Thursday, June 30, 2011

Operation Desert Bloom:
The Zionist Myth that Won't Spoil, Wither, or Die

“This tractor does two things - it turns the land and turns us off the land. There is little difference between this tractor and a tank. The people were driven, intimidated, hurt by both. We must think about this."
- John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Chapter 14

"If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears."
- Mahmoud Darwish

As a new Gaza Flotilla gets ready to set sail, despite numerous criminal acts of sabotage and a never-ending barrage of Israeli government propaganda, the New York Times' Ethan Bronner (with the help of his trusty sidekick Fares Akram) has been doing his best to divert attention away from the suffering in Gaza by publishing articles showing how wonderful and luxurious life is in a besieged open-air prison.

On June 28, Bronner published a piece entitled, "A Bountiful Harvest, Rooted in a Former Settlements Soil." The Times online header read: "Gaza Establishes Food Independence in Former Israeli Settlements." Beyond the obvious agenda inherent in these banners, the piece itself peddles age-old Zionist tropes of historical revisionism, land redemption and blooming deserts.

Bronner begins:
Hundreds of acres of watermelons, orange saplings and grapevines stretch in orderly rows out to the horizon. Irrigation hoses run along the sand, dripping quietly. Apple trees are starting to blossom nearby. Avocados and mangoes are on their way.

Gaza, cut off by Israel and Egypt for the past four years and heavily dependent on food aid, is expanding an enormous state-run farm aimed at gaining partial food independence. Most striking is that the project sits in the center of the coastal strip on the sites of the former Israeli settlements whose looted greenhouses and ruined fields became a symbol of all that had turned sour in the Israeli withdrawal six years ago.
What Bronner leaves out is the extent of the aid dependency and humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Earlier this week, Chris Gunness, senior director at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), put it this way:
Let's look at the basic humanitarian facts on the ground. Ninety five percent of water in Gaza is undrinkable. Forty percent of disease is waterborne, it's caused by poor water. 45.2 percent of the labor force is unemployed. Eighty percent aid dependency. A tripling of the abject poor since the blockade. There's clearly a crisis in every aspect of life in Gaza.
A recent report by the World Food Programme revealed that only 20% of Gaza's population could be classified as "food secure," while "the prevalence of Gaza household food insecurity remains very high at 54 percent with an additional 12 percent of households vulnerable to food insecurity." The report also found that 38% of Gaza residents live below the poverty line, noting that "[w]ithout social and humanitarian assistance, nearly half of the Gaza population would be under the poverty line (48.2 percent)."

Bronner writes of Israel's removal of "9,000 settlers and all of its soldiers from Gaza in 2005," at which point "[t]he settlers’ high-tech greenhouses, which were bought for the Palestinians with $14 million in donations, were left unguarded and within days were stripped of computer equipment, irrigation pipes, water pumps and plastic sheeting." He omits the fact that Gaza remains occupied territory, controlled externally on all sides - land, sea, air - and constantly under attack by the Israeli military. Bronner describes the economic siege and collective punishment of a civilian mundanely as "security procedures on exiting trucks" imposed by Israel after "an attack on the border."

In truth, the result was a near total ban on exports which has devastated Gaza and made impossible any sort of economic recovery. The chart below, taken from a 2010 report by the Palestine Trade Center, shows annual export trends from June 2006 to July 2010.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Uncritical Stenography of Beltway Reportage:
Is Robert Zeliger Killing Truth in Foreign Policy?

"The message is, 'Got to find a link with Iran, got to find a link with Iran.' It's sickening."
- U.S. Military Official in Iraq, 2007

An article published today on Foreign Policy's "Passport" blog demonstrates perfectly how desperate the media is to demonize Iran and that it will do so without even the slightest hint of journalistic integrity.

The post, written by news editor Robert Zeliger and ominously entitled, "Is Iran killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq?", purportedly addresses the causes for recent American troop deaths in Iraq. Zeliger tells us up front that "June has been the deadliest month for U.S. soldiers in Iraq since May, 2009 -- with 11 deaths, including two soldiers killed Sunday in northern Iraq."

Clearly crediting the rise in U.S. fatalities to the possibility (read: obvious inevitability) of a extended (read: permanent) U.S. military presence in Iraq even after the official 2008 Status of Forces Agreement, which has long given a December 2011 deadline for the full withdrawal of all remaining U.S. Occupation forces, Zeliger defers to two agenda-driven sources for an answer.

"A coalition of militant groups and outside actors is strongly opposed to that and are using violence to send a message to Washington," Zeliger writes, apparently citing the beliefs of Feisal Istrabadi, a former Iraqi diplomat to the United Nations who now teaches law at Indiana University. Istrabadi, also known as Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, is an American-born Iraqi who strongly supported the 2003 American invasion and was an integral member of the Future of Iraq Project, a U.S. State Department study group of Iraqi exiles and ex-pats convened in October 2001. The project was tasked with planning for a new government infrastructure in a post-Saddam Iraq (a full year and half before the invasion) and was closely connected with Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. Istrabadi was also a principle architect of Iraq's post-invasion provisional constitution, the Transitional Administrative Law, in close collaboration with U.S. officials.

