Author: Incident Response Team

Iranian SA-15 SAM Downed Flight PS752 over Tehran, Intelligence Shows (CONFIRMED)

UPDATE: The Iranian government has admitted that its armed forces are responsible for the downing of the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737 (flight PS75). Tehran added that the shoot-down was a…

UPDATE: The Iranian government has admitted that its armed forces are responsible for the downing of the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737 (flight PS75). Tehran added that the shoot-down was a mistake caused by “human error.”

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) shot down flight PS752 over Tehran, intelligence suggests. Based on SIGINT data collected by US agencies, the U.S., British, Canadian and Iraqi governments were able to confirm what the OSINT circle has been theorizing for the past days:


  • A Russian-made Tor M-1/2 SAM system (NATO Reporting name: SA-15 “Gauntlet”) downed the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 shortly after the aircraft took off from Tehran – Imam Khomeini International Airport at 6.12 AM (local time) on Jan. 8, 2020. All 176 passengers died. The shoot-down was probably unintentional, but the theory of deliberate action cannot be excluded.

Iranian Tor-M1/2 (SA-15)

  • The IRGC-Aerospace Force (AF) fields numerous Tor M-1/2s for point air defense of sensitive facilities and long-range SAMs.
  • The aviation incident occurred five hours after the IRGC-AF launched a missile barrage at Iraqi installations hosting Coalition/ U.S. forces. It is very likely that the IRGC mistook/misidentified the PS752 for a US aircraft especially as Iran was tensely expecting an American retaliation for the earlier attack in Iraq.

HARD EVIDENCE:
  • Two photos showing the debris of a Tor M1/2’s (SA-15) surface-to- air missile (SAM) proximity fuse/”seeker” close to the crash site. Visual forensics certify the resemblance between the debris and the seeker section of a SA-15 SAM.

Debris of SA-15 SAM near PS752 crash site via T-Intelligence

  • A video showing an aerial detonation in the immediate proximity of flight PS752 while airborne. The “contact” is consistent with SAM interceptions.

*This is likely the second SAM launched (per “2-for-1” SAM engagement doctrine/ two missiles fired for one target). The explosion caused by the first SAM probably attracted everyone’s attention, hence why people started filming and caught the second SAM on tape. 

SOFT EVIDENCE:
  • Aircraft crash site is close to a known Tor M-1/2 deployment (within kinematic range).
  • As opposed to the Iranian position, the Boeing 737-aircraft did not attempt to return to the airport. The pilots instantly lost communications with the tower and did not send an SOS signal. Flight path post-contact rather suggests the loss of flight control mechanics than a return-to-base.



THE CLASSIFIED INTELLIGENCE
  • Three intelligence sources (two US and one Iraqi) told major news outlets that the U.S. Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellites picked up radio-emission spikes, indicating radar activity, and detected two surface-to-air missile (SAM) launches shortly before the plane crashed. The U.S. CIA, NGA and DIA aero-space assets were virtually certain focused on Iran to gather early-warning and telemetry data on possible missile launches.
OFFICIAL RECORD
  • Iranian officials blamed the accident on a technical malfunction such as a critical engine failure and dismissed the theory that its missiles brought the plane done. However, Iranian officials said they will not provide the plane’s “block box” to the other countries involved in the investigation. The head of Iran’s Civil Aviation claimed that the plane would have “dropped” from the sky if hit by a missile, while video evidence shows the aircraft ablaze and descending before exploding.
  • However, THAT IS INCORRECT. Point air defense systems such as Tor M-1/2 use proximity fuze, designed to detonate the SAM when entering the target’s “kill-zone”, which increases interception chances, instead of a hit-to-kill kinematic solution (as other SAM systems use). Once detonated, the SAM’s warhead inflicts structural damage with the intent to destroy the target.

  • This is consistent with the PS752’s last minutes – ablaze, instantly losing control and radio-contact – before exploding. In addition, the PS752’s 8,000 feet altitude was within the Tor M-1/s’s engagement envelope.

European security officials agree with the US assessment. The Canadian government has already amended its official political position to include the latest US-supplied intelligence.

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Iran Retaliates with Ballistic Missile Strike at Coalition Bases in Iraq

Iran launched a missile attack on Coalition facilities in Iraq as retaliation for the United States UAV-strike that killed IRGC-QF Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani.  SITUATION REPORT At approx. 1.30 (Baghdad…

Iran launched a missile attack on Coalition facilities in Iraq as retaliation for the United States UAV-strike that killed IRGC-QF Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani

SITUATION REPORT

  • At approx. 1.30 (Baghdad time), the IRGC-Aerospace Force (IRGC-AF) launched 15 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) from Khermanshah (Iran) against Ain Al-Assad AB and Erbil AB in Iraq. 
  • Ten SRBMs targeted Ain Al-Assad AB and five Erbil AB (which also hosts Italian, British and German forces). However, four SRBMs malfunctioned on their way to Erbil and failed. At least one SRBM was reportedly intercepted by a US C-RAM system at Ain Al-Assad. FYI: There are no THAAD nor Patriot air defense systems deployed in Iraq. 
  • Judging by the engagement range and operational history, the IRGC-AF likely fired Qi’am-1 or Fateh-class SRBMs (e.g. Fateh-313). 
  • No known casualties resulted from the strike, but the US Department of Defense and the Iraqi Security Forces are still in the process of conducting a battle damage assessment. 

