Iran’s nuclear program ‘has military element,’ admits ex-atomic energy chief

The former head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. (Reuters/File Photo)
The former head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 29 November 2021

Iran’s nuclear program ‘has military element,’ admits ex-atomic energy chief

The former head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Former head of nuclear agency said Tehran’s top nuclear scientist was killed because his research ‘became a threat’
  • Pursuit of weapons could spark “nuclear arms race,” expert tells Arab News

LONDON: The former head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization has revealed that Tehran’s nuclear program has military objectives, in the clearest admission to date of Iran’s nuclear bomb ambitions.

In an interview with state media, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, former head of the IAEO, admitted to the existence of a “system” with military capabilities.

The existence of a military research branch within Iran’s nuclear program would directly contravene the state line on nuclear weapons.

Officials in Iran often cite a fatwa — a religious edict — issued by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei against the development and use of nuclear arms as evidence that they are not pursuing nuclear arms.

However, while discussing the 2020 assassination by Israeli agents of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Abbasi-Davani suggested that his research was part of a “system” that had become a military threat to Israel.

“When the country’s all-encompassing growth began involving satellites, missiles and nuclear weapons, and surmounted new boundaries of knowledge, the issue became more serious for them,” Abbasi-Davani said.

While the individual elements of Iran’s nuclear program did not have an overt military use, the existence of that “system” of research endeavors, such as uranium enrichment, combined with Iran’s reasonably advanced domestic missile program, is believed to have triggered Fakhrizadeh’s killing.

But Abbasi-Davani’s interview, released as Washington and Tehran are set to re-engage in long-running talks over the future of Iran’s nuclear program, also revealed new information on the strategic goals behind the pursuit of nuclear arms: A nuclear umbrella for its regional proxies.

“Although our stance on nuclear weapons based on the supreme leader’s explicit fatwa regarding nuclear weapons being haram (religiously forbidden) is quite clear, Fakhrizadeh created this system and his concern wasn’t just the defense of our own country,” Abbasi-Davani said.

He warned: “Our country backs the axis of the resistance front (against Israel), and when you enter this realm, the Zionists become sensitive.”

The “axis of resistance” refers to Iran’s network of terrorist organizations and proxy groups, including the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and constituent militias of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Front.

Ideologically, the groups are opposed to Israel, but they are used in practice to pursue Iranian foreign policy objectives.

Meir Javedanfar, Iran lecturer at Reichman University, told Arab News that Abbasi-Davani’s admission was of “grave concern,” particularly because of the reference to a “system.”

He said: “This is unprecedented. Until now, the assumption has been that even if Iran gets a nuclear program, it would only be used to defend Iran and to deter others.

“Now, based on Abbasi-Davani’s comments, we know that if Iran gets a nuclear weapon it will be used to defend its proxies in the region. This makes it even more imperative that Iran does not get nuclear weapons.”

He added: “Using nuclear weapons to support Iran’s proxies at the very least would mean providing a protection umbrella for various groups around the region. That would imperil numerous countries in the region, and not just the state of Israel.”

Javedanfar warned: “That could lead, in itself, to a nuclear arms race.”


Fire-ravaged Abu Sefein Church to undergo repairs

Fire-ravaged Abu Sefein Church to undergo repairs
Updated 20 sec ago

Fire-ravaged Abu Sefein Church to undergo repairs

Fire-ravaged Abu Sefein Church to undergo repairs
  • Egypt’s Armed Forces Engineering Authority tasked with project
  • Cash support for victims’ families from Al-Azhar and the government

CAIRO: President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has tasked the Armed Forces Engineering Authority to restore the Abu Sefein church, which was damaged by a fire that killed 41 people and injured 16 others on Sunday.

Hisham El-Swefy, head of the authority, telephoned Pope Tawadros II to inform him of the plan.

Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb has come to the aid of the families of the victims and is coordinating cash payouts for them with various NGOs.

Al-Tayeb sent a message of support to Pope Tawadros II.

“Al-Azhar and its scholars and sheikhs all stand by their brothers in this tragic accident and extend their sincere condolences to the families of the victims,” he said.

El-Sisi had earlier received messages of condolences from the presidents of Tunisia and Lebanon following the tragedy.

Prosecutor General Hamada El-Sawy confirmed that the Public Prosecution authority had completed its investigation into the incident and found that the victims had died of smoke inhalation.

