Sunday were noteworthy for their place and time – before an audience of some of Mr. Netanyahu’s strongest American supporters, and only a few days after Israel’s top military officer suggested that the threat posed by Iran was less urgent than Mr.

Netanyahu has said, and the former head of Israel’s internal security service said the prime minister had “messianic feelings.”

 

Illustrating how visceral the debate has become, and how entwined it is with politics in both Israel and the United States, some in the crowd peppered Mr. Olmert with shouts of “Naïve!” and “Neville Chamberlain!”

and booed loudly when he called for a less confrontational stance toward President Obama, whose political opponents Mr. Netanyahu has openly courted.

 

“You have to respect him,” Mr. Olmert said of Mr. Obama. “He is the president of the most powerful nation on earth, and happens to be a friend of Israel.” When boos rang through the conference room in response, he joked, “I can see that this hall is full of Democrats.”

 

Mr. Olmert was booed again when he declared that while Israel should prepare the military ability to strike Iran’s nuclear program as a last resort, it should first push for American-led international action against Iran, including sanctions and possible joint military action.

 

This time, he responded caustically.

 

“As a concerned Israeli citizen who lives in the state of Israel with his family and all of his children and grandchildren,” he said, “I love very much the courage of those who live 10,000 miles away from the state of Israel and are ready that we will make every possible mistake that will cost lives of Israelis.”

 

Israeli politics suffused Sunday’s conference. Mr. Olmert noted that critics of Mr. Netanyahu have ascribed the prime minister’s urgent rhetoric on Iran to political considerations. His remarks on the Palestinian issue may add to recent pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to tack to the left before the next election, which is now expected as early as the fall.

 

Mr. Netanyahu plans to call this week for a renewal of talks with the Palestinians, proposing direct negotiations with no preconditions, according to The Israel Project, an advocacy group that promotes the positions of the Israeli government.

 

Although Mr. Olmert is embroiled in a corruption scandal at home and faces a possible prison term, Israel is a country where political comebacks are common, so his remarks in New York on Sunday may reflect domestic political calculations of his own.

 

His Kadima Party was formed to offer a center-right alternative to Mr.

Netanyahu’s conservative Likud bloc.

 

Gilad Erdan, the Israeli environment minister, defended the government’s policy on Sunday, saying that Iranian nuclear weapons could provide an umbrella to militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah or even “find their way into terrorist hands,” calling that scenario “too terrifying to even consider.”

 

In an interview after his appearance at the conference, Mr. Olmert said he was expressing legitimate concerns shared by most people in the Israeli security establishment, “present and past,” including many who have not spoken publicly.

 

Two such former officials, Gabi Ashkenazi, the former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, and Eliezer Shkedy, the former air force commander, told the conference on Sunday that an international approach to Iran was preferable.In the past, Mr. Shkedy has, like Mr. Netanyahu, compared the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran to the Holocaust.

 

At the conference, The Jerusalem Post released results of a recent poll indicating that most Israelis would back a military strike on Iran by an American-led coalition but fewer than half by Israel alone.Mr. Olmert said in the interview that Israel should quietly build American support behind the scenes, and not publicly declare that it will act with or without America, given its dependence on American military aid and hardware.

 

“America is not a client state of Israel – maybe the opposite is true,”

he said. “Why should we want America to be put in a situation where whatever they do will be interpreted as if they obeyed orders from Jerusalem?”. Mr. Olmert warned that Mr. Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, having likened Iran to Nazi Germany, may find themselves unable to back down from military action.

 

“They talk too much, they talk too loud,” he said in the interview.

“They are creating an atmosphere and a momentum that may go out of their control.”

 

(3) Ready to hit Iran if ordered: Israel military chief

 

From: “Sadanand, Nanjundiah (Physics Earth Sciences)”

<sadanand@mail.ccsu.edu> Date: Tue, 24 Apr 2012

 

Khaleej Times (UAE) – 23 April, 2012

 

http://gitm.kcorp.net/index.php?id=598562&news_type=Top&lang=en

 

Israeli forces are carrying out more special operations beyond the country’s borders and will be ready to attack Iran’s nuclear sites if ordered, the chief-of-staff said in an interview on Sunday.

