Netanyahu: Iran had secret nuclear weapons development site in Abadeh

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a news conference in Jerusalem September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Iran had been developing nuclear weapons at a secret site near the city of Abadeh, but that Tehran destroyed the facility after learning it had been exposed.

It was the first time Netanyahu had identified the site, which, he said, was discovered in a trove of Iranian documents Israel previously obtained and disclosed last year.

“In this site, Iran conducted experiments to develop nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks, showing an aerial picture of several small buildings, including their coordinates, that he said were taken at the Abadeh facility late in June 2019.

“When Iran realized that we uncovered the site, here’s what they did,” he said, showing a picture from a month later in which the buildings no longer appeared. “They destroyed the site. They just wiped it out.”

Netanyahu’s comments followed a Reuters report revealing that the International Atomic Energy Agency found traces of uranium at a different site in Iran that the Israeli leader had first pointed to during a speech last year at the United Nations.

Iran had yet to explain the traces of uranium at that site, though it denies ever having sought a nuclear weapon.

Netanyahu, who strongly opposed a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, made the remarks in a televised speech about a week before a general election in Israel in which he is in a tight race to win another term.

“I call on the international community to wake up, to realize that Iran is systematically lying,” Netanyahu said.

“The only way to stop Iran’s march to the bomb, and its aggression in the region, is pressure, pressure and more pressure.”

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch,; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. unsure about circumstances of tanker towed to Iran

FILE PHOTO: A British Royal Navy patrol vessel guards the oil supertanker Grace 1, that's on suspicion of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, as it sits anchored in waters of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain, July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. officials say they are unsure whether an oil tanker towed into Iranian waters was seized by Iran or rescued after facing mechanical faults as Tehran asserts, creating a mystery at sea at a time of high tension in the Gulf.

The MT Riah disappeared from ship tracking maps when its transponder was switched off in the Strait of Hormuz on July 14. Its last position was off the coast of the Iranian island of Qeshm in the strait.

Iran says it towed a vessel into its waters from the strait after the ship issued a distress call. Although Tehran did not name the vessel, the Riah is the only ship whose recorded movements appear likely to match that description.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it appeared that the tanker was in Iranian territorial waters, but it was not clear whether that was because Iran had seized it or rescued it.

The mystery comes at a time when Washington has called for greater security for ships in the Gulf.

Iran has threatened to retaliate for the British seizure of an Iranian oil tanker accused of violating sanctions on Syria. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has branded the British action “piracy”.

The United States has also blamed Iran for attacks on tankers in the Gulf since May, which Tehran denies.

Shipping experts say U.S. sanctions on Iran intended to halt its oil exports have led to a rise in unusual tanker movements away from shipping lanes, with Iran seeking covert ways to export its oil. Increasingly, ships are switching off location transponders, transferring oil at sea and concealing their routes. Iran has also become more dependent on a fleet of aging ships, and some have had to be towed for emergency repairs.

Adding to the riddle of the missing ship was difficulty establishing who owns it, which no country or company has so far publicly claimed. Initial reports described it as Emirati. However, an Emirati official told Reuters the tanker was neither owned nor operated by the UAE.

The tanker’s registered manager is Prime Tankers in the UAE. That company told Reuters it had sold the tanker to another UAE-based company, Mouj al-Bahar. An employee at Mouj al-Bahar told Reuters that the firm did not own it but had been managing the vessel up to two months ago, and that it was now under the management of a company called KRB Petrochem. Reuters could not reach KRB Petrochem for comment.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Parisa Hafezi, Ghaida Ghantous and Alex Cornwell; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Peter Graff)

Netanyahu says Trump knew in advance of Israel’s Iran archive mission

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 30, 2019. Oded Balilty/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he informed U.S. President Donald Trump in advance of what Israel has described as a spy mission in Tehran last year to capture a secret Iranian nuclear archive.

