NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: May 20

Iran nuclear danger downplayed in reports

A pair of reports released Tuesday by prominent think tanks downplay the potential dangers presented by Iran, concluding that Tehran is at least six years away from building a deliverable nuclear weapon and that its ability to wreak havoc in the Middle East through surrogates is exaggerated.

A report by a group of Russian and American scientists and engineers at the EastWest Institute concludes that although Iran could build a nuclear device within one to three years of deciding to do so, it would not be able to deliver a long-range weapon for many more years. The scientists also say that a U.S. missile defense system being considered for Central Europe would be useless against an Iranian nuclear weapon.

A separate 230-page report by the Rand Corp., the result of political and military research for the U.S. Air Force begun in 2007, found Iran a less formidable adversary than some believe.

The report notes “significant barriers and buffers” to Iran’s ambitions because of the reality of regional ethnic and religious politics and “its limited conventional military capacity, diplomatic isolation and past strategic missteps.”

It argues for exploiting the gap between Iran’s ambitions and abilities while engaging with Tehran on areas of mutual interest, such as Afghanistan. [continued…]

Arms sent by U.S. may be falling into Taliban hands

Insurgents in Afghanistan, fighting from some of the poorest and most remote regions on earth, have managed for years to maintain an intensive guerrilla war against materially superior American and Afghan forces.

Arms and ordnance collected from dead insurgents hint at one possible reason: Of 30 rifle magazines recently taken from insurgents’ corpses, at least 17 contained cartridges, or rounds, identical to ammunition the United States had provided to Afghan government forces, according to an examination of ammunition markings by The New York Times and interviews with American officers and arms dealers.

The presence of this ammunition among the dead in the Korangal Valley, an area of often fierce fighting near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, strongly suggests that munitions procured by the Pentagon have leaked from Afghan forces for use against American troops.

The scope of that diversion remains unknown, and the 30 magazines represented a single sampling of fewer than 1,000 cartridges. But military officials, arms analysts and dealers say it points to a worrisome possibility: With only spotty American and Afghan controls on the vast inventory of weapons and ammunition sent into Afghanistan during an eight-year conflict, poor discipline and outright corruption among Afghan forces may have helped insurgents stay supplied. [continued…]

Swat valley could be worst refugee crisis since Rwanda, UN warns

The human exodus from the war-torn Swat valley in northern Pakistan is turning into the world’s most dramatic displacement crisis since the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the UN refugee agency warned.

Almost 1.5 million people have registered for assistance since fighting erupted three weeks ago, the UNHCR said, bringing the total number of war displaced in North West Frontier province to more than 2 million, not including 300,000 the provincial government believes have not registered. “It’s been a long time since there has been a displacement this big,” the UNHCR’s spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva, trying to recall the last time so many people had been uprooted so quickly. “It could go back to Rwanda.” [continued…]

Trial of CIA, Italian agents provides rare look at intelligence work

The two spies were allies and kindred spirits.

Robert Seldon Lady, the CIA station chief in Milan, and Col. Stefano D’Ambrosio, the local head of the SISMI, Italy’s intelligence agency, shared pride in their fight against terrorism and disdain for self-serving bosses.

On a fall day in 2002, the American made an explosive revelation. He told D’Ambrosio that, over his objections, a CIA team was in Milan doing reconnaissance for the “rendition” of an Egyptian extremist ideologue. The American was worried that the risky operation would ruin his carefully built alliances, D’Ambrosio testified years later, and could even lead to a shootout between the Americans and the Italians if things went awry on the street.

With an urgent look, spy to spy, Lady said: “Talk to your people.”

D’Ambrosio recalled that he got the unspoken message: “In other words, he says . . . ‘This whole thing is so crazy that if . . . two operational chiefs in the field, who know the area, who work in this territory, say that an action is completely crazy, probably they will back off.’ ” [continued…]

Obama works to own Middle East timetable

Much of the US media on Tuesday morning flagged up President Barack Obama’s statement in talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would make a judgement by the end of 2009 as to whether Iran was negotiating in good faith about its nuclear programme.

Some have flagged this up as the kind of “deadline” that his Israeli visitor, Mr Netanyahu, would have liked.

However Monday’s statement from the president seems designed more to address those in this country and others who have suggested that his policy of dialogue with Iran is interpreted in that country as a sign of irresolution, something that buys them additional time to work flat out on their military nuclear capability. [continued…]

Expansion of settlement ‘slap in Obama’s face’

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plane landed in Washington Sunday, contractors were being given a tour of the northern Jordan Valley settlement Maskiot in the framework of a tender that was issued to build a new neighborhood there.

“The tender is part of the process to populate the community,” Jordan Valley Regional Council Chairman David Elhayani told Ynet.

“This process takes a few months to complete. The timing is coincidental, and anyone who says otherwise is jeopardizing Israel’s security-related interests. There is a consensus among the Zionist parties that the Jordan Valley must remain under Israel’s control in any future (peace) agreement.”

Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer said the fact that the contractors’ tour coincided with Netanyahu’s trip to Washington was “an indication of the government’s plan to expand isolated settlements.

“This sends a clear message to the US and the international community as a whole regarding the government’s plan to expand settlement construction,” he said. [continued…]

Corruption probe appalls — and encourages — Iraqis

For the first time since modern Iraq was founded in the 1920s, a sitting government minister has been questioned publicly about corruption allegations, in this case about skimming millions of dollars from a national food-distribution program while ordinary Iraqis went hungry.

The parliamentary grilling of Trade Minister Abdul Falah al Sudany ran live Saturday and Sunday on state television, and everyone in Baghdad seems to have been watching.

“During Saddam’s time we could only dream of seeing something like this,” said Ali Hameed, 25, who was shopping at a market in Jadriyah.

By Monday afternoon, 100 legislators had signed a petition for a vote of no confidence in the trade minister, said Bassim Sharif, a member of parliament from the Shiite Muslim Fadhila Party. Only 50 are needed to call the vote, and a simple majority of the 275-seat parliament can force a resignation. [continued…]

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1 thought on “NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: May 20

  1. DE Teodoru

    Israel operates on notion that West is “dumb goyim” it can manipulate with scare propaganda. Since 2004, all its internal academic-military studies concluded that, at worst, Iran only wants nuclear deterrent against the very Israel that almost used its nukes, twice! Israel’s real issue is not security but economy– $billions in welfare for the failed Jewish state that is nothing but a Zionazi arsenal, despite the intellectual and cultural Jewish wealth it posesses.

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