Natanz And Israel’s Shadow War Against Iran

Natanz, a key facility in the Iranian nuclear program suffered a paralyzing blackout over the weekend. The power outage was caused by an apparent cyberattack which caused considerable damage to centrifuges located at the site. According to a source in the US intelligence community, the damage will set the entire nuclear program back by seven months at minimum. This includes uranium enrichment, which Iran has ramped up in the past eighteen months. This past weekend’s attack was not the first. Natanz has proven to be a primary target of Western and Israeli intelligence agencies over the past eleven years. The most well-known intelligence operation to involve Natanz was the 2010 the Stuxnet cyberattack that caused major delays to the nuclear program. In the summer of 2020, an explosion and fire occurred at the facility. Some sources have speculated that the cause was a cyberattack, although the Iranian government has never responded directly to the speculation.

With regards to the latest incident, Iran naturally suspects Israeli involvement. This morning Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif laid the blame directly on Israel and vowed revenge. “The Zionists want to take revenge on the Iranian people for their success in lifting the oppressive sanctions, but we will not allow it and we will take revenge on the Zionists themselves.” The incident could have an adverse effect on the talks now taking place in Vienna to revive the JCPOA and bring the United States back on board.

This is the second suspected Israeli action against Iranian interests in a week. Last Tuesday, around the same time the JCPOA discussions were beginning in Vienna, the Saviz, an Iranian ship in the Red Sea, was damaged by an explosion and fire. This ship has long held a reputation for serving as a platform for the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) intelligence operations around the region. As with Natanz, Iran immediately placed blame for the attack on Israel and in all likelihood, they’re probably correct.

Israel’s shadow war against Iran is not a new topic. What is, however, is the tempo of operations. As it grew apparent that the Biden administration does not intend on adopting a firm position on Iran and its ambitions, Tel Aviv realized it had to keep the pressure on. The Israelis are going to do everything possible to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Even if some of the actions taken ruffle the feathers of its closest ally in the world.

Morning Update: 4 November, 2020

It has been an active and eventful last thirty-six hours around the world and the trend will likely continue at least in the short term.  Terrorism in Europe, and the growing possibility of a contested election in the United States are the main headlines dominating the headlines at the moment, but beneath the surface there are other issues worthy of a brief mention.

In Vienna the final casualty count for Monday’s terrorist attack in Vienna is four dead and twenty-two. Contrary to reports of multiple gunmen that went out as the attack was underway, there was only one shooter involved. The attacker was identified as Fejzulai Kujtim, a 20-year-old Austrian male of North Macedonian descent. He was convicted in 2019 for attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison and released on parole last December. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack even though the link between it and Fejzulai is dubious at best. The Austrian government has also labeled the gunman as an Islamic terrorist and naturally considers the attack to have been of terror origin.

The Vienna attack came days after another Islamic terror attack in Nice, France. With much of the continent now going into another COVID-19 lockdown, there’s concern more attacks could be coming. In fact the United Kingdom has upgraded its terror level to ‘Severe’ in the wake of the Nice and Vienna attacks. This level indicates an attack is deemed highly likely. The move was sensible, given recent events. It is also quite logical to assume that more attacks will be coming in the days and weeks ahead.

In the United States, the 2020 presidential election has yet to be called. I will not delve too deeply into the situation at present except to say that the results may not be known for some time. It would appear that there are court battles looming that potentially may go all the way to the US Supreme Court. However, the election has affected  global markets, and left many US allies wondering when the election results will be known.

I was hoping to get to the next installment of the Sino-Indian Crisis piece, but I’m still 24 hours or so behind schedule. It will be posted by Thursday morning. Apologies for the delay.

Terrorist AttackS Underway In Vienna, Austria

Europe is in the crosshairs of international terrorism once more. Just days after an attack in Nice, France another attack has taken place on the continent. Tonight in Vienna two people were killed and over fifteen wounded in a series of shootings in central Vienna. Austrian police and government spokesmen confirmed that a group of gunmen launched the attacks in six different locations across the capital city. The first shootings took place near the Seitenstettengasse synagogue although it is unclear if the synagogue was an intended target.

Information coming out at present is somewhat fluid. Austrian media claims a manhunt for the suspects is still underway. According to police as many as six shooters might’ve been involved and at least one is dead. Reports from outside of Austria claim one of the shooters was a Chechen with ties to ISIS. Other reports from firearm experts suggest the weapons used were likely an AK type rifle and an M57 Tokarev. Authorities believe the number of casualties will likely increase in the coming hours.