El-Sawy said that 41 people had died, and 16 others, including four police officers, were injured.

El-Sawy stated that the authority had completed its questioning of the injured people.

The Egyptian Ministry of Interior confirmed that an electrical fault caused the fire, and that it broke out in the air-conditioning system on the second floor of the church building, which includes a number of classrooms.

Egypt’s Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly directed the Minister of Social Solidarity to pay compensation of EGP100,000 ($5,226) to every victim’s family, and a maximum of EGP20,000 ($1,045) to every injured person.

In an earlier statement, the Coptic Orthodox Church had said that the fire broke out during the Divine Liturgy at the building in the north of Giza, and that several worshipers were transferred to the Imbaba and Agouza hospitals.


Iran tanker retrieves oil seized by US, set to leave Greece

Iran tanker retrieves oil seized by US, set to leave Greece
Updated 31 min 42 sec ago

Iran tanker retrieves oil seized by US, set to leave Greece

Iran tanker retrieves oil seized by US, set to leave Greece
  • Oil seized by US from Lana prompted Iranian forces to seize two Greek tankers in the Arabian Gulf

ATHENS: An Iranian-flagged tanker has retrieved an oil cargo which the United States had confiscated and is set to leave Greece, sources familiar with the matter said on Monday.
The seizure from the Lana, formerly the Pegas, prompted Iranian forces in May to seize two Greek tankers in the Arabian Gulf which have not yet been released.
The United States had hired a tanker in April to impound the oil onboard the Lana tanker, which had been anchored off Greece.
The oil was then partly removed and placed aboard the Ice Energy tanker, which had been chartered by Washington and had been expected to sail to United States before Greece’s supreme court ruled that the cargo should be returned to Iran.
“The reloading process is complete,” one of the sources said. Another source said it was completed on Sunday.
The embassy of Iran in Athens said on Aug 12 on Twitter that the vessel would sail to Iran after the reloading was completed.
It was not clear if Lana, which had engine problems, could sail unassisted.
For over two months, Lana remained under arrest off the Greek island of Evia, near the town of Karystos. It was tugged to Piraeus following court orders that allowed its release.
The tanker has been anchored off Piraeus since late July.


Iran says to deliver ‘final’ nuclear talks proposal Monday

Iran says to deliver ‘final’ nuclear talks proposal Monday
Updated 49 min 22 sec ago

Iran says to deliver ‘final’ nuclear talks proposal Monday

Iran says to deliver ‘final’ nuclear talks proposal Monday
  • Iran may accept a final compromise worked out in Vienna to save the landmark 2015 deal
  • Tehran said US agreed to two of its demands

TEHRAN: Iran will respond to the European Union’s “final” draft text to save a 2015 nuclear deal by midnight on Monday, its foreign minister said, calling on the United States to show flexibility to resolve three remaining issues.
After 16 months of fitful, indirect US-Iranian talks, with the EU shuttling between the parties, a senior EU official said on Aug. 8 it had laid down a “final” offer and expected a response within a “very, very few weeks.”
While Washington has said it is ready to quickly seal a deal to restore the 2015 accord on the basis of the EU proposals, Iranian negotiators said Tehran’s “additional views and considerations” to the EU text would be conveyed later.
“Our answer will be given to the EU tonight at 12 midnight...There are three issues that if resolved, we can reach an agreement in the coming days,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said, suggesting Tehran’s response would not be a final acceptance or rejection of the EU proposal.
“We have told them that our red lines should be respected...We have shown enough flexibility...We do not want to reach a deal that after 40 days, two months or three months fails to be materialized on the ground.”
Diplomats and officials told Reuters that whether or not Tehran and Washington accept the EU’s “final” offer, neither is likely to declare the pact dead because keeping it alive serves both sides’ interests.
Amirabdollahian said that “the coming days are very important” to see whether the United States will show flexibility over the remaining three issues.
“It would not be end of the world if they fail to show flexibility...Then we will need more efforts and talks...to resolve the remaining issues,” he said.
The stakes are high, since failure in the nuclear negotiations would carry the risk of a fresh regional war with Israel threatening military action against Iran if diplomacy fails to prevent Tehran develop a nuclear weapons capability.
Tehran, which has long denied having such ambition, has warned of a “crushing” response to any Israeli attack.
“Like Washington, we have our own plan B if the talks fail,” Amirabdollahian said.
In 2018, then-President Donald Trump reneged on the deal reached before he took office, calling it too soft on Iran, and reimposed harsh US sanctions, spurring the Islamic Republic to begin breaching its limits on uranium enrichment.
The 2015 agreement appeared on the verge of revival in March after 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and US President Joe Biden’s administration in Vienna.
But talks broke down over obstacles including Tehran’s demand that Washington provide guarantees that no US president would abandon the deal as Trump did.
Biden cannot promise this because the nuclear deal is a non-binding political understanding, not a legally binding treaty.
“They need to adopt a realistic approach about guarantees. Regarding the two other remaining issues, they have shown some relative flexibility verbally, but it needs to be mentioned in the text,” Amirabdollahian said.


