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Iran-Israel: Can the low-intensity conflict turn into open war?

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On Friday, November 27, on the motorway from the town of Absard to Tehran, the armoured car carrying the Head of Iran’s nuclear programme, Moshem Fakhzarideh, was ambushed. The scientist was killed, probably together with his bodyguards. The news of the incident is still confusing.

The Iranian news agency Farsi News has even talked about the attackers’ use of a sort of “Robot machine gun” placed on a pickup truck by the side of the motorway and apparently controlled remotely.

 An evocative and probably fanciful piece of news useful to draw a merciful  veilover the new debacle of the Iranian security services which, once again, have failed to ensure the safety of their scientists.

The only certain news is that Fakhzarideh was killed in an attack that runs the risk of significantly harming Iran’s nuclear programme.

The scientist lived such a secluded and secret life that not even his age is known for certain.

 According to the technicians of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the United Nations organization that oversees international controls on nuclear proliferation -until his death, Fakhzarideh was directing the very secret projects aimed at uranium enrichment, the production of high potential explosives and above all the construction of missile warheads capable of carrying fissile material.

Despite his life apart in the shadows, in 2011 the IAEA had identified him as the Head of the AMAD programme, a long-term plan organised by the Ayatollah regime twenty years ago, with the aim of turning Iran into a fully-fledged nuclear power.

Israel had identified him well before the UN technicians: in May 2003, the Mossad‘s deputy-Director, Tamir Pardo, outlined to his Director, Meir Dagan, and to the Israeli Secret Service’s operational directors, a top-secret program to stop the AMAD plan, a program that was the result of four months of espionage in Iran, aimed at thwarting Iran’s nuclear projects.

According to Israeli sources, Pardo outlined his strategic proposal in a simple way: “In this situation, Israel has three options: firstly, conquer Iran; secondly, organize a regime change in Iran; thirdly, convince Iranian politicians that the price they shall pay to continue the nuclear programme will be so high that it will better for them to stop it”.

Since both the first and the second option were clearly unrealistic, the Israeli government started a “low-intensity war” against the Ayatollah regime designed to making the third option materialize. Alongside political and diplomatic measures aimed at achieving the international isolation of the Iranian regime, Israel entrusted the Mossad with the task of supporting the activities of Iranian minorities (the Kurds) and of organised groups opposed to the regime (first and foremost, the Mujaheddin El Kalkh, MEK), as well as starting plans to sabotage the production of fissile material and, above all, authorised the targeted and selective killing of key figures in the AMAD programme, the leading scientists of the nuclear projects.

The Mossad project was shared with the United States, which agreed to take on both the diplomatic and political side of the programme and a large part of the funding for the opposition groups within the Iranian regime.

Moreover, CIA and Mossad together planned a wide range of cyberattacks designed to sabotaging Iranian plutonium enrichment and production. A joint operation called “Oliympic Games” was launched, which led to the “cyber sabotage” of the computerised systems of Iranian nuclear facilities with viruses, such as the notorious Stuxnet, which in 2009 led to the stop of all the centrifuges used for uranium enrichment.

At the same time, Israel drew up a list of 15 key figures in the AMAD programme to be eliminated. The United States kept out of the plans to target Iranian scientists because Obama’s CIA was afraid of being involved in clearly illegal operations.

However, as the then Director of CIA, Michael Hayden, admitted, the elimination of the technicians could prove an essential tool to frustrate Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

During the first meeting of the National Security Council in January 2009, in the presence of newly elected President Obama, Hayden said as follows about the fissile material stored in the Natanz laboratories:”The issue is not how much fissile material is stored in Natanz. There are no electrons or neutrons in Natanz that can be turned into a nuclear bomb. What they are building in Natanz is knowledge. When the Iranians have enough knowledge they will go somewhere else to enrich uranium. That knowledge, Mr President, is stored in scientists’ brains.”

Although the United States stayed away from the targeted killings of Iranian technicians, the Mossad was not sitting on its hands.

On January 14, 2007, the nuclear physicist Ardeshir Hosseinpour died from radioactive gaspoisoning.