Preliminary determination of the IRGC-AF’s SRBMs’ flight path from Iran to their targets in Iraq via T-Intelligence

  • Unconfirmed reports indicate that inbound missile warnings were issued, allowing Iraqi and Coalition forces to take shelter in bunkers. This means that the SRBM launches were detected by US early warning assets such as aerial platforms, satellites or ground-based radars. All US bases in the region and joint Coalition-Iraqi facilities in Iraq have been on high alert since early January. 
  • Iran has officially claimed the attack. The Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, called the attack “proportional”. Follow-up strikes are not expected.
  • The direct Iranian SRBM attack on Coalition forces is unprecedented, although very ineffective. If the DOD’s BDA proves that there are no human or major infrastructure losses, the chance of a US response are low. Both the US and Iran are interested in de-escalating the confrontation without losing face.

PRELIMINARY-BATTLE DAMAGE ASSESSMENT

This section will be updated when new information becomes available. 



ANALYSIS

We assess with a high degree of confidence that the IRGC’s SRBM salvo at targets in Iraq was ineffective due to technological malfunction and careful pre-planning to mitigate US/Coalition losses. By mounting a major but non-lethal attack, the IRGC hoped “to kill two birds with one stone:” 

  • High internal expectations. The IRGC satisfied Iran’s internal thirst to avenge the death of Iran’s “national treasure” Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani and claim success. The IRGC claims it killed “80 Americans and destroyer several aircraft.” 
  • Controlled escalation. The IRGC hopes to dissuade U.S. President Trump from ordering counter-attacks that could lead to an open armed conflict.

The IRGC’s plan should work, in theory. We know that for the past few days, the United States Department of State was engaged in back-channel negotiations with Iran via Qatar, the Swiss Embassy in Tehran and Oman. Washington’s message was clear: “we expect a retaliation from you but it must be proportionate. American losses are off-limits and will trigger additional air strikes.” Washington enforced its threat with the swift deployment of 6,000 forces (consisting of paratroopers, marines and special forces) to the Middle East for contingency operations.

It seems that Iran obeyed the “rules of the game.” Iraq’s “care-taker” Prime Minister claims that Tehran notified him before the strike and then he notified the U.S, therefore helping the Coalition prepare for the “missile rain”. Despite Tehran’s efforts to craft a balanced aggression, the IRGC’s attack was unprecedented as it directly targeted a site housing US forces and used BMs. Tehran threaded carefully but still walked a thin line. 

While impossible to predict President Trump’s next step, the chances of a U.S. military counter-strike have significantly decreased due to the lack of human losses. If Washington greenlights another strike, it will very likely target BM launchers, SAM systems and Command & Control (C2) nodes in western Iran. The objective of a new military attack would be to reduce the IRGC’s capability to plan, mount and execute BM attacks and “knock-off the door” (destruction/ suppression of enemy air defense systems) for follow-up air strikes, if required. The hypothetical scenario will likely lead to an low-intensity open conflict, restricted to air-naval engagements, between the two parties. However, there is no indication at this time suggesting that the U.S. President will follow an escalatory course of action

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Security Travel Alert for American and British Citizens

The deepening crisis in the Middle East has prompted American and British authorities to review travel advice information for the region. Following the United States UAV-strike that killed Iranian Revolutionary…

The deepening crisis in the Middle East has prompted American and British authorities to review travel advice information for the region. Following the United States UAV-strike that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps – Quds Force (IRGC-QF) Major-General Qassim Soleimani, tensions have been high between Iran, which seeks retaliation, and the US-led International Coalition against ISIS. 


SECURITY RISK FOR FOREIGN CITIZENS

Even before the strike, intelligence suggested that Iran and its network of Shiite paramilitary groups – many sanctioned terrorist groups – were plotting to kidnap, attack or kill foreign citizens in Iraq, in particular U.S. diplomatic personnel. With the recent developments, the security risk for foreign citizens has significantly increased. Currently, there is also a risk that foreign nationals – in particular American and British – could be arbitrarily detained by security personnel in Iran, or by militiamen in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

MORTAR, ROCKET AND MISSILE THREAT

In addition, there is a heightened risk of mortar, rocket and missile attacks in Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). 

