Israel launches covert war against Iran

Israel has launched a covert war against Iran as an alternative to direct military strikes against Tehran’s nuclear programme, US intelligence sources have revealed.

It is using hitmen, sabotage, front companies and double agents to disrupt the regime’s illicit weapons project, the experts say.

The most dramatic element of the “decapitation” programme is the planned assassination of top figures involved in Iran’s atomic operations.

Despite fears in Israel and the US that Iran is approaching the point of no return in its ability to build atom bomb, Israeli officials are aware of the change in mood in Washington since President Barack Obama took office. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Stories like this don’t come out of nowhere. There has to be an agenda at play. Is this a story about a covert operation to thwart Iran’s nuclear program, or an operation designed to undermine a diplomatic initiative?

What does Israel fear more: a nuclear Iran or an Iran that poses no strategic threat?

Suppose the US was to make a grand bargain with Iran and that the Islamic state received security guarantees and full acceptance by the international community in return for abandoning its uranium enrichment program. Where would that leave Israel?

The relentless expansion of settlements; the unwillingness to do any more than pay lip service to the idea of a two-state solution; the license to use disproportionate force against nominal Iranian proxies — in other words, Israel’s ability to function as a rogue state with impunity — has only remained a sustainable posture for as long as Israel has been able to credibly claim it faces an existential threat. Israel needs its implacable enemy just as much as its friends.

Israel seizes land for settlement expansion

Plans to expand a West Bank settlement by up to 2,500 homes drew Palestinian condemnation Monday and presented an early test for President Barack Obama, whose Mideast envoy is well known for opposing such construction.

Israel opened the way for possible expansion of the Efrat settlement by taking control of a nearby West Bank hill of 423 acres. The rocky plot was recently designated state land and is part of a master plan that envisions the settlement growing from 9,000 to 30,000 residents, Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi said.

Israeli officials said any new construction would require several years more of planning and stages of approval. [continued…]

Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) landmark: First college in the US votes to divest from Israeli occupation

Students at Hampshire College have reason to celebrate. Hampshire has become the first college in the US to divest from the Israeli occupation. As the Students for Justice in Palestine press release points out, Hampshire was also the first college in the US to divest from South Africa 32 years ago. [continued…]

Arabs closing ranks

Arab reports suggest that Egyptian mediation is close to producing a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation (with a unity government to be chosen within 60 days) and a truce with Israel. Meanwhile, a high-level Saudi envoy (King Abdullah’s head of intelligence Prince Muqrin) recently appeared in Damascus — followed by Arab League head Amr Moussa — while Egypt’s Foreign Minister and intelligence chief showed up in Riyadh for consultations. The signs are adding up that the major Arab actors are trying seriously to overcome the intense divisions of the last few months and unify their ranks. [continued…]

Will Obama institute a new kind of preventive detention for terrorist suspects?

The last “enemy combatant” being detained in America is incarcerated at the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina—a tan, low-slung building situated amid acres of grassy swampland. The prisoner, known internally as EC#2, is an alleged Al Qaeda sleeper agent named Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. He has been held in isolation in the brig for more than five years, although he has never stood trial or been convicted of any crime. Under rules established by the Bush Administration, suspected terrorists such as Marri were denied the legal protections traditionally afforded by the Constitution. Unless the Obama Administration overhauls the nation’s terrorism policies, Marri—who claims that he is innocent—will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

On September 10, 2001, Marri, a citizen of Qatar, who is now forty-three, came to America with his family. He had a student visa, and his ostensible purpose was to study computer programming at a small university in Peoria, Illinois. That December, he was arrested as a material witness in an investigation of the September 11th attacks. However, when Marri was on the verge of standing trial, in June, 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the military to seize him and hold him indefinitely. The Bush Administration contended that America was in a full-fledged war against terrorists, and that the President could therefore invoke extraordinary executive powers to detain Marri until the end of hostilities, on the basis of still secret evidence. That day, Marri was put on a military jet to Charleston, and since then he has been living as the only prisoner in an eighty-bed high-security wing of the brig, with no visits from family, friends, or the media.

Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, who has taken the lead role in Marri’s legal defense, says that the Bush Administration’s decision to leave him in sustained isolation was akin to stranding him on a desert island. “It’s a Robinson Crusoe-like situation,” he told me. In 2005, Hafetz challenged the constitutionality of Marri’s imprisonment. A lower court affirmed the government’s right to detain him indefinitely. After several appeals, the case is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court in April. Hafetz calls the Marri case a pivotal test of “the most far-reaching use of detention powers” ever asserted by an American President.