On January 12, 2010, Dr. Masoud Alimohammad, a leading member of the AMAD project’s scientific team, was killed by the explosion of a booby-trapped motorbike parked near his car.

On November 29, 2010 it was the turn of Dr. Majid Shahriari, who was killed by a carbomb with “magnetized explosives” that two motorcyclists had attached to his Peugeot, detonating it remotely. That same day another scientist escaped death, together with his wife, as they managed to leave the car before the explosion.

In July 2011, Dr. Darioush Rezainejad, a member of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, was shot dead by a motorcycle-riding gunman in front of his house. On January 12, 2012 the same fate befell the chemist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshani, working at the Natanz facility.

This seemingly unstoppable and relentless series of targeted killings had various effects on the Iranian scientific community and Iran’s politicians.

On the one hand, as Fakhzarideh himself admitted, the last and probably most illustrious victim of Israel’s longa manus, it made the life of Iranian scientists a real “living hell”. Under the 24-hour obsessive escort of the protection services and without a social life any longer, what at first seemed a cursus honorumturned into an infernal circle.

On the other hand, the feeling of being the target of an unstoppable spy penetration from outside made the Iranian security services suspicious, bordering paranoia, thus forcing them to suffocating internal control measures that often paralyzed their action.

Moreover, as Mossad Director Meir Dagan admitted during a rare public conference, the killings caused a “White Defection” in Iran, a constant drain of scientists who asked to leave nuclear research for other assignments.

The “low-intensity” war informally declared by Israel on Iran in 2003 has had its results.

The international community has imposed economic and trade sanctions on Iran, which have caused the collapse of its economy. In 2015 Iran accepted the “Nuclear Deal” proposed by the United Nations and signed a non-proliferation agreement guaranteed by Germany, France, Russia and the United States.

President Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 to protest against Iran’s increased activism in Yemen and Syria in opposition to Saudi Arabia, a U.S. strategic ally throughout the Middle East.

During the electoral campaign theU.S. President-elect, Joe Biden, repeatedly stated that under his administration the United States would sit back at the “Nuclear Deal” negotiating table, as he is convinced he can lead Iran again on the “right track” of nuclear non-proliferation.

Probably, faced with this prospect, Israel wanted to send a signal to Iran with the killing of the Head of its nuclear scientist team on November 27 last. Although Israel has lost the proactive support of Donald Trump after his defeat in the Presidential election, vigilance and supervision over Iran is still high and will remain so until Iran definitively gives up its dream of becoming a nuclear power capable of dictating the law with nuclear persuasion over the Persian Gulf and the whole Middle East.

In this strategy, Israel has the increasingly evident and proactive support of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, within new links in a chain of regional alliances that should convince Iran to seek a way of political compromise with the counterparts on its borders and drop its hegemonic designs of recent years. Probably, instead of stimulating reprisals and retaliations, Fakhrizadeh’s assassination could paradoxically make a political compromise closer.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Cyber-attacks-Frequency a sign of Red Alert for India

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The biggest target is in terms of transportations, nuclear power plants, Power system Operation Corporation Limited, V.O. Chidambaram Port Trust, Telangana State Load Dispatch Centre, logistic industries and research organisations which eventually can lead to destruction of the whole ecosystem. The confidentiality breach in the case of medical data leak as reported by a German cyber security firm –Greenbone Sustainable Resilience wherein Picture Archiving and Communication Servers were linked to public internet without any requisite protection is a point of concern. Then, there are certain individualistic attacks such as hacking email and financial crimes (banking), etc. In the last two years the attacks radar of focus has been defence, government accounts and the vaccine manufacturing companies.

Cyber Security – Individualistic awareness need of the hour

The target of the individual in a peculiar case which led to heinous crimes casted was due to opening of a document which was a bait to install Netwire- a malware. The bait was eventually delivered through a file and what prompted a person to open that link was a Drop box sent to him on his email was actually opening a Pandora Box of malicious command and control server. An emphasis to understand the technicality that Netwire stands for a malware which gives control of the infected system to an attacker. This in turn paves way for data stealing, logging keystrokes and compromise passwords. In the similar vein the Pegasus used the tactic to infiltrate the user’s phones in 2019.

