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Russians helping build Iranian Nukes

Looks like the issue in Iran is going to get solved soon. I have enclosed an article from

Might be a good time to hedge on oil.

Got oil!!!!


Subject: Geopolitical Weekly : Two Leaks and the Deepening Iran Crisis



By George Friedman

Two major leaks occurred this weekend over the Iran matter.

In the first, The New York Times published an article reporting that staff
at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear
group, had produced an unreleased report saying that Iran was much more
advanced in its nuclear program than the IAEA had thought previously.
According to the report, Iran now has all the data needed to design a
nuclear weapon. The New York Times article added that U.S. intelligence was
re-examining the National Intelligence Estimate (NYSE:NIE) of 2007, which had
stated that Iran was not actively pursuing a nuclear weapon.

The second leak occurred in the British daily The Times, which reported
the purpose of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's highly
secret visit to Moscow on Sept. 7 was to provide the Russians with a
list of
Russian scientists and engineers working on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

The second revelation was directly tied to the first. There were many,
including STRATFOR, who felt that Iran did not have the non-nuclear
disciplines needed for rapid progress toward a nuclear device. Putting the
two pieces together, the presence of Russian personnel in Iran would mean
that the Iranians had obtained the needed expertise from the Russians. It
would also mean that the Russians were not merely a factor in whether there
would be effective sanctions but also in whether and when the Iranians
obtain a nuclear weapon.

We would guess that the leak to The New York Times came from U.S.
sources, because that seems to be a prime vector of leaks from the Obama
administration and because the article contained information on the NIE
review. Given that National Security Adviser James Jones tended to dismiss
the report on Sunday television, we would guess the report leaked from
elsewhere in the administration. The Times leak could have come from
multiple sources, but we have noted a tendency of the Israelis to leak
through the British daily on national security issues. (The article
contained substantial details on the visit and appeared written from the
Israeli point of view.) Neither leak can be taken at face value, of course.
But it is clear that these were deliberate leaks -- people rarely risk
felony charges leaking such highly classified material -- and even if they
were not coordinated, they delivered the same message, true or not.

The Iranian Time Frame and the Russian Role The message was twofold. First,
previous assumptions on time frames on Iran are no longer valid, and
worst-case assumptions must now be assumed. The Iranians are in fact moving
rapidly toward a weapon; have been extremely effective at deceiving U.S.
intelligence (read, they deceived the Bush administration, but the Obama
administration has figured it out); and therefore, we are moving toward a
decisive moment with Iran. Second, this situation is the direct
responsibility of Russian nuclear expertise. Whether this expertise came
from former employees of the Russian nuclear establishment now looking for
work, Russian officials assigned to Iran or unemployed scientists sent to
Iran by the Russians is immaterial. The Israelis -- and the Obama
administration -- must hold the Russians responsible for the current state
of Iran's weapons program, and by extension, Moscow bears responsibility
any actions that Israel or the United States might take to solve the

We would suspect that the leaks were coordinated. From the Israeli point of
view, having said publicly that they are prepared to follow the American
lead and allow this phase of diplomacy to play out, there clearly had to be
more going on than just last week's Geneva talks. From the American
point of
view, while the Russians have indicated that participating in sanctions on
gasoline imports by Iran is not out of the question, Russian President
Dmitri Medvedev did not clearly state that Russia would cooperate, nor has
anything been heard from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on the
subject. The Russian leadership appears to be playing "good cop, bad
cop" on
the matter, and the credibility of anything they say on Iran has little
weight in Washington.

It would seem to us that the United States and Israel decided to up the
fairly dramatically in the wake of the Oct. 1 meeting with Iran in Geneva.
As IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei visits Iran, massive new urgency has now
added to the issue. But we must remember that Iran knows whether it has had
help from Russian scientists; that is something that can't be bluffed.
that this specific charge has been made -- and as of Monday not challenged
by Iran or Russia -- indicates to us more is going on than an attempt to
bluff the Iranians into concessions. Unless the two leaks together are
completely bogus, and we doubt that, the United States and Israel are
leaking information already well known to the Iranians. They are telling
Tehran that its deception campaign has been penetrated, and by extension
telling it that it faces military action -- particularly if massive
sanctions are impractical because of more Russian obstruction.

If Netanyahu went to Moscow to deliver this intelligence to the Russians,
the only surprise would have been the degree to which the Israelis had
penetrated the program, not that the Russians were there. The Russian
intelligence services are superbly competent, and keep track of stray
nuclear scientists carefully. They would not be surprised by the charge,
only by Israel's knowledge of it.

This, of course leaves open an enormous question. Certainly, the Russians
appear to have worked with the Iranians on some security issues and have
played with the idea of providing the Iranians more substantial military
equipment. But deliberately aiding Iran in building a nuclear device seems
beyond Russia's interests in two ways. First, while Russia wants to goad
United States, it does not itself really want a nuclear Iran. Second, in
goading the United States, the Russians know not to go too far; helping
build a nuclear weapon would clearly cross a redline, triggering reactions.

A number of possible explanations present themselves. The leak to The Times
might be wrong. But The Times is not a careless newspaper: It accepts leaks
only from certified sources. The Russian scientists might be private
citizens accepting Iranian employment. But while this is possible,
Moscow is
very careful about what Russian nuclear engineers do with their time. Or
Russians might be providing enough help to goad the United States but not
enough to ever complete the job. Whatever the explanation, the leaks paint
the Russians as more reckless than they have appeared, assuming the leaks
are true.

