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The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Topic: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR (Read 44746 times)
The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
October 18, 2006, 01:41:59 PM »
I'm starting a new thread instead of adding this post to the WWIII thread because I think the Middle East is complex enough to warrant it without including worries about North Korean nukes and South American devils.
As I was reading the news I was thinking that war in the Middle East was just a question of time. What I find troubling is that many European countries are aiding and abetting the Islamist: France threatened to fire on the IAF, Italy wants to sell anti aircraft batteries to Lebanon to shoot down IAF planes, Russia (Putin) continues to help Iran. It would seem that Israel can only count on the US and Britain as allies and I have my doubts about Britain at times.
Right On: The coming Middle East war
By MICHAEL FREUND
The Jerusalem Post
The warning signs are everywhere, yet no one wishes to see them. Israel's foes are gearing up for war, and it's time that we opened our eyes to the danger that confronts us.
The conflict may be just weeks or even months away, or perhaps a bit longer. How it will start is anyone's guess, but make no mistake, a major outbreak of hostilities is almost certainly around the corner.
If this sounds like scare-mongering or even an advanced case of paranoia to you, just take a glance at the newspapers from the past few weeks. If you read them with a discerning eye, you will see exactly what I mean.
For whichever direction one chooses to look, be it north, south or east of us, trouble - major trouble - is brewing.
In Lebanon, Hizbullah is busy rebuilding its expansive terrorist infrastructure after this summer's fighting with Israel. Under the protective shield of UN troops, the group has been welcoming large shipments of weapons from Iran and Syria, and fortifying its bunkers in advance of the next round of conflict.
In a speech delivered last month in Beirut, on September 22, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah asserted that his organization still has "more than 20,000 rockets" and that it had "recovered all its organizational and military capabilities."
Even if we allow for an element of boasting and exaggeration, there are clear signs that Nasrallah is steadily engaged in rebuilding his forces.
Indeed, this past Sunday, Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of the IDF intelligence directorate's research department, told the weekly Cabinet meeting that, "There is conclusive and decisive evidence" that Syria is rearming Hizbullah.
"The weapons smuggling from Syria into Lebanon," Baidatz said, "is continuing with official Syrian involvement." He added that Damascus has kept its forces on a war footing, with their artillery and missiles deployed in forward battle positions.
Along these lines, Syrian President Bashar Assad has made a series of public statements in recent weeks, speaking openly about the possibility of military conflict with Israel and his desire to retake the Golan Heights by force.
In an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Anba on October 6, Assad said that Damascus was ready for war with the Jewish state. Previously, he insisted that the Golan would be "liberated by Syrian arms," and warned Israel to "seek peace or face the threat of defeat."
TURNING SOUTH toward Gaza, the situation is likewise disturbing. Palestinian terrorists continue to fire Kassam rockets into the Negev on a daily basis, hitting Israeli towns and communities such as Sderot and Nir Am.
Since the start of the year, Hamas is said to have smuggled into Gaza over 20 tons of explosives, anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. According to media reports, Hamas has also assembled an armed military force consisting of 7,500 fighters, which is said to include specialized units such as snipers, missile batteries and anti-tank troops.
As Yediot Aharonot military correspondent Alex Fishman recently put it, "The Palestinians are arming themselves to the teeth, building a military force, defensive systems and preparing Hizbullah-style surprises."
Nor is Hamas hiding its intentions. In a statement issued on Monday, the group's Izzadin al-Kassam brigades declared that it has the "means and arms necessary to confront the Zionist enemy with all our force."
Saying they are "totally ready to resist," Hamas added somewhat ominously that, "We have finished preparations to teach the Zionist enemy a lesson it will not forget."
And then, of course, there is the threat from Teheran to our east, where the Iranian president speaks of wiping Israel off the map even as he continues to pursue his nuclear ambitions.
If anyone thinks that Mr. Ahmadinejad is open to compromise, they should take a look at his latest ramblings. Speaking at a mosque in Teheran on Monday, the Iranian leader insisted that he had received a Divine message indicating that his country would prevail. "One day," he said, "I will be asked whether I have been in touch with someone who told me we would win, and I will respond: 'Yes, I have been in touch with God'."
As if all this were not enough, there have been persistent reports in recent months about a growing al-Qaida presence in the territories, as the international terrorist group seeks to position itself for launching strikes against the Jewish state.
And so, Israel now finds itself surrounded by an arc of hate stretching from Beirut and Damascus in the north, to Teheran in the east, and back to Gaza in the south. Along each chord of this arc, our foes are diligently arming themselves and preparing for battle, both verbally and in practice. It seems safe to assume that these coordinated efforts are no coincidence, and that they are all linked to the seemingly inevitable confrontation that is looming over the region regarding Iran's nuclear program.
Just as Iran sought to send a message to Israel and the US this summer by provoking an outbreak of hostilities in Lebanon, so too Teheran now appears determined to lay the groundwork for a much greater, and far more ambitious, flare-up, one that would threaten to consume the entire region. The Iranians presumably view this as their trump card, thinking that it will give them the means of forestalling a possible US or Israeli attack on their nuclear facilities.
As a result, they have been working to strengthen the extremists throughout the region, who share their desire to hit America and Israel. In all probability, they are merely waiting for the opportune moment with which to set in motion the next provocative act, which will be aimed at igniting the entire Middle East.
HOW SHOULD Israel react to this growing threat? First, we must learn the lesson of this summer's Lebanon war, which was disastrous precisely because we sat back and allowed our enemies to build up their military infrastructure over time.
Instead of making this same mistake once again, Israel should take whatever steps are necessary to interdict weapons shipments to the terrorists, seal off their supply routes, and hit hard at those who are sending them the weapons in the first place.
Second, the government needs to begin seriously contemplating the possibility of launching preemptive and wide-ranging military strikes. Our foes are openly preparing for war, so why should we allow them the luxury to choose when it starts?
Passivity and indecisiveness cost us dearly in the past, and especially in Lebanon this summer. We can not allow ourselves to play by the enemy's rules, or even by his schedule, should this scenario once again come to pass.
I truly hope that I am wrong, and that diplomacy and common sense will somehow prevail. The last thing Israel needs right now is another painful conflict, and we should all pray to God for His mercy and intervention.
But as in the past, our enemies may leave us with no other choice but to fight. This time around, let's just make sure we are ready for the challenge.
Last Edit: July 15, 2011, 01:36:02 PM by Crafty_Dog
The Third Estate's Fifth Column
Reply #1 on:
October 19, 2006, 05:35:12 PM »
BY JAMES TARANTO
Thursday, October 19, 2006 1:36 p.m. EDT
Today's video on WSJ.com: James Taranto talks with Ed Crane about European hypocrisy on Guantanamo, the Democrats' newest slogan, and an Israeli sex scandal.