STAY AWAY FROM CROWDS

Angry crowds have taken to the streets to condemn the killing of IRGC-HQ Maj. Gen. Soleimani in the Middle East. Many demonstrations are led or coordinated by hostile militias, which could result in violence. You should avoid any rallies, marches, processions, and keep away from military sites.

FURTHER ADVICE: Please monitor your country’s foreign travel service for updates and editorial reviews. Things can change fast as the situation in the Middle East is extremely fluid. 


NATIONAL ISSUED ALERTS

U.S CITIZENS, BE ADVISED:

Most of the U.S Department of State (DOS)-issued travel warnings in the Middle East are not new and have remained unchanged for years. However, the DOS has reviewed and amended its travel advice for Iraq and Iran in the past two weeks. 

for U.S. DOS travel map go to travelmaps.state.gov

IRAN. Last updated on December 26, 2019. The DOS maintains the Level 4 Travel Advisory Level (TAL) – DO NOT TRAVEL for Iran. The DOS advise all U.S. citizens against all travel to Iran due to risk of kidnapping, arbitrary arrest and detention for U.S. citizens. The U.S. government does not have diplomatic or consular relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iran.

IRAQ. Last updated on January 1, 2020. The DOS maintains the Level 4 TAL – DO NOT TRAVEL for Iraq. The DOS advise all U.S. citizens against all travel to Iraq due to terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict. 

On December 31, 2019, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad suspended public consular services, until further notice, as a result of damage done by Iranian-backed terrorist attacks on the diplomatic compound. On October 18, 2018, the DOS ordered the suspension of operations at the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah.  That institution has not reopened. Only the U.S. Consulate General Erbil remains open and continues to provide consular services. 

BRITISH CITIZENS, BE ADVISED

 

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has reviewed the Foreign Travel Advice (FTA) for Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Turkey. 

IRAN. As of January 6, 2020, the FCO advise all British nationals against all but essential travel to Iran and against all travel to:

  • within 100km of the entire Iran/Afghanistan border
  • within 10km of the entire Iran/Iraq border
  • the province of Sistan-Baluchistan
  • the area east of the line running from Bam to Jask, including Bam

However, for British-Iranian dual nationals the FCO advise against all travel to Iran. If you’re in Iran, you should consider carefully your need to remain. If your continued presence is not essential, you should consider leaving. There is a risk that British nationals, and a significantly higher risk that British-Iranian dual nationals, could be arbitrarily detained or arrested in Iran. 

The criminal justice process followed in such cases falls below international standards. Iran does not recognise dual nationality. If you are a dual British-Iranian national and are detained in Iran, the FCO’s ability to provide consular support is extremely limited



IRAQ. As of January 4, 2020, the FCO advise against all travel to Iraq, except for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq where the FCO continue to advise against all but essential travel. If you’re in areas of Iraq where the FCO advise against all travel, you should consider leaving by commercial means.

If you’re in Iraq or decide to travel, make sure you have robust contingency plans in place and keep these under review. You should keep up to date with the latest developments across the country, including via the media and this travel advice, avoid any rallies, marches or processions, and follow the instructions of local authorities.

SYRIA. As of January 6, 2020, the FCO advise against all travel to Syria. British nationals in Syria should leave by any practical means. Consular support is not available from the British government from within Syria, as all services of the British Embassy in Damascus are suspended and all diplomatic and consular staff have been withdrawn. If you need to speak to a consular officer in the UK, call the FCO in London on +44 (0)20 7008 1500.



YEMEN. As of January 6, 2020, the FCO advise against all travel to Yemen. This includes the mainland and all islands. If you’re in Yemen, you should leave immediately. If you choose to remain in Yemen, you should minimise movement around the country and within cities and towns, monitor developments in the local security situation and follow other precautions in this travel advice. Consular support is not available from the British government from within Yemen. If you need to speak to a consular officer in the UK, call the FCO in London on +44 (0)20 7008 1500.

TURKEY. As of January 6, 2020, the FCO advise against all travel to Turkish areas within 10 km of the border with Syria, except the city of Kilis. This amendment was brought in connection with the recent tensions in Iraq and augments the existing security alert concerning Turkey. The FCO advise against all but essential travel to:

  • all other areas of Sirnak, Kilis (including Kilis city) and Hatay provinces
  • the provinces of Diyarbakir, Tunceli and Hakkari

GULF STATES. The FCO reviewed the FTA for Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, KSA and Oman, but has not issued a warning against travel. However, all of these countries have pre-existing security alerts due to terrorism. The risk of terrorist attacks in the Gulf is likely or very likely (depending on the state). Exercise caution and regularly check the travel advice for each country.