Netanyahu said in April 2018 that Mossad operatives had spirited thousands of hidden documents out of Tehran that proved Iran had previously pursued a nuclear weapons program. Trump cited the Israeli findings in his decision, a month later, to quit a 2015 deal that had scaled down Iran’s nuclear project.

Iran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons and has accused Israel of faking the Tehran mission and documents trove.

Awarding an Israeli national security prize on Tuesday to the Mossad team credited with the so-called “Atomic Archive” capture, Netanyahu said he had discussed the planned operation with Trump when they met at the Davos forum in January 2018.

“He asked me if it was dangerous. I told him that there was a danger to it that was not negligible, but that the outcome justified the risk,” Netanyahu said at the closed-door ceremony, according to a transcript issued by his office.

Netanyahu said that, when he later presented main findings from an Israeli analysis of the documents to Trump at the White House, the president “voiced his appreciation for the boldness”.

“I have no doubt that this helped to validate his decision to withdraw from this dangerous (Iran nuclear) deal,” he said.

With the United States having reimposed sanctions on Iran, tensions have been soaring in the Gulf in recent weeks.

Mossad officials have said the Tehran mission took place in February 2018, but have not given details on how the documents were brought out to Israel.

Six Mossad officers – four men and two women – received Tuesday’s prize for leading the mission, which also involved “hundreds” of others, the intelligence agency’s director, Joseph (Yossi) Cohen, told an international security forum this week.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Trump blames Iran for tanker attacks, stoking fears of confrontation

Still image taken from a video appears to show two tankers at sea, one of which has a large plume of dark smoke in the Gulf of Oman. PRESS TV/IRIB/via REUTERS

By Parisa Hafezi and Makini Brice

DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Iran on Friday for attacks on two oil tankers at the entrance to the Gulf despite Tehran’s denials, stoking fears of a confrontation in the vital oil shipping route.

Iran has dismissed earlier U.S. charges that it was behind Thursday’s attacks that crippled two tankers. It has previously suggested it could block the Strait of Hormuz, the main route out for Middle Eastern oil, if its own exports were halted.

Thursday’s blasts followed similar attacks a month earlier on four tankers, which Washington also blamed on Tehran.

They come at a time of escalating confrontation between the United States and Iran. Last month Washington sharply tightened sanctions against Tehran, which in response has threatened to step up its nuclear activity.

Asked how he planned to address Tehran and prevent any further incidents, Trump told Fox News: “We’re going to see.” He also said that any move to close the Strait of Hormuz would not last long.

Nevertheless, Trump, who last year pulled the United States out of an agreement between world powers and Tehran to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions, said that he was open to negotiations with Iran.

“We want to get them back to the table,” Trump said. “I’m ready when they are.” He added that he was in “no rush”.

Iran has repeatedly said it will not re-enter talks with the United States unless it reverses Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal.

The U.S. military released a video on Thursday it said showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were behind the blasts that struck the Norwegian-owned Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, at the mouth of the Gulf.

Iran said the video proved nothing and that it was being made into a scapegoat.

“These accusations are alarming,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said.

Iran has accused the United States and its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of “warmongering” by making accusations against it.

Tehran and Washington have both said they have no interest in starting a war. But this has done little to assuage concerns that the two arch-foes could stumble into a conflict.

Oil prices surged on Thursday, reflecting the jitters, although they have since given up some of those gains.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday the world could not afford “a major confrontation in the Gulf region”.

China, the European Union and others have called for restraint from all sides. In a notable signal that close U.S. allies are wary of Washington’s position, Germany said the U.S. video was not enough to apportion blame for Thursday’s attack.

The U.S. military said black-and-white footage it filmed from a U.S. aircraft showed Iran’s Guards on one of their patrol boats drawing up to the Kokuka Courageous and removing an unexploded limpet mine from its hull.

Britain said it took the matter “extremely seriously” and, if Iran was involved, “it is a deeply unwise escalation”.

The Japanese-owned tanker, abandoned by its crew, was being towed to a port in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, after a Dutch firm said it had been appointed to salvage the ships.