Tet's Real Lesson
We have long argued that America's mainstream media--because of what they see as the "lessons of Vietnam"--are actively working to promote American defeat in Iraq. (We gave this theme a lengthy treatment in a talk last November at the Hudson Institute, which later became an essay in the February issue of The American Spectator.) From CNN comes one of the most striking bits of evidence yet that this is the case. This promo for a "CNN exclusive" appears today on the homepage of CNN.com (we've captured it here for posterity as well):
Almost 2,800 Americans have been killed so far in Iraq and one of the most dangerous insurgent opponents is the sniper. CNN has obtained graphic video from the Islamic Army of Iraq, one of the most active insurgent organizations in Iraq, showing its sniper teams targeting U.S. troops. The Islamist Army says it wants talks with the United States and some Islamist Internet postings call for a P.R. campaign aimed at influencing the American public. The video is disturbing to watch but CNN believes the story, shocking as it is, needs to be told.
By airing this video, CNN is participating in what it acknowledges is "a P.R. campaign aimed at influencing the American public" in ways favorable to America's enemies. And the network does not even seem to realize what a shocking admission this is.
With the midterm elections less than three weeks away, the media are filled with Tet talk. Here's Simon Hooper, in a commentary that also appears today on CNN.com:
For veteran statesmen such as [James] Baker, the parallels with another era-defining American war must also be striking. In the late 1960s the U.S. military found itself fighting an unwinnable conflict, enduring mounting casualties against a growing chorus of dissent at home--in Vietnam.
On Wednesday [President] Bush himself acknowledged parallels between the current situation in Iraq and the 1968 Tet Offensive--widely considered to be the point when American public opinion turned against the war.
As we noted yesterday, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times also drew the analogy in a column whose description of Tet is worth repeating:
Although the Vietcong and Hanoi were badly mauled during Tet, they delivered, through the media, such a psychological blow to U.S. hopes of "winning" in Vietnam that Tet is widely credited with eroding support for President Johnson and driving him to withdraw as a candidate for re-election.
Tet, that is, was a military victory for the U.S. that turned into a propaganda victory for the communists because American journalists presented a false picture of what had happened.
The media today are eager to repeat their "success" in Vietnam--and it was a success inasmuch as the media were hugely influential over the course of events. But from a journalistic standpoint it was a gross failure. The real lesson of Vietnam is that journalists got the story wrong. We are not at all convinced that the American people are about to get fooled again.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #2 on:
October 21, 2006, 11:48:24 PM »
Sorry for lack of URL,? but this internet friend has a long and solid track record with me.
This story from Haaretz, indirectly supports that contention...namely that the French would approve the sale of missiles to Lebanon...
French forces: Stop Lebanon overflights or we'll open fire
By Gideon Alon
The commanders of the French contingent in UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) have warned that if Israeli warplanes continue their overflights in Lebanon, they may have to open fire on them, Defense Minister Amir Peretz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee yesterday.
Peretz told members of the committee that despite the warnings, Israel would continue to patrol the skies of Lebanon as such operations were critical for the country's security. Over the past few days, Peretz said, Israel had gathered clear evidence that Syria was transfering arms and ammunition to Lebanon, meaning that the embargo imposed by UN Resolution 1701 was not being completely enforced.
Israel plans to inform the joint committee of representatives of UNIFIL, the Israel Defense Forces and the Lebanese Army that unless the arms transfers are stopped, Israel will be forced to take independent action, Peretz said.
Turning to the situation in the Gaza Strip, Peretz said that Israel could under no circumstances allow the Strip to be turned into a second South Lebanon. According to Peretz, the time when Israel used to check who was sending every missile is over, and the IDF is intent on striking at every terrorist no matter what organization he belongs to.
The defense minister said that the current ground operations underway in the Gaza Strip were much more extensive than before. But, he said, "No one is hankering for ground action deep inside the entire Gaza Strip."
Another friend comments:
Looks like Israel was screwed once again by the "international community".
Disarming Hizballah was part of the peace deal - but now, no one even talks
about that. And now, the French are threatening to shoot at Israeli planes.
What about shooting at those who are delivering arms to Hizballah?
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #3 on:
November 09, 2006, 08:31:39 AM »
1209 GMT -- FRANCE -- French troops almost fired on Israeli air force jets in southern Lebanon when a squadron of F-15s dived at a French peacekeeper position, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said in comments to parliament late Nov. 8.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #4 on:
November 28, 2006, 12:43:22 PM »
From Beirut to Baghdad
The ghastly predictability of nihilist violence.
By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Monday, Nov. 27, 2006, at 4:30 PM ET
The fate of those who criticize the Syrian presence in Lebanon is rather like the fate of those who oppose Vladimir Putin. The former are shot or blown up, and the latter are victims of exotic poisons. Nobody knows for sure if there is any direct connection between the positions they take and the outcome that befalls them, but it has to be said in both cases that neither the government of Syria nor the face of Vladimir Putin seems very downcast or contrite when these coincidences occur. And, as Gen. Strelnikov so rightly says in Doctor Zhivago, it hardly matters whether you burn the right village or the wrong one. The same deterrent point is made in either case.
In Iraq, the terrifying aspect of the violence is its randomness. You have a higher chance of being tortured to death with a drill if you are a secularist, a translator working with the coalition, an advocate of women's rights, or a Christian, but the atmosphere is one in which nobody?not even a preacher or practitioner of sectarianism?can feel safe. In Lebanon, the situation is also slightly volatile. Those targeted for murder have included a former prime minister backed by Saudi funds, the former chairman of the Communist Party, and most recently the leader of the Maronite Catholic right: a fairly broad spectrum of victims, if, essentially, a predictable one. But in Beirut two decades ago, the situation was more like it is in Baghdad today, with mayhem in almost every part of the city and splits within cracks within fissures of each militia, so that almost every block had its own warlord. So ghastly was this state of affairs that there were enough people to welcome Syrian troops at least grudgingly when they first arrived, on the basis that anything was preferable to anarchy. A similar chaos and misery gave the upper hand to Mullah Omar's forces in Afghanistan, who were able to present Talibanism in the 1990s as providing a measure of stability and who currently hope to repeat the same strategy with (as before) a little help from a Pakistan that needs an Afghan colony for "strategic depth" in its campaign for Kashmir.
This is the huge advantage that the forces of nihilism possess in the region. In the short term, it is true, a prudent Syrian or Iranian government would not wish for an implosion in either Lebanon or Iraq, and a sensible Pakistani regime ought to desire a peaceful Afghanistan. A next-door war of all against all can lead to interethnic and interconfessional rivalry within their own societies and in the meantime is a threat to the orderly exploitation of things?like the trade in narcotics?that benefit the regimes and their clientele. However, chaos is a tremendous way of waging asymmetrical warfare and canceling the vast military superiority of the United States. It also catches the attention of those locals who are caught in the middle and who know from long and bitter experience how to sniff the wind. Listen to us, say the Ahmadinejads and their proxies, we will always be here. Can you say the same for the Americans? Many considerations, including intense inter-Islamic Shiite-Sunni hatred, divide Ahmadinejad and Assad from the forces of al-Qaida, which would also prefer to see Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan in ruins than have these countries get a chance of modernism and secularism. But on this essential point, they are in agreement, and their wrecking activities tend toward the same objective. In due course, they will certainly fight each other. But the ruins over which they will be disputing will, they believe, have at least been abandoned by the West, as Afghanistan was after 1989. And the interest of human-rights monitors and others will have slackened accordingly.