Zeliger then quotes Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) fellow Michael Knights as confirming that the potential for prolonged U.S. occupation is "the primary driver" of the recent escalation of violence against American troops. "The Iranians and Sadrists are taking it very seriously," Knights says. WINEP, of course, is the AIPAC-created neoconservative Beltway think tank which consistently warmongers about Iran in service of the Likud lobbying group.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The "No Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza" Canard:
From Massacre Myopia to Blockade Blindness

Earlier today, former IDF prison guard Jeffrey Goldberg approvingly quoted an excerpt from a recent anti-Gaza Flotilla opinion piece by Irish columnist Kevin Myers. Myers' snide commentary is full of historical revisionism, factual errors, total fabrications, racist anti-Arab and Palestinian stereotyping, and an adolescent overuse of silly scare-quotes:

The last 'aid flotilla' to Gaza carried a large number of Islamists who wanted to provoke: and aided by some quite astounding Israeli stupidity, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Now another convoy is under way, and again with an utterly disingenuous plan to bring "assistance" to the "beleaguered Gazans", some of who, funnily enough, can now cross into Egypt any time they like, and buy their explosives and their Kalashnikovs in the local arms-bazaar.

And as for human-rights abuses: why, nothing that Israel has done in the 63 years of its existence can possibly compare with the mass-murders of Fatah members by Hamas firing-squads over the past five years.
Myers' ignorance about the goals and participants of last year's flotilla and the upcoming one is revealing. His ignorance about the Rafah Crossing is embarrassing. His comments about "beleaguered Gazans" are hideous and shameful. His weird comparison of more than six decades of ethnic cleansing, land theft, occupation, apartheid, colonization, military aggression, war crimes, assassination, and collective punishment with a few years of Palestinian factional violence is bizarre.

(Myers notably does his hasbaric best by only mentioning Hamas violence against Fatah - of which there has been plenty - as if the latter was an innocent victim of the other. For example, on May 24, 2006, the BBC reported that a member of Hamas had been shot and killed after being one of three men abducted by Fatah gunmen. In early October 2006, Hamas official Muhammad Odeh was shot and killed on his way to pray at a nearby mosque. In December 2006, the New York Times reported that "gunmen forced a prominent Hamas militant to his knees on Wednesday, then shot him dead outside a courthouse where he worked, in the southern Gaza Strip." Later that month, Fatah members opened fire at a rally of about 200 Hamas supporters in Nablus, wounding nine. A couple weeks later, Ynet reported that "three Palestinians, all members of the same Hamas-affiliated family, were killed in the Gaza neighborhood of Sabara Saturday evening in exchanges of fire with members of a Fatah-affiliated family" and "seven Palestinians identified with Hamas were kidnapped in Gaza and the West Bank." On January 30, 2007, the Jerusalem Post reported that senior Hamas official "Hussein al-Shabasi was shot and killed on his way out of one of the mosques in the city, in the first incident of violence since the cease-fire was signed between Hamas and Fatah." Reports that "dozens of Fatah members" in Gaza were executed by Hamas for violating a Hamas-imposed house arrest - the only instance of what might be considered "mass-murders" - come exclusively from Fatah-run media. Even the highest estimation of casualties pales in comparison to what Israel inflicted upon Gaza during its winter massacre of 2008-2009.)

Myers seemingly justifies his dismissal of the injustice suffered by Palestinians in Gaza by writing, "According to Mathilde Redmatn, deputy director of the International Red Cross in Gaza, there is in fact no humanitarian crisis there at all."

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Iranian "Nuclear Test" Report:
Gerdab, The Guardian, and How Propaganda Spreads

"A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on."

- Reverend C.H. Spurgeon, April 1, 1855

Earlier this month, on June 8, The Guardian's Global Security blogger Julian Borger reported that, a website is run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Cyber Command, ran an article which opined on the domestic and international reaction to an Iranian nuclear bomb test.

Borger described the article, entitled "The Day After the First Iranian Nuclear Test: A Normal Day," as "remarkable" and "strange" and quoted (my favorite Iran alarmist) Meir Javedanfar as calling the revelation "unbelievable" and breathlessly stating that he had "never seen anything like [it]." Borger suggested that the appearance of this article - and the hypothetical introduction of a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic - was a calculated act by the Iranian government. "This has the look of a kite being flown, but for whom?" he wondered, continuing, "It could be intended to get Iranians used to the idea of a nuclear test, and less fearful of international reaction. It could be a gesture of defiance to the world by hardline elements..."

Yet, the piece is undoubtedly a bit of creative writing, a satirical speculation on what would actually happen if Iran were to develop an operational nuclear arsenal (or, more simply, a single nuclear bomb). Arms Control Wonk writer Jeffrey Lewis pointed out how "device of comparative headlines yields some amusing insights about how Iranians view various news sources," elaborating:
The author imagines Al Jazeera describing the test as an Islamic bomb, while Saudi-owned Al Arabiya calls it is a Shiite bomb. Only Reuters and CNN give credit to Iran. Similarly, the Jerusalem Post has a tabloid style headline — “Mullahs obtain nuclear weapon” — while the Washington Post gives equal billing to the test as well as reaction in Israel. Then there is a dig at a government-run, pro-Ahmadinejad newspaper touting “By the order of the President, Iran tests 100% Iranian atomic bomb”
Lewis also cautioned that "we ought not read too much into this bit of satire." He was right to do so. The article in question did not originate from the IRGC website - rather, it was picked up from a Iranian blogger's personal website and cross-posted on Gerdab.

