Archives for September 2009

Iran ‘has secret nuclear arms plan’

Iran ‘has secret nuclear arms plan’

Britain’s intelligence services say that Iran has been secretly designing a nuclear warhead “since late 2004 or early 2005”, an assessment that suggests Tehran has embarked on the final steps towards acquiring nuclear weapons capability.

As world powers prepare to confront Iran on Thursday on its nuclear ambitions, the Financial Times has learnt that the UK now judges that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, ordered the resumption of the country’s weapons programme four years ago. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — The American line is still, we’re all looking at the same intelligence but their are a variety of ways it can be interpreted. British intelligence is making an assertion which, if true, should be backed up by hard evidence. The US position implies that it regards this evidence as weak.

In dispute with Iran, path to Iraq is in spotlight

Gary Sick, an expert on Iran at Columbia University, said that ever since 1992, American officials had claimed that Iran was just a few years away from a nuclear bomb. Like Saddam Hussein, the clerical government in Iran is “despised,” he said, leading to worst-case assumptions.

“In 2002, it seemed utterly naïve to believe Saddam didn’t have a program,” Mr. Sick said. Now, the notion that Iran is not racing to build a bomb is similarly excluded from serious discussion, he said.

Mr. Sick, like some in the intelligence community, said he believed that Iran might intend to stop short of building a weapon while creating “breakout capability” — the ability to make a bomb in a matter of months in the future. That chain of events might allow room for later intervention.

Without actually constructing a bomb, Iran could gain the influence of being an almost nuclear power, without facing the repercussions that would ensue if it finished the job.

Greg Thielmann, an intelligence analyst in the State Department before the Iraq war, said he believed that the Iran intelligence assessments were far more balanced, in part because there was not the urgent pressure from the White House to reach a particular conclusion, as there was in 2002. But he said he was bothered by what he said was an exaggerated sense of crisis over the Iranian nuclear issue.

“Some people are saying time’s running out and we have to act by the end of the year,” said Mr. Thielmann, now a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association. “I’ve been arguing that we have years, not months. The facts argue for a calmer approach.” [continued…]

Iran offers conflicting messages

Tehran offers remarks by turns defiant and cooperative, leaving diplomats unsure if it will take seriously this week’s nuclear talks in Geneva. [continued…]

Iran is seeking a ‘two-way street’ at talks

The Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said Tuesday that talks between Iran and six major powers, which are to take place on Thursday, must be a “two-way street” and not just a long list of demands focused on his country’s nuclear program. [continued…]

Israel mutes its rhetoric against Iran as talks loom

Israeli leaders say they are willing to wait as President Obama plays out his strategy of negotiating with Iran while threatening stronger world sanctions if the talks fail. [continued…]

Iran plant could defer Israel strike

It may seem counterintuitive, but the news that Iran has a second, clandestine uranium enrichment plant, and has just test-fired long-range missiles, could actually put off any plans for a quick Israeli strike. [continued…]

China’s ties with Iran complicate diplomacy

Leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee swept into Beijing last month to meet with Chinese officials, carrying a plea from Washington: if Iran were to be kept from developing nuclear weapons, China would have to throw more diplomatic weight behind the cause.

In fact, the appeal had been largely answered even before the legislators arrived.

In June, China National Petroleum signed a $5 billion deal to develop the South Pars natural gas field in Iran. In July, Iran invited Chinese companies to join a $42.8 billion project to build seven oil refineries and a 1,019-mile trans-Iran pipeline. And in August, almost as the Americans arrived in China, Tehran and Beijing struck another deal, this time for $3 billion, that will pave the way for China to help Iran expand two more oil refineries. [continued…]

Iran Guards group buys 50 pct stake in telecoms firm

A consortium affiliated to the elite Revolutionary Guards bought 50 percent plus one share in Iran’s state telecommunications company for the equivalent of around $7.8 billion, Iranian media reported on Sunday. [continued…]


A hostile takeover of Zionism

A hostile takeover of Zionism

One Haredi leader who almost won Jerusalem’s mayoralty race last fall, boasts that, within 20 years, the ultra-Orthodox will control the municipal government of every city in the country. And why not? Of the Jewish Israeli children entering primary school for the first time this month, more than 25 per cent are Haredi, and that proportion will keep growing. There are between 600,000 and 700,000 Haredim in Israel, and they average 8.8 children a family.

A decade ago, there were almost no Haredim in the West Bank settlements. Today, the two largest settlements are entirely ultra-Orthodox, and the Haredim are about a third of the almost 300,000 settlers.

Now that they have tightened the rules on who can be a Jew and have forced the public bus company to provide gender-segregated buses in many communities, a discouraged secular community is starting to emigrate.

Nehemia Shtrasler, a business and political columnist for the Haaretz newspaper, wrote this summer that the country is risking destruction. “We will survive the conflict with the Palestinians and even the nuclear threats from Iran,” he wrote. “But the increasing rupture between the secular and ultra-Orthodox communities in Israel will be the end of us.” Mr. Shtrasler said: “It’s a struggle between two contradictory worldviews that cannot exist side by side.”

