- Experts: Iran nuke program well-hidden, concessions on enrichment put non-proliferation efforts at risk
- Top House figures call on Senate to move forward with Iran sanctions
- New video documents Iran arming, training, and directing pro-regime Syrian forces
- Reports: IAF strikes Syrian missile cache bound for Hezbollah
What we’re watching today:
- Iran has made significant progress in concealing components of its nuclear program, and is "getting better" at the construction and protection of potential undisclosed enrichment facilities, according to statements by senior intelligence officials and analysts published yesterday by the Daily Beast. David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), described the Islamic regime as "better at keeping better secrets, better at compartmentalization of their program and they are better at cyber security," while a retired senior U.S. intelligence official explained - per the Beast - that 'it would be easy to hide a secret enrichment facility in downtown Tehran' through technological means. Tehran has also boosted its cybersecurity capabilities, in the aftermath of the discovery of several computer viruses used to sabotage and monitor the Iranian nuclear program. The existence of undisclosed facilities would dramatically change assessments regarding Iran's ability to dash across the nuclear finish line, which Olli Heinonen - a former Deputy Director of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog and currently a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School - this week pegged at two weeks. Heinonen and Washington Institute fellow Simon Henderson yesterday published a call urging Washington to "negotiate expeditiously" and emphasizing that any concessions offered to Iran - including the right to continue enriching uranium, which Tehran has repeatedly indicated it will demand - will "soon be demanded by other countries that have previously been denied those rights." The United Nations Security Council has demanded a full end to Iranian enrichment in half a dozen binding resolutions, and Heinonen and Henderson that "rewarding Iran in this way for noncompliance with its nonproliferation commitments would seem indulgent." Indeed Gulf states have repeatedly signaled that they intend to acquire nuclear weapons if they perceive that Iran is doing the same. Speaking last week in Washington, former Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to Washington Prince Turki al-Faisal declared that Iran’s obtainment of a nuclear weapon "will make nuclear arms proliferation in the Middle East the norm" and suggested that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Riyadh is a member, should consider acquiring a "nuclear deterrent" of its own.
- Top Republicans and Democrats from the House of Representatives are calling on their Senate colleagues to move forward with legislation to increase sanctions on Iran, brushing aside concerns being expressed by administration figures that new pressure will damage efforts to negotiate with the Islamic republic over its nuclear weapons program. Experts and diplomats had already this week questioned the logic of the administration argument, pointing out that, inasmuch as heightening sanctions-driven pressure had coerced Iran to come to the negotiating table, increasing that pressure could hardly cause them to walk away. The Hill yesterday quoted Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) emphasizing that "the only reason that [the Iranians] are negotiating now is because of the success of the sanctions in place... need to enhance the pressure" and Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) saying that "existing sanctions have forced Tehran to the negotiating table, and we should be building more pressure instead of slowing down." The House passed its own sanctions legislation in July by a margin of 400-20, and parallel legislation is currently waiting for mark up by Senate Banking Committee. On the Senate side, Mark Kirk (R-IL) questioned why the U.S. should forgo strengthening its negotiating position while Iran was strengthening its hand by installing new nuclear technology, pointedly telling Reuters that "if Iran is capable of negotiating while violating international law, the United States should be equally capable of negotiating while imposing new sanctions pressure."
- The BBC yesterday posted footage captured from an Iranian cameraman who had been embedded with a unit of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fighters in Syria, documenting how top Iranian military figures are on the ground in the war-torn country not just supplying but also "instructing and organizing" pro-regime forces against rebels seeking the overthrow of the Bashar al-Assad regime. BBC experts verified the video, which included interviews with a top IRGC figure explaining that he viewed the war as one between "Islam and the infidels," and describing how domestic and foreign fighters had been trained in Iran before being dispatched to Syria. Meanwhile Assad today complained to Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations' special envoy to Syria, about the presence of foreign fighters in the country. The Syrian strongman reportedly told Brahimi that "[o]nly the Syrian people are authorized to shape the future of Syria." It is not known whether Brahimi or any other official queried Assad about the crucial assistance provided to the regime by Iran and by Iran's Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, which is known to have been critical in helping Damascus steadily erode nearly two years of rebel gains in the nearly three year war.
- Israeli Air Force (IAF) jets today struck a Syrian military base with advanced missiles that Israel may have thought were intended for Hezbollah, according to an Obama administration official who spoke to CNN. If confirmed the move would be the most recent of several times that the IAF has reportedly acted to enforce Jerusalem's long emphasized double red line against the transfer of advanced Syrian weapons to, or their capture by, terror groups. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon last week reemphasized that Israel would continue "strictly adhering to our 'red lines' in regards to Syria," and emphasized that Israel was monitoring the situation. Ya'alon's comments had come hours after Kuwait's Al-Jarida newspaper reported that Israel had intercepted a convoy of missiles being transferred to Lebanon from Syria. Asked to comment last May on Israeli airstrikes against Syria, President Barack Obama declared that "the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah."
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