Israel threatens Iran

“Israel ‘will attack’ Iran if it continues to develop nuclear weapons, one of prime minister Ehud Olmert’s deputies warned. Shaul Mofaz, a former defence minister and a contender to replace the scandal-battered Olmert, said military action would be ‘unavoidable’ if Tehran proved able to acquire the technology to manufacture atomic bombs,” The Guardian reported.

“Mofaz is Israel’s transport minister, but he is also a former chief of staff, privy to secret defence planning as a member of the security cabinet and leads regular strategic talks with the US. He implied that any attack on Iran would be co-ordinated with Washington. ‘If Iran continues with its programme for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it,’ he told the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot. ‘The UN sanctions are ineffective.'”

Israelis round on Mofaz’s “political” Iran threat

Israeli defense officials and political pundits rounded on Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz on Sunday after he threatened attacks against Iran, accusing him of exploiting war jitters to advance his personal ambitions.

Mofaz, a former armed forces chief and likely challenger to the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in their Kadima party, said in a newspaper interview last week that Israeli strikes on Iran looked “unavoidable” given progress in its nuclear plans.

The remarks helped drive up oil prices by nearly 9 percent to a record $139 a barrel on Friday and drew a circumspect response from Washington, which has championed U.N. sanctions against Iran and only hinted force could also be a last resort.

Clarke on Iraq war architects: ‘We shouldn’t let these people back into polite society’

Noting that “prominent Democrats” had ruled out impeachment, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann asked former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke on his show last night, what “remedy” there could be for the lies and misinformation highlighted in the new Senate Intelligence Committee reports on the Bush administration’s misuse of pre-war Iraq intelligence.

“Someone should have to pay in some way for the decisions that they made to mislead the American people,” said Clarke. He suggested that “some sort of truth and reconciliation commission” might be appropriate because, he said, we can’t “let these people back into polite society”

The wild card

Muqtada al-Sadr stands for everything in Iraq that we do not understand. The exiles we imported to run the country following Saddam’s fall are suave and well-dressed; Muqtada is glowering and elusive. The exiles parade before the cameras in the Green Zone; Muqtada stays in the streets, in the shadows, surfacing occasionally to give a wild sermon about the return of the hidden twelfth imam. The Americans proclaim Muqtada irrelevant; his face adorns the walls of every teashop in Shiite Iraq. The Americans attack; Muqtada disappears. The Americans offer a deal, and Muqtada responds: only after you leave.

Who is Muqtada al-Sadr? What does he want? And how many divisions does he have? That we know so little so late about someone so central to the fate of Iraq is an indictment of anyone associated with the American endeavor there. But it is also a measure of Iraq itself: of its complexity, its mutability, its true nature as an always-spinning kaleidoscope of alliances, deals, and double- crosses. Muqtada al-Sadr is not merely a mirror of our ignorance, he is also a window onto the unforgiving land where we have seen so many of our fortunes disappear.

Patrick Cockburn has tried to get at the mystery of Muqtada al-Sadr. I think he misses in a few places, but it is hard to imagine anyone, I mean any other Westerner, getting a clearer take on this slippery and moody character.

DC Awakening

I spent this morning in a very small meeting with a visiting delegation of about a dozen tribal leaders from Iraq, including a number of well-known leaders of the Awakening movement. It was a fascinating meeting, in many ways, if somewhat frustrating. My long-standing skepticism about the Awakenings is no secret. Nor is my more recent advocacy that at this point they need to get integrated into the Iraqi military. So I was quite keen to hear what they had to say on this trip to Washington DC – their second, from what I was told, including a visit with President Bush – and to probe their current thinking.

Afghanistan: Teen describes madrasah effort to make him a suicide bomber

Ever since he was caught three months ago in Afghanistan’s Khost Province trying to carry out a suicide attack, 14-year-old Shakirullah has been pondering how he went from childhood in Pakistan to imprisonment in Kabul as an international terrorist.

Just one year ago, Shakirullah was living with his family in his native tribal region of South Waziristan, in Pakistan. The world Shakirullah knew in his village of Jandul revolved around his father, Noor Ali Khan, his mother, and three older brothers.

But Shakirullah’s childhood in the rugged mountain region near the Afghan border came to a dramatic end last fall when his family sent him to a religious boarding school — the nearby Salib madrasah in South Waziristan — to receive instruction from conservative Islamist clerics.

The boy says teachers had taught him the Koran for half a year, then gave him an explosives-packed suicide vest and took him across the border into Afghanistan.

To cope with oil shock, emulate Japan

With the price of oil rocketing to the unprecedented level of $130 a barrel, there is a talk of another oil shock. Unfortunately, unlike past instances, this one is unlikely to subside, and may indeed keep intensifying. The only way out is for Western nations, the gluttonous users of petroleum, to cut their consumption and emulate Japan in its consistent drive for energy efficiency and alternate sources.

US world’s leading jailer – rights watchdog

The US has 2.3 million people behind bars, more than any other country in the world and more than ever before in its history, Human Rights Watch says.

The number represented an incarceration rate of 762 per 100,000 residents, compared to 152 per 100,000 in Britain, 108 in Canada, and 91 in France, HRW said in a statement commenting on Justice Department figures released overnight.

“The new incarceration figures confirm the United States as the world’s leading jailer,” said David Fahti, HRW’s US program director.

An Israel-Syria deal is strategically vital for both

The resumption of peace talks between Israel and Syria after eight years of saber-rattling is not a diversion from the political troubles of Israel’s lame-duck prime minister. Nor are the talks a Syrian ploy to avoid facing a Lebanese-international tribunal on the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. An Israeli-Syrian peace deal is strategically vital for both sides, and both sides know it.

The two major formative experiences of Syria’s Baath regime have been Hafez Assad’s loss of the Golan Heights in the 1967 war with Israel, and the loss of Lebanon by his son, Bashar, who was forced to withdraw his army under irresistible American-led international pressure. Recovering the Golan and protecting Syria’s vital interests in Lebanon are not only major strategic concerns for Syria’s president; they are also crucial to the regime’s drive for national legitimacy, and to Assad’s assertion of his own leadership.

Martyrs in the making at Guantanamo

Thursday’s arraignment before a military tribunal of five Al Qaeda members accused of planning and assisting the 9/11 terrorist atrocities seemed custom-made to assist the loathsome defendants in achieving exactly what they desire — an aura of martyrdom.

The prisoners, including the plot’s apparent mastermind, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were called to answer before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on murder, conspiracy and terrorism charges arising from the deaths of 2,973 people at New York’s World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in the Pennsylvania field where one of the airliners hijacked that day crashed.

It’s a sad but salutary thing to recall that number and that terrible day. The consolations of legal justice never can be complete, but they’re all we as a society have to offer the injured and the grieving. That’s why, when it comes to the handling of these cases, the Bush administration’s willful overreaching, contempt for fundamental American values and defiance of basic American notions of due process have set the stage for travesty and further tragedy.

Questions remain on Med Union a month before launch

Mediterranean countries due to launch a regional union next month have yet to agree an overall vision for the project and questions remain over Israel’s role, Algeria’s foreign minister said.

France proposed a Union for the Mediterranean last year to boost ties with the European Union’s southern neighbours and improve cooperation on trade, security and migration. The project is due to be unveiled in Paris on July 13.

Arab states are worried that joining with Israel in the union would imply a normalisation of ties with the Jewish state.

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