Will Israel adhere to its founding secular values or will it become a theocratic Jewish state? [continued…]

U.S. to Israel: Probe alleged Gaza war crimes to advance peace

The United States called on its close ally Israel on Tuesday to conduct credible investigations into allegations of war crimes committed by its forces in Gaza, saying it would help the Middle East peace process. [continued…]

Hamas agrees to reconcile with Fatah

Hamas has announced that it will accept an Egyptian proposal for ending its bitter power struggle with Fatah, renewing hopes for an end to political deadlock and intra-Palestinian violence and pave the way for presidential and parliamentary elections next year. [continued…]


Lawrence of Afghanistan

Lawrence of Afghanistan

It’s easy to assume that the Counterinsurgency Field Manual — the U.S. military’s new, post-Iraq-surge bible on unconventional warfare — is something of a revolution in military thought. Afghanistan itself is rewriting the rules of war every day, it seems. But history has a funny way of repeating itself. The U.S. generals dictating strategy to their troops would have done better to pass around a 1917 publication by Lawrence of Arabia, “27 Articles.”

Like the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, which was written at a time when the U.S. military was losing Iraq, “27 Articles” was composed during difficult days. It was the height of the Great War in August 1917, following the astonishing capture of Aqaba in the desert campaign against the Ottoman Empire. The British were using Arab insurgents to harass the Turks, and the high command in London, fearing that Aqaba’s conqueror, Lawrence of Arabia, could be killed at any moment, tasked him with codifying what he had learned in dealing with his Arab allies. It was meant to be a manual for British officers serving in the field with Faisal, the Hashemite prince and insurgent leader, and his troops. So, in the midst of leading his guerrilla campaign, Lawrence wearily began typing “27 Articles” in the heat of the desert sun. [continued…]

From McChrystal’s mouth to Obama’s ear

When President Obama looks at the screen in the Situation Room on Wednesday, he will find a face he has not seen lately except in newspapers. There, via secure video from Kabul, will be Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, his commander in Afghanistan, explaining directly to the president for the first time why more troops are needed.

General McChrystal has not spoken with Mr. Obama since submitting his grim assessment of the war a month ago and has spoken with him only once in the 100 days since he took command of all American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The lack of direct communication has generated criticism and fueled suspicions of strains between the White House and Kabul. [continued…]

Afghanistan: NATO’s graveyard?

Celebrating its 60th birthday this year, NATO is looking peaked and significantly worse for wear. Aggressive and ineffectual, the organization shows signs of premature senility. Despite the smiles and reassuring rhetoric at its annual summits, its internal politics have become fractious to the point of dysfunction. Perhaps like any sexagenarian in this age of health-care crises and economic malaise, the transatlantic alliance is simply anxious about its future.

Frankly, it should be.

The painful truth is that NATO may be suffering from a terminal illness. Its current mission in Afghanistan, the alliance’s most significant and far-flung muscle-flexing to date, might be its last. Afghanistan has been the graveyard of many an imperial power from the ancient Macedonians to the Soviets. It now seems to be eyeing its next victim. [continued…]

The Taliban’s toll

Forget opium poppies for a moment. The Taliban has another huge source of revenue, worth up to $1 billion a year, which generously supplements its heroin-trafficking income and the cash-flow from rich oil sheiks in the Persian Gulf.

This money comes from you.

The allegation that millions of dollars of U.S aid and military funds have been siphoned off by the Taliban through elaborate extortion rackets is not something government officials readily discuss. But the departing head of the Army Corps of Engineers recently conceded that there was little his agency could do to stop it, and the U.S. State Department launched an investigation after reports of the scandal finally penetrated the mainstream news.

The Pentagon did not respond to TAC’s inquiries about charges that local contractors who deliver supplies and equipment to remote NATO bases in Afghanistan are charging Western governments “protection money” to pay off the Taliban, or Taliban-connected middlemen, to protect convoys along dangerous overland supply routes. Yet a growing consensus supports a fearsome prospect: U.S. taxpayers are funding the enemy. [continued…]


Gore Vidal: ‘We’ll have a dictatorship soon in the US’

Gore Vidal: ‘We’ll have a dictatorship soon in the US’

Last year he famously switched allegiance from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama during the Democratic nomination process for president. Now, he reveals, he regrets his change of heart. How’s Obama doing? “Dreadfully. I was hopeful. He was the most intelligent person we’ve had in that position for a long time. But he’s inexperienced. He has a total inability to understand military matters. He’s acting as if Afghanistan is the magic talisman: solve that and you solve terrorism.” America should leave Afghanistan, he says. “We’ve failed in every other aspect of our effort of conquering the Middle East or whatever you want to call it.” The “War on Terror” was “made up”, Vidal says. “The whole thing was PR, just like ‘weapons of mass destruction’. It has wrecked the airline business, which my father founded in the 1930s. He’d be cutting his wrists. Now when you fly you’re both scared to death and bored to death, a most disagreeable combination.”

His voice strengthens. “One thing I have hated all my life are LIARS [he says that with bristling anger] and I live in a nation of them. It was not always the case. I don’t demand honour, that can be lies too. I don’t say there was a golden age, but there was an age of general intelligence. We had a watchdog, the media.” The media is too supine? “Would that it was. They’re busy preparing us for an Iranian war.” He retains some optimism about Obama “because he doesn’t lie. We know the fool from Arizona [as he calls John McCain] is a liar. We never got the real story of how McCain crashed his plane [in 1967 near Hanoi, North Vietnam] and was held captive.”

Vidal originally became pro-Obama because he grew up in “a black city” (meaning Washington), as well as being impressed by Obama’s intelligence. “But he believes the generals. Even Bush knew the way to win a general was to give him another star. Obama believes the Republican Party is a party when in fact it’s a mindset, like Hitler Youth, based on hatred — religious hatred, racial hatred. When you foreigners hear the word ‘conservative’ you think of kindly old men hunting foxes. They’re not, they’re fascists.” [continued…]


General says Iraq troop reductions may quicken

General says Iraq troop reductions may quicken

The senior American commander in Iraq said Tuesday that he could reduce American forces to 50,000 troops even before the end of next summer if the expected January elections in Iraq went smoothly.