Just a few hours after the Guardian article was posted, commenters shed some light on the story, revealing that Gerdab's "webmaster scans pro-government blogs and selects their posts for republishing" in its "In The Blogs" section.

Soon thereafter, Borger was contacted by the blog's author, 30-year-old Qom-based writer Seyed Ali Pourtabatabaei, who confirmed that the piece was indeed just satire. Borger conducted an interview with Pourtabatabaei, during which he asked how "his blog end up on Gerdab, a website run by the IRGC's cyber-security wing?" Pourtabatabaei responded:
"Gerdab was firstly an IRGC project to clean the Persian web of porn. After that was done, it just became a site that collects links to what it thinks is good content. There was a university student I know working for Gerdab and he read my blog and liked it and put in a link to it. He has to put up five links a day to get paid in his job. I don't think Gerdab management knew anything about it. Now they have some more rules."
Borger added that "Pourtabatabaei did not go into details, but the authorities have communicated their displeasure to him. Beyond that, he has not been punished in any way."

At the end of it all, and to his credit, Borger concluded:
I found Pourtabatabaei to be very credible. He described an Iranian reality in which political and religious allegiances cut across each other and do not always fit in neat categories. The "five-links-a-day" explanation for the Gerdab connection also seems to be me plausible (the cock-up theory of history at work) in which case I clearly jumped to conclusions prematurely on the IRGC role. I was also only half-right at best in saying there was a taboo in Iran over talking about nuclear weapons.
Nevertheless, Borger's Guardian piece introduced the notion that the IRGC were breaking some sort of taboo on the discussion of a nuclear weapons program and was seized upon by the usual propagandists as yet one more example of the Iran nuclear threat. Despite the subsequent revelations about the true source and meaning of the piece, the damage had already been done.

As soon as Borger's original piece appeared online (which was about a month and a half after Pourtabatabaei penned the blog post), it sparked a firestorm of hysterical fear-mongering that has yet to subside.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Meir Javedanfar Strikes Again!
Inappropriate Use of "Unprecedented" Reveals His Agenda

Just a quick observation:

Iran alarmist Meir Javedanfar is at it again. This morning he tweeted:

The article Javedanfar links to is a brief Associated Press report from this morning (and picked up by MSNBC) which states that "Iran's president says his country isn't afraid of making a nuclear weapon but doesn't intend to do so." It then quotes Ahmadinejad as saying, "If we do want to make a bomb, we are not afraid of anybody."

Why Javedanfar believes this to be (a) news, let alone (b) "unprecedented", is anybody's guess, but the likely reason is that he simply isn't well-informed and jumps on any possible opportunity to fear-monger about the Iranian nuclear energy program.

Considering Javedanfar fancies himself an expert and a journalist, one would hope he would think before he tweets (or, at minimum, take three seconds to do a bit of research). Clearly, he is unaware of (or willfully ignores) Ahmadinejad's history of consistent statements about the Iranian nuclear program, namely the comment made to Charlie Rose in early May 2010. During an interview, Ahmadinejad said:

"Let me just set your mind -- I want to give your mind some rest here. We are opposed to the bomb, the nuclear bomb, and we will not build it. If we want to build it, we have the guts to say it. We’re courageous enough to say it, because we’re not afraid of anyone. If we want to have the bomb, we’ll come and tell everyone he want to build it. We’re not afraid of anyone if we want to make it. Who’s there to be afraid of? So when we say we don’t want it, we don’t want it."
Months earlier, on December 18, 2009, Ahmadinejad gave an interview during a climate change conference in Copenhagen, in which he said, "If we want to make a bomb we would not be afraid of the United States...but we do not want to make a bomb." He continued, "Our policy is transparent. If we wanted to make a bomb we would be brave enough to say so. When we say that we are not making one, we are not. We do not believe in it (the bomb)."

Days later, in a televised speech from the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, Ahmadinejad reiterated this point: "You should know that if we had any intention of building a bomb, we would have had enough guts and courage to announce that without any fear from you."

To recap:

December 2009: "If we want to make a bomb we would not be afraid of the United States...we would be brave enough to say so."

May 2010: "We're courageous enough to say it, because we're not afraid of anyone. If we want to have the bomb, we'll come and tell everyone he want to build it. We're not afraid of anyone if we want to make it."

June 2011: "If we do want to make a bomb, we are not afraid of anybody."

Doesn't seem so "unprecedented" now, does it? Keep it up, Meir, you make it so easy.



June 24, 2011 - In order to somehow vindicate his consistently embarrassing and transparent hysteria over the Iranian nuclear program, Javedanfar tweeted this today:

The link is to a new brief posted by David Albright's Institute for Science and International Security "Nuclear Iran" site which follows the same absurd illogic in which Javedanfar consistently traffics. The post declares, "Ahmadinejad's statement reflects Iran's apparent on-going effort to develop all the components of a nuclear weapons program that would give it the option to quickly break out if the decision were made to do so."