 

In an extract from an interview with the top-selling Yediot Aharanot daily, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said that 2012 would be a critical year in efforts to halt what Israel and much of the international community believe is an Iranian nuclear arms programme.

 

“We think that a nuclear Iran is a very bad thing, which the world needs to stop and which Israel needs to stop — and we are planning accordingly,” Gantz said.

 

“In principle, we are ready to act.

 

“That does not mean that I will now order (air force chief) Ido

(Nehushtan) to strike Iran,” he added in the interview which will be published in full on Wednesday, on the eve of Israel’s 64th anniversary as a state.

 

The United States says it does not believe Iran has so far taken a decision to develop a nuclear weapon, or that the time is right for military action, preferring to give international sanctions time to work.

 

But Israel, which sees a nuclear Iran as a threat to its very existence, claims Tehran may be on the cusp of “breakout” capability — when it could quickly build a nuclear weapon — and it does not rule out staging a pre-emptive strike of its own.

 

Gantz said he had increased the number of Israeli special operations in other countries but did not give details.

 

“I do not think you will find a point in time where there is not something happening, somewhere in the world,” he said. “The threat level is also higher.”

 

“I’m not taking the credit,” he added. “I’m just accelerating all those special operations.”

 

(4) Iran’s oil ministry under “cyber attack”

 

http://gitm.kcorp.net/index.php?m=&id=598719&lang=en

 

Iran oil ministry under ‘cyber attack’

 

Khaleej Times (UAE) – 24 April, 2012,

 

Iran’s oil ministry has come under a “cyber attack,” with its website and affiliated sites appearing to be offline, Iranian media reported on Monday.

 

The Mehr news agency reported that the websites, including that of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), were targeted from Sunday.

 

An oil ministry spokesman, Alireza Nikzad, told the Fars news agency the attack was a “virus” which “attempted to delete data on oil ministry servers.”

 

The ISNA news agency, identifying the virus as “Viper”, said the attack had deleted data off the servers. The ministry spokesman, however, said “essential data” were unharmed.

 

“The cyber attack has not harmed essential data of the oil ministry and the NIOC because the main servers are not connected to public servers,”

Nikzad said, adding that data was available on off-line servers.

 

He did not give further details.

 

The Internet websites of the oil ministry

(<http://www.mop.ir>www.mop.ir) and the NIOC

(<http://www.nioc.ir>www.nioc.ir) appeared to be inaccessible on Monday.

 

Iran in 2010 was the target of a massive cyber attack by a highly sophisticated worm called Stuxnet that penetrated at least 30,000 computers across the country and seemed to specifically target machines linked to centrifuges carrying out uranium enrichment.

 

Many international experts believe the virus was developed by the United States, possibly with Israeli collaboration, to disrupt Iran’s disputed nuclear programme. …

 

(5) Iranian ‘terror’ group MEK financed & trained by Mossad – Seymour Hersh

 

From: Paul de Burgh-Day <pdeburgh@harboursat.com.au> Date: Sat, 7 Apr

2012 12:00:51 +1000

 

My friends,

 

Here, New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh reports what had previously been seen by a handful of independent reporters as the reality about the internal Iranian ‘terror’ group MEK. It has long been argued that MEK has been US/Mossad backed, acting against the Iran government.

 

Hersh basically confirms what has been said by others.

Maybe you should at least try and look surprised!

 

Paul

 

Our Men in Iran?

 

By Seymour M. Hersh

 

The New Yorker

 

April 06, 2012

 

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/04/mek.html

 

From the air, the terrain of the Department of Energy’s Nevada National Security Site, with its arid high plains and remote mountain peaks, has the look of northwest Iran. The site, some sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas, was once used for nuclear testing, and now includes a counterintelligence training facility and a private airport capable of handling Boeing 737 aircraft. It’s a restricted area, and inhospitable—in certain sections, the curious are warned that the site’s security personnel are authorized to use deadly force, if necessary, against intruders.