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Baghdad Parliament Votes to Expel US & Coalition Forces from Iraq

The Iraqi Parliament has voted to expel US and Coalition forces from Iraq. The draft resolution will force the Iraqi Government to cancel the request of assistance submitted to the…

The Iraqi Parliament has voted to expel US and Coalition forces from Iraq. The draft resolution will force the Iraqi Government to cancel the request of assistance submitted to the Coalition in 2014 to fight ISIS. If enacted, the resolution will force all foreign forces participating in the Coalition against ISIS to leave Iraq permanently and cease operations in Iraqi airspace. Iraq’s “care-taker” Prime-Minister Abdul Mahdi advised the MEPs to vote in favor of the resolution. 

Despite boycotts from Kurdish and some Arab Sunni parties, the Iraqi Parliament met the necessary majority of 165 MEPs due to massive mobilization from the ruling Coalition led by Saairun and Fatah, and other smaller factions. 

BAGHDAD’S RULING COALITION 

Saairun (“Alliance towards reform”) is an electoral coalition between the Sadrist Integrity Party, led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Iraqi Communist Party. The alliance is “shepherd” by Muqtada al-Sadr himself, who led Jaysh al-Mahdi (“Mahdi’s Army), the largest anti-American Shiite militia, prior to 2011. While Jaysh al-Mahdi was disbanded in 2008, al-Sadr still commands several major paramilitary units such as “Saraya al-Salam” (Peace Brigades), which are part of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs). Despite having close ties with Iran, al-Sadr was recently seen as a voice for Iraqi sovereignty and unity, rejecting both US and Iranian hegemony over Baghdad. Saairun won the 2018 legislative election with 14 percent and received 54 seats in Parliament. 

Sadr (R) attends an Ashura ceremony in Tehran with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei [Getty]

Fatah is a coalition of the political organisations linked to several key PMUs, including major pro-Iranian groups such as the Badr Organization (BO), Kata’ib Imam Ali (KIA) Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Asab al-Haq (AAH) – the last two being US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). Although expect to win the 2018 elections, Fatah finished second with 13,8 percent of the votes. After five months of negotiations, Fatah managed to form a ruling coalition with Sadr’s Saairun, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and other smaller factions. The fragile coalition appointed Abdul al-Mahdi as a compromise PM. 

VOTE UNDER PRESSURE

Following the United States’ Joint Special Operations Command (JSCO) air strike that killed IRGC-QF Major-General Qassim Soleimani, PM Mahdi called for an emergency Parliamentary session. PM Mahdi slammed the United States for acting outside its military mandate – training Iraqi forces and fighting ISIS – and using Iraqi airspace without the Government’s approval.

In the meanwhile, Fatah was drafting a resolution to cancel the Coalition’s military mandate in Iraq and eject the US forces out of the country. In the days leading to the Parliamentary session, the PMUs, and in particular KH, warned MEPs that they will publicize the home address those who vote against the bill.  

Kataib Helbollah fighters. Image: @WithinSyriaBlog/Twitter

With the exception of Fatah’s representatives, Iraqi MEPs did not take this vote lightly. The implications for Iraq and regional security are significant. 

IMPLICATIONS

    • Expelling the Coalition from Iraq means surrendering Baghdad to Iranian influence. There will be no political counterweight to the PMUs, which will be free to grow into a military-political entity parallel to the Iraqi military and government – akin to Iran’s IRGC –  and transform Iraq into a Khomeinist republic. 
    • The removal of US/ Coalition troops from Iraq will cripple Iraq’s capacity to combat ISIS and stop the terrorist group from reverting back to a para-state actor. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) will lose the capacity to receive ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance), CAS (Close Air Support) and other forms of air support. NATO’s train and equip programs, including “train-the-trainer” modules will also end. With the US gone and Baghdad under the PMUs’ rule, ISIS and Sunni-Shia sectarianism are expected to grow. 

  • The void in the ISF’s capabilities and defense capacity could be filled by a third party such as Russia, which will likely try to take advantage of the situation. In addition, the IRGC will be free to help the PMUs develop an air wing, equipped with Iranian-made loitering drones/ expendable-unmanned aerial vehicles (X-UAVs) and surface-to-air (SAM) missile systems. 
  • The IRGC will also be free to deploy advanced striking capabilities on Iraqi soil (e.g. cruise missiles, ballistic missiles) and enable the PMUs to autonomously operate them. This will only increase tensions with Israel and the Gulf States.  
  • The vote does not not mean that US troops will be forced to leave immediately. However, when they do withdraw, Washington and its Coalition partners will only rely on their few local allies, namely the KDP’s Peshmerga and the DOD-trained Iraqi Special Operations Force (IQSOF), for contingency operations (intelligence and strike support). Kurdish autonomy will be the last pressure tool against an Iranian-controlled Iraqi Government. 