Though writing the same thing over and over and over again is indeed tedious, this should be addressed.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Two Smart Fellows, They Tell Lies:
The Truth vs. Think Tankers Maloney & Takeyh

An op-ed published today in The New York Times repeats a number of well-worn claims about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Written by the Brookings Institute's Saban Center senior fellow Suzanne Maloney and Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Ray Takeyh, the article, entitled "Ahmadinejad's Fall, America's Loss," attempts to argue that "the prospect of a nuclear deal between Tehran and Washington is diminishing" due to the recent political infighting between the Iranian President and the country's clerical leadership.

Unsurprisingly, the op-ed is suffused with the usual boilerplate Western narratives about Ahmadinejad, and even Iran in general. The fellows write that he has "dabbled in Holocaust denial" and that, in June 2009, the conservative Iranian government conspired in "rigging the system to ensure his re-election." Neither of these allegations stand up to serious scrutiny.

Maloney and Takeyh, who openly call for sanctioning Iran's legal and IAEA-supervised nuclear energy program as well as supporting Iran's minuscule and unrepresentative "Green" movement, also write that Ahmadinejad, "by deftly exploiting nationalist impulses and economic grievances" has "used every opportunity to build a power base and assert his influence." That description of the Iranian President could also be used to describe literally every single American President since the nation's founding, nearly every single member of the United States Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as the vast majority of local officials. So, in other words, they're asserting that Ahmadinejad is indeed a politician. Good to know.

They go on to claim that Ahmadinejad's "shrewd political instincts" have influenced his decision to "embrace the notion of negotiations with Washington" over the Iranian nuclear program, in spite of what they describe as "the clerics’ official ideology of anti-Americanism." They then provide this nugget of analysis:

"Mr. Ahmadinejad’s interest in dialogue was not motivated by any appreciation of American civilization or an impulse to reconcile. Rather, the provocative president saw talks as a means of boosting his stature at home and abroad while touting his vision of a strong nuclear-armed Iran."
Firstly, why would anyone expect (or even hope) that an elected executive of one country would make decisions based on a personal "appreciation" of another country's "civilization"? This would seem to be an irresponsible and inappropriate basis for engagement and diplomacy. Is the United States providing Saudi Arabia with $60 billion worth of weaponry and military equipment because of its admiration of Saudi civilization? Are the P5+1 negotiating with Iran due to their collective affection for Persian civilization and its myriad cultural contributions like establishing the world's first postal service, inventing architectural innovations like the flying buttress and the squinch and dome, and introducing the world to decimal fractions, almanacs, astrolabes, windmills, paisley, and polo? Doubtful.

Far more important - outrageous, even - is the contention, stated as indisputable fact by Maloney and Takeyh, that Ahmadinejad is bold, brash, and boastful in his outspoken intention to create a "nuclear-armed Iran." Naturally, no evidence is provided by the authors to bolster this allegation, yet the New York Times printed it without hesitation.

Put simply, the claim is unsupported by all available facts. Quite the contrary, Ahmadinejad has consistently condemned the acquisition of nuclear weapons and has repeatedly called upon the international community to dismantle all nuclear arsenals and support the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.

This is not about parsing Iranian intentions or scrutinizing IAEA reports, Israeli accusations, or N.I.E. assessments. It is not even about identifying the absurd neoconservative fear-mongering which litters the article with warnings about Iran's "nefarious activities" and how an "increasingly confident and aggressive" Islamic Republic would be "unlikely to accept meaningful limitations on its nuclear ambitions or sever its ties to militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah." It is not about agreeing with Ahmadinejad's political policies, personal beliefs, or rhetorical style.

No, this is about claiming that the Iranian President has openly declared ("touting his vision") that he seeks "a nuclear-armed Iran," as written by two senior fellows at influential think tanks and published by the newspaper of record. This claim, as written and printed, is not true. In fact, it is pretty much exactly the opposite of what the well-documented truth is.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Iran Nuclear Scare Timeline Update XLII:
RAND Report Researcher: Iran is Two Months Away From A Nuke!

Iran Nuclear Scare Timeline Update XLII:

So, after nearly three decades of false allegations about the Iranian nuclear program and hysterical warnings about how close the Islamic Republic is to building or acquiring an operational nuclear device, RAND researcher Gregory S. Jones has a new prediction. And it's a doozy.

According to the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Jones has written a paper based on the most recent IAEA Safeguards Report on Iran and has come to the following conclusion:

"At its current rate of uranium enrichment, Tehran could have enough for its first bomb within eight weeks."
Eight weeks?! Alarmism doesn't get any better than this. Apparently, Iran can make a nuclear bomb faster than Gregory Jones can re-tile his own bathroom and sooner than it takes Amazon to ship a 2008 pamphlet co-authored by Jones entitled "Enhancement by Enlargement: The Proliferation Security Initiative." (And no, that's not a prescient biography of Anthony Weiner.)

The best part of Jones' prediction is the reason he gives for the 56-day timeframe:
"Making the bomb will take around two months, he says, because constructing a nuclear warhead, is a complicated step in the process."
Yes, making a nuclear warhead is so complicated, according to Jones, that it will take Iran less time to manufacture one than it'll take Jones to build that backyard treehouse he's has been meaning to get to for a while now. By Jones' measure, Iran will have a nuclear bomb sooner than it takes to air cure pancetta (not that Iran would be interested in doing that).