And whatever their veracity, the leaks -- the content of which clearly was
discussed in detail among the P-5+1 prior to and during the Geneva
regardless of how long they have been known by Western intelligence -- were
made for two reasons. The first was to tell the Iranians that the nuclear
situation is now about to get out of hand, and that attempting to manage
negotiations through endless delays will fail because the United Nations is
aware of just how far Tehran has come with its weapons program. The second
was to tell Moscow that the issue is no longer whether the Russians will
cooperate on sanctions, but the consequence to Russia's relations with the
United States and at least the United Kingdom, France and, most important,
possibly Germany. If these leaks are true, they are game changers.

We have focused on the Iranian situation not because it is significant in
itself, but because it touches on a great number of other crucial
international issues. It is now entangled in the Iraqi, Afghan, Israeli,
Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese issues, all of them high-stakes
matters. It
is entangled in Russian relations with Europe and the United States. It is
entangled in U.S.-European relationships and with relationships within
Europe. It touches on the U.S.-Chinese relationship. It even touches on
relations with Venezuela and some other Latin American countries. It is
becoming the Gordian knot of international relations.

STRATFOR first focused on the Russian connection with Iran in the wake of
the Iranian elections and resulting unrest, when a crowd of Rafsanjani
supporters began chanting "Death to Russia," not one of the top-10
chants in
Iran. That caused us to focus on the cooperation between Russia and Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on
security matters. We were aware of some degree of technical cooperation on
military hardware, and of course on Russian involvement in Iran's civilian
nuclear program. We were also of the view that the Iranians were
unlikely to
progress quickly with their nuclear program. We were not aware that Russian
scientists were directly involved in Iran's military nuclear project, which
is not surprising, given that such involvement would be Iran's single-most
important state secret -- and Russia's, too.

A Question of Timing
But there is a mystery here as well. To have any impact, the Russian
involvement must have been under way for years. The United States has tried
to track rogue nuclear scientists and engineers -- anyone who could
contribute to nuclear proliferation -- since the 1990s. The Israelis must
have had their own program on this, too. Both countries, as well as
intelligence services, were focused on Iran's program and the
whereabouts of
Russian scientists. It is hard to believe that they only just now found
If we were to guess, we would say Russian involvement has been under way
since just after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, when the Russians
that the United States was a direct threat to its national security.

Therefore, the decision suddenly to confront the Russians, and suddenly to
leak U.N. reports -- much more valuable than U.S. reports, which are easier
for the Europeans to ignore -- cannot simply be because the United States
and Israel just obtained this information. The IAEA, hostile to the United
States since the invasion of Iraq and very much under the influence of the
Europeans, must have decided to shift its evaluation of Iran. But far more
significant is the willingness of the Israelis first to confront the
Russians and then leak about Russian involvement, something that obviously
compromises Israeli sources and methods. And that means the Israelis no
longer consider the preservation of their intelligence operation in Iran
wherever it was carried out) as of the essence.

Two conclusions can be drawn. First, the Israelis no longer need to add to
their knowledge of Russian involvement; they know what they need to know.
And second, the Israelis do not expect Iranian development to continue much
longer; otherwise, maintaining the intelligence capability would take
precedence over anything else.

It follows from this that the use of this intelligence in diplomatic
confrontations with Russians and in a British newspaper serves a greater
purpose than the integrity of the source system. And that means that the
Israelis expect a resolution in the very near future -- the only reason
would have blown their penetration of the Russian-Iranian system.

Possible Outcomes
There are two possible outcomes here. The first is that having revealed the
extent of the Iranian program and having revealed the Russian role in a
credible British newspaper, the Israelis and the Americans (whose own leak
in The New York Times underlined the growing urgency of action) are hoping
that the Iranians realize that they are facing war and that the Russians
realize that they are facing a massive crisis in their relations with the
West. If that happens, then the Russians might pull their scientists and
engineers, join in the sanctions and force the Iranians to abandon their

The second possibility is that the Russians will continue to play the
spoiler on sanctions and will insist that they are not giving support to
Iranians. This leaves the military option, which would mean broad-based
action, primarily by the United States, against Iran's nuclear facilities.
Any military operation would involve keeping the Strait of Hormuz clear,
meaning naval action, and we now know that there are more nuclear
than previously discussed. So while the war for the most part would be
confined to the air and sea, it would be extensive nonetheless.

Sanctions or war remain the two options, and which one is chosen depends on
Moscow's actions. The leaks this weekend have made clear that the United
States and Israel have positioned themselves such that not much time
remains. We have now moved from a view of Iran as a long-term threat to
as a much more immediate threat thanks to the Russians.

The least that can be said about this is that the Obama administration and
Israel are trying to reshape the negotiations with the Iranians and
Russians. The most that can be said is that the Americans and Israelis are
preparing the public for war. Polls now indicate that more than 60 percent
of the U.S. public now favors military action against Iran. From a
point of view, it has become easier for U.S. President Barack Obama to act
than to not act. This, too, is being transmitted to the Iranians and

It is not clear to us that the Russians or Iranians are getting the message
yet. They have convinced themselves that Obama is unlikely to act
because he
is weak at home and already has too many issues to juggle. This is a case
where a reputation for being conciliatory actually increases the chances
war. But the leaks this weekend have strikingly limited the options and
timelines of the United States and Israel. They also have put the spotlight
on Obama at a time when he already is struggling with health care and
Afghanistan. History is rarely considerate of presidential plans, and in
this case, the leaks have started to force Obama's hand.

This report may be forwarded or republished on your website with

Copyright 2009 Stratfor.