  • Without a military presence in Iraq, the Coalition will lose most of its established logistics nodes and lines of communications to supply troops in Syria. This will lead to a swift reduction of Coalition’s forces in Syria and ultimately, to a complete withdrawal.
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Iran’s Retaliation: What to Expect

After the US airstrike that killed General Suleimani, Iranian retaliation is very likely, but not guaranteed. Given the magnitude of the US response to the Embassy attack in Baghdad, Tehran…

After the US airstrike that killed General Suleimani, Iranian retaliation is very likely, but not guaranteed. Given the magnitude of the US response to the Embassy attack in Baghdad, Tehran is likely exploring ways to retaliate without overplaying its hand. Iran can either use its own personnel (IRGC or Artesh) or proxy forces (in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen) to prosecute military, civilian or political targets.


There is NO GUARANTEE the response will be immediate. Iran does not have the logistical capability to mount prompt attacks against time sensitive targets and terrorist attacks against high-value targets require months of planning (e.g. ID target, assess security profile etc.). Our ROUNDUP is as follows:

  • The biggest threat is a direct Iranian kinetic strike on static US/Coalition installations in the region. The IRGC-Aerospace Force is capable of launching ground-based ballistic and cruise missile strikes against US regional installations. In case of a saturation attack, US air defenses could be overwhelmed. However, this course of action is UNLIKELY due to the risk of starting an all-out war. Despite advances in its conventional capabilities, direct confrontation still remains Iran’s biggest weakness. The threat of saturation missile attacks on regional installations will remain Iran’s main deterrent against an US/Israeli raid on its nuclear facilities. While highly unlikely, the Department of Defense has actively prepared for such attacks for months. The newly announced deployment of 4,000 troops will further reinforce US regional capabilities. 

VIEW FROM TEHRAN via T-Intelligence

  • There is however, a SIGNIFICANT CHANCE that Iran could mirror the US’ direct action against Brigadier-General Qasim Soleimani and conduct/order its own assassinations. While it is unlikely that the IRGC could find, fix and finish a high-value US officer, they could compensate through a wave of ESCALATORY VIOLENCE directed against US personnel. While such attacks have been marked as a “red-line” by the Trump administration, Tehran could see it as “fair game” for retaliation. This possibility is taken SERIOUSLY by the Department of Defense, which announced that it will scale down operations in Iraq due to security reasons. 



  • LIKELY, Tehran will seek to make use of its asymmetric tactics, paramilitary allies, and irregular warfare style that it has learned to master in the past four decades. Such types of action include suicide attacks, kidnappings, and stirring violent unrests. The possibility of attacks on US consular facilities, diplomats and officers outside the Middle East, including Africa and South America, should not be ruled out. 

Behind the scenes an ongoing diplomatic process aims to de-escalate the tensions. The Swiss embassy in Iran, which also represents American diplomatic interests, and the Government of Qatar are acting as back-channel mediators between the US and Iran. 


TEHRAN EXPECTED TO TREAD CAREFULLY 

President Trump’s decision to remove Qasim Soleimani from the battlefield should – in theory – reinstate a credible deterrence and a strong red-line against Iran. Failure to retaliate meaningfully after the hundreds of rocket attacks on US bases in Iraq and the assault on the Embassy, would have been perceived by Tehran as a sign of weakness. The risk of not responding was significantly higher than of idling. Punishing Iran for its “grey-zone” aggressions and dragging the IRGC’s covert actions out of the shadow will expose the Islamic regime in Tehran to the world.

Ayatollah Khamenei tasked his IRGC generals to launch a “harsh retaliation.” Failure to react to the loss of its “national treasure” will make Iran look weak Soleimani’s deputy and now-successor, Brigadier-General Ismail al-Qa’ani will have to thread carefully or risk dragging Iran further into a conventional confrontation.

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IRGC-Quds Force General & PMU Commander Killed in US airstrike in Baghdad

IRGC-Quds Force Commander, General Qasim Soleimani, and Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) Commander/PMU Deputy Chairman, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, were killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad International Airport. The targets are confirmed…

IRGC-Quds Force Commander, General Qasim Soleimani, and Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) Commander/PMU Deputy Chairman, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, were killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad International Airport. The targets are confirmed killed by all sources. Soleimani and his associates were planning to attack and kidnap American diplomats in Iraq. 

This is the biggest targeted killing operation since the death of Bin Laden. As the commander of the IRGC’s external operations branch, Qasim Soleimani was in charge of exporting the Khomenist revolution and IRGC model for two decades. He did this by founding, arming and training Shiite fundamentalist militias – including terrorist organisations – in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Qasim Soleimani and his Iraqi partners are responsible for thousands of American and Coalition deaths since the start of the Iraqi War. 

With Soleimani coordinating all of Iran’s extra-territorial operations and overseeing the Syrian battlefield, his death will have a major impact, at least in the short-term, for the IRGC. Plans, drafted by Soleimani himself, nevertheless remain that call for the destruction of Israel and for the removal of US forces from Iraq. Washington and Jerusalem could have killed Soleimani many times before, but refrained from “pulling the trigger” out of fear of retaliation. However, in light of the recent attacks on international shipping, Coalition bases and on the US embassy, the gloves were off. 



