Tuesday, July 10, 2012

514 Former head of Shin Bet warns against "messianic" war on Iran

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.

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