Cyber Security – Attacking Power Distribution Systems

The intrusions by Chinese hacker groups in October, 2020 as brought out by Recorded Future was done through Shadow Pad which opens a secret path from target system to command and control servers. And, the main target is sectors such as transportation, telecommunication and energy .And , there are different tags that are being used by the Chinese Espionage Industry such as APT41, Wicked Spider and Wicked Panda , etc.

The institutions backing legitimisation

The Institutions which are at working under the cyber security surveillance are the National Security Council and National Information Board headed by National Security Adviser helping in framing India’s cyber security policy .Then, in 2014 there is the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre under the National Technical Research Organisation mandating the protection of critical information infrastructure. And, in 2015 the National Cyber Security Coordinator advises the Prime Minister on strategic cyber security issues. In the case of nodal entity , India’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-in) is playing a crucial role under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology(MEITY).But, there is a requirement of clarity in National Cyber Security Policy of 2013 and the needed updates desired in it respectively.

A cohesive approach – Data Protection and Privacy Importance

The Data privacy i.e. the personal data protection bill is an important imperative in which services of private actors can be bridged through a concerned law which is missing link in that sense. The point of Data localisation falls squarely within this dimension of Section 40 and 41 of the draft bill where in the Indian stakeholders have the capacity to build their own data centres .In this contextualisation there also a need to understand certain technicalities involved in terms of edge computing which in a way is enabling the data to be analysed, processed, and transferred at the edge of a network. An elaboration to this is the data is analysed locally, closer to where it is stored, in real-time without delay. The Edge computing distributes processing, storage, and applications across a wide range of devices and data centres which make it difficult for any single disruption to take down the network. Since more data is being processed on local devices rather than transmitting it back to a central data centre, edge computing also reduces the amount of data actually at risk at any one time. Whereas on the other hand, there is insistence on data localisation has paved the way for companies such as Google Pay to adhere to the policy and synchronise their working with the United Payments Interface (UPI).

What do you understand by Data Share?

In the recent case of WhatsApp privacy issue and drawing in parallel other organisation a similar platform such as Facebook and Google shared the data to the third party with a lopsided agreement and with continuance of the data trade business industry. In 1996 the internet was free so was perceived as carte blanche , a safe harbour falling under the Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act in the United States but with the evolution of the circumstances the laws in that specifications are also required to change in that respect. In relations to the Indian law under the Information Technology Act, 2000 under the Section 69 the Indian government has the powers to monitor and decrypt any information that’s store in any computer resource but on certain conditions such as in regards to the sovereignty, defence and security of the country.

Cyber-attacks understanding on the International Forums

In terms of Lieber Code of Conduct of 1863 or be it Hague Convention of 1899 there is a need of updating the definitions and where in the cyber army falling under the categorisation  of civilians , not possessing any of the warfare weapons cause the main weapon that they possess is a malware which is invisible but can have deep repercussions leading to destruction of that particular economy altogether .So, in recent evolving circumstances there is an undue importance to for the target country to respond with equal force and having a right to self-defence in this manner regardless of the attack being from a non-state actor from a third country and masquerading under the civilian garb .Henceforth , there a thorough understanding of the complex environment that one is dealing with , there is undue emphasis to change and respectively update with the current world.

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Incidents of Uranium Theft in India: Depleting Nuclear Safety and International Silence

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Terrorism

In yet another incident of the capture of nuclear-related materials from unauthorized persons in India has made headlines in the Indian media but largely ignored in the international media. On 4th June 2021, as reported in the Indian media, the authorities arrested seven people possessing approximately 6.4 kilograms of Uranium in the Eastern State of Jharkhand. This is the second time in less than a month where Indian authorities have captured such a gang in an attempt to sell uranium illegally. An incident of the same nature was reported just a few days ago in May 2021 where authorities apprehended unauthorized persons, who were trying to sell nearly 7 kilograms of natural uranium on the black market. Notably, Indian authorities themselves believe that these events might be linked to a “national gang involved in illegal uranium trade”. This is a very serious issue because it means two things; first, that Indian local uranium reserves, radioactive nuclear materials, and facilities are not protected and are prone to black marketing. Secondly, this scenario has emerged because India is not adhering to international bindings of nuclear safety and security such as UN resolution 1540 and (Convention on Physical Protection on Nuclear Material) CPPNM under IAEA to secure its materials, reserves, and facilities. But, the most damaging aspect in this scenario is the discriminatory behavior of the international community, which is criminally silent on the violations of norms, practices, and regulations necessary for nuclear safety and security.