STRIKE PACKAGE

We can confirm with a high degree of confidence that the kinetic package that killed Qasim Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis consisted of four AGM-144 “Hellfire” air-to-ground missiles. Since the blast area was determined to be a target-rich environment, the strike platforms fired standard Hellfire missiles that had explosive warheads – ensuring maximum effect – and not the secretive (CIA-exclusive) AGM-144X9 “Flying Ginshu” with pop-blades – lately featured in air raids against al-Qa’ida militants in Idlib. The missiles were fired by a MQ-9 “Reaper” UCAV and/or AH-64 Apache attack helicopter participating in the operation. Besides Soleimani and Muhandis, the kinetic strike killed three Hizbollah and PMU militants. The operation was overseen by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). 

Minutes before the strike, Qasim Soleimani and three Hizbollah militants flew from Damascus to Baghdad on board ChamWings flight 6Q501. They landed between 12.30 and 12.40 (local time) at Baghdad Airport. From touchdown, JSOC had a very short strike window to bomb the two-vehicle motorcade brought by al-Muhandis to greet Soleimani, without damaging the airport or losing them in Baghdad’s civilian-dense traffic.

RETALIATION STILL EXPECTED

  • The airstrike was launched to prevent further counter-retaliations directed by the IRGC and executed by its Iraqi proxies such as KH on American and Coalition targets. Based on the US assets deployed to the area, we determine that the US prepared to face hostage situations, kidnappings and an armed assault on the embassy. The US has also called for its citizens to immediately leave Iraq
  • The biggest fear is that Iran will make use of its ultimate deterrence plan and launch missile attacks on US facilities in the Middle East. To mitigate this risk, the US scrambled F-35As and F-22s to police the regional air space.
  • Intense military air traffic, involving multiple aerial assets, over Europe. US SOF elements have been forward deployed from Souda Bay (Greece) to Jordan, while KC-135 tankers were moved from the UK to Greece and Cyprus. Over 22 C-17 heavy lifters formed an “air-bridge” between the continental US and the Middle East, in the past 72 hours. ISR platforms are online 24/7 over the Persian Gulf, Eastern Mediterranean and Iraq. 



ALERTS

RISK OF WAR is increasingly high. 

An ARMED ASSAULT on the US Embassy in Baghdad remains possible, but very difficult, given the influx of US forces in the region.  

TERRORIST AND ASYMMETRIC ATTACKS in Iraq or abroad, including suicide attacks and kidnappings, are very likely.


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CIA Declassifies Records About the Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has released samples from over 100 National Intelligence Daily (NID) articles about the Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe (CCEE) between February 1989 and March…

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has released samples from over 100 National Intelligence Daily (NID) articles about the Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe (CCEE) between February 1989 and March 1990. The collection represents much of the Agency’s short-term analysis of events unfolding in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), as popular opposition to Soviet misrule erupted and quickly surpassed anything the Communist regimes were prepared to understand or to which they could respond. The material also represents a major source of information and insight for US policymakers into what was happening in these countries, where they were heading, and which implications the collapse of Communist rule in Europe and the beginnings of the breakup of the Soviet Union had for Europe and the United States.

The CCEE refers to a series of demonstrations and revolutions that ended the Soviet-imposed Communist rule in Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Romania, and paved the way for the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. The CCEE also marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War between the Western liberal democracies and the Soviet Union and its satellites (Warsaw Pact). 

The newly declassified intelligence demonstrates the accuracy of the Agency’s collection and analysis of the events unfolding in the padlocked CEE states. Despite the large volume of materials released, this is only a fraction of the CIA’s reporting on the CCEE. 

After going through the more than 100 documents, we can draw the following conclusions: 

  • Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) collected by the CIA’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) was the backbone of the NDIs. 
  • The developments in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania drew extra attention from Washington due to their specific geopolitical importance.
  • East Germany was the main “frontline” between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and a particular issue of concern for West Germany, a key US ally in the region. If the Communist regime in Berlin was to fall, the Agency was confident that re-unification with Bonn was a strong possibility.

Germans stand on top of the Wall in front of Brandenburg Gate in the days before it was torn down.

  • In Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, which experienced the mildest revolutions, over 135,000 Soviet Army troops were stationed. The withdrawal of Soviet forces from CEE would have significantly altered the balance of power in Europe in NATO’s favor. The three countries were also the fastest to enact unprecedented constitutional amendments and legislation in support of economic reform. 
  • Despite being affected by the domino effect of anti-Communist uprisings, Romania was seen as the Bloc’s last holdout due to the Ceausescu regime’s violent crackdown on protests. Not only was the Ceausescu regime strongly entrenched, but it also sought external support from other rogue regimes – particularly North Korea, Iran and Libya – to escape international isolation. Romania was the only Eastern Bloc country whose citizens overthrew the Communist regime violently. 
  • The CIA did not only extensively cover the Romanian revolution, but it also issued periodic situation reports and net estimates. One of the many valid assessments of the Agency analysts was that sustained violence against demonstrators would result in an alliance between the Romanian Armed Forces and disgruntled Communist officials (such as Ceausescu’s successor, Ion Iliescu, who was identified as a potential supporter in the CIA analyses) against Ceausescu and his family. 