 

It was here that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducted training, beginning in 2005, for members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a dissident Iranian opposition group known in the West as the M.E.K. The M.E.K. had its beginnings as a Marxist-Islamist student-led group and, in the nineteen-seventies, it was linked to the assassination of six American citizens. It was initially part of the broad-based revolution that led to the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran. But, within a few years, the group was waging a bloody internal war with the ruling clerics, and, in 1997, it was listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department. In 2002, the M.E.K. earned some international credibility by publicly revealing—accurately—that Iran had begun enriching uranium at a secret underground location. Mohamed ElBaradei, who at the time was the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear monitoring agency, told me later that he had been informed that the information was supplied by the Mossad. The M.E.K.’s ties with Western intelligence deepened after the fall of the Iraqi regime in 2003, and JSOC began operating inside Iran in an effort to substantiate the Bush Administration’s fears that Iran was building the bomb at one or more secret underground locations. Funds were covertly passed to a number of dissident organizations, for intelligence collection and, ultimately, for anti-regime terrorist activities. Directly, or indirectly, the M.E.K. ended up with resources like arms and intelligence. Some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today, according to past and present intelligence officials and military consultants.

 

Despite the growing ties, and a much-intensified lobbying effort organized by its advocates, M.E.K. has remained on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations—which meant that secrecy was essential in the Nevada training. “We did train them here, and washed them through the Energy Department because the D.O.E. owns all this land in southern Nevada,” a former senior American intelligence official told me. “We were deploying them over long distances in the desert and mountains, and building their capacity in communications—coördinating commo is a big deal.” (A spokesman for J.S.O.C. said that “U.S. Special Operations Forces were neither aware of nor involved in the training of M.E.K. members.”)

 

The training ended sometime before President Obama took office, the former official said. In a separate interview, a retired four-star general, who has advised the Bush and Obama Administrations on national-security issues, said that he had been privately briefed in

2005 about the training of Iranians associated with the M.E.K. in Nevada by an American involved in the program. They got “the standard training,” he said, “in commo, crypto [cryptography], small-unit tactics, and weaponry—that went on for six months,” the retired general said. “They were kept in little pods.” He also was told, he said, that the men doing the training were from JSOC, which, by 2005, had become a major instrument in the Bush Administration’s global war on terror. “The JSOC trainers were not front-line guys who had been in the field, but

second- and third-tier guys—trainers and the like—and they started going off the reservation. ‘If we’re going to teach you tactics, let me show you some really sexy stuff…’ ”

 

It was the ad-hoc training that provoked the worried telephone calls to him, the former general said. “I told one of the guys who called me that they were all in over their heads, and all of them could end up trouble unless they got something in writing. The Iranians are very, very good at counterintelligence, and stuff like this is just too hard to contain.” The site in Nevada was being utilized at the same time, he said, for advanced training of élite Iraqi combat units. (The retired general said he only knew of the one M.E.K.-affiliated group that went though the training course; the former senior intelligence official said that he was aware of training that went on through 2007.)

 

Allan Gerson, a Washington attorney for the M.E.K., notes that the M.E.K. has publicly and repeatedly renounced terror. Gerson said he would not comment on the alleged training in Nevada. But such training, if true, he said, would be “especially incongruent with the State Department’s decision to continue to maintain the M.E.K. on the terrorist list. How can the U.S. train those on State’s foreign terrorist list, when others face criminal penalties for providing a nickel to the same organization?”

 

Robert Baer, a retired C.I.A. agent who is fluent in Arabic and had worked under cover in Kurdistan and throughout the Middle East in his career, initially had told me in early 2004 of being recruited by a private American company—working, so he believed, on behalf of the Bush Administration—to return to Iraq. “They wanted me to help the M.E.K.

collect intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program,” Baer recalled. “They thought I knew Farsi, which I did not. I said I’d get back to them, but never did.” Baer, now living in California, recalled that it was made clear to him at the time that the operation was “a long-term thing—not just a one-shot deal.”