If this indeed proves to be the outcome, the victors will be able to rub their eyes at how easy it was. Barely five years after the eviction of the Taliban, three and a half years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and a year and a half after the Syrian army was forced out of Beirut by a show of mass popular and democratic unity, the memory of those brave fingers marked with the purple ink of the franchise has almost vanished. Tribalism and gangsterism are back, in a big way, with heavy state support from across the frontiers. And the United States, it seems, cannot wait to confirm the impression that it would rather deal with the aggressors. If the latest assassination in Lebanon caused any embarrassment to the enthusiasm of the Baker-Hamilton team for direct talks with Damascus and Tehran, the embarrassment wasn't evident. The Lebanese Cabinet may have bravely voted last week, in spite of a campaign of blackmail by Syria's death squads and religious proxies, to establish a tribunal to investigate the murder of Rafik Hariri, but in Washington, the talk is of getting on better terms with the people who, on all the available evidence, blew up his car. You may have noticed the new habit in the media of referring to the government of Lebanon as "American-backed" or "Western-backed." This is as if to imply that it is not an expression of Lebanon's remaining autonomy. But it is also cruelly ironic: Where exactly is this "backing"? Once again, it is becoming more dangerous to be a friend of the United States than an enemy.
The objectionable thing about the proposed Baker-Hamilton "talks" is not that they are talks but that they give the impression of looking for someone to whom to surrender. And they have, apparently, no preconditions. It would be an excellent thing to have direct negotiations with Iran, for instance, with all matters on the table. But if the mullahs did not have to sacrifice their ongoing nuclear deception in order to get to that table, then all the efforts of the Europeans, the United Nations, and the International Atomic Energy Agency to get them to do so would have been shown to be risible. With Syria, there is an even more intelligible precondition to be announced. Most people are unaware of this fact, but Damascus has always refused to recognize Lebanon as an independent state. There is no Syrian Embassy in Beirut. Implicitly and explicitly, this suggests that the country is regarded as an actual or potential part of a "Greater Syria." Is it really too much to demand that Syria acknowledge the self-determination, or "right to exist," of a fellow member of the Arab League? Without this line of demarcation, for one thing, the "withdrawal" of Syrian soldiers and police is a merely tactical thing; a retreat over the horizon while the Assad dynasty waits for better days. These "better" days may well not be long in coming.
Those who blame the violence in Baghdad on the American presence must have a hard job persuading themselves that the mayhem in Beirut and Afghanistan?and the mayhem that is being planned and is still to come?is attributable to the same cause. But the instigators are the same in all cases: the parties of god and their foreign masters. If we cannot even stand up for Lebanon in this crisis, even rhetorically, then we are close to admitting that these parties have won.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #5 on:
November 29, 2006, 08:19:55 PM »
Geopolitical Diary: Syria's Militant Islamist Traffic
An explosion occurred on the Syrian-Lebanese border on Tuesday. Lebanese security officials said the blast was caused by a Syrian assailant, driving toward Lebanon in southwestern Syria along the main international highway that links Beirut and Damascus. The driver was reportedly about seven minutes from the Lebanese border point of Masnaa when he was stopped at the border crossing of Jdeidet Yabous on the Syrian side. When Syrian police tried to search a suitcase in his car, the driver reportedly pulled out a pistol and fired at them. Officials say he then ran from the car, holding a grenade, which exploded and killed him on the spot. Two Syrian security officers were injured.
And then we have the Syrian version of the incident. The Syrian Interior Ministry issued a statement that identified the assailant as 28-year-old Omar Abdullah, the alleged leader of the Islamist militant group Tawhid and Jihad al-Takfiri. Abdullah, operating under the alias Omar Hamra, was allegedly trying to cross the border with nine forged documents. After firing at Syrian security forces, he tried to escape and ended up detonating an explosive belt.
Damascus is notorious for stretching the truth, particularly when it comes to reporting on Islamist militants operating in the country -- such as the alleged jihadist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Damascus in September, as well as a number of shady reports on shootouts between Islamist militants and Syrian security forces. In this latest incident, it does seem a bit odd that a leader of a shadowy jihadist group -- and not a foot soldier -- would be the one carrying out a suicide mission, and that he would behave so clumsily at a checkpoint.
Despite the glaring disparities between the Lebanese and Syrian accounts, one thing is clear: a Syrian assailant was stopped at a checkpoint and detonated an explosion of some kind while trying to escape. Though a clumsy affair, the incident reveals Syria's management of jihadists in the Levant region. Syria has long been in the business of funneling Islamist militants across the borders it shares with Iraq and Lebanon, while carefully managing to stay clear of Sunni militant attacks itself.
Syria manages these militants primarily through its intelligence assets in Lebanon who coordinate with Islamist groups operating in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon and in Sunni areas of Lebanon. An alleged al Qaeda-linked node has also set up shop in several refugee camps in Lebanon, including Burj al-Barajneh, Beddawi and Mar Elias.
Syria regularly likes to remind its neighbors and the United States through incidents such as the Tuesday border explosion that it, too, is battling jihadists within its borders, and that Washington's cooperation with Damascus is necessary to battle this common threat. The Syrian regime is also keen on driving home the point that Lebanon will return to chaos without Syrian forces in the country and that a price will be paid for driving Syrian forces out of the country following the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. In order to squash any plans to topple the Syrian government, Damascus wants to play up the idea that the alternative to the secular Alawite-Baathist authoritarian regime in Syria would be a government led or heavily influenced by radical Islamists. The story on the border explosion clearly falls in line with Syria's intentions.
But Syrian President Bashar al Assad is playing with fire in facilitating the transport of Islamist militants into Lebanon and Iraq. Though the al Assad government isn't exactly known to be risk-averse, the Alawite regime in Damascus cannot be assured that it is completely safe from the jihadist threat, and must carefully manage the flow of insurgents to avoid falling victim to attacks on its own soil. The Syrians are also keeping a close eye on the raging insurgency in Iraq -- which has thus far served it well by keeping the United States occupied, but which runs the risk of becoming a bigger problem for Damascus should the Sunni militant movement get out of hand.
With the United States now well beyond its tolerance level in Iraq and searching for a shift in strategy to relieve U.S. forces in the region, recommendations by James Baker's Iraq Study Group to include Syria and Iran in negotiations have presented al Assad with a golden opportunity to emerge out of diplomatic isolation and bring Syria back into the regional spotlight. Al Assad has his Shiite allies in Iran to thank for this diplomatic opening, who have aggressively paved the way for Shiite influence to spread through the Arab world.
But Syria does not wish to present itself as a pawn of the Iranians in these negotiations. An ongoing meeting between Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran was supposed to include al Assad, but he politely declined the invitation, lamely citing scheduling conflicts as the reason for his absence. The reality of the situation is that Syria wants to make a name for itself in these talks and will not simply be strung along by the Iranians. In fact, Syria is planning on holding a summit of its own in Damascus in the near future with Iraqi security officials, including Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani and National Security Affairs Minister Shirwan al-Waili.
In addition to making a name for itself in Iraq, Syria is also heavily exhibiting its influence in other parts of the region. In Lebanon, the recent assassination of Pierre Gemayel was a clear reminder from Damascus that it still has the assets in place to manipulate the Lebanese political system. In the Palestinian territories, Syria was involved in the negotiations that led to the current cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant faction. Though this cease-fire is tenuous at best, Syria's influence over Hamas' exiled leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus played a part in halting rocket fire into Israel over the past three days.