December 1989: Thousands of Romanians rallied in front the the Communist Party’s politburo in Bucharest.

  • The Western Balkans were sparsely featured in the NDI dump. However, the risk of prolonged conflict as an effect of the CCEE was judged to be the highest in this region. The CIA feared that Albania would become a “second Romania” due to the regime’s opposition to change, while Yugoslavia was believed to be on the brink of collapse, leaving behind a mosaic of inter-ethnic armored conflicts. 
  • The CIA was confident that the Kremlin, paralized and weak, would not risk everything by launching punitive actions to suppress the revolutions that were overthrowing its “satellite” regimes in the Warsaw Pact. One analysis even observed how Lithuanian and Baltic nationalists were capitalizing on the Kremlin’s weakness by “pushing towards de facto independence, as a prelude for outright separation”.
  • The CIA was concerned that expectations among CEE populations were dangerously high. In the Special Analysis “Long Road Ahead to Economic Well-Being”, the Agency argued that the benefits of economic transition from a command economy to a free market system was a long-term game with few immediate positive effects. The Agency certainly remained open to the possibility that disenfranchised workers could stage counter-revolutions. 
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China’s Second Aircraft Carrier Enters Service

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has officially commissioned its first indigenously-built aircraft carrier, the “Shandong” (CV-17). The ceremony took place in Sanya (southern Hainan island), where open-source satellite imagery…

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has officially commissioned its first indigenously-built aircraft carrier, the “Shandong” (CV-17). The ceremony took place in Sanya (southern Hainan island), where open-source satellite imagery showed the Shandong docked since late-November. The ceremony was attended by Chinese President Xi Jiping and senior military officials. With its commissioning, the Shandong will significantly expand the PLAN’s sea interdiction capabilities in the South China Sea and throughout Asia-Pacific. 

The Shandong, which was previously designated as Type 001A and Type 002, becomes the second aircraft carrier operated by the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN). Since 2012, the PLAN operates the “Liaoning” (Type 001), a half-built Soviet aircraft-carrying cruiser completed by Chinese engineers in the late-1990s. Largely seen as a copy of the Soviet-designed Liaoning, China’s newest carrier is slightly bigger than its predecessor, which extends the Shandong’s air wing by four fighter jets/ eight helicopters. Both carriers us ski-jump ramps (CATOBAR) and are powered by conventional steam turbines with diesel generators. 



With the Shandong commissioned, China joins the U.S. and the U.K. as the third country to own a dual-carrier battle group. However, this is just the beginning for the PLAN. China plans to build four to five more aircraft carriers in the next decade. China’s third aircraft carrier (Type 003), which is expected to be nuclear-powered and have electromagnetic catapults, akin to the newest generation of American flattops, is already under construction in Shanghai.

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Turkey to Send UAVs to Northern Cyprus Base, Expanding ‘Mediterranean Ops’

Amid Ankara’s continued hydrocarbon exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) will allow the Turkish Air Force (TAF) to fly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from…

Amid Ankara’s continued hydrocarbon exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) will allow the Turkish Air Force (TAF) to fly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Gecitkale airport, Turkish Cypriot officials announced on Friday. 

Geckitale Airport was opened in 1986 and is located 25 km inland from the TRNC capital and coast city of Famagusta/ Gazimagusa. Turkey developed Geckitale Airport as both an alternative to the TRNC’s main airport (Ercan) and as major, NATO-standardized air base. While Geckitale served only briefly as a commercial airport, it saw intense military activity. During the renewed tensions with Greece in the 1990s, Turkey forward-deployed F-16s to Geckitale. Following privatisation in 2012, Geckitale is only opened to VIP, charter and military flights. 

AN ENERGY SECURITY DISPUTE

The move to open Geckitale to Turkish UAVs comes at a time of rising tensions between Turkey, on the side, and Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt, on the other, over the demarcation of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in the Eastern Medtierranean. Over recent years, Greece, Cyprus and Israel have discovered offshore gas fields in their EEZs. The trio, supported by the United States, signed an intergovernmental agreement to pursue a common pipeline project, in March 2019. Known as the “EastMed,” the project envisions an undersea pipeline that would deliver Israeli and Cypriote natural gas to the European Union via Greece. The European Commission has designated the EastMed pipeline as a “Project of Interest.”