 

Massoud Khodabandeh, an I.T. expert now living in England who consults for the Iraqi government, was an official with the M.E.K. before defecting in 1996. In a telephone interview, he acknowledged that he is an avowed enemy of the M.E.K., and has advocated against the group.

Khodabandeh said that he had been with the group since before the fall of the Shah and, as a computer expert, was deeply involved in intelligence activities as well as providing security for the M.E.K.

leadership. For the past decade, he and his English wife have run a support program for other defectors. Khodabandeh told me that he had heard from more recent defectors about the training in Nevada. He was told that the communications training in Nevada involved more than teaching how to keep in contact during attacks—it also involved communication intercepts. The United States, he said, at one point found a way to penetrate some major Iranian communications systems. At the time, he said, the U.S. provided M.E.K. operatives with the ability to intercept telephone calls and text messages inside Iran—which M.E.K.

operatives translated and shared with American signals intelligence experts. He does not know whether this activity is ongoing.

 

Five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated since 2007.

M.E.K. spokesmen have denied any involvement in the killings, but early last month NBC News quoted two senior Obama Administration officials as confirming that the attacks were carried out by M.E.K. units that were financed and trained by Mossad, the Israeli secret service. NBC further quoted the Administration officials as denying any American involvement in the M.E.K. activities. The former senior intelligence official I spoke with seconded the NBC report that the Israelis were working with the M.E.K., adding that the operations benefitted from American intelligence. He said that the targets were not “Einsteins”; “The goal is to affect Iranian psychology and morale,” he said, and to “demoralize the whole system—nuclear delivery vehicles, nuclear enrichment facilities, power plants.” Attacks have also been carried out on pipelines. He added that the operations are “primarily being done by M.E.K. through liaison with the Israelis, but the United States is now providing the intelligence.” An adviser to the special-operations community told me that the links between the United States and M.E.K.

activities inside Iran had been long-standing. “Everything being done inside Iran now is being done with surrogates,” he said.

 

The sources I spoke to were unable to say whether the people trained in Nevada were now involved in operations in Iran or elsewhere. But they pointed to the general benefit of American support. “The M.E.K. was a total joke,” the senior Pentagon consultant said, “and now it’s a real network inside Iran. How did the M.E.K. get so much more efficient?” he asked rhetorically. “Part of it is the training in Nevada. Part of it is logistical support in Kurdistan, and part of it is inside Iran. M.E.K.

now has a capacity for efficient operations than it never had before.”

 

In mid-January, a few days after an assassination by car bomb of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, at a town-hall meeting of soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas, acknowledged that the U.S. government has “some ideas as to who might be involved, but we don’t know exactly who was involved.” He added, “But I can tell you one thing: the United States was not involved in that kind of effort. That’s not what the United States does.”

 

(6) Israel’s attack base in Azerbaijan

 

From: “Sadanand, Nanjundiah (Physics Earth Sciences)”

<sadanand@mail.ccsu.edu> Date: Thu, 29 Mar 2012

 

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/03/28/israel_s_secret_staging_ground

 

Israel’s Secret Staging Ground

 

U.S. officials believe that the Israelis have gained access to airbases in Azerbaijan. Does this bring them one step closer to a war with Iran?

 

BY MARK PERRY | MARCH 28, 2012, Foreign Policy

 

In 2009, the deputy chief of mission of the U.S. embassy in Baku, Donald Lu, sent a cable to the State Department’s headquarters in Foggy Bottom titled “Azerbaijan’s discreet symbiosis with Israel.” The memo, later released by WikiLeaks, quotes Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev as describing his country’s relationship with the Jewish state as an

iceberg: “nine-tenths of it is below the surface.”

 

Why does it matter? Because Azerbaijan is strategically located on Iran’s northern border and, according to several high-level sources I’ve spoken with inside the U.S. government, Obama administration officials now believe that the “submerged” aspect of the Israeli-Azerbaijani alliance — the security cooperation between the two countries — is heightening the risks of an Israeli strike on Iran.