Syria is clearly ready to catapult itself back into a more influential role in the region, but the regime is still twiddling its thumbs waiting on recognition from Washington -- something that will not come easily with Iran running the game in Iraq.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #6 on:
December 24, 2006, 11:05:28 AM »
By SIMON HENDERSON
December 16, 2006
Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., has resigned. The prince reportedly flew out of Washington after informing Condoleezza Rice, and his own staff, that he was leaving, just 15 months after arriving. The Saudi Embassy told the Associated Press that he was "going home to spend more time with his family." Such an excuse may satisfy the immediate requirements of news-agency reporting, but is almost certainly incomplete, and worryingly so. Prince Turki's resignation provides yet another reminder that one of America's most important relationships is laced with surprise and mystery.
At the end of August 2001, the prince resigned as chief of the General Intelligence Directorate, the Saudi CIA, supposedly for apparently similar personal reasons. At the time the CIA and State Department were clueless as to what it meant. The eventual wisdom was that Prince Turki's directorate had become, in the later words of Pulitzer-winner Steve Coll, "a financial black hole." But Prince Turki had also held Saudi Arabia's "Afghan file," making him the principal interlocutor with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. And 10 days later, the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. took place. Bureaucratic Washington, then, will now be intensely interested in finding out exactly why Prince Turki has suddenly decided to leave this time.
Elements of what might be the relevant context are already out in the public domain. Two weeks ago, Nawaf Obaid, a young Saudi who has worked as adviser for Prince Turki both in Washington and in his previous assignment as ambassador in London, authored an op-ed in the Washington Post. While claiming his status as adviser but also saying the opinions were his own, Mr. Obaid wrote that the kingdom was considering "massive . . . intervention [in Iraq] to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis." Options included "funding, arms and logistical support," which to some sounded awfully like the support the Saudis, under Prince Turki, clandestinely gave pre-9/11 to jihadist fighters in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia.
The article prompted a formal announcement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency calling Mr. Obaid's reportage "absolutely not true." It went on: "It also does not represent in any way the kingdom's policy and stand to support security, unity and stability of Iraq with all its sects and doctrines." Two days later, Prince Turki told Wolf Blitzer on CNN: "We [have] terminated our consultancy work with [Mr. Obaid]."
Less than a week before Mr. Obaid's article, Dick Cheney had made an extraordinary Thanksgiving weekend flight to Riyadh for a two-hour meeting with King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan. The spin was that Washington wanted more Saudi help in ensuring stability in Iraq -- although it would seem that ambassadors or foreign ministers are more suited for delivering messages than are vice presidents.
These pieces still don't quite fit, but they provide reason to believe that there's more to the story. Now, the spin on Prince Turki's return home is that he is about to replace his elder brother, Saud, who is afflicted by a bad back and Parkinson's disease, as foreign minister. Possible, but probably too simplistic. Prince Turki is bright and able, though some who know him say he never fully recovered from a bad case of carbon-monoxide poisoning he suffered when staying in a camper van on a desert trip in the mid-1980s.
There has been an almost mystical quality to much of the reporting about Prince Turki since he arrived in Washington. Much is made of his education at Princeton and Georgetown. Prince Turki's version, in a speech at Princeton on Dec. 7, was more candid: "[This was] where I briefly spent some of my misspent youth." Indeed, returning to the kingdom in some disgrace, he reportedly spent a year avoiding his father, the then-king, Faisal, before being sent to Georgetown. The Saudi ambassador at the time, instructed to make sure Prince Turki behaved, had little alternative but to take him in as a house guest.
Official U.S. analysis of the Saudi kingdom seems torn between viewing it as a kind of Camelot, with its (Islamic) chivalry, or as Disneyland -- military personnel sometimes refer to it as "the magic kingdom." In reality, the Saudi royal family needs to burnish its Islamic credentials to maintain legitimacy and quiet domestic discontent. Post-9/11, past compromises with Islamic radicals have come back to haunt the royalty, in addition to serving as an irritant in relations with the U.S.
An additional dimension derives from the 2003 invasion of Iraq: A huge Shia-dominated neighbor has emerged on its northern border. Saudis see Shias as threatening their security and leadership of Islam, and perceive them to be Iranian surrogates. In response, Saudi Arabia has been reaching out to Sunni states like Egypt and Jordan. Dramatically, even contacts with Israel have not been ruled out. One report suggests that it was not Saudi national security advisor Prince Bandar who had a clandestine autumn meeting in Amman with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but Prince Turki. The logic: As intelligence chief, he had established a back-channel relationship with the Mossad.
Despite the continuing high oil prices, for once U.S. difficulties with Saudi Arabia do not appear to be dominated by immediate energy concerns. The main challenge appears to be to steer Riyadh between a near holy confrontation with Shia Iran and an equally destabilizing alliance with radical Sunnis. As an experienced and well-liked envoy, Prince Turki will be hard to replace.
One early danger is that the kingdom is close to acquiring nuclear weapons rather than continuing to rely on the longstanding security guarantees and understanding of successive administrations in Washington. Last month a Saudi official privately warned the kingdom would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. Pakistan (for bombs) and perhaps North Korea (for rockets) are potential allies. There are already credible reports of facilities in the desert that the Saudis claim are oil-related, although there are no pipelines in sight. Also, North Korean personnel have been spotted at military facilities.
Iraq, Iran, nuclear weapons, oil. Washington desperately needs a new, reliable Saudi interlocutor.
Mr. Henderson is the Baker Fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #7 on:
January 08, 2007, 11:41:15 PM »
Israeli plans for Iran attack
Spy agency Mossad’s plans for a surprise attack on six sites in Iran have gripped the Islamic republic’s media, as have details of Israel’s nuclear capabilities.
Newspapers in Tehran jumped at revelations reported by both the German and American press on Sunday.
The Yediot Aharonot, Maariv and Haaretz dailies all splashed on a Los Angeles Times report that modified US-made cruise missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads on submarines.
This would allow Israel to launch atomic weapons from land, air or sea.
Strike plans prepared
The 3 newspapers also carried reports in Monday's edition of the Germany Der Spiegel magazine that a special Mossad unit received orders 2 months ago to prepare plans for strikes.
Around half a dozen targets in Iran are suspected of being used to prepare nuclear weapons by Tel Aviv.
US-built F-16 fighter bombers could completely destroy the sites, according to Israeli security officials quoted in the German magazine.
Maariv published a map of Iran complete with aerial shots of the suspected nuclear sites.
Yediot even ran a photograph of an Israeli Dauphin submarine, using a graphic to explain how it could sneak up on the enemy and fire its nuclear warheads.
Not the first time
In 1981, Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear power station near Baghdad, smashing former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's nuclear programme, the 3 Israeli papers reminded their readers.
But a similar air attack against Iran would be far riskier.
Its nuclear sites are dotted across vast expanses and Iran's eastern border is 1300km from Israeli air bases, making bombing sorties vulnerable.
However, Israeli political sources quoted by Yediot said there is no prospect of military action against Iran at this stage.
One senior official branded the weekend’s press reports “mere speculation. Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear arms to the Middle East, nor the first to use them."