The second tanker, the Front Altair, which was set ablaze by a blast, was still languishing at sea, although the fire that had charred the hull had been put out.

“ALARMING”

Last month Washington revoked waivers that had allowed some countries to continue importing Iranian oil, effectively ordering all countries to blacklist Iran or face sanctions themselves.

Iran’s crude exports fell to about 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in May from 2.5 million bpd in April 2018, starving Iran’s economy of its main source of revenues.

Iran says it is still abiding by the terms of the nuclear deal, but cannot do so indefinitely unless it receives some of the economic benefits that were promised. Last month it said it would boost enrichment of uranium, a move that could potentially lead to it building up a stockpile prohibited under the deal.

Washington has also blamed Iran or its proxies for attacks on May 12 that crippled four oil tankers in the same area, and has said Tehran was behind May 14 drone strikes on two Saudi oil-pumping stations. Tehran has denied all those charges.

There have been conflicting accounts of the cause of Thursday’s blasts. An initial report that Kokuka Courageous was struck by a torpedo was dismissed by a source familiar with the issue. The owner of the tanker, which carried methanol, later said it was hit by two “flying objects”.

A source has said a magnetic mine could have caused the explosion on Front Altair, which had a cargo of naphtha.

“UNWISE ESCALATION”

Iranian TV showed 23 crew in Iran believed to be from Front Altair on Friday, and said its experts would assess whether they could return to the ship. The crew from Kokuka Courageous were picked up and handed to a U.S. Navy ship on Thursday.

The Trump administration said in May it would send troops and other forces to the Middle East, citing Iranian threats, a move Tehran has called “psychological warfare”.

The administration argues that the nuclear deal, negotiated under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, was too limited, and says re-imposing sanctions will force Tehran back to the table to make more concessions.

Most U.S. allies in Europe and Asia disagree and say pulling out of the deal was a mistake that will empower hardliners in Iran and hurt the pragmatic faction that promised Iranians economic benefits in return for opening up to the world.

Thursday’s attack took place while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan – a big buyer of Iranian oil until it was forced by the new U.S. sanctions to stop – was visiting Tehran on a peacemaking mission, bringing a message from Trump.

Iran dismissed Trump’s message, details of which were not made public. “I do not see Trump as worthy of any message exchange, and I do not have any reply for him, now or in future,” Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafez, Maher Chmaytelli and Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai, Makini Brice, Susan Heavey, Phil Stewart and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Bart Meijer in Amsterdam; Victoria Klesty in Oslo; Writing by Edmund Blair and Peter Graff; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Gareth Jones)

China defies U.S. pressure as EU parts ways with Iranian oil

A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo

By Chen Aizhu and Florence Tan

BEIJING/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China, seeking to skirt U.S. sanctions, will use oil tankers from Iran for its purchases of that country’s crude, throwing Tehran a lifeline while European companies such as France’s Total are walking away due to fear of reprisals from Washington.

The United States is trying to halt Iranian oil exports in an effort to force Tehran to negotiate a new nuclear agreement and to curb its influence in the Middle East.

China, which has cut imports of U.S. crude amid a trade war with Washington, has said it opposes unilateral sanctions and defended its commercial ties with Iran.

On Monday, sources told Reuters Chinese buyers of Iranian oil were beginning to shift their cargoes to vessels owned by National Iranian Tanker Co (NITC) for nearly all their imports.

The shift demonstrates that China, Iran’s biggest oil customer, wants to keep buying Iranian crude despite the sanctions, which were reimposed after the United States withdrew in May from a 2015 agreement to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

“The shift started very recently, and it was almost a simultaneous call from both sides,” said one source, a senior Beijing-based oil executive, who asked not to be identified as he is not allowed to speak publicly about commercial deals.

Tehran used a similar system between 2012 and 2016 to circumvent Western-led sanctions, which had curtailed exports by making it virtually impossible to obtain shipping insurance for business with Iran.