 

In particular, four senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the United States has concluded that Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran’s northern border. To do what, exactly, is not clear. “The Israelis have bought an airfield,” a senior administration official told me in early February, “and the airfield is called Azerbaijan.”

 

Senior U.S. intelligence officials are increasingly concerned that Israel’s military expansion into Azerbaijan complicates U.S. efforts to dampen Israeli-Iranian tensions, according to the sources. Military planners, I was told, must now plan not only for a war scenario that includes the Persian Gulf — but one that could include the Caucasus.

The burgeoning Israel-Azerbaijan relationship has also become a flashpoint in both countries’ relationship with Turkey, a regional heavyweight that fears the economic and political fallout of a war with Iran. Turkey’s most senior government officials have raised their concerns with their U.S. counterparts, as well as with the Azeris, the sources said.

 

The Israeli embassy in Washington, the Israel Defense Forces, and the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, were all contacted for comment on this story but did not respond.

 

The Azeri embassy to the United States also did not respond to requests for information regarding Azerbaijan’s security agreements with Israel.

During a recent visit to Tehran, however, Azerbaijan’s defense minister publicly ruled out the use of Azerbaijan for a strike on Iran. “The Republic of Azerbaijan, like always in the past, will never permit any country to take advantage of its land, or air, against the Islamic Republic of Iran, which we consider our brother and friend country,” he said.

 

But even if his government makes good on that promise, it could still provide Israel with essential support. A U.S. military intelligence officer noted that Azeri defense minister did not explicitly bar Israeli bombers from landing in the country after a strike. Nor did he rule out the basing of Israeli search-and-rescue units in the country. Proffering such landing rights — and mounting search and rescue operations closer to Iran — would make an Israeli attack on Iran easier.

 

“We’re watching what Iran does closely,” one of the U.S. sources, an intelligence officer engaged in assessing the ramifications of a prospective Israeli attack confirmed. “But we’re now watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we’re not happy about it.”

 

Israel’s deepening relationship with the Baku government was cemented in February by a $1.6 billion arms agreement that provides Azerbaijan with sophisticated drones and missile-defense systems. At the same time, Baku’s ties with Tehran have frayed: Iran presented a note to Azerbaijan’s ambassador last month claiming that Baku has supported Israeli-trained assassination squads targeting Iranian scientists, an accusation the Azeri government called “a slander.” In February, a member of Yeni Azerbadzhan — the ruling party — called on the government to change the country’s name to “North Azerbaijan,”

implicitly suggesting that the 16 million Azeris who live in northern Iran (“South Azerbaijan”) are in need of liberation.

 

And this month, Baku announced that 22 people had been arrested for spying on behalf of Iran, charging they had been tasked by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to “commit terrorist acts against the U.S., Israeli, and other Western states’ embassies.” The allegations prompted multiple angry denials from the Iranian government.

 

It’s clear why the Israelis prize their ties to Azerbaijan — and why the Iranians are infuriated by them. The Azeri military has four abandoned, Soviet-era airfields that would potentially be available to the Israelis, as well as four airbases for their own aircraft, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance 2011.

 

The U.S. intelligence and diplomatic officials told me they believe that Israel has gained access to these airbases through a series of quiet political and military understandings. “I doubt that there’s actually anything in writing,” added a senior retired American diplomat who spent his career in the region. “But I don’t think there’s any doubt — if Israeli jets want to land in Azerbaijan after an attack, they’d probably be allowed to do so. Israel is deeply embedded in Azerbaijan, and has been for the last two decades.”

 

The prospect of Israel using Azerbaijan’s airfields for an Iranian attack first became public in December 2006, when retired Israeli Brig.

Gen. Oded Tira angrily denounced the George W. Bush administration’s lack of action on the Iranian nuclear program. “For our part,” he wrote in a widely cited commentary, “we should also coordinate with Azerbaijan the use of airbases in its territory and also enlist the support of the Azeri minority in Iran.” The “coordination” that Tira spoke of is now a reality, the U.S. sources told me.