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On the Tehran Research Reactor & Polonium-210:
An E-Mail Exchange with Jeremy Bernstein

A couple days after I wrote my article on Jeremy Bernstein's latest blog post for The New York Review of Books, entitled "Iran and the Bomb: An Update," I received an e-mail from Mr. Bernstein himself (which was sent to a number of theoretical and nuclear physicists and arms control experts...and me) in which he respectfully responded to one of the points I had addressed in my post.

In turn, I wrote a reply.

Mr. Bernstein has been kind enough to allow me to post his letter here on Wide Asleep in America. It can be read below, in full, followed by my own response.


From: Jeremy Bernstein
To: Nima Shirazi and others
Date: Sat, Jun 4, 2011
Subject: ???

Another View

"What Bernstein intentionally leaves out of his hysterical hand-wringing is the fact that Iran has been enriching uranium to 19.75% (which is almost invariably rounded up to 20% to sound more ominous, since enrichment to 20% and above constitutes "high-enriched" uranium, rather than "low-enriched") for the sole purpose of continuing to provide much needed medical diagnostic isotopes for scanning and treating over 800,000 cancer patients. Iran turned to this higher level of enrichment only as a last resort to replenish its supply of medical isotopes which, after more than two decades, has been depleted (the last batch of 23 kg of 19.75% LEU was obtained in 1988 from Argentina). In advance of running out, Iran tried to purchase more on the open market under full IAEA supervision, yet this move was prevented by the United States and the subsequent LEU swap deal was canceled after the U.S. refused to act in good faith. The "stepping stone" of 19.75% LEU that Bernstein warns about is currently saving the lives of Iranian cancer patients."
This quote is taken from a blog Wide Asleep in America written by Nima Shirazi. He is clearly a serious and widely read person who feels strongly. It would take a small book to discuss all the points he brings up and in the end I doubt that it would cause him to change his mind so I thought I would focus on this one paragraph which deals with the Teheran Research Reactor-TRR. This reactor has interested me for a long time. It is an avatar for everything that has gone wrong.

This reactor is located at the Teheran Nuclear Research Center in Amir Abad, a suburb of Teheran. It was originally part of Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace Program and was purchased by the Shah in the mid 1960’s by the American Machine and Foundry Corporation which was better known for making bowling alleys and bicycles. It was designed to have a power output of about five megawatts- a power reactor produces at least a thousand megawatts-so it was a small reactor. An interesting feature was that it ran originally on weapons grade-93% enriched uranium. This was true of most of these Atoms for Peace reactors and much of this uranium is unaccounted for. Typically such a reactor would use about a kilogram of uranium 235 per year. The reactor went “critical” in 1967 and by the time of the Iranian revolution in 1979 it needed more fuel. The first decision was to replace it by a so-called TRIGA-a kind of ultra-safe reactor sold by the General Atomics Company and which Freeman Dyson had played an essential role in its design. The TRIGA was paid for at least in part but because of the revolution its shipment was stopped. The Iranians decided to keep the old reactor but the re-design it so it could use low enriched uranium. In 1987 they signed a contract to pay the Argentinean Company Investicaciones Aplicados five million dollars for 115.8 kilograms of 19.57 % enriched uranium in the necessary fuel elements. One must understand that simply having the raw uranium is useless. Manufacturing it into fuel elements is non-trivial and there are only a few countries-France and Russia being examples-that can do it.

As Shirazi tells us, this reactor has been used to make medical isotopes. If you read his statement you might get the idea that all you need to make these isotopes is a certain amount of low enriched uranium. What you need is a reactor and the capacity to make the fuel elements for it. The TRR is the reactor but the Iranians do not have the capacity to make these fuel element. There are things he does not tell us. Without notifying the IAEA-which has the responsibility of supervising the reactor-the Iranians were extracting small amounts of plutonium from it. It is not that these small amounts can be used in weapons but it is that the methods used in the extraction can be scaled to extract plutonium from reactors such as the Arak reactor which can produce enough plutonium to make two nuclear weapons per year once it goes critical. The IAEA inspections of this facility have been sporadic and there is no certainty that plutonium separation techniques developed at the TRR have not moved there. In addition the Iranians were clandestinely making Polonium 210 which is used in the so-called “initiator”-the device that initiates the explosive chain reaction of neutrons in a nuclear weapon. Again it is not the amount that matters, rather it is the clandestine study of the technology. All of this has nothing to do with cancer patients.

The TRR with its swimming pool.

In recent years the TRR has been running at 3 megawatts to conserve fuel. It can probably keep running at this level for several more years but a re-stocking is in order. The most straightforward thing would be for the Iranians to buy the new fuel from the Argentinians. I am not aware that anyone would have objected to this. But instead a whole new set of alternatives were floated. In the first place the Iranians have nowhere near enough 19.75% enriched uranium to refuel the reactor even if they had the technology to make the fuel elements. So it was suggested that they send some of their 3.5% enriched uranium to Russia to be enriched to 19.75%. This would then be shipped to France where the fuel elements would be made. The Iranians objected to France and a variety of other options were suggested none of which were acceptable. Hence there is a stalemate but for the moment I would assume that the medical isotopes are still being produced and cancer patients are being treated. Here I would inject a personal note. I managed to find on the web a couple of technical papers on the TRR written by Iranian physicists. They had the email addresses. I thought that it might be interesting to have a dialogue so I emailed them explaining who I was. There was no answer.