That could ease the strain across the American armed forces and free up extra combat units for duty in the Afghanistan war, which has become a priority for the Obama administration.

In an interview at the Pentagon, the commander, Gen. Ray Odierno, said he had already ordered some service members and equipment diverted from the Iraq mission to Afghanistan, in particular surveillance aircraft and units known as “combat enablers,” which include engineers for clearing roadside bombs and military police officers for training Afghan forces. [continued…]


How to press the advantage with Iran

How to press the advantage with Iran

Absent some agreement with Washington on its long-term goals, Iran’s national security strategy will continue emphasizing “asymmetric” defense against perceived American encirclement. Over several years, officials in both the reformist government of Mohammad Khatami and the conservative Ahmadinejad administration have told us that this defensive strategy includes cultivating ties to political forces and militias in other states in the region, developing Iran’s missile capacity (as underscored by this weekend’s tests of medium-range missiles), and pushing the limits of Tehran’s nonproliferation obligations to the point where it would be seen as having the ability and ingredients to make fission weapons. It seems hardly a coincidence that Iran is accused of having started the Qum lab in 2005 — precisely when Tehran had concluded that suspending enrichment had failed to diminish American hostility.

American officials tend to play down Iranian concerns about American intentions, citing public messages from President Obama to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, as proof of the administration’s diplomatic seriousness. But Tehran saw these messages as attempts to circumvent Iran’s president — another iteration, in a pattern dating from Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal, of American administrations trying to create channels to Iranian “moderates” rather than dealing with the Islamic Republic as a system. President Ahmadinejad underscored this point to us by noting that Mr. Obama never responded to his congratulatory letter after the 2008 United States election — which, he emphasized, was “unprecedented” and “not easy to get done” in Iran.

The Obama administration’s lack of diplomatic seriousness goes beyond clumsy tactics; it reflects an inadequate understanding of the strategic necessity of constructive American-Iranian relations. If an American president believed that such a relationship was profoundly in our national interests — as President Richard Nixon judged a diplomatic opening to China — he would demonstrate acceptance of the Islamic Republic, even as problematic Iranian behavior continued in the near term. [continued…]

IRGC air force commander: missile tests defensive;
pledges Iran to ‘no first strike’

he USG Open Source Center translated remarks to Iranian television of General Hoseyn Salami, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Air Force concerning Iran’s Monday missile tests (Islamic Republic of Iran News Network Television (IRINN), Monday, September 28, 2009):

Gen. Salami said, “as long as our enemies act within a political domain, our behavior will be completely political. However, if they want to leave the domain of political action and enter the domain of military threat, then our action will be exactly and completely military.” . . .

Many Western media reports implied that the missile tests were launched along with threats to wipe out Israel. But note that the commanding officer overseeing them explicitly restated Iran’s “no first strike” pledge. To my knowledge, no current high official in the Iranian executive has threatened war against Israel, which in any case would be foolhardy given Israel’s nuclear arsenal (see below). Iranian officials do say they hope the “Zionist regime” will collapse as the Soviet Union did. [continued…]

What else is Iran hiding?

Iran’s core obligation to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it says it fully upholds, is to ensure that all its nuclear activities are exclusively for peaceful purposes — building an underground nuclear facility on a military base certainly raises questions about Iranian intentions. Finally, because it was a clandestine plant, the Qom facility was clearly much more suited to military ends than the facility at Natanz, which is subject to IAEA monitoring.

Although the military purpose of the Qom facility is compelling, Ahmadinejad’s legal arguments are not. “According to the IAEA rules, countries must inform the agency six months ahead of the gas injection in their uranium enrichment plants,” he said last week. “We have done it 18 months ahead and this should be appreciated, not condemned.”

But Ahmadinejad got the IAEA rules wrong. At issue is a seemingly obscure but crucially important provision known as “Code 3.1”. This is contained within Iran’s “subsidiary arrangements,” the detailed legal agreement with the IAEA specifying the nuts and bolts of safeguards. [continued…]

U.S. aims to isolate Iran if talks fail

The Obama administration is laying plans to cut Iran’s economic links to the rest of the world if talks this week over the country’s nuclear ambitions founder, according to officials and outside experts familiar with the plans.

While officials stress that they hope Iran will agree to open its nuclear program to inspection, they are prepared by year’s end to make it increasingly difficult for Iranian companies to ship goods around the world. The administration is targeting, in particular, the insurance and reinsurance companies that underwrite the risk of such transactions.

Officials are also looking at ways to keep goods from reaching Iran by targeting companies that get around trading restrictions by sending shipments there through third parties in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Hong Kong; and other trading hubs. [continued…]


US accepts Hamid Karzai as Afghan leader despite poll fraud claims

US accepts Hamid Karzai as Afghan leader despite poll fraud claims

The White House has ended weeks of hesitation over how to respond to the Afghan election by accepting President Karzai as the winner despite evidence that up to 20 per cent of ballots cast may have been fraudulent.

Abandoning its previous policy of not prejudging investigations of vote rigging, the Obama Administration has conceded that Mr Karzai will be President for another five years on the basis that even if he were forced into a second round of voting he would almost certainly win it.

The decision will increase pressure on President Obama to justify further US troop deployments to Afghanistan to prop up a regime now regarded as systemically corrupt. [continued…]


Guantánamo deadline may be missed

Guantánamo deadline may be missed

The White House suggested Monday that it might not be able to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by next January as President Obama promised, an acknowledgment underscoring the difficulties in figuring out what to do with the men being held there.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said the administration had made “significant progress” in fulfilling the president’s campaign pledge to shut the prison, which has been widely condemned around the world. But he played down the importance of meeting Mr. Obama’s self-imposed deadline of Jan. 22.