Though in both incidents, Uranium was in natural condition, which cannot be used for making bombs; however; it should be of great concern, as even in its natural state the Uranium can spread considerable radioactivity if used with conventional explosives. Moreover, Indian authorities themselves are considering that these activities could be linked with national gangs involved in the illegal supply of uranium. This raises the point that actually how much natural uranium is illegally sold in the black market by India. Since these are only incidents that are being reported in the Indian media, there might be many incidents that have never been reported. Also, this gang was captured from near the area where Indian Uranium mines of Jharkhand are allocated, the likelihood of access of non-state actors to these mines cannot be denied. These incidents are critical for international security and stability because such radioactive material when sold in black markets could be brought by the non-state and states aspiring for nuclearization. Unfortunately, in such a scenario all the efforts currently going on to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons would be hampered. The recurring of these incidents reflect that India, despite being a member of CPPNM is not ensuring the protection of its nuclear materials from theft and sabotage by proper regulations, stringent mechanisms, and control. Other than CPPNM, India has also signed UN resolution 1540, which makes it mandatory for the states to ensure security regulations, mechanisms, equipment required for the security of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) from the non-state actors. But, surprisingly, so far the UN or any other international organization has not taken notice of these recurring events. Rather, these mishaps by Indian authorities are shoved under the carpet. These incidents have been reportedly re-occurring in India, media reported these events in 2003, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2016, 2019, and now again in 2021. 

Nuclear safety and security is a national matter of any state; however, against the backdrop of the potential damage, which these weapons can bring, they have become an international concern. Specifically, to an extent, where states are sometimes criticized, lauded, and sometimes rewarded for their behavior in this realm. In this regard, India appears as an exceptional case, where the formation of Nuclear Suppliers Group NSG to stop such events in the future has its roots in the Indian so-called peace nuclear explosion (PNE) in 1974. Ironically, a few years down the road, the same NSG gave a waiver to India for conducting nuclear export. Moreover, India was made part of many other regimes such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement. Although, these decisions were carried out in lieu of geo-political realities, where the West regards India as a balancer against China but it gave a free hand to India. Even the US-based NTI Report on Nuclear Security Index gives India less score in nuclear safety and security regulations. At a time when many nuclear theft-related incidents have occurred in India in recent years, disgracefully, India still desires to become a member of NSG based on its so-called nuclear record.

To sum up the situation, the occurrence of back-to-back nuclear theft-related incidents has further exposed India’s nuclear credentials and its non-adherence to international practices of nuclear safety and security. If legal bindings such as CPPNM and 1540 would not be implemented in the future by India, the South Asian stability, as well as the international security, would be undermined. Moreover, if the international non-proliferation continues to remain lenient towards states like India, the rest would likely regard the international non-proliferation mechanism not just as discriminatory but even as hoaxing. Many states might prefer to proliferate for their own interests, which would not serve the non-proliferation mechanism and regime. A very candid example is that today even after two years of the last NPT review conference, the next has not been conducted and chances are that it might not be conducted this year.

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Uranium is being traded freely in the open market in India

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Terrorism

The Times of India has reported that a special police team arrested seven persons and recovered 6 Kgs of Uranium from them following raids at different parts of the city on Thursday. Bokaro SP Chandan Kumar Jha said, “We have seized the yellow substance and will send it to experts for tests. Uranium is a highly radioactive substance used at nuclear facilities.”