Jeremy Bernstein


My Reply:

Thank you for this, and for including me in this discussion, Jeremy.

Here is my initial reaction to the issues you bring up:

Iran's aborted Polonium-210 research - which reportedly occurred between 1989 and 1993 - has already been fully addressed by the IAEA.

It should first be pointed out that the research, namely the irradiation of bismuth metal samples, deals with material which, as the IAEA itself admits, "is not nuclear material requiring declaration under the Safeguards Agreement." Yet, because the process produces Polonium-210 (which has civilian as well as military uses), the project was of interest to the IAEA even though the research itself was in no way a violation of Iran's IAEA agreements and Iran was under no obligation to inform the IAEA of such a project in advance.

In its investigation of Iran's explanation that the Polonium-210 experiments were "not part of any larger R&D project, but had been a personal initiative of the project leader," the IAEA requested interviews with the two Iranian scientists responsible for the project along with official paper studies, project proposals, written approvals, and meeting minutes in order to determine the veracity of Iran's claims.

In January 2004, the IAEA conducted interviews with both scientists and reported their findings this way:
"One of the scientists is currently living outside of Iran and was asked by Iran to return for the interviews. According to the scientists, two bismuth targets had been irradiated, and an attempt had been made, unsuccessfully, to extract polonium from one of them. The other irradiated bismuth target was said to have been discarded. The scientists confirmed that the purpose of the project had been only for research on the chemical separation of polonium and the development of RTGs. During follow-up discussions in Vienna in February 2004, Iranian officials said that the experiments involving Po-210 were also part of a study about neutron sources, noting that commercially available neutron sources, used, for example, for industrial applications, are not obtainable by Iran due to import restrictions." (emphasis added)
By early 2008, the IAEA reported that, in an effort to further support its statements regarding the Polonium-210 project, "Iran presented additional copies of papers and literature searches that had formed the basis for the request for approval of the project. Iran also provided copies of the project proposal, the meeting minutes and the approval document from the Scientific Advisory Committee of TNRC, as well as a complete copy of the reactor logbook for the entire period that the samples were present in the reactor."

The IAEA came to the following conclusion:
"Based on an examination of all information provided by Iran, the Agency concluded that the explanations concerning the content and magnitude of the polonium-210 experiments were consistent with the Agency’s findings and with other information available to it. The Agency considers this question no longer outstanding at this stage." (emphasis added)
While true that the IAEA added the disclaimer that, even though the matter was effectively closed, it would continue, "in accordance with its procedures and practices, to seek corroboration of its findings and to verify this issue as part of its verification of the completeness of Iran's declarations," to my knowledge, the matter has never again, in the past three years, surfaced in any subsequent IAEA report about the Iranian nuclear program.

The latest report, from May 24, 2011, which Mr. Bernstein described as "a very disturbing document," reiterates "with respect to TRR, the MIX Facility, and the other facilities to which the Agency has access, that the Agency can confirm that there are no ongoing reprocessing related activities in Iran." (emphasis added)

It should also be noted that the initiator ("trigger") which Iran is being accused of working on (with absolutely no evidence presented to back this up, of course), "uses fusion materials and does not require polonium-210," according to ISIS' David Albright, who also writes that the polonium-210 "isotope, with a relatively short radioactive half-life, must be produced typically in reactors and can severely complicate the construction and deployment of a nuclear arsenal."

In short, the Polonium-210 issue is a dead one and demonstrates absolutely no nuclear weapons work by Iran.

With regard to the need to replenish Iran's 19.75% LEU supply to keep the TRR operational, Bernstein suggests, "The most straightforward thing would be for the Iranians to buy the new fuel from the Argentinians. I am not aware that anyone would have objected to this. But instead a whole new set of alternatives were floated."

The truth of the matter is that it was Iran itself who offered to purchase more fuel on the open market, under the supervision of the IAEA. In late September 2009, in advance of renewed nuclear talks with the P5+1 in Geneva, Ahmadinejad even told The Washington Post's Lally Weymouth that "nuclear materials we are seeking to purchase are for medicinal purposes" and that Iran "would pay money for the material." (emphasis added)

He continued,
"We have in the past bought the 20 percent enriched uranium from other countries—not from the United States. Now we could buy it from the United States. I think it is a good place to start for cooperating and talking. It is an issue that is humanitarian—it is about medicine."
Nevertheless, during the Geneva talks in early October 2009, the United States and its European partners prevented any discussion of a commercial sale, but offered a "swap" proposal whereby, as Bernstein wrote, Iran would " send some of their 3.5% enriched uranium to Russia to be enriched to 19.75%. This would then be shipped to France where the fuel elements would be made." Although Bernstein claims that Iran rejected this deal and other such proposals, he omits vital information from his characterization.

Speaking in early December 2009 about the P5+1 offer, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki stated that Iran was "willing to exchange most of its uranium for processed nuclear fuel from abroad" in a phased transfer of material with full guarantees that the West "will not backtrack an exchange deal." Mr. Mottaki proposed that Iran would agree to initially hand over 25% of its uranium in a simultaneous exchange for an equivalent amount of enriched material in order to fuel the medical research reactor. The remainder of the uranium would be traded over "several years."

