Israeli drones destroy rocket-smuggling convoys in Sudan
Israel used unmanned drones to attack secret Iranian convoys in Sudan that were trying to smuggle rockets into Gaza. The missiles have the range to strike Tel Aviv and Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona, defence sources said.
The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) attacked two convoys, killing at least 50 smugglers and their Iranian escorts. All the lorries carrying the long-range rockets were destroyed. Had the rockets been delivered to Hamas, the militant Islamic group that controls Gaza, they would have dramatically raised the stakes in the conflict, enabling Palestinians to wreak terror on Tel Aviv.
According to western diplomats, Israel attacked the Iranian convoys at the end of January and in the first week of February in the remote Sudan desert, just outside Port Sudan. The convoys had been tracked down by agents from Mossad, Israel’s overseas intelligence agency.
The raids were carried out by Hermes 450 drones. One source claimed they were accompanied by giant Eitan UAVs, which have a 110ft wingspan, similar to that of a Boeing 737. The drones, controlled via satellite, can hover over a target for 24 hours. The Hermes 450 squadron is based at the Palmahim air base, south of Tel Aviv, but it remains unclear from which airfield they took off. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — If this report is accurate (not that it’s coming from a particularly reliable source), the Sudan attack would appear to say nothing about Israel’s capacity to strike Iran. UAVs can’t carry the weaponry for attacking nuclear installations.
So, disregard suggestions by other unreliable sources (like me) that this attack necessarily had huge strategic significance. Far-reaching unmanned aerial attacks are changing the nature of warfare in disturbing ways as the physical and psychological gap between killers and the killed gets wider and wider, but I don’t think the Israeli air strikes in Sudan necessarily brought war with Iran any closer.
The Obama Administration’s chance to engage in a Middle East peace
When the Israelis’ controversial twenty-two-day military campaign in Gaza ended, on January 18th, it also seemed to end the promising peace talks between Israel and Syria. The two countries had been engaged for almost a year in negotiations through intermediaries in Istanbul. Many complicated technical matters had been resolved, and there were agreements in principle on the normalization of diplomatic relations. The consensus, as an ambassador now serving in Tel Aviv put it, was that the two sides had been “a lot closer than you might think.”
At an Arab summit in Qatar in mid-January, however, Bashar Assad, the President of Syria, angrily declared that Israel’s bombing of Gaza and the resulting civilian deaths showed that the Israelis spoke only “the language of blood.” He called on the Arab world to boycott Israel, close any Israeli embassies in the region, and sever all “direct or indirect ties with Israel.” Syria, Assad said, had ended its talks over the Golan Heights.
Nonetheless, a few days after the Israeli ceasefire in Gaza, Assad said in an e-mail to me that although Israel was “doing everything possible to undermine the prospects for peace,” he was still very interested in closing the deal. “We have to wait a little while to see how things will evolve and how the situation will change,” Assad said. “We still believe that we need to conclude a serious dialogue to lead us to peace.” [continued…]
From Obama, a guide for avoiding defeat in Afghanistan
The keyword of US President Barack Obama’s new Afghanistan plan didn’t make it into the text of the speech in which he announced it on Friday. That would be “exit strategy”. This was how Obama, in a TV interview a week earlier, had defined his administration’s goal in rethinking Washington’s approach to Afghanistan and western Pakistan.
The US is in no position to leave Afghanistan any time soon, but nor is it likely in the same time frame to achieve its original objective of stabilising a pro-western democratic government. Obama may be reluctant to face the US electorate three years from now with an open-ended commitment of blood and treasure to Afghanistan, but his immediate problem is not that progress there is slow; it’s that the situation is quickly deteriorating. [continued…]
Some strategists cast doubt on Afghan war rationale
The argument for deeper U.S. military commitment to the Afghan War invoked by President Barack Obama in his first major policy statement on Afghanistan and Pakistan Friday – that al Qaeda must be denied a safe haven in Afghanistan – has been not been subjected to public debate in Washington.
A few influential strategists here have been arguing, however, that this official rationale misstates the al Qaeda problem and ignores the serious risk that an escalating U.S. war poses to Pakistan.