“We’re not focused on whether or not the deadline will or won’t be met on a particular day,” Mr. Gibbs said at his daily briefing for reporters. “We’re focused on ensuring that the facility is closed and doing all that has to be done between now and the 22nd of January to make the most progress that we can that’s possible.” [continued…]

Obama’s Dick Cheney moment

President Obama’s decision not to go to Congress for help in establishing reasonable standards for the continued detention of Guantanamo detainees is a failure of leadership in the project of putting American law on a sound basis for a long-term confrontation with terrorism. It is bad for the country, for national security and for civil liberties. It represents a virtually wholesale adoption of the failed policies of his predecessor — who, with equal obtuseness, refused to root American detention practices in clear law approved by the legislature and similarly failed to learn from repeated Supreme Court rebukes to this unilateral approach. It violates Obama’s much-noted statement this spring that he would “work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution.” And it delegates a profound and difficult policymaking exercise to the judiciary and, ultimately, to a single man on the Supreme Court.

The only point in Obama’s defense is that few political actors have given him reason to think he would have responsible partners if he did the right thing. Human rights and civil liberties activists are so keen to avoid legitimizing detention in legislation that they have treated as a victory the president’s decision to adopt the very policy they have spent the past eight years denouncing.

Congress is not looking statesmanlike either. Republicans have been too busy making political hay out of Obama’s sputtering closure of Guantanamo to act as constructive participants in this important legislative project. Democrats, always afraid of their shadows on national security issues, have hidden behind civil liberties platitudes that most do not really believe. Members across the spectrum have acted boldly only when it comes to making sure that no Guantanamo detainees end up in their districts. [continued…]


The U.S.-Iranian triangle

The U.S.-Iranian triangle

Sanctions won’t work. Ray Takeyh, who worked on Iran with Dennis Ross at the State Department before losing his job last month and returning to the Council on Foreign Relations, told me that “sanctions are the feel-good option.”

Yes, it feels good to do something, but it doesn’t necessarily help. In this case, sanctions won’t for four reasons.

One: Iran is inured to sanctions after years of living with them and has in Dubai a sure-fire conduit for goods at a manageable surtax. Two: Russia and China will never pay more than lip-service to sanctions. Three: You don’t bring down a quasi-holy symbol — nuclear power — by cutting off gasoline sales. Four: sanctions feed the persecution complex on which the Iranian regime thrives.

A senior German Foreign Ministry official last week told an American Council on Germany delegation: “The efficiency of sanctions is not really discussed because if you do, you are left with only two options — a military strike or living with a nuclear Iran — and nobody wants to go there. So the answer is: Let’s impose further sanctions! It’s a dishonest debate.” [continued…]

U.S. is seeking a range of sanctions against Iran

Iran has proved resilient to sanctions, having weathered them in one form or another since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. And the political upheaval there creates a new complication: Western countries do not want to impose measures that deepen the misery of ordinary people, because it could help the government and strangle the fragile protest movement.

Citing those fears, the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said last Monday he was opposed to an embargo of refined fuel products. Another senior Western diplomat said such a measure was not likely to be on the menu of options, even though sanctions experts say it is probably the most effective short-term cudgel.

At a dinner in New York last week, the night before he addressed the United Nations, Mr. Ahmadinejad told his guests he would “warmly welcome” additional sanctions because it would only make his country more self-sufficient, according to a person who was there.

“For sanctions to work, they not only have to be multilateral, but there has to be international solidarity over a prolonged period of time,” said Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations who was until last month a senior adviser to the Obama administration.

Mr. Takeyh said that he was skeptical that sanctions alone would alter Iran’s long-term behavior. But he said he would not be surprised if Iran came to the meeting on Thursday with an offer to allow inspectors to visit the secret uranium enrichment plant near the holy city of Qum.

That would fall well short of the administration’s demand that Iran hand over blueprints for the plant or produce key people involved in its design. But it might be enough to weaken solidarity, said Mr. Takeyh, who noted that the Iranians “tend to be tactically adroit.” [continued…]

The Iran attack plan

When the Israeli army’s then-Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Halutz was asked in 2004 how far Israel would go to stop Iran’s nuclear program, he replied: “2,000 kilometers,” roughly the distance been the two countries.

Israel’s political and military leaders have long made it clear that they are considering taking decisive military action if Iran continues to develop its nuclear program. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned at the United Nations this week that “the most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Reporting by the International Atomic Energy Agency and other sources has made it clear that whether or not Iran ties all of its efforts into a formal nuclear weapons program, it has acquired all of the elements necessary to make and deliver such weapons. [continued…]

Iran conducts new tests of mid-range missiles

Locked in a deepening dispute with the United States and its allies over its nuclear program, Iran said that its Revolutionary Guards test-fired missiles with sufficient range to strike Israel, parts of Europe and American bases in the Persian Gulf.

“Iranian missiles are able to target any place that threatens Iran,” a senior Revolutionary Guard official, Abdollah Araqi, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency.

The reported tests of the liquid-fueled Shahab-3 and the solid-fueled Sejil-2 missiles were not the first, but they came only days after President Obama and the leaders of France and Britain used the disclosure of a previously secret nuclear plant in Iran to threaten Tehran with a stronger response to its efforts to enrich uranium, including harsher economic sanctions. [continued…]

Turkish PM to visit Iran over nuclear dispute

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he plans to visit Iran next month to help resolve the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear programme, Anatolia news agency reported Sunday.