Iran, OPEC’s third-largest oil producer, relies on sales of crude to China, Japan, South Korea, India and the EU to generate the lion’s share of budget revenues and keep its economy afloat.

The United States has asked buyers of Iranian oil to cut imports from November. Japan, South Korea, India and most European countries have already slashed operations.

French oil major Total, previously one of the biggest European buyers of Iranian oil, has said it had no choice but to halt imports and abandon Iranian projects to safeguard its operations in the United States.

On Monday, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said Total had officially left Iran’s South Pars gas project.

Total later confirmed it had notified the Iranian authorities of its withdrawal from South Pars after it failed to obtain a waiver from U.S. sanctions.

Iranian officials had earlier suggested China’s state-owned CNPC could take over Total’s stake and Zanganeh said the process to replace the French company was under way.

“As for the future of Total’s share, we have not been informed of an official CNPC position, but as we have always said, CNPC, a Chinese state-owned company, has the right to resume our participation if it decides so,” Total said in an emailed statement.

WALK AWAY

French President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly called for safeguarding the Iranian nuclear deal and defended the interests of EU companies in Iran.

But most European companies have conceded that they would be forced to walk away from Tehran for fear of sanctions and losing access to operations that require U.S. dollars.

The first round of U.S. sanctions, which included cutting off Iran and any businesses that trade with it from the U.S. financial system, went into effect on Aug. 7.

A ban on Iranian oil purchases will start in November. Insurers, which are mainly U.S.- or European-based, have begun winding down their Iranian business to comply with the sanctions.

To safeguard their supplies, state oil trader Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp and Sinopec Group, Asia’s biggest refiner, have activated a clause in long-term supply agreements with National Iranian Oil Corp (NIOC) that allows them to use NITC-operated tankers, four sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The price for oil under the long-term deals has been changed to a delivered ex-ship basis from the previous free-on-board terms, meaning Iran will cover all costs and risks of delivering the crude as well as handling the insurance, they said.

In July, all 17 tankers chartered to carry oil from Iran to China were operated by NITC, according to shipping data on Thomson Reuters Eikon. In June, eight of 19 vessels chartered were Chinese-operated.

Last month, those tankers loaded about 23.8 million barrels of crude oil and condensate destined for China, or about 767,000 barrels per day (bpd). In June, the loadings were 19.8 million barrels, or 660,000 bpd.

In 2017, China imported an average of 623,000 bpd, according to customs data.

Sinopec declined to comment. A spokesperson for Nam Kwong Group, the parent of Zhenrong, declined to comment.

NIOC did not respond to an email seeking comment. An NITC spokesman said it would forward a request from Reuters for a comment to the country’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

It was not immediately clear how Iran would provide insurance for the Chinese oil purchases, worth some $1.5 billion a month. Insurance usually includes cover for the oil cargoes, third-party liability, and pollution.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara and Cyril Altmeyer in Paris; Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Dale Hudson)

Israel threatens ‘harsh response’ to any Syrian forces in demilitarized Golan

People walk near the Israel-Syria border line as it is seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel July 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel threatened a “harsh response” on Monday to any attempt by Syrian forces advancing against southern rebel areas to deploy in a Golan Heights frontier zone that was demilitarized under a 44-year-old U.N. monitored truce between the neighboring foes.

Syrian government forces backed by Russia have launched an offensive in the southern Deraa province and are widely expected to move on rebel-held Quneitra, which is within a part of the Syrian Golan covered by the armistice.

Israel worries that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad could let its enemies Iran and Hezbollah move forces into the area, giving them a foothold near its border. Tehran and the Lebanese group both back Assad in the complex conflict.

“For our part we will sanctify the 1974 disengagement agreement, and there too we will insist that every last letter be abided by, and any violation with meet a harsh response from the State of Israel,” Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman told his parliamentary faction in broadcast remarks.

