News Digest — 2/3/21

Iran Adds More Centrifuges In Wider Breach Of Nuclear Deal

A senior Iranian official said Tuesday (2nd) that additional centrifuges have been installed, enriching even more uranium than is allowed and effectively increasing Iran’s violation of the nuclear deal.

“Thanks to our diligent nuclear scientists, two cascades of 348 IR2m centrifuges with almost 4 times the capacity of IR1 are now running with UF6 successfully in Natanz.  Installations of 2 cascades of IR6 centrifuges have also been started in Fordow.  There’s more to come soon,” tweeted Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador to the UN in Vienna, home to the world body’s nuclear watchdog agency the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Last month Iran began enriching uranium to levels that European leaders have said could only be used for producing nuclear weapons.

Iran took the move apparently to increase pressure on the new US administration to force it to return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, that President Trump withdrew from in 2018, reimposing harsh economic sanctions on the regime in Tehran.

Iran’s Irna News Agency reported that the government justified the increased enrichment “because of the United States’ delay in fulfilling their obligations under the agreement, Iran began steps under IAEA oversight to reduce its obligations” under the JCPOA.

Interviewed on CNN Sunday (1/31), Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif repeated Iran’s demand that the US first re-enter the nuclear deal before Iran would take any steps away from its accelerated pace of purifying uranium that is widely perceived as having only military use.

“The US should return to compliance.  Iran will then immediately reverse remedial measures,” Zarif said.

In New York, the spokesman for Iran’s mission to the UN, Alireza Miryousefi, reiterated that Iran would not discuss any other issues or demands before a full American return to the nuclear agreement, saying, “Our defensive missile program is not up for negotiation.”

“The time for the United States to come back to the nuclear agreement is not unlimited,” Miryousefi said.  “The United States has a limited window of opportunity, because President Biden does not want to portray himself as trying to take advantage of the failed policies of the former administration.”



Iran Reports Test Of Most Powerful Satellite-Carrying Rocket To Date

Iran has test-launched a new satellite carrier with its “most powerful” solid-fuel engine to date, Iranian state television reported Monday (1st), quoting the country’s Defense Ministry.

According to Ahmad Hosseini, spokesman for the Iranian Defense Ministry’s space division, the test was “the first launch of the Zuljanah hybrid satellite carrier for sub-orbital testing.”

“This three-stage carrier can compete with the world’s current carriers, and has two stages of solid propulsion and a single liquid one,” Hosseini added, noting that the rocket had been launched for “research purposes.”

Hosseini said that the Zuljanah carrier was capable of putting a satellite into a “310 mile altitude orbit, able to carry a 1,100-pound” payload.

He also said the rocket could be launched from a “mobile platform,” which provides it with “special capabilities.”

Footage released by the state broadcaster showed the rocket being launched in a desert area.  The specific place and time of the test were not reported.

However, the Mehr news agency reported that the launch was carried out in the Semnan province, where the government has a space center.

Last April, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps launched the country’s first military satellite, the Nour, into orbit after a similar launch had failed two months earlier.

The IRGC said that the military satellite orbited the Earth at 264 miles and was carried by the Qassed rocket, which used a liquid and solid propulsion similar to that of the Zuljanah model.



Pakistan Orders Release Of Ringleader In Daniel Pearl Murder Case

Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the release from prison on Tuesday (2nd) of Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, a ringleader in the kidnapping and murder of Jewish US journalist Daniel Pearl by al-Qaeda and Pakistani Islamist militants in 2002.

Pakistan’s government had appealed to the court on Friday (1/29) to review its decision to free the British-born Islamist and three others convicted in the case, a day after their acquittal by a panel of three judges.

The United States also expressed concern over Sheikh’s acquittal, and top US diplomat Antony Blinken repeated a call for accountability in his first phone call with Pakistan’s foreign minister on Friday (1/29).

The review panel headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, stood by the decision to acquit, and recommended that Sheikh should be moved to a “rest house” before being fully released.

“He should be moved to a comfortable residential environment, something like a rest house where he can live a normal life.” the judge said.

As the government makes the arrangements in the next two days, Sheikh will be kept in jail with permission to see his family, the court said.

“It is not complete freedom.  It is a step toward freedom,” the prisoner’s father, Saeed Sheikh, told Reuters.

The terms of Sheikh’s release will become clearer once a written order is made public.

On assignment for The Wall Street Journal in the months after al-Qaeda 9/11 attacks on the United States, Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi and later beheaded.  Al-Qaeda’s number three leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed to killing Pearl, and Sheikh, a former student at the London School of Economics, had played a key role in luring the journalist into a trap.

Captured in Pakistan in 2003, Mohammed is being held at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, near Cuba, where he is awaiting trial on multiple counts, and could face the death penalty.



Daughter Of Warsaw Zoo Directors Who Saved Jews Dies

The daughter of former Warsaw Zoo directors, Jan and Antonina Zabinski, who saved hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust by hiding them at the zoo and whose story was told in the movie “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” has died.

The zoo said Sunday (1/31) on Facebook that Teresa Zabinski-Zawadzki died the previous night, at age 77.  It did not give the cause of her death.

“She always talked with pride about her parents and their heroism,” the zoo said.  

Teresa Zabinski-Zawadzki was born at the zoo in 1944, under Nazi German occupation of Poland during World War II.  For years during the war her parents saved some 300 Jews by hiding them at their villa on the zoo grounds, or in empty animal enclosures.  Teresa Zabinski-Zawadzki’s brother, Ryszard, who was 12 years older than her, brought food to the people in hiding and was featured in the movie.  He died in 2019.

Israel’s Yad Vashem Institute has recognized the Zabinskis as “Righteous Among the Nations” for having risked the family’s lives in order to save Jewish lives.

In 2017, Zabinski-Zawadzki attended Warsaw’s gala screening of “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” a movie about her parents’ heroism.

The movie was based on a 2007 US bestseller book by the same title, written by American author Diane Ackerman, that revealed the story to the world.



After Lockdown, New Attractions Await Visitors To Herodian

Once Israel’s national parks and historic sites reopen to visitors after the COVID lockdown ends, archaeology and history buffs are welcome to inspect new projects at Herodium Park, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced on Monday (1st).

Located on the highest peak of the Judean Desert, Herodium (also known as Herodian) is the site of a palace fortress and small town constructed by Herod the Great from 23-15 BCE to commemorate his victory in a clash with Jews loyal to Antigonus.

Roman Jewish historian Josephus Flavius wrote that Herod “built a town on that spot…and enhanced it with wonderful palaces…and he called it Herodian after himself.”

Herodium is also believed to be the site of Herod’s grave.

In 71 CE, the Romans sacked the site.

In a Facebook post, the IAA informed readers that “nearly a decade of conservation and restoration work carried out in conjunction with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the IDF Civil Administration has refurbished a number of points at the ancient complex, including an ancient theater, Herod’s royal guest house, a monumental staircase, and an archway leading to the palace.”

The IAA noted that it was one of the most extensive conservation projects ever undertaken in Israel.