In response, The New York Times reported that this proposed timetable was immediately rejected by Western powers. The US government-sponsored Voice of America quoted an unidentified senior US official as claiming that the Iranian counter-proposal was inconsistent with the "fair and balanced" draft agreement. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who has previously threatened to "totally obliterate" Iran) urged the Islamic Republic to "accept the agreement as proposed because we are not altering it."

Apparently, the US government is unaware of what a "draft agreement" is. By definition, it is a proposal - a "draft" - not a final, binding accord. It is a primary piece of negotiation that can and should be revised by all parties until a mutually beneficial agreement is reached. The West appears to only accept its own offers and dismisses any other suggestions.

I'm sure there is plenty more to discuss, but I'll leave it here for the time-being.

Thanks again for your response.

- Nima Shirazi



June 7, 2011 - Dr. Muhammad Sahimi, professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and NIOC Chair in Petroleum Engineering at USC, and who is a well-read political analyst and columnist for Tehran Bureau, has provided some additional thoughts on this matter, which are presented below.
I would have addressed the Arak reactor issue as well. The heavy water PLANT is not covered by Iran's Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. And the heavy water REACTOR has not come online and will not for several more years.

The IAEA has been shown its design and conducted several inspections of the facility, but per its Safeguards Agreement, which states clearly that Iran must inform the IAEA of any new nuclear sites "180 days prior to introducing nuclear material into the facility," Iran has no obligation to allow IAEA to inspect anything.

I would have also questioned why a publication that is dedicated to books and literature should publish updates on Iran's nuclear program.


June 17, 2011 - Today, on his New York Review of Books blog, Jeremy Bernstein posted a slightly altered version of his email to me. And this one has a spiffier accompanying photo of the reactor's pool than what he originally used.

What Bernstein omitted from his old-email-cum-new-post was, of course, my response or any acknowledgement whatsoever that we have already corresponded about this very, about this very email, which he wrote two weeks ago but now uses as a new blog.

Thankfully, one of the commenters on Bernstein's post noticed and pointed it out.

What is interesting to note, though, is that Bernstein, in his original email to me (and the others to whom it was also sent), wrote:
"It would take a small book to discuss all the points [Shirazi] brings up and in the end I doubt that it would cause him to change his mind so I thought I would focus on this one paragraph which deals with the Teheran Research Reactor-TRR."
However, this sentence has been ever so slightly tweaked in Bernstein's post today. It now reads (emphasis added):
"It would take a book to discuss all the points he brings up and in the end I doubt that it would cause him to change his mind, but I thought I could start by addressing this one paragraph dealing with the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR)."
From "focus on" to "start by addressing" in a mere 13 days? Does this mean there are more responses to come?


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Jeremy Bernstein's Nuclear Propaganda Fail:
The New York Review of Books Gets It Wrong on Iran

Iran Nuclear Scare Timeline Update XL:

"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored."
- Aldous Huxley

A post on The New York Review of Books blog today demonstrates a striking lack of understanding of the Iranian nuclear program, a sensationalized reading of the contents of the latest IAEA Safeguards Report, and a near-total regurgitation of official Israeli talking points regarding the imminent danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Written by Jeremy Bernstein, whose past commentary on Iran reveals his penchant for alarmism disguised as pragmatic realism, the article - entitled "Iran and the Bomb: An Update" - deliberately ignores all available evidence showing that Iran not only has no active nuclear weapons program but is also uninterested in developing an atomic bomb. This is a shame considering Bernstein knows a great deal about nuclear weapons and proliferation.

Bernstein's post oozes with hasbara, from his contention that "the Israelis will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons" because "Iran's nuclear program is [a] matter of existential importance" to his description of the newest IAEA report as "a very disturbing document." He worries that, despite clandestine efforts to sabotage the program, Iran is now "producing enriched uranium at a faster rate" and has "produced some thirty kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium," which he disingenuously describes as "the boundary between low and highly enriched uranium and is the stepping stone to the degree of enrichment needed to make a weapon."

What Bernstein intentionally leaves out of his hysterical hand-wringing is the fact that Iran has been enriching uranium to 19.75% (which is almost invariably rounded up to 20% to sound more ominous, since enrichment to 20% and above constitutes "high-enriched" uranium, rather than "low-enriched") for the sole purpose of continuing to provide much needed medical diagnostic isotopes for scanning and treating over 800,000 cancer patients. Iran turned to this higher level of enrichment only as a last resort to replenish its supply of medical isotopes which, after more than two decades, has been depleted (the last batch of 23 kg of 19.75% LEU was obtained in 1988 from Argentina). In advance of running out, Iran tried to purchase more on the open market under full IAEA supervision, yet this move was prevented by the United States and the subsequent LEU swap deal was canceled after the U.S. refused to act in good faith. The "stepping stone" of 19.75% LEU that Bernstein warns about is currently saving the lives of Iranian cancer patients.