Assad’s conduct in southern Syria is expected to come up in talks in Moscow on Wednesday between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia, whose 2015 intervention in the Syrian civil war turned the tide in Assad’s favor, has largely turned a blind eye to repeated Israeli air strikes in Syria targeting suspected Iranian or Hezbollah emplacements and arms transfers.

But diplomats on both sides say Russia has made clear that it would oppose any Israeli action endangering Assad’s rule.

On Sunday night, Syria said its air defense repelled an Israeli sorties against the T4 air base in Homs province, where seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps personnel died in an April 9 attack that Damascus and Tehran also blamed on Israel.

Israel, in keeping with its customary reticence on such operations, declined all comment.

“Regarding yesterday – I read about it in the newspapers today and I have nothing to add,” Lieberman said on Monday.

“Perhaps just one thing, that our policy has not changed. We will not allow Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and we will not allow Syrian soil to be turned into a vanguard against the State of Israel. Nothing has changed. There is nothing new.”

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Toby Chopra and Andrew Heavens)

Only Syrian army should be on country’s southern border: Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with his counterpart from Mozambique Jose Pacheco in Moscow, Russia May 28, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

MOSCOW/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Russia said on Monday only Syrian army troops should be on the country’s southern border with Jordan and Israel, after Washington warned of “firm measures” over truce violations in the region.

Rebels control stretches of southwest Syria, bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, while Syrian army troops and allied Iran-backed militias hold nearby territory.

The United States has voiced concern about reports of an impending Syrian army offensive in a “de-escalation zone” in the southwest, warning Damascus it would respond to breaches.

“Of course, the withdrawal of all non-Syrian forces must be carried out on a mutual basis, this should be a two-way street,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference in on Monday.

“The result of this work which should continue and is continuing should be a situation when representatives of the Syrian Arab Republic’s army stand at Syria’s border with Israel,” he said.

Jordan said on Monday it was discussing south Syria with Washington and Moscow, and all three agreed on the need to preserve the ceasefire, which reduced violence since they brokered it last year.

Israel has raised the alarm about Iran’s expanding clout in the seven-year conflict, calling on Monday for its arch-foe to be denied any military presence in Syria. Washington has also demanded Tehran withdraw all forces under its command from Syria.

“We believe that there is no place for any Iranian military presence, anywhere in Syria,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his parliamentary faction on Monday.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman will meet Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow on Thursday.

This month, Israel said it launched intensive airstrikes in Syria after what it described as Iranian rocket fire from the south into the Golan.

A senior Israeli official made clear that Netanyahu’s government would not deem the exclusion of Iranian forces from the border region sufficient.

“When you consider the advanced weapon systems – surface to surface missiles and anti aircraft systems – that the Iranians want to deploy in Syria, it becomes clear that they must be prevented from doing so in all of Syria and not only within a limited distance from the Israeli border,” Chagai Tzuriel, director-general of the intelligence ministry, told Reuters.

Moscow, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ally, brokered a string of de-escalation zones for insurgent enclaves last year, though fighting raged on in some. With the support of Russia and Iran, the Syrian army mounted an offensive on the eastern Ghouta enclave and seized it in April.

The southwest region is home to tens of thousands of people and forms a center of the insurgency.

Syrian state media has reported leaflet drops on rebel territory there urging fighters to accept government rule, and a UK-based monitor has reported army movements into the south – two signs of a potential military offensive.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, Maria Kiselyova and Tom Balmforth in Moscow, and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Ellen Francis; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Pushing to bury Iran deal, Israel insists nobody wants war with Tehran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, April 29, 2018. Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

By Maayan Lubell and Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Tuesday it does not seek war with Iran, a day after presenting purported evidence of past Iranian nuclear arms work, but suggested President Donald Trump backed its latest attempt to kill a deal aimed at curbing Iran’s atomic ambitions.

A senior Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had informed Trump on March 5 about alleged evidence seized by Israel in what Netanyahu on Monday presented as a “great intelligence achievement”.