Tel Aviv has neither confirmed nor denied having nuclear arms, but Washington has accepted it as a nuclear power since 1969 and analysts say it has up to 200 sophisticated nuclear weapons.
Honest peace broker
Arab countries have criticised the United States and the United Nations for pressuring Iran to accept even tougher inspections while ignoring the stockpile in Israel, which is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has never been inspected.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has imposed a 31 October deadline on Iran to prove it is not secretly developing nuclear weapons and also urged it to suspend enriching uranium, which the United States claims could be used to make nuclear bombs.
In a 1991 documentary on Israeli television, then foreign minister Shimon Peres revealed for the first time that France had agreed to equip Israel with a nuclear capability in 1956.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #8 on:
February 10, 2007, 09:24:32 AM »
Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says
Michael R. GORDON
Published: February 10, 2007
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 — The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran.
A Deadly Weapon The assertion of an Iranian role in supplying the device to Shiite militias reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies, although officials acknowledge that the picture is not entirely complete.
In interviews, civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies provided specific details to support what until now has been a more generally worded claim, in a new National Intelligence Estimate, that Iran is providing “lethal support” to Shiite militants in Iraq.
The focus of American concern is known as an “explosively formed penetrator,” a particularly deadly type of roadside bomb being used by Shiite groups in attacks on American troops in Iraq. Attacks using the device have doubled in the past year, and have prompted increasing concern among military officers. In the last three months of 2006, attacks using the weapons accounted for a significant portion of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq, though less than a quarter of the total, military officials say.
Because the weapon can be fired from roadsides and is favored by Shiite militias, it has become a serious threat in Baghdad. Only a small fraction of the roadside bombs used in Iraq are explosively formed penetrators. But the device produces more casualties per attack than other types of roadside bombs.
Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both politically and diplomatically volatile. The officials said they were willing to discuss the issue to respond to what they described as an increasingly worrisome threat to American forces in Iraq, and were not trying to lay the basis for an American attack on Iran.
The assessment was described in interviews over the past several weeks with American officials, including some whose agencies have previously been skeptical about the significance of Iran’s role in Iraq. Administration officials said they recognized that intelligence failures related to prewar American claims about Iraq’s weapons arsenal could make critics skeptical about the American claims.
The link that American intelligence has drawn to Iran is based on a number of factors, including an analysis of captured devices, examination of debris after attacks, and intelligence on training of Shiite militants in Iran and in Iraq by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and by Hezbollah militants believed to be working at the behest of Tehran.
The Bush administration is expected to make public this weekend some of what intelligence agencies regard as an increasing body of evidence pointing to an Iranian link, including information gleaned from Iranians and Iraqis captured in recent American raids on an Iranian office in Erbil and another site in Baghdad.
The information includes interrogation reports from the raids indicating that money and weapons components are being brought into Iraq from across the Iranian border in vehicles that travel at night. One of the detainees has identified an Iranian operative as having supplied two of the bombs. The border crossing at Mehran is identified as a major crossing point for the smuggling of money and weapons for Shiite militants, according to the intelligence.
According to American intelligence, Iran has excelled in developing this type of bomb, and has provided similar technology to Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon. The manufacture of the key metal components required sophisticated machinery, raw material and expertise that American intelligence agencies do not believe can be found in Iraq. In addition, some components of the bombs have been found with Iranian factory markings from 2006.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates appeared to allude to this intelligence on Friday when he told reporters in Seville, Spain, that serial numbers and other markings on weapon fragments found in Iraq point to Iran as a source.
Some American intelligence experts believe that Hezbollah has provided some of the logistical support and training to Shiite militias in Iraq, but they assert that such steps would not be taken without Iran’s blessing.
“All source reporting since 2004 indicates that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Corps-Quds Force is providing professionally-built EFPs and components to Iraqi Shia militants,” notes a still-classified American intelligence report that was prepared in 2006.
“Based on forensic analysis of materials recovered in Iraq,” the report continues, “Iran is assessed as the producer of these items.”
Page 2 of 3)
The United States, using the Swiss Embassy in Tehran as an intermediary, has privately warned the Iranian government to stop providing the military technology to Iraqi militants, a senior administration official said. The British government has issued similar warnings to Iran, according to Western officials. Officials said that the Iranians had not responded.
A Deadly Weapon An American intelligence assessment described to The New York Times said that “as part of its strategy in Iraq, Iran is implementing a deliberate, calibrated policy — approved by Supreme Leader Khamenei and carried out by the Quds Force — to provide explosives support and training to select Iraqi Shia militant groups to conduct attacks against coalition targets.” The reference was to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian leader, and to an elite branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Command that is assigned the task of carrying out paramilitary operations abroad.
“The likely aim is to make a military presence in Iraq more costly for the U.S.,” the assessment said.
Other officials believe Iran is using the attacks to send a warning to the United States that it can inflict casualties on American troops if the United States takes a more forceful posture toward it.
Iran has publicly denied the allegations that it is providing military support to Shiite militants in Iraq. Javad Zarif, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in an Op-Ed article published on Thursday in The Times that the Bush administration was “trying to make Iran its scapegoat and fabricating evidence of Iranian activities in Iraq.”
The explosively formed penetrator, detonated on the roadside as American vehicles pass by, is capable of blasting a metal projectile through the side of an armored Humvee with devastating consequences.
American military officers say that attacks using the weapon reached a high point in December, when it accounted for a significant portion of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq. For reasons that remain unclear, attacks using the device declined substantially in January, but the weapons remain one of the principal threats to American troops in and around Baghdad, where five additional brigades of American combat troops are to be deployed under the Bush administration’s new plan.
“It is the most effective I.E.D out there,” said Lt. Col. James Danna, who led the Second Battalion, Sixth Infantry Regiment in Baghdad last year, referring to improvised explosive devices, as the roadside bombs are known by the American military. “To me it is a political weapon. There are not a lot of them out there, but every time we crack down on the Shia militias that weapon comes out. They want to keep us on our bases, keep us out of their neighborhoods and prevent us from doing our main mission, which is protecting vulnerable portions of the population.”
Adm. William Fallon, President Bush’s choice to head the Central Command, alluded to the weapon’s ability to punch through the side of armored Humvees in his testimony to Congress last month.
“Equipment that was, we thought, pretty effective in protecting our troops just a matter of months ago is now being challenged by some of the techniques and devices over there,” Admiral Fallon said. “So I’m learning as we go in that this is a fast-moving ballgame.”
Mr. Gates told reporters last week that he had heard there had been cases in which the weapon “can take out an Abrams tank.”
The increasing use of the weapon is the latest twist in a lethal game of measure and countermeasure that has been carried out throughout the nearly four-year-old Iraq war. Using munitions from Iraq’s vast and poorly guarded arsenal, insurgents developed an array of bombs to strike the more heavily armed and technologically superior American military.
In response, the United States military deployed armored Humvees, which in turn spawned the development of even more potent roadside bombs. American officials say that the first suspected use of the penetrator occurred in late 2003 and that attacks have risen steadily since then.
To make the weapon, a metal cylinder is filled with powerful explosives. A metal concave disk manufactured on a special press is fixed to the firing end.
