January 2, 2011
Iran has missiles that can reach Israel in 12 minutes, according to cables released by WikiLeaks.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi told a U.S. Congressional delegation in November 2009 that the Islamic Republic has over 300 missiles that can reach the Jewish state in up to 12 minutes, according to the cables released on Sunday.
He also reportedly told the lawmakers, led by Ike Skelton (D-Mo.),that he was preparing Israel's military for a major war against Hamas, saying that
"I'm preparing the Israeli army for a major war, since it is easier to scale down to a smaller operation than to do the opposite."Ashkenazi told the delegation that the threat from Hamas and Hezbollah is more acute than the Iranian threat, due to their proximity to Israel. Iran funds both Hamas and Hezbollah. He predicted that the next big war for Israel would be either in Gaza or Lebanon.
He also said that Hezbollah has over 40,000 rockets capable of reaching all of Israel, and that Hamas could hit Tel Aviv.
January 4, 2011
The Tehran government confirmed on Tuesday that it has invited world powers and its allies in the Arab and developing world - but apparently not chief critic the United States - to tour Iranian nuclear sites before a high-profile meeting late January on its disputed nuclear program.
The Associated Press reported the invitation to tour the facilities on Monday, citing a letter from a senior Iranian envoy that suggested the visit take place the weekend of Jan. 15 and 16.
A diplomat familiar with the invitation said the U.S. - the greatest critic of Iran's nuclear ambitions - and the other Western powers in the group were not invited, in an apparent attempt to split the six powers ahead of planned talks on Iran's nuclear program later this month.
An Iranian official speaking on condition of anonymity from a European capital said facilities to be visited include the nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz and the Arak site where Tehran is building a plutonium-producing heavy water reactor.
Both facilities are considered suspect by the West because they could be used to make the fissile core of nuclear warheads; Tehran's refusal to shut them down has triggered U.N. Security Council sanctions.
On Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast confirmed the offer, saying it went to "the E.U, the non-aligned movement and representatives from 5+1 countries."
The "5+1" countries are the six world powers negotiationing with Iran over its nuclear program: the five permanent U.N. Security Council members - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - plus Germany.
Mehmanparast said Iran would identify the invited countries at a later time, adding that the invitation was a sign of Iran's "good will" and greater transparency about its nuclear program. Iran insists its nuclear program is designed to generate power, but the West suspects that's just a cover to build bombs.
Mehmanparast did not give a firm date, but said the tour would take place before the January talks.
The new round of negotiations is meant to explore whether there is common ground for more substantive talks on Iran's nuclear program. A round of talks in Geneva in December yielded no breakthrough.
The U.N. Security Council has demanded that Iran freeze uranium enrichment - a process that can produce both fuel and fissile warhead material. But Iranian negotiators flatly ruled out discussing such demands at the Istanbul meeting, Western diplomats familiar with the talks said.
The offer of a visit comes more than three years after six diplomats from developing nations visited Iran's uranium ore conversion site at Isfahan, which turns raw uranium into the gas that is then fed into enriching centrifuges. Participating diplomats told reporters they could not assess Iran's nuclear aims based on what they saw there.
The new offer appeared more wide ranging, both in terms of who was invited and sites to be visited.
Dated Dec. 27, the four-paragraph letter offered no details beyond offering an all-expenses paid "visit to Iran's nuclear sites."
But a diplomat familiar with its contents said it was mailed to Russia, China, Egypt, the group of nonaligned nations at the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, Cuba, Arab League members at the IAEA, and Hungary, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency. He spoke on condition of anonymity because his information was privileged.
China, and to a lesser degree Russia, have acted to dilute harsh sanctions proposed by the U.S. and its Western allies on the Security Council, leading to compromise penalties enacted by the council that are milder than the West had originally hoped.
The outreach to Moscow and Beijing in Tehran's offer to visit appeared to be an attempt to leverage any differences between the Eastern and Western powers meeting the Iranians in Istanbul.
On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei acknowledged that Beijing has received an invitation and hopes the dispute over Iran's nuclear program would be resolved through dialogue.
The Foreign Ministry of Hungary also confirmed receiving the Iranian letter and said it is discussing the offer with other EU member nations and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
January 2, 2011
Iran's Revolutionary Guards have shot down two "Western spy drones" in the Gulf, a senior Iranian commander has been quoted as saying.
"Many" other drones have been shot down over an unspecified period of time, the Fars news agency quoted him as saying.
The head of the Revolutionary Guards' air force wing, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, produced no evidence to support the report.
He said this was the first time news of the incidents had been reported.
The drones were mainly being used in Iraq and Afghanistan but "some violations against our soil" had also occurred, the commander said.
The Revolutionary Guards were set up following the Islamic revolution in 1979, and its commanders have frequently delivered warnings to Israel.
Last August Iran unveiled what it said was its first domestically built drone, the Karrar.
It said it had a range of 1,000km (620 miles) and could carry two 250-pound (115kg) bombs, or a precision bomb of 500 pounds.
There is no independent corroboration of the latest Iranian claims.
The Fifth Fleet of the US navy is based in Bahrain, on the other side of the Gulf from Iran.
Iranian commanders have threatened to block shipping through the strategic Strait of Hormuz if it is attacked.