Erdogan also warned that any military attack against Iran would be an act of “insanity.”

The announcement of his planned trip came as Iran admitted this week the existence of a previously secret uranium enrichment plant, raising the stakes in its standoff with major powers ahead of talks in Geneva on Thursday. [continued…]


U.S. commander in Afghanistan submits request for more troops

U.S. commander in Afghanistan submits request for more troops

Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, hand-delivered his request for as many as 45,000 more troops to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Germany Friday and made his case for why he needs more forces to fight an increasingly unpopular war.

Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, traveled to Ramstein Air Base in Germany to meet with McChrystal and get “a better understanding of the pending resource requirement,” a Pentagon official told McClatchy. The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wouldn’t share McChrystal’s troop request with anyone until the administration completes its review of the situation in Afghanistan. Only then will other top Pentagon officials review the request and make comments before submitting it to the White House for President Barack Obama to consider, he said. [continued…]

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Israeli riot police, Palestinians clash at holy site

Israeli riot police, Palestinians clash at holy site

Israeli riot police entered the grounds of Islam’s third-holiest shrine Sunday and fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse rock-throwing Palestinians who had gathered to prevent Jews from praying at the contested site in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The 45-minute clash outside the Al Aqsa mosque underscored the volatility of Jerusalem’s holy places in the decades-old Middle East conflict. It sparked protests by Jordan, the 22-member Arab League and the Palestinian Authority, which is engaged in U.S.-mediated efforts to revive peace talks with Israel.

Palestinian leaders called the Israeli police action a deliberate provocation. Police officials said Palestinians started the fight. [continued…]

Netanyahu: No peace until Palestinians accept Israel as Jewish state

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Haaretz on Wednesday that he would not agree to a Palestinian demand that Israel accept the 1967 borders as a condition for renewing peace negotiations.

Netanyahu also gave a condition of his own, saying Thursday that he would never drop his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. [continued…]

US: endorse Goldstone report on Gaza

Te Obama administration should fully endorse the report of the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict led by Justice Richard Goldstone and demand justice for the victims of serious laws-of-war violations in the conflict, Human Rights Watch said today.

Dismissal of all or parts of the Goldstone report would contradict President Barack Obama’s stated commitment to human rights in the Middle East and reveal an ill-timed double-standard in Washington’s approach to international justice, Human Rights Watch said. It would also undermine efforts to revive the peace process. [continued…]

EU: demand justice for victims of Gaza war

The European Union and its member states should fully endorse the report of the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict led by South African judge Richard Goldstone and demand justice for the victims of serious violations of international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a letter to EU foreign ministers made public today, Human Rights Watch called on the European Union and its 27 member states to “promote an international order where no state is above the law.” [continued…]

Palestinians and Israelis follow Thoreau, but is anyone watching?

Sometime in 1846, Henry David Thoreau spent a night in jail because he refused to pay his taxes. This was his way of opposing the Mexican-American War as well as the institution of slavery. A few years later he published the essay “Civil Disobedience,” which has since been read by millions of people, including many Israelis and Palestinians.

Kobi Snitz read the book. He is an Israeli anarchist who is currently serving a 20-day sentence for refusing to pay a 2,000 shekel fine.

The 38-year-old Snitz was arrested with other activists in the small Palestinian village of Kharbatha back in 2004 while trying to prevent the demolition of the home of a prominent member of the local popular committee. The demolition, so it seems, was carried out both to intimidate and punish the local leader who had, just a couple of weeks earlier, begun organizing weekly demonstrations against the annexation wall. Both the demonstrations and the attempt to stop the demolition were acts of civil disobedience. [continued…]


Is Yemen the next Afghanistan?

Is Yemen the next Afghanistan?

The Cheery in-flight magazine of Yemenia, the national airline of Yemen, still runs articles encouraging adventurous tourists to visit the coffee-growing region in the country’s north, its terraced hilltop villages a vision of Old Arabia, and the fabled eastern valleys that were once home to the Queen of Sheba. But anyone trying to get off the beaten track in Yemen these days may find a bit too much adventure. About two-thirds of the country is out of government control and in the hands of either separatist groups or local tribes, some of which have a habit of kidnapping foreign tourists to use as bargaining chips in disputes with the central government. Such hostages were rarely harmed until this June, when nine foreigners were kidnapped — including two German women and a South Korean woman whose mutilated bodies were later discovered by shepherds. After the attack, the government effectively stopped granting permission to foreigners — including journalists — to travel anywhere but the capital, Sana’a, and the coastal region around the port city of Aden.

In the past month, the government, which is Sunni-dominated, has stepped up its military offensive against Shi’ite rebels, known as Houthis, whom officials blame for the killings. It’s a continuation of a war that began in 2004, when the government killed a Houthi leader, raising fears among Yemeni followers of the Zaydi sect of Shi’ite Islam that they were being targeted for eradication by the government and Sunni extremists. So far, thousands have died and hundreds of thousands have been displaced by the fighting, mostly in the northern province of Saada. The government has used aerial bombardment and artillery to try to smash the Houthis. The alleged use of collective punishment and blockades of aid to force locals to turn in rebel fighters have prompted some agencies, such as UNICEF, to compare the campaign to the government of Sudan’s actions in Darfur. [continued…]


Rethinking our terrorist fears

Rethinking our terrorist fears

Eight years after 9/11, the specter of terrorism still haunts the United States. Just last week, F.B.I. agents were working double time to unravel the alarming case of a Denver airport shuttle driver accused of training with explosives in Pakistan and buying bomb-making chemicals. In Dallas, a young Jordanian was charged with trying to blow up a skyscraper; in Springfield, Ill., a prison parolee was arrested for trying to attack the local federal building. Meanwhile, the Obama administration struggled to decide whether sending many more troops to Afghanistan would be the best way to forestall a future attack.

