MER: Iran Next – Part 1


Richard Moore

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Subject: Iran Next - Part 1
Date: Sun, 31 Oct 2004 07:11:32 -0500

If you don't get MER, you just don't get it!

The most honest, most comprehensive, and most mobilizing news and
analysis on the Middle East always comes from MER.   It is indispensable!"
Robert Silverman - Salamanca, Spain

MER - We Never Stop Working For You!

US and ISRAEL Threaten
and Prepare to Attack IRAN
Part 1 - The Next Bigger, Worse, Middle East War

"A war that ostensibly began as an attempt to prevent the
spread of nuclear weapons will teeter on the brink of their

 In a few days the American election itself will be
history.   The likelihood is the Bush/Cheney/neocon regime
will remain in power; hard as that still is for so many to
imagine and understand.   Should the Democrats win the White
House Middle East policies will be largely in the hands of the
neoliberals and the super money-men like Haim Saban who when
it comes to the Middle East and Israel have far more in common
with the neocons than has yet been realized by many who will
vote for them.    Whatever happens on Tuesday next the
build-up to attacking and if at all possible regime changing
Iran is well underway and the showdown increasingly imminent.

Meanwhile, from the bowels of Washington yesterday, the 'most
credible' American journalist of yesteryear, Walter Cronkite,
made a rather startling comment when asked about Friday's Bin
Laden speech to Americans.  Cronkite said he is "inclined to
think that Karl Rove, the political manager at the White
House, who is a very clever man, he probably set up bin Laden
to this thing."

Iran: A Bridge too Far? The weapon that could defeat the US in
the Gulf

A word to the reader: The following paper is so shocking that,
after preparing the initial draft, I didn't want to believe it
myself, and resolved to disprove it with more research.
However, I only succeeded in turning up more evidence in
support of my thesis. And I repeated this cycle of discovery
and denial several more times before finally deciding to go
with the article. I believe that a serious writer must follow
the trail of evidence, no matter where it leads, and report
back. So here is my story. Don't be surprised if it causes you
to squirm. Its purpose is not to make predictions -- history
makes fools of those who claim to know the future -- but
simply to describe the peril that awaits us in the Persian
Gulf. By awakening to the extent of that danger, perhaps we
can still find a way to save our nation and the world from
disaster. If we are very lucky, we might even create an
alternative future that holds some promise of resolving the
monumental conflicts of our time. MG

Iran: A Bridge too Far?

by Mark Gaffney*

10/26/04:    Last July, they dubbed it operation Summer Pulse:
a simultaneous mustering of US Naval forces, world wide, that
was unprecedented. According to the Navy, it was the first
exercise of its new Fleet Response Plan (FRP), the purpose of
which was to enable the Navy to respond quickly to an
international crisis. The Navy wanted to show its increased
force readiness, that is, its capacity to rapidly move combat
power to any global hot spot. Never in the history of the US
Navy had so many carrier battle groups been involved in a
single operation. Even the US fleet massed in the Gulf and
eastern Mediterranean during operation Desert Storm in 1991,
and in the recent invasion of Iraq, never exceeded six battle
groups. But last July and August there were seven of them on
the move, each battle group consisting of a Nimitz-class
aircraft carrier with its full complement of 7-8 supporting
ships, and 70 or more assorted aircraft. Most of the activity,
according to various reports, was in the Pacific, where the
fleet participated in joint exercises with the Taiwanese navy.

But why so much naval power underway at the same time? What
potential world crisis could possibly require more battle
groups than were deployed during the recent invasion of Iraq?
In past years, when the US has seen fit to "show the flag" or
flex its naval muscle, one or two carrier groups have
sufficed. Why this global show of power?

The news headlines about the joint-maneuvers in the South
China Sea read: "Saber Rattling Unnerves China", and: "Huge
Show of Force Worries Chinese." But the reality was quite
different, and, as we shall see, has grave ramifications for
the continuing US military presence in the Persian Gulf;
because operation Summer Pulse reflected a high-level Pentagon
decision that an unprecedented show of strength was needed to
counter what is viewed as a growing threat -- in the
particular case of China, because of Peking's newest
Sovremenny-class destroyers recently acquired from Russia.