 

Access to such airfields is important for Israel, because it would mean that Israeli F-15I and F-16I fighter-bombers would not have to refuel midflight during a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but could simply continue north and land in Azerbaijan. Defense analyst David Isenberg describes the ability to use Azeri airfields as “a significant asset” to any Israel strike, calculating that the 2,200-mile trip from Israel to Iran and back again would stretch Israel’s warplanes to their limits.

“Even if they added extra fuel tanks, they’d be running on fumes,”

Isenberg told me, “so being allowed access to Azeri airfields would be crucial.”

 

Former CENTCOM commander Gen. Joe Hoar simplified Israel’s calculations:

“They save themselves 800 miles of fuel,” he told me in a recent telephone interview. “That doesn’t guarantee that Israel will attack Iran, but it certainly makes it more doable.”

 

Using airbases in Azerbaijan would ensure that Israel would not have to rely on its modest fleet of air refuelers or on its refueling expertise, which a senior U.S. military intelligence officer described as “pretty minimal.” Military planners have monitored Israeli refueling exercises, he added, and are not impressed. “They’re just not very good at it.”

 

Retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner, who conducted a study for a think tank affiliated with the Swedish Ministry of Defense of likely Israeli attack scenarios in March 2010, said that Israel is capable of using its fleet of F-15I and F-16I warplanes in a strike on Iran without refueling after the initial top-off over Israel. “It’s not weight that’s a problem,” he said, “but the numbers of weapons that are mounted on each aircraft.” Put simply, the more distance a fighter-bomber is required to travel, the more fuel it will need and the fewer weapons it can carry.

Shortening the distance adds firepower, and enhances the chances for a successful strike.

 

“The problem is the F-15s,” Gardiner said, “who would go in as fighters to protect the F-16 bombers and stay over the target.” In the likely event that Iran scrambled its fighters to intercept the Israeli jets, he continued, the F-15s would be used to engage them. “Those F-15s would burn up fuel over the target, and would need to land.”

 

Could they land in Azerbaijan? “Well, it would have to be low profile, because of political sensitivities, so that means it would have to be outside of Baku and it would have to be highly developed.” Azerbaijan has such a place: the Sitalcay airstrip, which is located just over 40 miles northwest of Baku and 340 miles from the Iranian border. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sitalcay’s two tarmacs and the adjacent facilities were used by a squadron of Soviet Sukhoi SU-25 jets

— perfect for Israeli fighters and bombers.  “Well then,” Gardiner said, after the site was described to him, “that would be the place.”

 

Even if Israeli jets did not land in Azerbaijan, access to Azeri airfields holds a number of advantages for the Israel Defense Forces.

The airfields not only have facilities to service fighter-bombers, but a senior U.S. military intelligence officer said that Israel would likely base helicopter rescue units there in the days just prior to a strike for possible search and rescue missions.

 

This officer pointed to a July 2010 joint Israeli-Romanian exercise that tested Israeli air capabilities in mountainous areas — like those the Israeli Air Force would face during a bombing mission against Iranian nuclear facilities that the Iranians have buried deep into mountainsides. U.S. military officers watched the exercises closely, not least because they objected to the large number of Israeli fighters operating from airbases of a NATO-member country, but also because 100 Israeli fighters overflew Greece as a part of a simulation of an attack on Iran. The Israelis eventually curtailed their Romanian military activities when the United States expressed discomfort with practicing the bombing of Iran from a NATO country, according to this senior military intelligence officer.

 

This same senior U.S. military intelligence officer speculated that the search and rescue component of those operations will be transferred to Azerbaijan — “if they haven’t been already.” He added that Israel could also use Azerbaijan as a base for Israeli drones, either as part of a follow-on attack against Iran, or to mount aerial assessment missions in an attack’s aftermath.

 

Azerbaijan clearly profits from its deepening relationship with Israel.