Trump agreed at the meeting that Israel would publish the information before May 12, the date by which he is due to decide whether the United States should quit the nuclear deal with Iran, an arch foe of both countries, the Israeli official said.

Word of the consultations between Trump and Netanyahu serve to underscore perceptions of a coordinated bid by both leaders to bury the international agreement, which Trump has called “horrible” and Netanyahu has termed “terrible.”

In a televised statement on Monday night Netanyahu detailed what he said were Iranian documents that purportedly prove Iran had been developing nuclear arms before the 2015 deal that it signed with the U.S. and world powers. [L8N1S7531]

On Tuesday Netanyahu told CNN that “nobody” sought a conflict with the Islamic Republic, a prospect seen by some as a possible result of the deal’s collapse.

Asked if Israel is prepared to go to war with Tehran, Netanyahu said: “Nobody’s seeking that kind of development. Iran is the one that’s changing the rules in the region.”

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

But Netanyahu’s presentation said the evidence showed Iran lied going into the deal, a landmark agreement seen by Trump as flawed but by European powers as vital to allaying concerns that Iran could one day develop nuclear bombs.

Tehran, which denies ever pursuing nuclear weapons, dismissed Netanyahu as “the boy who cried wolf,” and called his presentation propaganda.

“We warn the Zionist regime and its allies to stop their plots and dangerous behaviors or they will face Iran’s surprising and firm response,” Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami was quoted as saying by Tasnim on Tuesday.

Hatami called Netanyahu’s accusations “baseless”.

International and Israeli experts said Netanyahu had presented no evidence Iran was in breach of the deal. Rather, it appeared the presentation, delivered almost entirely in English, was composed as an Israeli prelude to Trump quitting the accord.

Tzachi Hanegbi, Israeli minister for regional development and a Netanyahu confidant, said the presentation was meant to provide Trump with the grounds to bolt the deal.

“In 12 days a huge drama will unfold. The American president will likely pull out of the deal,” Hanegbi said in an interview to Israeli Army Radio. “What the prime minister did last night, was to give Trump ammunition against the European naiveté and unwillingness regarding Iran.”

Under the deal struck by Iran and six major powers Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for relief from U.S. and other economic sanctions.

Trump gave Britain, France and Germany a May 12 deadline to fix what he views as the deal’s flaws – its failure to address Iran’s ballistic missile program, the terms by which inspectors visit suspect Iranian sites, and “sunset” clauses under which some of its terms expire – or he will reimpose U.S. sanctions.

The senior Israeli official said Israel knew about the Iranian archive for a year, got hold of it in February and informed Trump about it at a meeting in Washington on March 5.

REVIEW

Israel had updated China on its Iran material and by the end of this week was scheduled to host experts from Britain, Germany and France who would inspect it, the senior official said.

Most of the purported evidence Netanyahu presented dated to the period before the 2015 accord was signed, although he said Iran had also kept important files on nuclear technology since then, and continued adding to its “nuclear weapons knowledge”.

Although the presentation was live on Israeli television, Netanyahu made clear his audience was abroad, delivering most of his speech in English, before switching to Hebrew.

A 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate judged with “high confidence” that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003. The IAEA later reached a similar judgment.

One Vienna-based diplomat who has dealt with the IAEA for years, when asked what he made of Netanyahu’s speech, said: “Nothing new. Theatrics.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Netanyahu did not question Iran’s compliance with the deal. She noted the deal was made “exactly because there was no trust between the parties, otherwise we would not have required a nuclear deal to be put in place”.

Hanegbi acknowledged Netanyahu had not shown Iran had violated the agreement: “The Iranians are clean in regard to the nuclear deal because it is a gift given to them by an exhausted, tired, naive world.”

An Israeli official familiar with Netanyahu’s telegenic style – one the Israeli leader has refined over decades in the international arena – said that the two-word headline “Iran Lied” that appeared beside him during the presentation was tailor-made for Trump’s own short, pithy, rhetorical style.