The Court’s calendar requires the Obama Administration to file a reply to the challenge by March 23rd. Unless some kind of diversionary action is taken—such as sending Marri home to Qatar, or working out a plea agreement—the Court’s schedule will likely force the Obama Administration to offer quick answers to a host of complicated questions about its approach to fighting terrorism. [continued…]

British government devised torture policy for terror detainees

A policy governing the interrogation of terrorism suspects in Pakistan that led to British citizens and residents being tortured was devised by MI5 lawyers and figures in government, according to evidence heard in court.

A number of British terrorism suspects who have been detained without trial in Pakistan say they were tortured by Pakistani intelligence agents before being questioned by MI5. In some cases their accusations are supported by medical evidence.

The existence of an official interrogation policy emerged during cross-examination in the high court in London of an MI5 officer who had questioned one of the detainees, Binyam Mohamed, the British resident currently held in Guantánamo Bay. The officer, who can be identified only as Witness B, admitted that although Mohamed had been in Pakistani custody for five weeks, and he knew the country to have a poor human rights record, he did not ask whether he had been tortured or mistreated, did not inquire why he had lost weight, and did not consider whether his detention without trial was illegal. [continued…]

Pakistan agrees to restore Shariah rule in Malakand

The Pakistan prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said on Monday that a peace deal with the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) leader Sufi Mohammed can benefit the country and was part of his government’s policy of dialogue, development and deterrence.

The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government and TNSM have agreed on the implementation of Shariah law in Malakand, a region which covers one third of the NWFP including Swat valley.

“The decision was taken after a meeting between the government and Sufi Mohammed in Dir district. A member of the Swat Qaumi Jirga told Daily Times the two sides had signed an agreement whose key points were peace in Malakand division and implementation of Shariah. Another key point was the formation of a committee to work towards freeing captured Taliban.” [continued…]

Green growth is essential to any stimulus

Economic stimulus is the order of the day. This is as it must be, as governments around the world struggle to jump-start the global economy. But even as leaders address the immediate need to stimulate the economy, so too must they act jointly to ensure that the new de facto economic model being developed is sustainable for the planet and our future on it.

What we need is both stimulus and long-term investments that accomplish two objectives simultaneously with one global economic policy response – a policy that addresses our urgent and immediate economic and social needs and that launches a new green global economy. In short, we need to make “growing green” our mantra

First, a synchronised global recession requires a synchronised global res­ponse. We need stimulus and intense co-ordination of economic policy among all main economies. We must avoid the beggar-thy-neighbour policies that contributed to the Great Depression. Co-ordination is also vital for reducing financial volatility, runs on currencies and rampant inflation as well as for instilling consumer and investor confidence. In Washington last November, G20 leaders expressed their determination “to enhance co-operation and work together to restore global growth and achieve needed reforms in the world’s financial systems”. This needs to happen urgently. [continued…]

Late change in course hobbled rollout of Geithner’s bank plan

Just days before Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner was scheduled to lay out his much-anticipated plan to deal with the toxic assets imperiling the financial system, he and his team made a sudden about-face.

According to several sources involved in the deliberations, Geithner had come to the conclusion that the strategies he and his team had spent weeks working on were too expensive, too complex and too risky for taxpayers.

They needed an alternative and found it in a previously considered initiative to pair private investments and public loans to try to buy the risky assets and take them off the books of banks. There was one problem: They didn’t have enough time to work out many details or consult with others before the plan was supposed to be unveiled.

The sharp course change was one of the key reasons why Geithner’s plan — his first major policy initiative as Treasury secretary — landed with such a thud last Tuesday. Lawmakers, investors and analysts expressed dismay over the lack of specifics. Markets tanked, and fresh doubts arose about the hand now steering the country’s financial policy. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — It seems like an effective treasury secretary needs first and foremost to be a persuasive salesman and a talented manager. Geithner might be smart, but it’s not clear that in these other respects he fits the bill. His decision to set a release date for his plan was driven by the wrong imperative — the fear of looking indecisive. What was clearly far more important than the delivery date was to come up with a plan that could be sold with conviction and that would inspire confidence. This is not a situation where something is better than nothing.

I imagine that Geithner is haunted by what must be a widely held expectation: If, having been up to his neck in the economic crisis since it began he’s still indecisive about how to move forward, then the truth must be that he’s out of his depth.

The fact that so many people are holding on to the idea that he’s the man seems to have far more to do with our collective level of fear than with genuine confidence that Obama made the right choice.

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