Bernstein also omits the inconvenient fact that nuclear weapons grade uranium must be enriched to at least 90%, which is considerably higher than the almost 20% needed for medical use. He also suggests that the Iranian use of laser technology "strongly suggests that the uranium is intended for use in a weapon" and insists that the Iranian plan to build ten new enrichment facilities is evidence of the intention to produce nuclear weapons, determining, "There is no imaginable need for such a proliferation of facilities for a peaceful program."

With this statement, it would seem that Bernstein's imagination does not include the possibility of an attempt to destroy Iran's perfectly legal, constantly monitored enrichment capabilities, in which case the more facilities, the better for Iran's own deterrence and the survival of its program. The idea of Iran protecting its own research, resources, and investments naturally frustrates those like Bernstein, who are threatened by the Islamic Republic's sovereignty, self-determination, and self-defense.

Yet Bernstein himself acknowledges that such actions have already been taken by the United States and Israel in the form of the Stuxnet virus, which Bernstein laments was not particularly successful. (He also doesn't describe the Stuxnet sabotage as a clear violation of the law and quite possibly an act of war). Moreover, Bernstein suggests that an Israeli military attack on Iran is not merely a possibility, it is inevitable. "It is very clear what the Israelis will do. They must have drawn a line in the sand," he writes. "Perhaps they will wait until the Iranians test or perhaps they won't."

Bernstein never once mentions the legality of the Iranian nuclear program or the inalienable right of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signatories to "develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination." In this way, he seems to share the paradoxical views of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who addressed Iran directly on Meet the Press in July 2009, saying, "You have a right to pursue the peaceful use of civil, nuclear power," and then immediately contradicted herself by insisting, "You do not have the right to have the full enrichment and reprocessing cycle under your control."

The NYRB post is also full of innuendo and insinuation, all of which relies on the foregone conclusion that Iranians are inherently devious and genocidal. At one point Bernstein dismisses the understandable Iranian contention that its Safeguard Agreement is legally binding and can not be exceeded just because the IAEA requests access to facilities not covered therein. With regard to Iran's objections to IAEA overreach, he writes, "One can draw one’s own conclusions." Apparently, Bernstein would suggest that anyone refusing to voluntarily subject themselves to a full body cavity search without a proper court order or warrant would imply that the person must be guilty of something. It's the old illegal eavesdropping argument all over again: if you have nothing to hide, why object to a little wiretapping? Only terrorists care about the law! Abiding by the Constitution? Draw your own conclusions!

Bernstein's warmongering relies on the deliberate omission of the recent confirmation by Pulitzer Prize laureate Seymour Hersh that there is literally no evidence that Iran has militarized, or has even considered weaponizing, its nuclear energy program - a fact well-known by both the U.S. and Israeli governments and their myriad intelligence agencies after considerable spying, surveillance, and infiltration. Naturally, even though he wrote this post days after the publication of Hersh's new report, Bernstein makes absolutely no mention of it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Iran Nuclear Scare Timeline Update XXXIX:
Israel's Pompous Posturing & Idle Threats

There are few things Israel and its war-mongering supporters here in the United States hate more than not being taken seriously as a fearless and invincible military powerhouse, able to threaten and destroy its perceived adversaries at will and with totally impunity and unaccountability.

One of those things is being considered weak, tentative, and incapable. Another is not being considered at all.

It is no wonder, then, that recent comments by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan about Israel's inability to attack Iran have been met with frustration and consternation by those hoping for a military strike, or at very least, the credible threat of one.

In the wake of Israeli cabinet minister Moshe Ya'alon's call this week for the "civilized world" to collectively launch an illegal assault against Iran on Israel's behalf, Dagan - who has recently been playing the role of Hasbara Spoiler Extraordinaire by referring to the advocacy for such an attack as "the stupidest thing I have ever heard" - again spoke up, saying that Israel would be unable to withstand the potential blowback from such an action.

Ha'aretz reports:

Speaking during a conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Dagan continued his public rejection of a military move against Iran, saying that Israel didn't "have the capability to stop the Iranian nuclear program, only to delay it."

"If anyone seriously considers [a strike] he needs to understand that he's dragging Israel into a regional war that it would not know how to get out of. The security challenge would become unbearable," Dagan said.

The former Mossad chief reiterated his position, saying that the "military option is the last alternative, not preferred or possible, nut a last resort. Every other alternative must be weighed before the use of force."

Referring to those who criticized him for speaking out on these matters soon after his retirement, Dagan said: "I feel obligated to express my opinion on certain matters. The prime minister and defense minister are the ones in charge, but sometimes good sense and a good decision don't have anything to do with being elected."
Dagan's comments, and willingness to challenge the conventional wisdom, bellicose posturing, and aggressive overconfidence of the Israeli establishment, is reminiscent of statements made by then-outgoing Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert during a much-lambasted "legacy interview" with Yediot Ahronot in September 2008.

With reference to the constant Israeli threats and rumors of a unilateral and unprovoked assault on Iran (often issued by the Prime Minister himself), Olmert revealed the hollowness of such rhetoric by admitting, "Part of our megalomania and our loss of proportions is the things that are said here [in Israel] about Iran. We are a country that has lost a sense of proportion about itself."

Towards the end of the interview, Olmert said, "What I am saying to you now has not been said by any Israeli leader before me." He concluded, "The time has come to say these things."

It appears that, in his retirement, the time had finally come for Dagan as well.