Noting Trump’s own use of short epithets, the Israeli official said Trump “responds to pithy messaging, and that is what we were going for with this briefing.”

(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, François Murphy in Vienna, Mark Heinrich in London, Alastair Macdonald in Brussels, Bozorgmehr Sharefedin in London, Editing by William Maclean)

Damascus warns Israel of ‘more surprises’ in Syria

An old military vehicle can be seen positioned on the Israeli side of the border with Syria, near the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel February 11, 2018.

DAMASCUS/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will face “more surprises” should it again attack Syrian territory, Damascus said on Tuesday, after Syria’s air defenses shot down an advanced Israeli warplane during the fiercest flare-up between the old foes in 36 years.

The F-16 jet was hit over northern Israel on Saturday as it returned from a raid on a Syrian position blamed for launching an Iranian-made drone across the border. Iran is supporting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s near seven-year civil war.

“Have full confidence the aggressor will be greatly surprised, because it thought this war – this war of attrition Syria has been exposed to for years – had made it incapable of confronting attacks,” Assistant Foreign Minister Ayman Sussan said.

“God willing, they will see more surprises whenever they try to attack Syria,” Sussan said during a Damascus news conference.

The downed F-16 was the first warplane Israel has lost to enemy fire since its 1982 Lebanon war. Its two-man crew survived, with injuries, after bailing out of the stricken jet.

Israel retaliated by destroying around half of Syria’s anti-aircraft batteries, according to an initial assessment shared with Reuters by an Israeli official who requested anonymity.

Israel has said it will press ahead with missions in Syria, where it has launched scores of sorties against suspected arms transfers to Iranian-sponsored Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.

“There are no limitations, and nor do we accept any limitations,” Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters during a tour of Israel’s border with Syria and Lebanon.

“We will continue to defend our vital security and other interests. And I would like to paraphrase the well-known saying: ‘This is not the time to bark, this is the time to bite.'”

Tehran’s involvement in Syria, including the deployment of Iran-backed forces near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, has alarmed Israel. It has also has accused Iran of building precision-guided missile factories for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria and Hezbollah celebrated the F-16 shoot-down as a blow to Israeli military superiority. Israel’s Army Radio said on Tuesday that investigators believed pilot error – rather than Syrian capabilities – were mainly at fault for the F-16’s failure to evade what was probably an aged SA-5 missile.

Israeli military spokesman declined to comment on that report, saying the investigation was ongoing.

Saturday’s incident stirred up further questions in Israel about the effectiveness of a coordination mechanism set up with Russia, which has also been reinforcing and arming Assad’s army.

Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the flare-up by urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to avoid escalation in Syria. Moscow said on Monday it did not have information to support Israel’s allegation about an Iranian military presence in the site bombed for launching the drone.

Zeev Elkin, a Russian-speaking Israeli cabinet minister who serves as Netanyahu’s interpreter in the talks with Putin, defended the coordination mechanism on Tuesday as granting Israel “freedom of action in the skies above Lebanon and Syria”.

“I don’t think the Russians ever pledged that they would take military action against the Iranians and the Syrians for us,” Elkin told Israel Radio.

“We are going one-on-one against the Syrians. We don’t need assistance from the Russians. We know how to deal with Syrian anti-aircraft fire, as everyone ultimately saw.”

(Reporting by Kinda Makieh in Damascus, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by William Maclean)

In first, U.S. presents its evidence of Iran weaponry from Yemen

In first, U.S. presents its evidence of Iran weaponry from Yemen

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday presented for the first time pieces of what it said were Iranian weapons supplied to the Iran-aligned Houthi militia in Yemen, describing it as conclusive evidence that Tehran was violating U.N. resolutions.

The arms included charred remnants of what the Pentagon said was an Iranian-made short-range ballistic missile fired from Yemen on Nov. 4 at King Khaled International Airport outside Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, as well as a drone and an anti-tank weapon recovered in Yemen by the Saudis.