"Nonsense!" you are probably thinking. That's impossible. How
could a few picayune destroyers threaten the US Pacific

Here is where the story thickens: Summer Pulse amounted to a
tacit acknowledgement, obvious to anyone paying attention,
that the United States has been eclipsed in an important area
of military technology, and that this qualitative edge is now
being wielded by others, including the Chinese; because those
otherwise very ordinary destroyers were, in fact, launching
platforms for Russian-made 3M-82 Moskit anti-ship cruise
missiles (NATO designation: SS-N-22 Sunburn), a weapon for
which the US Navy currently has no defense. Here I am not
suggesting that the US status of lone world Superpower has
been surpassed. I am simply saying that a new global balance
of power is emerging, in which other individual states may, on
occasion, achieve "an asymmetric advantage" over the US. And
this, in my view, explains the immense scale of Summer Pulse.
The US show last summer of overwhelming strength was
calculated to send a message.

The Sunburn Missile

I was shocked when I learned the facts about these
Russian-made cruise missiles. The problem is that so many of
us suffer from two common misperceptions. The first follows
from our assumption that Russia is militarily weak, as a
result of the breakup of the old Soviet system. Actually, this
is accurate, but it does not reflect the complexities.
Although the Russian navy continues to rust in port, and the
Russian army is in disarray, in certain key areas Russian
technology is actually superior to our own. And nowhere is
this truer than in the vital area of anti-ship cruise missile
technology, where the Russians hold at least a ten-year lead
over the US. The second misperception has to do with our
complacency in general about missiles-as-weapons -- probably
attributable to the pathetic performance of Saddam Hussein's
Scuds during the first Gulf war: a dangerous illusion that I
will now attempt to rectify.

Many years ago, Soviet planners gave up trying to match the US
Navy ship for ship, gun for gun, and dollar for dollar. The
Soviets simply could not compete with the high levels of US
spending required to build up and maintain a huge naval
armada. They shrewdly adopted an alternative approach based on
strategic defense. They searched for weaknesses, and sought
relatively inexpensive ways to exploit those weaknesses. The
Soviets succeeded: by developing several supersonic anti-ship
missiles, one of which, the SS-N-22 Sunburn, has been called
"the most lethal missile in the world today."

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the old military
establishment fell upon hard times. But in the late1990s
Moscow awakened to the under-utilized potential of its missile
technology to generate desperately needed foreign exchange. A
decision was made to resuscitate selected programs, and, very
soon, Russian missile technology became a hot export
commodity. Today, Russian missiles are a growth industry
generating much-needed cash for Russia, with many billions in
combined sales to India, China, Viet Nam, Cuba, and also Iran.
In the near future this dissemination of advanced technology
is likely to present serious challenges to the US. Some have
even warned that the US Navy's largest ships, the massive
carriers, have now become floating death traps, and should for
this reason be mothballed.

The Sunburn missile has never seen use in combat, to my
knowledge, which probably explains why its fearsome
capabilities are not more widely recognized. Other cruise
missiles have been used, of course, on several occasions, and
with devastating results. During the Falklands War,
French-made Exocet missiles, fired from Argentine fighters,
sunk the HMS Sheffield and another ship. And, in 1987, during
the Iran-Iraq war, the USS Stark was nearly cut in half by a
pair of Exocets while on patrol in the Persian Gulf. On that
occasion US Aegis radar picked up the incoming Iraqi fighter
(a French-made Mirage), and tracked its approach to within 50
miles. The radar also "saw" the Iraqi plane turn about and
return to its base. But radar never detected the pilot launch
his weapons. The sea-skimming Exocets came smoking in under
radar and were only sighted by human eyes moments before they
ripped into the Stark, crippling the ship and killing 37 US

The 1987 surprise attack on the Stark exemplifies the dangers
posed by anti-ship cruise missiles. And the dangers are much
more serious in the case of the Sunburn, whose specs leave the
sub-sonic Exocet in the dust. Not only is the Sunburn much
larger and faster, it has far greater range and a superior
guidance system. Those who have witnessed its performance
trials invariably come away stunned. According to one report,
when the Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani visited Moscow
in October 2001 he requested a test firing of the Sunburn,
which the Russians were only too happy to arrange. So
impressed was Ali Shamkhani that he placed an order for an
undisclosed number of the missiles.