Several of the cylinders are often grouped together in an array. The weapon is generally triggered when American vehicles drive by an infrared sensor, which operates on the same principle as a garage door opener. The sensor is impervious to the electronic jamming the American military uses to try to block other remote-control attacks.
When an American vehicle crosses the beam, the explosives in the cylinders are detonated, hurling their metal lids at targets at a tremendous speed. The metal changes shape in flight, forming into a slug that penetrate many types of armor.
(Page 3 of 3)
In planning their attacks, Shiite militias have taken advantage of the tactics employed by American forces in Baghdad. To reduce the threat from suicide car bombs and minimize the risk of inadvertently killing Iraqi civilians, American patrols and convoys have been instructed to keep their distance from civilian traffic. But that has made it easier for the Shiite militias to attack American vehicles. When they see American vehicles approaching, they activate the infrared sensors.
A Deadly Weapon According to American intelligence agencies, the Iranians are also believed to have provided Shiite militants with rocket-propelled grenades, shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, mortars, 122-millimeter rockets and TNT.
Among the intelligence that the United States is expected to make public this weekend is information indicating that some of these weapons said to have been made in Iran were carried into Iraq in recent years. Examples include a shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile that was fired at a plane flying near the Baghdad airport in 2004 but which failed to launch properly; an Iranian rocket-propelled grenade made in 2006; and an Iranian 81-millimeter mortar made in 2006.
Assessments by American intelligence agencies say there is no indication that there is any kind of black-market trade in the Iranian-linked roadside bombs, and that shipments of the components are being directed to Shiite militants who have close links to Iran. The American military has developed classified techniques to try to counter the sophisticated weapon.
Marine officials say that weapons have not been found in the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, adding to the view that the device is an Iranian-supplied and Shiite-employed weapon.
To try to cut off the supply, the American military has sought to focus on the cells of Iranian Revolutionary Guard operatives it asserts are in Iraq. American intelligence agencies are concerned that the Iranians may respond by increasing the supply of the weapons.
“We are working day and night to disassemble these networks that do everything from bring the explosives to the point of construction, to how they’re put together, to who delivers them, to the mechanisms that are used to have them go off,” Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week. “It is instructive that at least twice in the last month, that in going after the networks, we have picked up Iranians.”
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #9 on:
February 12, 2007, 11:46:46 PM »
ISRAEL'S WORST NIGHTMARE. CONTRA IRAN BY YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI & MICHAEL B. OREN
Published in: The New Republic January 30, 2007
The first reports from military intelligence about an Iranian nuclear program reached the desk of Yitzhak Rabin shortly after he became prime minister in May 1992. Rabin's conclusion was unequivocal: Only a nuclear Iran, he told aides, could pose an existential threat to which Israel would have no credible response. But, when he tried to warn the Clinton administration, he met with incredulity. The CIA's assessment--which wouldn't change until 1998--was that Iran's nuclear program was civilian, not military. Israeli security officials felt that the CIA's judgment was influenced by internal U.S. politics and privately referred to the agency as the "cpia"--"P" for "politicized."
The indifference in Washington helped persuade Rabin that Israel needed to begin preparing for an eventual preemptive strike, so he ordered the purchase of long-range bombers capable of reaching Iran. And he made a fateful political decision: He reversed his ambivalence toward negotiating with the PLO and endorsed unofficial talks being conducted between Israeli left-wingers and PLO officials. Rabin's justification for this about-face was that Israel needed to neutralize what he defined as its "inner circle of threat"--the enemies along its borders--in order to focus on the coming confrontation with Iran, the far more dangerous "outer circle of threat." Rabin's strategy, then, was the exact opposite of the approach recently recommended by the Iraq Study Group: Where James Baker and Lee Hamilton want to engage Iran--even at the cost of downplaying its nuclear ambitions--in order to solve crises in the Arab world, Rabin wanted to make peace with the Arab world in order to prevent, at all costs, a nuclear Iran.
Now, more than a decade later, the worst-case scenario envisioned by Rabin is rapidly approaching. According to Israeli intelligence, Iran will be able to produce a nuclear bomb as soon as 2009. In Washington, fear is growing that either Israel or the Bush administration plans to order strikes against Iran. In Israel, however, there is fear of a different kind. Israelis worry not that the West will act rashly, but that it will fail to act at all. And, while strategists here differ over the relative efficacy of sanctions or a military strike, nearly everyone agrees on this point: Israel cannot live with a nuclear Iran.
For over two decades, since the era of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the Holocaust was rarely invoked, except on the extremes, in Israeli politics. In recent months, though, the Iranian threat has returned the Final Solution to the heart of Israeli discourse. Senior army commanders, who likely once regarded Holocaust analogies with the Middle East conflict as an affront to Zionist empowerment, now routinely speak of a "second Holocaust." Op-eds, written by left-wing as well as right-wing commentators, compare these times to the 1930s. Israelis recall how the international community reacted with indifference as a massively armed nation declared war against the Jewish people--and they sense a similar pattern today. Even though the United States and Europe have finally awakened to the Iranian nuclear threat, Iran's calls for the destruction of Israel tend to be dismissed as mere rhetoric by the Western news media. Yet, here in Israel, those pronouncements have reinforced Rabin's urgency in placing the Iran situation at the top of the strategic agenda.
One of the men most responsible for doing precisely that is Labor Party parliamentarian and current Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, whom Rabin entrusted with his government's "Iran file." Like most in the defense establishment, Sneh doesn't believe Iran would immediately launch a nuclear attack against Israel. But, he adds, it won't have to actually use the bomb to cripple Israel. "They would be able to destroy the Zionist dream without pressing the button," he says.
In clipped tones that reveal his long military background, he outlines three repercussions of an Iranian bomb. To begin with, he notes, the era of peace negotiations will come to an end: "No Arab partner will be able to make concessions with a nuclear Iran standing over them." What's more, Israel will find its military options severely limited. An emboldened Iran could provide Hezbollah and Hamas with longer-range and deadlier rockets than their current stock of Katyushas and Qassams; yet, threatened with a nuclear response, Israel would have little defense against intensifying rocket fire on its northern and southern periphery, whose residents would have to be evacuated to the center. Israel already experienced a foretaste of mass uprooting in the Lebanon war last summer, when hundreds of thousands of Galilee residents were turned into temporary refugees. Finally, says Sneh, foreign investors will flee the country, and many Israelis will, too. In one recent poll, 27 percent of Israelis said they would consider leaving if Iran went nuclear. "Who will leave? Those with opportunities abroad--the elite," Sneh notes. The promise of Zionism to create a Jewish refuge will have failed, and, instead, Jews will see the diaspora as a more trustworthy option for both personal and collective survival. During the Lebanon war, Israeli television's preeminent satirical comedy, "O What a Wonderful Land," interviewed an Israeli claiming that "this" is the safest place for Jews--as the camera pulled back to reveal that "this" was London.