But important as they were, those news reports masked a surprising and perhaps heartening long-term trend: Many students of terrorism believe that in important ways, Al Qaeda and its ideology of global jihad are in a pronounced decline — with its central leadership thrown off balance as operatives are increasingly picked off by missiles and manhunts and, more important, with its tactics discredited in public opinion across the Muslim world.

“Al Qaeda is losing its moral argument about the killing of innocent civilians,” said Emile A. Nakhleh, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency’s strategic analysis program on political Islam until 2006. “They’re finding it harder to recruit. They’re finding it harder to raise money.”

Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. officer and forensic psychiatrist, counted 10 serious plots with Western targets, successful and unsuccessful, that could be linked to Al Qaeda or its allies in 2004, a peak he believes was motivated by the American-led invasion of Iraq the year before. In 2008, he said, there were just three. [continued…]


Thoughts on Iran, mountains and winning without war

On mountains and metaphors

A few random thoughts and observations on the latest developments with Iran:

How big’s a mountain? It’s a clandestine nuclear facility under construction “inside a mountain“.

The only adjective that got left out was “deep,” yet knowing that detail might be the key to knowing exactly what “very heavily protected” means.

(This much we can already deduce about the extent of the tunneling: it has produced two very large adjoining flattened mounds of debris which are marked in the image above.)

Gary Sick seems to have been among the descriptively most precise in referring to “a small enrichment facility in an underground chamber on a Revolutionary Guards base.”

Inside an underground chamber it is; inside a mountain it is not — at least not unless one assumes a Lilliputian perspective and calls a 167ft tall hillock a mountain. That’s the difference in elevation between one of the tunnel entrances and the highest point along the ridge that the tunnel penetrates. (Use Google Earth to see specific elevations. For instance, the northern tunnel entrance is at 2,975ft. The adjacent ridge to the east is at 3,142ft.)

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Not so fast with the sanctions. When the president of a country sharing a 1,458km border with Iran says sanctions against Iran won’t work, there’s reason to think that he isn’t simply making a prediction; he might be making a promise.

Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani gave this warning on Saturday and no doubt it was warmly received in Tehran. China and Russia might be crucial when it comes to imposing sanctions. Iraq might turn out to be key when it comes to enforcing or being unable to enforce them.

Pity the IAEA. There it is — the world’s indispensable nuclear monitoring agency — but does anyone care to share their intelligence so that IAEA inspectors can do their work? Only when the powers that be deem it useful.

Bombs away. Maybe this isn’t the smoking gun Israel was waiting for. Evidence of a clandestine program may confirm some of Israel’s dire warnings, but how many other similarly well-concealed and hard-to-destroy facilities might there be? All that an Israeli attack might actually accomplish would be to legitimize Iran’s withdrawal from the NPT and a rush towards weaponization.

The meaning of a mountain. If “inside a mountain” might be a topographical stretch, it’s an image that serves multiple purposes:
1. It’s too good an image for any journalist to risk undermining with a skeptical question. (“And just how big is that mountain?”)
2. It tells the world that the Iranians are dastardly, sneaky fellows whose evil plans can only be hidden by something as big as a mountain.
3. It says the Americans are so smart that they can find anything, however well hidden.
4. It highlights the possibly insurmountable challenge Israel would face in launching an air strike against a target much harder to destroy than a reactor under construction in Syria, or a weapons convoy on the move in Sudan.
5. It says that Obama isn’t a daydream believer sending his representatives into a negotiating trap; he’s back in his superhero mode out to save the world.

What’s it all about? Once you get past the theatrics it comes down to the pursuit of national interests — it’s not (or at least should not be) about putting Iran in a box.

Every party has distinct national interests, but fruitful negotiations will hinge on identifying where these interests overlap — not simply the overlapping interests of the US and its allies, but also those that are shared by Iran.

Stepping off the war path requires that everyone, including the Iranians, can see a way of winning.


Locating Iran’s secret nuclear facility (updated, update II)

Update — Turns out ISIS already published a report [PDF] on this and suggest an alternative location NW of Qum in addition to the one described below. They also add dates to the imagery, the Google Earth images appearing below having been taken on March 25, 2005.

Locating Iran’s secret nuclear facility

In numerous dispatches, Iran’s newly-reported and until a few days ago undeclared nuclear facility, is described as being built “inside a mountain“. In an Obama adminstration background briefing it was described as being located in “a very heavily protected, very heavily disguised facility”. Reports have also said that it is located north east of the city of Qum.

Understanding what “inside a mountain” and “very heavily protected” actually mean is important. It could mean that the facility is effectively invulnerable to any form of military strike.

Facilities buried more than 1000ft away from the earth’s surface are “essentially invulnerable to nuclear attack” says the Union of Concerned Scientists.

If it turns out the the Qum facility (and perhaps others) are in fact so heavily protected that they cannot be destroyed through a conventional or even an unconventional military strike, then the military threat that supposedly remains placed on that proverbial table would not really be a strike that could cripple of destroy Iran’s purported nuclear weapons program. It would simply mean that the threat of war remains on the table.

If that’s the case, then during the past couple of years (and remember, this facility has apparently been under observation since 2006), all the veiled and unveiled threats of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities have probably been made for purely political purposes.

So where is this newly announced facility and how heavily protected is it?

The Daily Telegraph has published this image from Reuters with the caption: “Satellite photo of what is believed to be a uranium-enrichment facility near Qom.”