The Sunburn can deliver a 200-kiloton nuclear payload, or: a
750-pound conventional warhead, within a range of 100 miles,
more than twice the range of the Exocet. The Sunburn combines
a Mach 2.1 speed (two times the speed of sound) with a flight
pattern that hugs the deck and includes "violent end
maneuvers" to elude enemy defenses. The missile was
specifically designed to defeat the US Aegis radar defense
system. Should a US Navy Phalanx point defense somehow manage
to detect an incoming Sunburn missile, the system has only
seconds to calculate a fire solution -- not enough time to
take out the intruding missile. The US Phalanx defense employs
a six-barreled gun that fires 3,000 depleted-uranium rounds a
minute, but the gun must have precise coordinates to destroy
an intruder "just in time."

The Sunburn's combined supersonic speed and payload size
produce tremendous kinetic energy on impact, with devastating
consequences for ship and crew. A single one of these missiles
can sink a large warship, yet costs considerably less than a
fighter jet. Although the Navy has been phasing out the older
Phalanx defense system, its replacement, known as the Rolling
Action Missile (RAM) has never been tested against the weapon
it seems destined to one day face in combat.

Implications For US Forces in the Gulf

The US Navy's only plausible defense against a robust weapon
like the Sunburn missile is to detect the enemy's approach
well ahead of time, whether destroyers, subs, or
fighter-bombers, and defeat them before they can get in range
and launch their deadly cargo. For this purpose US AWACs radar
planes assigned to each naval battle group are kept aloft on a
rotating schedule. The planes "see" everything within two
hundred miles of the fleet, and are complemented with
intelligence from orbiting satellites.

But US naval commanders operating in the Persian Gulf face
serious challenges that are unique to the littoral, i.e.,
coastal, environment.  A glance at a map shows why: The Gulf
is nothing but a large lake, with one narrow outlet, and most
of its northern shore, i.e., Iran, consists of mountainous
terrain that affords a commanding tactical advantage over
ships operating in Gulf waters. The rugged northern shore
makes for easy concealment of coastal defenses, such as mobile
missile launchers, and also makes their detection problematic.
Although it was not widely reported, the US actually lost the
battle of the Scuds in the first Gulf War --  termed "the
great Scud hunt" -- and for similar reasons. Saddam Hussein's
mobile Scud launchers proved so difficult to detect and
destroy -- over and over again the Iraqis fooled allied
reconnaissance with decoys -- that during the course of Desert
Storm the US was unable to confirm even a single kill. This
proved such an embarrassment to the Pentagon, afterwards, that
the unpleasant stats were buried in official reports. But the
blunt fact is that the US failed to stop the Scud attacks. The
launches continued until the last few days of the conflict.
Luckily, the Scud's inaccuracy made it an almost useless
weapon. At one point General Norman Schwarzkopf quipped
dismissively to the press that his soldiers had a greater
chance of being struck by lightning in Georgia than by a Scud
in Kuwait.

But that was then, and it would be a grave error to allow the
Scud's ineffectiveness to blur the facts concerning this other
missile. The Sunburn's amazing accuracy was demonstrated not
long ago in a live test staged at sea by the Chinese -- and
observed by US spy planes. Not only did the Sunburn missile
destroy the dummy target ship, it scored a perfect bull's eye,
hitting the crosshairs of a large "X" mounted on the ship's
bridge. The only word that does it justice, awesome, has
become a cliché, hackneyed from hyperbolic excess.

The US Navy has never faced anything in combat as formidable
as the Sunburn missile. But this will surely change if the US
and Israel decide to wage a so-called preventive war against
Iran to destroy its nuclear infrastructure. Storm clouds have
been darkening over the Gulf for many months. In recent years
Israel upgraded its air force with a new fleet of long-range
F-15 fighter-bombers, and even more recently took delivery of
5,000 bunker-buster bombs from the US -- weapons that many
observers think are intended for use against Iran.