Even without the bomb, Iran's threat to Israel is growing. Working through Shia Hezbollah, Alawite Damascus, and Sunni Hamas, Tehran has extended its influence into Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian territories. As a result of Hezbollah's perceived victory in the Lebanon war and Hamas's ability to continue firing rockets at Israeli towns despite repeated army incursions into Gaza, Iran has proved it can attack Israel with near-impunity. Iranian newspapers are replete with stories gloating over the supposed erosion of Israel's will to fight and the imminent collapse of its "postmodern" army, as one recent article put it. Iran's self-confidence has been bolstered by Israel's failure to extract a price from Tehran for instigating the Lebanon war and for funding terrorist operations as far back as the early '90s, when Iran masterminded the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and, two years later, that city's Jewish community headquarters. Nor has Israel--to say nothing of the U.N. peacekeeping forces--managed to prevent Hezbollah from rearming. And, if Iran manages to overcome U.S. threats and U.N. sanctions and achieve nuclear capability, it will be seen throughout the Muslim world as unstoppable.
A nuclear Iran will have devastating consequences for Sunni Arab states, too. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and, most recently, Jordan have declared their interest in acquiring nuclear power; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stated explicitly that Egypt may feel the need to protect itself against Iran's nuclear threat. Other Sunni nations could follow--including Libya, whose enmity toward the Saudis may draw it back into the nuclear race if Riyadh tries to acquire a bomb. A nuclear free-for-all, then, is likely to seize the Middle East. In this crisis-ridden region, any flashpoint will become a potential nuclear flashpoint.
The reverberations of a nuclear Iran will reach far beyond the Middle East. Tehran could dictate the price of oil and even control much of its supply through the Straits of Hermuz. And Iran will be able to conduct terrorist operations through its proxies with greater immunity. Even without the nuclear threat, Iran succeeded in intimidating the Saudis into releasing Iranian suspects in the 1997 Khobar Towers bombing. Moreover, if Tehran goes nuclear, the pretense of an international community capable of enforcing world order would quickly unravel: After all, if a regime that has perpetrated terrorist attacks from Argentina to the Persian Gulf can flout sanctions and acquire nuclear weapons, how can the United Nations credibly stop anyone else from doing the same?
And these terrifying scenarios exclude the most terrifying scenario of all: Iran uses its bomb. In a poll, 66 percent of Israelis said they believed Iran would drop a nuclear weapon on the Jewish state. Though defense experts are divided over the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear attack, every strategist we spoke with for this article considered the scenario plausible. "No one knows if Iran would use the bomb or not," says Sneh. "But I can't take the chance."
The threat of a theologically motivated nuclear assault against Israel tends to be downplayed in the West; not so here. The former head of Israel's National Security Council, Giora Eiland, has warned that an apocalyptically driven Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be willing to sacrifice half his country's population to obliterate the Jewish state. Military men suddenly sound like theologians when explaining the Iranian threat. Ahmadinejad, they argue, represents a new "activist" strain of Shiism, which holds that the faithful can hasten the return of the Hidden Imam, the Shia messiah, by destroying evil. Hebrew University Iranian scholar Eldad Pardo goes further, arguing that the ideology founded by Ayatollah Khomeini represents nothing less than a "new religion," combining Shia, Sunni, and Marxist beliefs and resembling Western messianic cults that have advocated mass suicide. And so Ahmadinejad's pronouncements about the imminent return of the Hidden Imam and the imminent destruction of Israel aren't regarded as merely calculated for domestic consumption; they are seen as glimpses into an apocalyptic game plan. Ahmadinejad has reportedly told his Cabinet that the Hidden Imam will reappear in 2009--precisely the date when Israel estimates Iran will go nuclear. In a recent meeting with outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Iranian president predicted that, while the United States and Great Britain won the last world war, Iran will win the next one. And, two weeks ago, an Iranian government website declared that the Hidden Imam would defeat his archenemy in a final battle in Jerusalem. Notes one former top-ranking Israeli defense official: "We may not yet have located a clear theological line connecting the dots, but there are a great many dots." At least one ayatollah, though, has made that theology explicit: In 2005, Hussein Nuri Hamdani declared that "the Jews should be fought against and forced to surrender to prepare the way for the coming of the Hidden Imam."
Defense experts readily acknowledge that Ahmadinejad is hardly all-powerful and must yield to the Council of Guardians. In recent elections, almost all the clerics allied with Ahmadinejad lost; and, in an unprecedented move, 150 Iranian parliamentarians signed a letter blaming the president for growing inflation and unemployment. But none of this reassures Israelis. That's because Ahmadinejad is hardly alone in conjuring doomsday scenarios. In February 2006, clerics in Qom issued a fatwa permitting nuclear war. And former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, speaking at a 2001 "Jerusalem Day" rally, declared: "If, one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill, because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality."
Given these nightmarish scenarios, one would expect to find a mood of near-despair within the Israeli defense establishment. Yet senior officials believe that events are actually working in Israel's favor and that, one way or another, Iran's nuclear program can still be stopped. Partly, that is because Israel's assessments of Iran's intention to acquire nuclear weapons have finally been accepted not only by Washington but even by the Europeans. After years of isolation on the Iranian issue, Israelis are basking in a rare moment of international credibility.
As a result, some in the defense establishment are convinced that the military option can still be forestalled, even at this late date, by aggressive economic sanctions, forcing the Iranian regime to choose between its nuclear program and domestic stability. To be sure, even the most optimistic Israelis believe that the recent U.N. decision to impose minimal sanctions on Iran will prove ineffective. Indeed, those sanctions--intended to prevent nuclear materials and know-how from reaching Iran and to stop its nuclear program from becoming self-sufficient--are uniformly dismissed as coming at least two years too late, since Iran is rapidly approaching nuclear self-sufficiency and, some here believe, may have already reached that point.
Re: TNR part two
Reply #10 on:
February 12, 2007, 11:47:51 PM »
But sanctions advocates do believe that, by formally placing Iran in the category of "threat to international peace," the United Nations has tacitly empowered the United States and its allies to pursue more aggressive sanctions that could trigger Iranian instability--such as the Bush administration's quiet efforts over the last year to force foreign banks out of Tehran. Combined with Iran's preexisting social and economic problems--massive hidden unemployment, widespread corruption, and growing drug addiction and prostitution--and hatred for the regime among students and the middle class, aggressive sanctions could, some Israelis believe, hasten regime change in Tehran by forcing the Iranian people to pay the price for their leaders' provocations. And, with regime change, of course, the threat posed by an Iranian bomb would ease: After all, the problem isn't the nuclearization of Iran but the nuclearization of this Iran. The very threat of additional sanctions has already led to drastic increases in food and housing prices in Tehran--and may have emboldened those parliamentarians who signed the recent protest letter to Ahmadinejad. "The Iranians are a very proud people," says one Israeli official with years of experience inside Iran. "They won't be able to bear being turned into pariahs, and that will increase their resentment toward the regime."
Along with sanctions, some Israeli officials call for a robust but nonviolent U.S. intervention in internal Iranian politics--funding the Iranian opposition, transforming U.S. broadcasts in Farsi into "Radio Free Iran," reaching Farsi audiences through the Internet, and more aggressively challenging the Iranian government on its human rights abuses. Israeli advocates of regime change have been pressing Washington to adopt these policies for years and can't understand why even the Bush administration has demurred. "No one is saying not to plan for military action," says the official with experience in Iran. "But, given the devastating consequences of a military strike, why aren't we giving this a chance?"