News of the attack has arrived as the last day of campaigning in the 2020 US Presidential Election enters its final hours. Neither candidate has made mention of the attack yet, but as more information becomes available both Donald Trump and Joe Biden will likely release statements.

I’ll touch on the attack a bit tomorrow and then Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning I’ll post about India and China.

Monday 17 July, 2018 Update: Helsinki 2018 Resembled Vienna 1961

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To put it bluntly, Vladimir Putin rolled President Trump in Helsinki yesterday. Plain and simple. Collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election, and independent Russian attempts to influence the election took front stage. Obviously I was not in the room when Putin and Trump sat down for their private discussion, though its safe to assume that Putin steered the discussion in the direction of the collusion topic, and there it remained for the duration. No major geopolitical, or defense issues were deliberated or resolved. Syria, nuclear proliferation, and a handful of other issues were briefly mentioned in the press conference statements by Putin and Trump, yet nothing substantial.

So, where does the Helsinki summit leave US-Russia relations now? Essentially, in the same place they were before Trump and Putin arrived in Finland. President Trump had an excellent opportunity to confront his Russian counterpart on a host of matters from possible Russian collusion in US elections, to Russian activity in Syria, Ukraine, and other places around the world. Instead, the US president chose a less confrontational approach, and he learned firsthand what Vladimir Putin is all about.

Trump’s experience in Helsinki is eerily similar to John F Kennedy’s first summit with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, in June, 1961. Kennedy came to Vienna confident he could reach an agreement with Khrushchev on Berlin, Laos, or Cuba. It did not happen. Kennedy walked away empty-handed, and admitted frankly, “He (Khrushchev) beat the hell out of me.” Fortunately, Kennedy recovered from his dismal performance in Vienna and challenged the Soviets when they moved to solve the Berlin, and Cuba matters to their advantage.

There’s little question that Russia will challenge President Trump and the United States soon. Although there was clearly no collusion between the Trump campaign, and Russian government in the 2016 election, it is nearly certain that a major Russian intelligence operation was launched during the US election cycle. The success of this operation can be measured by the amount of distrust, and confusion it has brought to American political, and intelligence circles. As US attention remains focused inward, Russia will eventually use this to its advantage and move. Maybe in Syria, or Ukraine. Or, perhaps to spark a new flashpoint in another area, make rapid gains, and solidify them before the United States is able to respond effectively.

Sunday 15 October, 2017 Update: Austria Shifts Right

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The shadow of the European Migrant Crisis continues to loom over the continent with its influence being felt in social circles, economic matters, and most prevalently, in domestic politics. The waves of refugees from Syria and North Africa, coupled with the rash of terror attacks in recent years is reshaping the political landscape of Europe. These events are the catalyst that has brought a number of right wing political parties in from the wilderness and placed them in political mainstreams of many European nations. Electorates from Warsaw to Central Europe are shifting right. Even Germany has not been immune from the shift. In last month’s election, Alternative for Germany, a right wing party, made significant gains, a precursor that a new political reality could very well be on the horizon for the central and eastern areas of the continent.

Now it’s Austria’s turn. On Sunday the conservative People’s Party staged a political upset in snap parliamentary elections. The party’s leader, 31 year old current foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, is expected to be chosen by Austria’s president to form a new government once the results are finalized. The People’s Party captured 31.4 percent of the votes and emerges from the elections as the strongest political force in Austria. The new government, when formed, will be a coalition. But it will be a far different coalition than any that Austria has seen in recent years. Conservatives will not be the junior partners this time around. The main partner of the People’s Party in a new coalition will likely be a populist party with similar political leanings like the Freedom Party. Back in May the Freedom Party almost captured the presidency. The results of that election allowed Brussels to breathe a sigh of relief and hope that Europe’s amour fou with populist, right wing politics was over once and for all.

Last month’s German elections, and today’s results in Austria show beyond a shadow of a doubt the relationship between European electorates and right wing political parties is anything but a fling. Not surprisingly, immigration was the main issue in Austria. While governments dally on effectively dealing with immigration problems, and the European Union sits on its hands hoping the immigration issue will disappear at some point soon, European voters are putting these leaders on notice. What happened in Austria today was no aberration and it will serve the EU well to keep that in mind.