The arming for war has been matched by threats. Israeli
officials have declared repeatedly that they will not allow
the Mullahs to develop nuclear power, not even reactors to
generate electricity for peaceful use. Their threats are
particularly worrisome, because Israel has a long history of
pre-emptive war. (See my 1989 book Dimona: the Third Temple?
and also my 2003 article Will Iran Be Next? posted at <
<>http://www. >)

Never mind that such a determination is not Israel's to make,
and belongs instead to the international community, as
codified in the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). With regard to
Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA's) recent
report (September 2004) is well worth a look, as it repudiates
facile claims by the US and Israel that Iran is building
bombs. While the report is highly critical of Tehran for its
ambiguities and its grudging release of documents, it affirms
that IAEA inspectors have been admitted to every nuclear site
in the country to which they have sought access, without
exception. Last year Iran signed the strengthened IAEA
inspection protocol, which until then had been voluntary. And
the IAEA has found no hard evidence, to date, either that
bombs exist or that Iran has made a decision to build them.
(The latest IAEA report can be downloaded at:

In a talk on October 3, 2004, IAEA Director General Mohamed El
Baradei made the clearest statement yet: "Iran has no nuclear
weapons program", he said, and then repeated himself for
emphasis: "Iran has no nuclear weapons program, but I
personally don't rush to conclusions before all the realities
are clarified. So far I see nothing that could be called an
imminent danger. I have seen no nuclear weapons program in
Iran. What I have seen is that Iran is trying to gain access
to nuclear enrichment technology, and so far there is no
danger from Iran. Therefore, we should make use of political
and diplomatic means before thinking of resorting to other

No one disputes that Tehran is pursuing a dangerous path, but
with 200 or more Israeli nukes targeted upon them the
Iranians' insistence on keeping their options open is
understandable. Clearly, the nuclear nonproliferation regime
today hangs by the slenderest of threads. The world has
arrived at a fateful crossroads.

A Fearful Symmetry?

If a showdown over Iran develops in the coming months, the man
who could hold the outcome in his hands will be thrust upon
the world stage. That man, like him or hate him, is Russian
President Vladimir Putin. He has been castigated severely in
recent months for gathering too much political power to
himself. But according to former Soviet President Mikhail
Gorbachev, who was interviewed on US television recently by
David Brokaw, Putin has not imposed a tyranny upon Russia --
yet. Gorbachev thinks the jury is still out on Putin.

Perhaps, with this in mind, we should be asking whether
Vladimir Putin is a serious student of history. If he is, then
he surely recognizes that the deepening crisis in the Persian
Gulf presents not only manifold dangers, but also
opportunities. Be assured that the Russian leader has not
forgotten the humiliating defeat Ronald Reagan inflicted upon
the old Soviet state. (Have we Americans forgotten?) By the
mid-1980s the Soviets were in Kabul, and had all but defeated
the Mujahedeen. The Soviet Union appeared secure in its
military occupation of Afghanistan. But then, in 1986, the
first US Stinger missiles reached the hands of the Afghani
resistance; and, quite suddenly, Soviet helicopter gunships
and MiGs began dropping out of the skies like flaming stones.
The tide swiftly turned, and by 1989 it was all over but the
hand wringing and gnashing of teeth in the Kremlin. Defeated,
the Soviets slunk back across the frontier. The whole world
cheered the American Stingers, which had carried the day.

This very night, as he sips his cognac, what is Vladimir Putin
thinking? Is he perhaps thinking about the perverse symmetries
of history? If so, he may also be wondering (and discussing
with his closest aides) how a truly great nation like the
United States could be so blind and so stupid as to allow
another state, i.e., Israel, to control its foreign policy,
especially in a region as vital (and volatile) as the
Mid-East. One can almost hear the Russians' animated

"The Americans! What is the matter with them?" "They simply
cannot help themselves." "What idiots!" "A nation as foolish
as this deserves to be taught a lessonŠ" "Yes! For their own
good." "It must be a painful lesson, one they will never
forgetŠ" "Are we agreed, then, comrades?" "Let us teach our
American friends a lesson about the limits of military power!"

Does anyone really believe that Vladimir Putin will hesitate
to seize a most rare opportunity to change the course of
history and, in the bargain, take his sweet revenge? Surely
Putin understands the terrible dimensions of the trap into
which the US has blundered, thanks to the Israelis and their
neo-con supporters in Washington who lobbied so vociferously
for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, against all friendly and expert
advice, and who even now beat the drums of war against Iran.
Would Putin be wrong to conclude that the US will never leave
the region unless it is first defeated militarily? Should we
blame him for deciding that Iran is "one bridge too far"?