Drone attack targets US base in Syria, no casualties

Drone attack targets US base in Syria, no casualties
Updated 15 August 2022

Drone attack targets US base in Syria, no casualties

Drone attack targets US base in Syria, no casualties
  • Attack took place in the vicinity of Al-Tanf base near where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet
BEIRUT: An attack with drones hit a compound run by American troops and US-backed Syrian opposition fighters in eastern Syria on Monday, the US military said, adding that there were no casualties or damage.
The military said the attack took place in the vicinity of Al-Tanf base near where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet. There was no claim of responsibility for the attack.
US and coalition troops are based at Al-Tanf to train Syrian forces on patrols to counter militants from the Daesh group. The base is also located on a road serving as a vital link for Iranian-backed forces, stretching from Tehran all the way to Lebanon.
The military statement said coalition troops in coordination with opposition fighters — known as Maghaweir Al-Thowra — “responded to an attack by multiple unmanned aerial systems in the vicinity of Al-Tanf Garrison” on Monday morning.
It said the troops successfully engaged one of the drones preventing its impact while a second one detonated within the opposition forces’ compound, “resulting in zero casualties or reported damage.” The other attempted drone strikes were not successful, it added.
Maj. Gen. John Brennan, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force, condemned the drone strike. “Such attacks put the lives of innocent Syrian civilians at risk and undermine the significant efforts by our Partner Forces to maintain the lasting defeat of IS,” he said, using an acronym for the Daesh group.
The attack occurred hours after Israeli airstrikes on western and central Syria killed three soldiers, wounded three others and caused material damage.
A Syrian opposition war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the Israeli strikes hit Syrian army positions where Iran-backed fighters are based.
Drone attacks on Al-Tanf have been rare.
In October last year, US officials said they believe Iran was behind a drone attack that month in Al-Tanf saying at the time that they believe that the attacks involved as many as five drones laden with explosive charges. It said the drones hit both the US side of Al-Tanf garrison and the side where Syrian opposition forces stay.
The October attacks came days after an Israeli airstrike on central Syria.

Iran denies being involved in attack on Salman Rushdie

Iran denies being involved in attack on Salman Rushdie
Updated 15 August 2022

Iran denies being involved in attack on Salman Rushdie

Iran denies being involved in attack on Salman Rushdie

TEHRAN, Iran: An Iranian government official denied on Monday that Tehran was involved in the assault on author Salman Rushdie, in remarks that were the country’s first public comments on the attack.
The comments by Nasser Kanaani, the spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, come over two days after the attack on Rushdie in New York.
However, Iran has denied carrying out other operations abroad targeting dissidents in the years since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, despite prosecutors and Western governments attributing such attacks back to Tehran.
“We, in the incident of the attack on Salman Rushdie in the US, do not consider that anyone deserves blame and accusations except him and his supporters,” Kanaani said. “Nobody has right to accuse Iran in this regard.”
Rushdie, 75, was stabbed Friday while attending an event in western New York. He suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, his agent said. He was likely to lose the injured eye.
His assailant, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the attack through his lawyer.
The award-winning author for more than 30 years has faced death threats for “The Satanic Verses.” Iran’s late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, demanding his death. An Iranian foundation had put up a bounty of over $3 million for the author.
Kanaani added that Iran did not “have any other information more than what the American media has reported.”

Freedom of speech does not justify Rushdie's insults upon religion in his writing, Kanaani said.
The West “condemning the actions of the attacker and in return glorifying the actions of the insulter to Islamic beliefs is a contradictory attitude,” Kanaani said.