Turkey, who hasn’t found any hydrocarbons in indisputably Turkish waters, sees the EastMed project as a threat to its status as an energy transit country and to the TRNC’s maritime rights. Turkey is the only member of the United Nations that does not recognize Cyprus, and is not a signatory of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. As a result, the Turkish view on maritime disputes is that no island, including Cyprus, can have a full EEZ. Ankara therefore either claims parts of the Cypriote offshore hydrocarbons or demands that the internationally-recognized Government in Nicosia shares its exclusive resources with the TRNC. 

Turkish efforts to contest and redraw the map of the Eastern Mediterranean are far more advanced. On November 28, Ankara signed an agreement with Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), outlining their maritime boundaries. In accordance to the Turkish view on maritime boundaries, the agreement deprives the Greek islands of Kastellorizo, Karpathos, Kasos and Crete of an EEZ. This surged tensions with Greece but also with Israel and Egypt, which are spearheading a diplomatic offensive against Ankara. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the agreement would also allow Turkey to carry out drilling on Libya’s continental shelf with Tripoli’s approval.



UNILATERAL TURKISH DRILLINGS TO SPARK MILITARY TENSIONS

The Turkish Government ignored international criticism and authorized Turkish Petroleum to conduct drillings off Cyprus’ east and west coasts. Two Turkish drilling vessels – “Fatih” and “Yavus” – alongside “Oruc Reis” and “Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa” seismic vessels have been searching for oil and gas in the past five months. UAVs deployed from Dalaman Airport in southwestern Turkey have previously provided overwatch for the surface group. Turkish Navy and Coast Guard vessels – including Barbados- and G-class frigates – have also escorted Fatih and Yavus throughout their explorations. 


The Turkish Navy intercepted “Bat Galim”, an Israeli research ship belonging to the Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute, in Cypriote waters two weeks ago. The Bat Galim was conducting research in coordination with the Cypriote government when the Turkish warships forced it to leave. In response, the Israeli Air Force and Navy staged a major military exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean involving F-15I “Ra’am”, F-16I “Sufa” and F-35I “Adir” fighter jets, two days ago. 

GECIKTALE AIRPORT: FASTER ISR DEPLOYMENTS, LONGER LOITER TIME

Tensions are expected to rise as Turkey will enforce its maritime claims and safeguard its commercial drilling operations, while Israel, Greece and Egypt will attempt to contest the Turkish and Libyan (GNA) objectives. With the permission to use Geciktale in effect, the Turkish UAVs – likely Bayraktar 2-TB – will have a shorter flight-path to its objective and enjoy a longer loiter time. This translates into increased situational awareness over the drilling operations and better response time to Greek or Israeli actions.

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North Korea Continues ICBM Refinement, Recent Test Suggests

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or “North Korea”) conducted a major test at the Sohae Satellite Launching Pad (SSLP), on December 7, 2019. Pyongyang has not revealed the…

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or “North Korea”) conducted a major test at the Sohae Satellite Launching Pad (SSLP), on December 7, 2019. Pyongyang has not revealed the nature of the test and only referred to it as “having an important impact on changing the strategic position of the DPRK.” The mysterious test took place ahead of the December 31st deadline set by DPRK President Kim Jong-Un, for a new denuclearization proposal from Washington.



MISSILE ENGINE TEST

Satellite imagery released by Planet Labs show nefarious activity at the SSLP, including vehicles and a big container. Before-and-after analysis shows the terrain near the launching pad severely scorched, on December 8, 2019. It is virtually certain the the exhaust of a big engine “burned” the ground. 


The engine tested likely belonged to either a space launch vehicle (SLV) or an intermediate/ intercontinental ballistic missile (IR/ICBM). North Korean President Kim Jong Un promised to stop ICBM tests if his American counterpart will reduce and ultimately cancel the annual US-South Korean exercises. The last ICBM test occurred in November 29, 2017, when the two-stage, liquid-fuel Hwasong-15/ KN-22 was successfully launched. Since then, the DPRK has only test-fired short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) and multiple-rocket launchers – none of them being able to reach the continental U.S.

Hwasong-15/ KN-22 test-fired on November 29, 2017



The resumption of missile engine tests in Sohae would also break a “gentlemen’s agreement” reached between Trump and Kim Jong-Un during the Singapore summit. The DPRK dismantled the critical test site in mid-2018 as promised, however the SSLP was re-activated in March 2019. 

PYONGYANG IS ON STAND-BY

This latest test in Sohae suggests that the DPRK is furthering its ICBM strike technology covertly or within the limits of the denuclearization talks. Alternatively, Pyongyang could also be preparing to break loose of the agreement and conduct its first ICBM live-test in over two years. By restarting missile tests in Sohae, Pyongyang hopes to pressure President Trump into giving up further concessions, as the denuclearization talks are seemingly “dying”. If negotiations fail, the DPRK will be able to immediately resume its ICBM program by improving the operational functions of the Hwasong-15/ KN-22 (e.g. accuracy, terminal maneuvering, re-entry vehicle) or by exploring other ICBM-types.

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