If the US and Israel overreach, and the Iranians close the net
with Russian anti-ship missiles, it will be a fearful
symmetry, indeedŠ

Springing the Trap

At the battle of Cannae in 216 BC the great Carthaginian
general, Hannibal, tempted a much larger Roman army into a
fateful advance, and then enveloped and annihilated it with a
smaller force. Out of a Roman army of 70,000 men, no more than
a few thousand escaped. It was said that after many hours of
dispatching the Romans Hannibal's soldiers grew so tired that
the fight went out of them. In their weariness they granted
the last broken and bedraggled Romans their livesŠ

Let us pray that the US sailors who are unlucky enough to be
on duty in the Persian Gulf when the shooting starts can
escape the fate of the Roman army at Cannae. The odds will be
heavily against them, however, because they will face the same
type of danger, tantamount to envelopment. The US ships in the
Gulf will already have come within range of the Sunburn
missiles and the even more-advanced SS-NX-26 Yakhonts
missiles, also Russian-made (speed: Mach 2.9; range: 180
miles) deployed by the Iranians along the Gulf's northern
shore. Every US ship will be exposed and vulnerable. When the
Iranians spring the trap, the entire lake will become a
killing field.

Anti-ship cruise missiles are not new, as I've mentioned. Nor
have they yet determined the outcome in a conflict. But this
is probably only because these horrible weapons have never
been deployed in sufficient numbers. At the time of the
Falklands war the Argentine air force possessed only five
Exocets, yet managed to sink two ships. With enough of them,
the Argentineans might have sunk the entire British fleet, and
won the war. Although we've never seen a massed attack of
cruise missiles, this is exactly what the US Navy could face
in the next war in the Gulf. Try and imagine it if you can:
barrage after barrage of Exocet-class missiles, which the
Iranians are known to possess in the hundreds, as well as the
unstoppable Sunburn and Yakhonts missiles. The questions that
our purblind government leaders should be asking themselves,
today, if they value what historians will one day write about
them, are two: how many of the Russian anti-ship missiles has
Putin already supplied to Iran? And: How many more are
currently in the pipeline? In 2001 Jane's Defense Weekly
reported that Iran was attempting to acquire anti-ship
missiles from Russia. Ominously, the same report also
mentioned that the more advanced Yakhonts missile was
"optimized for attacks against carrier task forces."
Apparently its guidance system is "able to distinguish an
aircraft carrier from its escorts." The numbers were not

The US Navy will come under fire even if the US does not
participate in the first so-called surgical raids on Iran's
nuclear sites, that is, even if Israel goes it alone. Israel's
brand-new fleet of 25 F-15s (paid for by American taxpayers)
has sufficient range to target Iran, but the Israelis cannot
mount an attack without crossing US-occupied Iraqi air space.
It will hardly matter if Washington gives the green light, or
is dragged into the conflict by a recalcitrant Israel. Either
way, the result will be the same. The Iranians will interpret
US acquiescence as complicity, and, in any event, they will
understand that the real fight is with the Americans. The
Iranians will be entirely within their rights to
counter-attack in self-defense. Most of the world will see it
this way, and will support them, not America. The US and
Israel will be viewed as the aggressors, even as the
unfortunate US sailors in harm's way become cannon fodder. In
the Gulf's shallow and confined waters evasive maneuvers will
be difficult, at best, and escape impossible. Even if US
planes control of the skies over the battlefield, the sailors
caught in the net below will be hard-pressed to survive. The
Gulf will run red with American bloodŠ

 From here, it only gets worse. Armed with their
Russian-supplied cruise missiles, the Iranians will close the
lake's only outlet, the strategic Strait of Hormuz, cutting
off the trapped and dying Americans from help and rescue. The
US fleet massing in the Indian Ocean will stand by helplessly,
unable to enter the Gulf to assist the survivors or bring
logistical support to the other US forces on duty in Iraq.
Couple this with a major new ground offensive by the Iraqi
insurgents, and, quite suddenly, the tables could turn against
the Americans in Baghdad. As supplies and ammunition begin to
run out, the status of US forces in the region will become
precarious. The occupiers will become the besiegedŠ