The Jewish state is the second largest customer for Azeri oil – shipped through the Baku-Tibilisi-Ceyhan pipeline — and its military trade allows Azerbaijan to upgrade its military after the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) slapped it with an arms embargo after its six-year undeclared war with Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Finally, modernizing the Azeri military sends a clear signal to Iran that interference in Azerbaijan could be costly.

 

“Azerbaijan has worries of its own,” said Alexander Murinson, an Israeli-American scholar who wrote in an influential monograph on Israeli-Azeri ties for Tel Aviv’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. “The Baku government has expelled Iranians preaching in their mosques, broken up pro-Iranian terrorist groups, and countered Iranian propaganda efforts among its population.”

 

The deepening Azeri-Israeli relationship has also escalated Israel’s dispute with Turkey, which began when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish ship destined for Gaza in May 2010, killing nine Turkish citizens. When Turkey demanded an apology, Israel not only refused, it abruptly canceled a $150 million contract to develop and manufacture drones with the Turkish military — then entered negotiations with Azerbaijan to jointly manufacture 60 Israeli drones of varying types.

The $1.6 billion arms agreement between Israel and Azerbaijan also left Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “sputtering in rage,”

according to a retired U.S. diplomat.

 

The centerpiece of the recent arms deal is Azerbaijan’s acquisition of Israeli drones, which has only heightened Turkish anxieties further. In November 2011, the Turkish government retrieved the wreckage of an Israeli “Heron” drone in the Mediterranean, south of the city of Adana

— well inside its maritime borders. Erdogan’s government believed the drone’s flight had originated in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq and demanded that Israel provide an explanation, but got none. “They lied; they told us the drone didn’t belong to them,” a former Turkish official told me last month. “But it had their markings.”

 

Israel began cultivating strong relations with Baku in 1994, when Israeli telecommunications firm Bezeq bought a large share of the nationally controlled telephone operating system. By 1995, Azerbaijan’s marketplace was awash with Israeli goods: “Strauss ice cream, cell phones produced by Motorola’s Israeli division, Maccabee beer, and other Israeli imports are ubiquitous,” an Israeli reporter wrote in the Jerusalem Post.

 

In March 1996, then-Health Minister Ephraim Sneh became the first senior Israeli official to visit Baku — but not the last. Benjamin Netanyahu made the trip in 1997, a high-level Knesset delegation in 1998, Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in 2007, Israeli President Shimon Peres in 2009, and Lieberman again, as foreign minister, this last February. Accompanying Peres on his visit to Baku was Avi Leumi, the CEO of Israel’s Aeronautics Defense Systems and a former Mossad official who paved the way for the drone agreement.

 

U.S. intelligence officials began to take Israel’s courtship of Azerbaijan seriously in 2001, one of the senior U.S. military intelligence officers said. In 2001, Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems contracted with Georgia’s Tbilisi Aerospace Manufacturing to upgrade the Soviet SU-25 Scorpion, a close air-support fighter, and one of its first customers was Azerbaijan. More recently, Israel’s Elta Systems has cooperated with Azerbaijan in building the TecSar reconnaissance satellite system and, in 2009, the two countries began negotiations over Azeri production of the Namer infantry fighting vehicle.

 

Israeli firms “built and guard the fence around Baku’s international airport, monitor and help protect Azerbaijan’s energy infrastructure, and even provide security for Azerbaijan’s president on foreign visits,”

according to a study published by Ilya Bourtman in the Middle East Journal. Bourtman noted that Azerbaijan shares intelligence data on Iran with Israel, while Murinson raised the possibility that Israelis have set up electronic listening stations along Azerbaijan’s Iranian border.

 

Israeli officials downplay their military cooperation with Baku, pointing out that Azerbaijan is one of the few Muslim nations that makes Israelis feel welcome. “I think that in the Caucasian region, Azerbaijan is an icon of progress and modernity,” Sneh told an Azeri magazine in July 2010.

 

Many would beg to differ with that description. Sneh’s claim “is laughable,” the retired American diplomat said. “Azerbaijan is a thuggish family-run kleptocracy and one of the most corrupt regimes in the world.” The U.S. embassy in Baku has also been scathing: A 2009 State Department cable described Aliyev, the son of the country’s longtime ruler and former KGB general Heydar Aliyev, as a “mafia-like”

figure, comparable to “Godfather” characters Sonny and Michael Corleone.