I’m a novice at using Google Earth but I’ve got a good topographic eye, so with “inside a mountain, north east of Qum (alt spelling Qom)” as my starting point, I thought I’d take a look.

Here are some mountains north east of Qum:

And what d’ya know? Here’s the location that appears in the Telegraph:

Of course, we don’t know for sure whether the Reuters-distributed image is actually a photograph of the facility in question, but let’s assume it is.

The Google Earth image is older and a comparison of the two reveals extensive earthworks that doubled in area during the (to me) unknown lapse between the two images. It looks like open-cast mining, suggesting that wherever in proximity to that these earthworks the facility might be buried, it probably isn’t under a 1000ft of granite.

The question remains (and it’s obviously one I can’t answer): is this facility invulnerable to a military attack?

(Update: The photos from ISIS identify two tunnel entrances to the east of the excavated area.

It seems quite possible that the tunnels do indeed extend deep enough into the mountains to provide strike invulnerability.)

If you want to examine the location more carefully, you can find it here on Google maps. And these are the coordinates: 34°53’8.74″N — 50°59’45.90″E

Second update: Upon further examination of the Google Earth information, I’m having second thoughts about the “buried in a mountain” description.

While the satellite image is suggestive of mountains, the range in elevation between the tunnel entrances and the highest surrounding ridges is little more than a hundred feet! These aren’t mountains: they are hillocks. Situated in a few undulations that protrude slightly from a vast salt basin area that is mostly at about 3,000ft in elevation, this “very heavily protected” facility might not in fact be quite as invulnerable as I suggested above.


Iran’s newly revealed nuclear facility

Paradox: Now is the time to deal

Iran has admitted that it has at least one (and there is no reason to believe that there are not more) secret enrichment facilities. More information will undoubtedly come out in the coming days but we can deal now with the most important issue: how to proceed from here. As President Obama has rightly said today, this is not the first time Iran has hidden nuclear facilities it should rightly declare to the IAEA.

Iran will undoubtedly claim that it has not introduced nuclear material into the centrifuges and therefore did not have the obligation to report it. In fact, when I was in Israel earlier this summer, everyone I spoke to was convinced that such a facility existed but that Iran had not introduced uranium into it. However, there is a lot that can be done to train personnel etc. with enriching other isotopes like xenon or silicon. And training personnel is the important aspect right now. When the history of these secret facilities is known, I suspect that we will discover that they were started during the enrichment “suspension” that ended in 2006. We will also discover, I firmly believe, that the Natanz facility has been used as a training center for workers for those covert facilities. That could explain why there has been a relatively slow start: they were constantly cycling new trainees through with the consequent inefficiencies new workers always introduce. [continued…]

The Iran nuclear revelation

… despite what I expect to see swarming the media in the next few days — wanna bet that John Bolton or John Bolton-equivalent oped is already in production over at the Washington Times Washington Post (sorry, it’s hard to tell the difference on foreign policy issues sometimes) — I actually think that this public revelation makes war less rather than more likely. The timing of the announcement, immediately following the consultations at the UN and the G-20 and just before the Geneva meetings, makes it seem extremely likely that the Obama administration has been waiting for just the right moment to play this card. Now they have. It strengthens the P5+1 bargaining position ahead of October 1, changes Iranian calculations, and lays the foundations for a more serious kind of engagement. So now let’s see how it changes the game. [continued…]

How to keep Iran in check without war

For the better part of two decades, there have been cries of alarm that the United States must “do something” or else Iran would have an operational nuclear weapon within a few years. If these warnings of a “ticking clock” had been heeded, there would have been ample reason for the United States or Israel to go to war with Iran at almost any time. In fact, there have been as many serious predictions that a war was imminent and unavoidable as there have been false predictions about the timing of an Iranian bomb. Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker beginning in 2006, quoted many sources inside and outside the U.S. government who claimed that the Bush administration was preparing to attack Iran because of its nuclear policies. It now appears that Vice President Cheney, based on his own words in retirement, was in fact pressing for such an attack, but President Bush vetoed it.

In June 2008, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton predicted that Israel “will attack Iran” before January 2009 when the new U.S. president was sworn in, but apparently the Israeli leadership decided otherwise. Just a few weeks ago, retired Air Force general Chuck Wald on National Public Radio outlined a sustained bombing campaign against Iran that would last “weeks or months,” then added, “Now, does anybody in their right mind want to attack Iran? No, not a bit. But sometimes you’ve got to do things you don’t like to do.” From the tone of his voice, the prospect of an attack did not seem to dismay him, and he has gone on to write a series of op-eds pushing the military option.

These statements are admirably clear in recognizing that the end game in any concerted pressure campaign against Iran is war. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threatened “crippling sanctions” to be imposed on Iran if it failed to cooperate with U.S. diplomatic efforts. That phrase was later echoed by Israeli prime minister Netanyahu during his visit to Germany, and it is expected to be a major focus of the U.S. Congress starting in September. Iran does not have sufficient refinery capacity to meet all its gasoline needs, and the Congress is expected to press for actions that would attempt to curtail or block such imports into Iran. A prohibition of Iranian petroleum imports—most likely restricted to the United States and perhaps some of its European allies since Russia, China and even many of Iran’s allies (think Venezuela) and immediate neighbors (think Iraq) are unwilling to cooperate—can only be truly enforced by a blockade, which is an act of war.

The perpetual plea for U.S. foreign policy to “do something” needs to be changed; we would be better served by adopting the physicians creed: “First, do no harm.” [continued…]

Iranian leader offers U.S. access to the country’s nuclear scientists

Iran is willing to have its nuclear experts meet with scientists from the United States and other world powers as a confidence-building measure aimed at resolving concerns about Tehran’s nuclear program, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday.