Iran has denied supplying the Houthis with such weaponry and on Thursday described the arms displayed as “fabricated.”

The United States acknowledged it could not say precisely when the weapons were transferred to the Houthis, and, in some cases, could not say when they were used. There was no immediate way to independently verify where the weapons were made or employed.

But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley expressed confidence the transfers could be blamed on Tehran.

“These are Iranian made, these are Iranian sent, and these were Iranian given,” Haley told a news conference at a military hangar at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, just outside Washington.

All of the recovered weapons were provided to the United States by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the Pentagon said. Saudi-led forces, which back the Yemeni government, have been fighting the Houthis in Yemen’s more than two-year-long civil war.

The unprecedented presentation – which Haley said involved intelligence that had to be declassified – is part of President Donald Trump’s new Iran policy, which promises a harder line toward Tehran. That would appear to include a new diplomatic initiative.

“You will see us build a coalition to really push back against Iran and what they’re doing,” Haley said, standing in front of what she said were the remnants of the Nov. 4 missile.

Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who view Tehran as a threat, seized upon the U.S. presentation in calls on Thursday for international action.

Still, it was unclear whether the new evidence would be enough to win support for sanctions on Iran from some U.N. Security Council members, like Russia or China.

British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said he didn’t think “there’s anything that could convince some of my council colleagues” to take U.N. action against Iran. Still, he said “we’re going to be pursuing with them nonetheless.”

Under a U.N. resolution that enshrines the Iran nuclear deal with world powers, Tehran is prohibited from supplying, selling or transferring weapons outside the country unless approved by the U.N. Security Council. A separate U.N. resolution on Yemen bans the supply of weapons to Houthi leaders.

Iran rejected the U.S. accusations as unfounded and Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, on Twitter, drew a parallel to assertions by then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations in 2003 about U.S. intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion.

IRAN LINKS

The Pentagon offered a detailed explanation of all of the reasons why it believed the arms came from Iran, noting what it said were Iranian corporate logos on arms fragments and the unique nature of the designs of Iranian weaponry.

That included the designs of short-range “Qiam” ballistic missiles. The Pentagon said it had obtained fragments of two Qiam missiles, one fired on Nov. 4 against the airport and another fired on July 22.

The Pentagon cited corporate logos it said matched those of Iranian defense firms on jet vanes that help steer the missile’s engine and on the circuit board helping drive its guidance system. It also said the missile’s unique valve-design was only found in Iran.

Iran, it said, appeared to have tried to cover up the shipment by disassembling the missile for transport, given crude welding used to stitch it back together.

“The point of this entire display is that only Iran makes this missile. They have not given it to anybody else,” Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Seal said. “We haven’t seen this in the hands of anyone else except Iran and the Houthis.”

A Dec. 8 U.N. report monitoring Iran sanctions found that the July 22 and Nov. 4 missiles fired at Saudi Arabia appeared to have a “common origin,” but U.N. officials were still investigating the claims that Iran supplied them.

A separate Nov. 24 U.N. report monitoring Yemen sanctions said four missiles fired into Saudi Arabia this year appear to have been designed and manufactured by Iran, but as yet there was “no evidence as to the identity of the broker or supplier.”

The U.N. Iran and Yemen sanctions monitors “saw a majority” of the weaponry displayed by Haley, said a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

The Pentagon put on display other weapons with designs it said were unique to Iran’s defense industry. It pointed to a key component of a Toophan anti-tank guided missile and a small drone aircraft, both of which it said were recovered in Yemen by the Saudis.

It also showed components of a drone-like navigation system like the one the Pentagon says was used by the Houthis to ram an exploding boat into a Saudi frigate on Jan. 30. The United Arab Emirates seized the system in late 2016 in the Red Sea, the Pentagon said.

The U.N. Security Council is due to be briefed publicly on the latest U.N. report monitoring Iran sanctions on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Alistair Bell and James Dalgleish)