On domestic issues in particular, the cable warned that Aliyev’s policies had become “increasingly authoritarian and hostile to diversity of political views.”

 

But the U.S. military is less concerned with Israel’s business interests in Baku, which are well-known, than it is with how and if Israel will employ its influence in Azerbaijan, should its leaders decide to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. The cable goes on to confirm that Israel is focused on Azerbaijan as a military ally — “Israel’s main goal is to preserve Azerbaijan as an ally against Iran, a platform for reconnaissance of that country and as a market for military hardware.”

 

It is precisely what is not known about the relationship that keeps U.S.

military planners up at night. One former CIA analyst doubted that Israel will launch an attack from Azerbaijan, describing it as “just too chancy, politically.” However, he didn’t rule out Israel’s use of Azeri airfields to mount what he calls “follow-on or recovery operations.” He then added: “Of course, if they do that, it widens the conflict, and complicates it. It’s extremely dangerous.”

 

One of the senior U.S. military officers familiar with U.S. war plans is not as circumspect. “We are studying every option, every variable, and every factor in a possible Israeli strike,” he told me. Does that include Israel’s use of Azerbaijan as a platform from which to launch a strike — or to recover Israeli aircraft following one? There was only a moment’s hesitation. “I think I’ve answered the question,” he said.

 

(7) Azerbaijan Denies Giving Israel Military Air Access

 

http://www.voanews.com/english/news/europe/Azerbaijan-Denies-Giving-Israel-Military-Air-Access—144909365.html

 

March 29, 2012

 

VOA News

 

Azerbaijan has denied a report that it granted Israel access to air bases near the Iranian border.

 

A spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Baku, Teymur Abdullayev, said Thursday that the report in U.S.-based Foreign Policy magazine is inaccurate.

 

On Wednesday, the magazine cited unnamed senior diplomats and security officers as saying the U.S. has concluded that Azerbaijan recently granted air field access to Israel. The report suggested the site could be used for Israeli military action against Iran.

 

The French news agency quotes the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman as calling the report “absurd” and “groundless.”

 

Relations between Azerbaijan and Iran have been strained by several recent incidents.

 

Earlier this month, Azerbaijan said it had broken up an Iranian-backed plot to attack U.S. and Israeli embassies. Iran denied any role in the alleged plot.

 

In February, Tehran accused Azerbaijan of involvement in what it called an Israeli plot to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. Baku rejected the allegations as “slander.”

 

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.

 

(8) Iran agrees to receive part payment for Oil in rupees through Indian banks

 

From: “Sadanand, Nanjundiah (Physics Earth Sciences)”

<sadanand@mail.ccsu.edu> Date: Wed, 28 Mar 2012

 

New Delhi, March 26, 2012

 

http://www.thehindu.com/business/Economy/article3233475.ece

 

Iran agrees to part payment for crude imports in Indian rupee

 

Iran has agreed to receive part payment for crude oil exports in rupees through Indian banks, the government said today.

 

On a query if Iran has agreed to part payment in Indian currency for crude oil sale to India, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya Scindia said, “Yes Madam.”

 

In the written reply, Mr. Scindia informed the Lok Sabha that confidential commercial arrangements have been worked out for payment in Indian currency.

 

On a query whether such payment in Indian currency may get extended for imports other than crude oil, he replied, “Yes Madam, confidential commercial arrangements that have been worked out are due to large trade deficit of India with Iran.”

 

The Reserve Bank of India in December 2010 withdrew the Asian Clearing Union (ACU) mechanism under which payments were made to Iran.

 

India imports about 12 million barrels of crude oil every month from Iran, which is the nation’s second-largest supplier after Saudi Arabia.

 

After the scrapping of the ACU mechanism, Iran had continued to supply oil on credit despite the outstanding amount crossing USD 3 billion.

 

Peter Myers

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