At international talks next week on its nuclear ambitions, Iran also will seek to buy from the United States enriched uranium needed for medical purposes, Ahmadinejad told reporters and editors from The Washington Post and Newsweek. Agreement by the Americans, he suggested, would demonstrate that the Obama administration is serious about engagement, while rejection might give Iran an excuse to further enrich its stock of uranium.

“These nuclear materials we are seeking to purchase are for medicinal purposes. . . . It is a humanitarian issue,” Ahmadinejad said in the interview. “I think this is a very solid proposal which gives a good opportunity for a start” to build trust between the two countries and “engage in cooperation.” [continued…]

Russia’s president pledges to help U.S. nudge Iran on nuclear issue

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev offered closer cooperation with the United States in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions Wednesday, promising President Obama that Moscow would help the Islamic Republic make “a right decision” and hinting that sanctions might be necessary to achieve it.

U.S. officials said they regarded Medvedev’s comments, after meeting Obama on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, as a major shift in Russia’s position just a week before six major powers are to meet with Iranian officials in Geneva.

Russia, which has extensive economic ties with Iran, has consistently opposed sanctions. And, as its relations with Washington deteriorated in recent years, it has tended to view the Islamic Republic as a useful counterweight. [continued…]

Russia can sway Iran’s nuclear ambitions

So far, US-led efforts to increase pressure on Iran have failed in large part because of Russia’s hostile stance in the UN security council. During Vladimir Putin’s presidency (2000-08), Russia repeatedly opposed more punitive measures against Iran. Fuelled by a combination of anti-Americanism and renewed geopolitical ambition, Moscow insisted that Tehran had a sovereign right to build nuclear power stations – with Russian technological support.

But now that the Obama administration is moving its anti-ballistic missile shield from land-based installations in eastern Europe to mobile vehicles closer to Iran, the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, declared on Wednesday at the UN in New York that “sanctions are seldom productive but they are sometimes inevitable”.

With the “reset” of US-Russian relations, the Kremlin has performed a spectacular “rethink” of its Iran policy. The “secret” Moscow visit by Binyamin Netanyahu on 7 September seemed to reassure the Russian leadership that Israel would not launch unilateral pre-emptive strikes against suspected Iranian nuclear installations – on the condition that Moscow promise not to equip Iran with the advanced S-300 system, an offensive missile capability that could deliver nuclear warheads. [continued…]

Green movement ‘understands world’s concerns’ over nuclear Iran

A spokesman for Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi is telling the “citizens of the world” and especially “the people and government of America” that the opposition shares international concerns about the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran.

The statement by Mohsen Makhmalbaf — an Iranian film director — goes as far as to say that any agreement signed with President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s “coup-empowered illegitimate government” would not be honored by the opposition, known as the Green Movement. He added: “All such agreements will be subject to review in the future.” [continued…]


Images of The Blitz — London, Gaza, Sderot

Netanyahu likens Hamas to Nazis attacking Britain

Netanyahu just told the UN General Assembly that the only example in history of rockets being rained down on civilians–prior to Hamas doing so to southern Israel–was the blitz of England by the Nazis. And the western powers responded justifiably by levelling German cities.

So Israel was justified in its actions. And so the west must take on the reign of terror, originating in Iran, says Netanyahu. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — If Netanyahu wants to go with the Blitz comparison, that’s fine. Photographs convey the similarities more clearly than can any speech.

Images of The Blitz — London, Gaza, Sderot


Obama pushes timetable for Mideast talks

Obama pushes timetable for Mideast talks

Mr. Obama and his aides have stressed the settlement-freeze issue as the key to developing support among the Arab states. Mr. Netanyahu hasn’t agreed to a complete freeze on building settlements, though he did agree earlier this year to a partial freeze.

The president and other senior U.S. officials focused Tuesday on the urgency of resuming talks. Mr. Obama met the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly. “Simply put, it is past time to talk about starting negotiations,” Mr. Obama said before a trilateral meeting with Mr. Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. “Permanent status negotiations must begin and begin soon.”

Arab diplomats said Washington’s apparent softening on the settlement issue ran the risk of looking like a concession to Mr. Netanyahu. “This could seriously blow back against Abbas if there isn’t quick progress on talks,” said an Arab official closely involved in the peace process. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — When Obama picked Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, there was some reason to hope that Emanuel was going to function as Obama’s enforcer. The president could remain Mr Congeniality while, when the situation required it, Emanuel would be sent out to break knee-caps.

There were hints of this when earlier this summer it was reported that Netanyahu had been told he couldn’t meet Mitchell until he’d finished his “homework” on freezing settlements.

In the end, it turned out that “pressure” from the Obama administration amounts to strong words with no visible force behind them. It comes in the form of sternness — no doubt quite effective when Obama insists to Malia and Natasha that it’s bedtime, but not very impressive when it’s directed at the likes of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Enough with the pressure — it’s time for some threats and then follow through. Obama needs to demonstrate through actions that he means what he says.

And while the Israelis would like to see linkage between the administration’s approach to the Middle East conflict and its engagement with Iran, here’s the contrast: pressure applied on a friend can often be more effective than pressure applied on an adversary. Israel has a lot to lose. It should not be allowed to take its close ties with the United States for granted.

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Editor’s Comment — As refreshing as Gavin Polone’s appeal is that the US stop treating Israel as an exception among all states, equally refreshing is Dylan Ratigan’s directness in posing his questions. (Hat tip to Mondoweiss.)