With enough anti-ship missiles, the Iranians can halt tanker
traffic through Hormuz for weeks, even months. With the flow
of oil from the Gulf curtailed, the price of a barrel of crude
will skyrocket on the world market. Within days the global
economy will begin to grind to a halt. Tempers at an emergency
round-the-clock session of the UN Security Council will flare
and likely explode into shouting and recriminations as French,
German, Chinese and even British ambassadors angrily accuse
the US of allowing Israel to threaten world order. But, as
always, because of the US veto the world body will be
powerless to act...

America will stand alone, completely isolated. Yet, despite
the increasingly hostile international mood, elements of the
US media will spin the crisis very differently here at home,
in a way that is sympathetic to Israel. Members of Congress
will rise to speak in the House and Senate, and rally to
Israel's defense, while blaming the victim of the attack,
Iran. Fundamentalist Christian talk show hosts will proclaim
the historic fulfillment of biblical prophecy in our time, and
will call upon the Jews of Israel to accept Jesus into their
hearts; meanwhile, urging the president to nuke the evil
empire of Islam. From across America will be heard histrionic
cries for fresh reinforcements, even a military draft.
Patriots will demand victory at any cost. Pundits will scream
for an escalation of the conflict.

A war that ostensibly began as an attempt to prevent the
spread of nuclear weapons will teeter on the brink of their


Friends, we must work together to prevent such a catastrophe.
We must stop the next Middle East war before it starts. The US
government must turn over to the United Nations the primary
responsibility for resolving the deepening crisis in Iraq,
and, immediately thereafter, withdraw US forces from the
country. We must also prevail upon the Israelis to sign the
Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and open all of their nuclear
sites to IAEA inspectors. Only then can serious talks begin
with Iran and other states to establish a nuclear weapon free
zone (NWFZ) in the Mid East -- so essential to the region's
long-term peace and security.    10/26/04 "ICH"   

* Mark Gaffney's first book, Dimona the Third Temple? (1989),
was a pioneering study of Israel's nuclear weapons program. 
He has since published numerous important articles about the
Mid-East with emphasis on nuclear proliferation issues.  


ElBaradei: "Iran has no nuclear weapons program"

"Iran has no nuclear weapons program", said ElBaradei

Al-Jazeera, 3 October 2004:   International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei revealed that
Iran is not developing any nuclear weapons program and that
the issue of Iran's nuclear file must be resolved
diplomatically to avoid going through a similar bitter
experience like Iraq, Al Asharq al-Awsat reported on Saturday.

"Iran has no nuclear weapons program, but I personally don't
rush to conclusions before all the realities are clarified. So
far I see nothing which could be called an imminent danger. I
have seen no nuclear weapons program in Iran. What I have seen
is that Iran is trying to gain access to nuclear enrichment
technology, and so far there is no danger from Iran.
Therefore, we should make use of political and diplomatic
means before thinking of resorting to other alternatives,"
ElBaradei said.

When asked about the IAEA report on Iran's nuclear program
that is expected to be issued next month, ElBaradei told the
daily, "We have actually started compiling the report and it
will be ready at the specified time before the Board of
Governors meeting. So far, nothing new has surfaced, and we
still call on Iran to help resolve the outstanding issues. In
order to resolve the problem we have asked them to suspend the
enrichment of uranium as a confidence-building measure, and we
are still negotiating."

ElBaradei noted that it was too early to consider referring
Iran's nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council.

Worst-case scenario

He, moreover, stated that referring Iran's nuclear dossier to
the UN Security Council for violating the provisions of the
nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) would be the worst-case

"We hope we will not have to adopt obligatory measures (about
Iran) and also prefer not to make judgments about Iran
withdrawing from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," he
told the paper.

"Our findings in Iraq proved that the agency was right because
we didn't find anything which indicated the presence of
nuclear weapons in Iraq. "If we want to take a lesson from
Iraq, we should not rush before all realities are clarified,
and this is what we want to do about Iran."

In September 18, the IAEA adopted a tough resolution demanding
Iran to halt its all enrichment-related activities. The IAEA
Board is set to meet again on November 25.

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