Police said the accused, suspected of being part of a national gang involved in the illegal uranium trade, searched for customers and fixed its price at Rs 50 lakhs per kg. Notably, a kilogram of Uranium sells for around Rs 18 crores in the global market, sources said. For the first time, Uranium has been seized in this industrial town, but in other parts of India, similar cases were reported several times recently.

Those arrested have been identified as Bapi Da alias Bapi Da alias Bapi Chandra, Anil Singh, Deepak Kumar, Krishna Kant, Hare Ram Sharma, Mahavir Mahto, and Pankaj Mahto. They are residents of different parts of the district. Deepak and Bapi have a criminal history. It is illegal to possess Uranium without a license in India, and violation of the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, can attract stringent punishment.

Jha said police received information that some criminals are preparing to sell Uranium. A nine-member team headed by Chas DSP Mukesh Kumar and City DSP Kuldeep Kumar were involved in the raids. “It is still unclear how they got their hands on the radioactive metal. During interrogation, they mentioned West Bengal, Giridih, and a few other places. Seven mobile phones and a motorcycle were also seized from them,” he said.

Notably, Jharkhand is among a few states in the country that has uranium mines. Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) also has a uranium processing plant at Jaduguda, about 150km from Bokaro city.

Sources said police are also investigating to ascertain whether the arrested accused have any links with a similar racket busted by Maharashtra Anti- Terror Squad (ATS) on May 5 after it nabbed two persons. A total of 7.1 kg of natural Uranium worth Rs 21.3 crore was seized from the duo identified as Jigar Jayesh Pandya (27) and Choudhary (31).

It is a severe failure of the Government that hazardous materials are accessible by common people. It is the state’s responsibility, and the state must ensure the safety of the ordinary people. However, PM Modi has different priorities and over-engaged in non-issues. His focus to undermine minorities and the illegal occupation of Kashmir has made him over busy and left no time to safeguard the public interest. His extremist policies and brutalities against minorities are strongly condemned.

It is not the first time that Uranium has been traded like a regular commodity in the open market. It can be dangerous for India as well as the whole world. The law and order situation in India has deteriorated adversely, and criminals may avail this opportunity. The worst scenario will be if the RSS Hindu extremists got access to Uranium, then, definitely, the subcontinent is a one case. The fanatic RSS members are so vulnerable that they can go to any extent without considering the consequences.

Therefore it is appealed to the International community, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the UN to take serious notice and place preventive measures on the ground.

Being the next-door neighbor, Pakistan is under threat and has a responsibility to highlight such severe violations and may involve the international community to avoid similar cases in the future.

Pakistan on Friday, describing the reports of yet another incident of attempted illegal sale of Uranium in India as a “matter of deep concern,” reiterated its call for the thorough investigation of such incidents and measures for strengthening the security of nuclear materials to prevent their diversion.

In a statement, FO Spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said the similar incident in Maharashtra last month and other such reports in the past “are a matter of deep concern as they point to lax controls, poor regulatory and enforcement mechanisms, as well as the possible existence of a black market for nuclear materials inside India.”

The UN Security Council Resolution 1540 and the IAEA Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) make it binding on states to ensure stringent measures to prevent nuclear material from falling into the wrong hands, the statement noted.

“Pakistan reiterates its call for [a] thorough investigation of such incidents and measures for strengthening the security of nuclear materials to prevent their diversion,” it added.

The press release said it was “equally important to ascertain the intent and ultimate use of the attempted uranium sale given its relevance to international peace and security as well as the sanctity of global non-proliferation regime.”

Uranium is used in several areas, including nuclear explosives and medical techniques. The very fact that some people stole or illegally mined Uranium raises concerns about nuclear safety and security in India. It also indicates the possibility of a nuclear market existing in India that could be connected to international players.

Pakistan had voiced serious concern last month, too, after reports of the Maharashtra seizure emerged, pointing to gaps in state control mechanisms there.

“We have noted with serious concern the reports about the seizure of more than 7kg natural uranium from unauthorized persons in India,” Chaudhri had said at the time.“Security of nuclear materials should be the top priority for all countries,” he added.

“There is a need for a thorough investigation of the matter as to how such sizeable quantity of uranium could become available outside any state control and identify the gaps which made this possible.”

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