Those strategists doubt that al Qaeda would seek to move into Afghanistan as long as they are ensconced in Pakistan and argue that escalating U.S. drone airstrikes or Special Operations raids on Taliban targets in Pakistan will actually strengthen radical jihadi groups in the country and weaken the Pakistani government’s ability to resist them. [continued…]
Detainee’s harsh treatment foiled no plots
When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.
The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.
In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida — chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates — was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said. [continued…]
Spanish court weighs inquiry on torture for 6 Bush-era officials
A Spanish court has taken the first steps toward opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former high-level Bush administration officials violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an official close to the case said.
The case, against former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and others, was sent to the prosecutor’s office for review by Baltasar Garzón, the crusading investigative judge who ordered the arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The official said that it was “highly probable” that the case would go forward and that it could lead to arrest warrants.
The move represents a step toward ascertaining the legal accountability of top Bush administration officials for allegations of torture and mistreatment of prisoners in the campaign against terrorism. But some American experts said that even if warrants were issued their significance could be more symbolic than practical, and that it was a near certainty that the warrants would not lead to arrests if the officials did not leave the United States. [continued…]
You can’t go home (to Yemen) again
Omar Fawza can’t find a wife. The 20-something Yemeni reveals his bachelor status with a sigh that suggests it’s the most painful experience of his life — worse even than the five years he spent in U.S. captivity at Guantánamo Bay and in Afghanistan, where he says he was treated “like a dog.”
For Fawza, thwarted marital bliss has become the symbol of his rotten existence since U.S. forces scooped him up in Pakistan shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. Fawza, who had gone to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban against their domestic rivals long before 9/11 but never saw combat, was locked up by the Americans as part of “the worst of the worst,” and then abruptly sent back to Yemen in 2006. Like most of the 14 Yemenis shipped home from Guantánamo so far, he’s been stigmatized in his own country as a terrorist ever since, though he was never charged with a crime.
“Guantánamo has destroyed a big part of my life,” he told me in a soft voice over cups of syrupy tea in an office in Yemen. (I have given Fawza a pseudonym and kept our exact meeting place secret to spare him additional grief.) “But I have done nothing wrong.” [continued…]
Traditionally, punditry in Washington has been a cozy business. To get the inside scoop, big-time columnists sometimes befriend top policymakers and offer informal advice over lunch or drinks. Naturally, lines can blur. The most noted pundit of mid-20th-century Washington, Walter Lippmann, was known to help a president write a speech—and then to write a newspaper column praising the speech.
Paul Krugman has all the credentials of a ranking member of the East Coast liberal establishment: a column in The New York Times, a professorship at Princeton, a Nobel Prize in economics. He is the type you might expect to find holding forth at a Georgetown cocktail party or chumming around in the White House Mess of a Democratic administration. But in his published opinions, and perhaps in his very being, he is anti-establishment. Though he was a scourge of the Bush administration, he has been critical, if not hostile, to the Obama White House.
In his twice-a-week column and his blog, Conscience of a Liberal, he criticizes the Obamaites for trying to prop up a financial system that he regards as essentially a dead man walking. In conversation, he portrays Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and other top officials as, in effect, tools of Wall Street (a ridiculous charge, say Geithner defenders). These men and women have “no venality,” Krugman hastened to say in an interview with NEWSWEEK. But they are suffering from “osmosis,” from simply spending too much time around investment bankers and the like. In his Times column the day Geithner announced the details of the administration’s bank-rescue plan, Krugman described his “despair” that Obama “has apparently settled on a financial plan that, in essence, assumes that banks are fundamentally sound and that bankers know what they’re doing. It’s as if the president were determined to confirm the growing perception that he and his economic team are out of touch, that their economic vision is clouded by excessively close ties to Wall Street.”
If you are of the establishment persuasion (and I am), reading Krugman makes you uneasy. You hope he’s wrong, and you sense he’s being a little harsh (especially about Geithner), but you have a creeping feeling that he knows something that others cannot, or will not, see. By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are. Safeguarding the status quo, protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing and reassuring. But sometimes, beneath the pleasant murmur and tinkle of cocktails, the old guard cannot hear the sound of ice cracking. [continued…]