Skeptics of sanctions note that the time frame is too narrow and the stakes too high for Israel to place its hopes on long-term regime change. They insist that the international community is incapable of mounting effective sanctions, which would almost certainly be violated by Russia and China. Yes, they acknowledge, the ayatollahs' regime is in trouble and will eventually fall--but not soon enough. Indeed, optimists have been predicting imminent regime change for over a decade; and, when failed reformer Mohammed Khatami became president in 1997, some in the West declared that regime change had already begun. But Iran's leaders know how to defend themselves against opponents: When bus drivers organized a wildcat strike last year, the leader was arrested and his tongue was cut off.
For those Israelis who are skeptical of sanctions, there is the option of last resort: a military strike. Experts readily acknowledge the complexity of an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities, since they are scattered over dozens of sites, many heavily fortified and deep underground. But an attack on three key sites--especially the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz--would set back Iranian plans by several years. It would not be necessary, the former top-ranking defense official says, to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities: By repeatedly hitting their entrances, the sites could be rendered inaccessible. At the same time, Israel would probably bomb key government installations, like Revolutionary Guard bases, to weaken the regime's ability to recover. While the Iranian people are likely to initially rally around the government, the combined effect of a military attack and economic sanctions could trigger an eventual uprising, suggests the former defense official. Periodic air strikes, he adds, would impede attempts to rebuild the nuclear sites.
Defense experts downplay the possibility of secret facilities unknown to Western intelligence agencies. "If we can locate a suicide bomber as he moves from place to place, then we know how to locate static targets, even deep underground," says the former defense official. Nor are those facilities as impenetrable as some foreign news reports suggest. Noted Yuval Steinitz, former chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee: "The Iranians are signaling us that the nuclear project is vulnerable. Whoever spends several billion dollars just for anti-aircraft systems around nuclear sites is saying that those sites are vulnerable. There would be no need to invest those sums if their bunkers were deep enough [to avoid an air strike]."
The Israeli air force has been actively preparing for an attack since 1993, enhancing the range of its bombers and acquiring the requisite bunker-busting ordnance. "Technically, we have the ability" to strike key facilities, a former commander of the air force told us. While the army's reputation was battered during the Lebanon war, the air force, by contrast, performed well, routinely destroying Hezbollah's long-range missile sites within less than five minutes following a launch.
Despite a recent report in the London Sunday Times that Israel is planning a tactical nuclear attack on Iran's nuclear sites, Israel will almost certainly not introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East battlefield. The story, likely planted and then promptly denied, was probably part of an ongoing Israeli attempt to accomplish two objectives: to warn the international community that, if it fails to stop Iran through sanctions, then "crazy Israel" will be unleashed; and to prevent the Iranian crisis from turning into an Israeli issue alone.
An Israeli assault could only delay Iran's nuclear program, not eliminate it. That's because Israel cannot sustain an air campaign against such remote targets for days on end. This can only be accomplished by the United States, perhaps together with nato allies, by mounting an ongoing series of air strikes similar to the "shock and awe" campaign conducted against Iraq at the beginning of the war. Israelis, though, are divided over the likelihood of U.S. military action. Some experts believe President Bush will attack, if only to prevent being recorded by history as a leader who fought the wrong war while failing to fight the right one. Others speculate that a politically devastated Bush will leave the resolution of the Iranian crisis to his successor.
If Israel is forced, by default, to strike, it is likely to happen within the next 18 months. An attack needs to take place before the nuclear facilities become radioactive; waiting too long could result in massive civilian casualties. Still, Israel will almost certainly wait until it becomes clear that sanctions have failed and that the United States or nato won't strike. The toughest decision, then, will be timing: determining that delicate moment when it becomes clear that the international community has failed but before the facilities turn lethal.
Israel will alert Washington before a strike: "We won't surprise the Americans, given the likelihood of Iranian reprisals against American troops in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East," says an analyst close to the intelligence community. U.S. permission will be needed if Israel chooses to send its planes over Iraqi air space--and the expectation here is that permission would be granted. (Israel has two other possible attack routes, both problematic: over Turkish air space and along the Saudi-Iraqi border to the Persian Gulf.) Still, according to the former air force commander, if Israel decides to act, "We will act alone, not as emissaries of anyone else."
Regardless of whether Israeli or other Western forces carry out the strike, Iran will almost certainly retaliate against the Jewish state. Experts disagree, though, about the extent of the Iranian onslaught and Israel's ability to withstand it. Some say that, though Iranian missiles will strike Israeli cities and Hezbollah Katyushas and Hamas Qassams will fall in massive numbers, Israel's anti-ballistic and civil defense systems, combined with its retaliatory capability, will suffice to contain the threat. Optimists also downplay Iran's ability to mount terrorist attacks in the West: September 11 has produced an unprecedented level of cooperation among Western intelligence services, and they are monitoring sleeper cells as well as Iranian diplomats, who are believed to have used their privileged access to smuggle explosives.
The pessimists' scenario, though, is daunting. Not only could Iranian missiles--perhaps carrying chemical warheads--devastate Israeli cities, but, if the Syrians join in, then thousands of additional long-range missiles will fall, too. And, if Israel retaliates by bombing Damascus, that could trigger public demands in other Arab countries to join the war against Israel. The result could be a conventional threat to Israel's existence.
That scenario leads some in the security establishment to call for renewed peace talks with Syria, aimed at removing it from the pro-Iranian front. The growing debate over Syria positions the Mossad--which says it's no longer possible to separate Damascus from Tehran--against military intelligence, which believes that President Bashar Assad wants negotiations with Israel, if only to divert the threat of sanctions against Damascus for its alleged role in murdering Lebanese leaders.
There is no debate among Israelis, however, about the wisdom of negotiations between the West and Iran. That, defense officials agree, would be the worst of all options. Negotiations that took place now would be happening at a time when Iran feels ascendant: The time to have negotiated with Iran, some say, was immediately after the initial U.S. triumph in Iraq, not now, when the United States is losing the war. Under these circumstances, negotiations would only buy the regime time to continue its nuclear program. Talks would create baseless hope, undermining the urgency of sanctions. And resuming negotiations with the Iranian regime--despite its repeated bad faith in previous talks over its nuclear program--would send the wrong message to the Iranian people: that the regime has international legitimacy and that resisting it is futile.
Hovering over Israeli discourse about a nuclear Iran is the recent Holocaust-denial conference in Tehran--and what Israelis regard as the scandalously inadequate international response. While the conference was condemned in the West, Israelis expected the international community to treat it as something more than a bizarre sideshow. Indeed, for Israelis, the conference offered the clearest warning yet on the true nature of the Iranian threat to the Jewish state.
In denying the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad aims to undermine what he believes to be the sole justification for Israel's existence. In the years before World War II, Nazi propagandists prepared Europe for the Final Solution by dehumanizing the Jews; now, Ahmadinejad is preparing the Muslim world for the destruction of the Jewish state by delegitimizing its history. And not just the Muslim world: Holocaust denial is also aimed at the West, which many Muslims believe supports Israel only because of Holocaust guilt. Strip away that guilt, and Israel is defenseless. "The resolution of the Holocaust issue will end in the destruction of Israel," commented Mohammad Ali Ramin, head of a new Iranian government institute devoted to Holocaust denial.
The French philosopher Andr Glucksmann has noted that, by threatening to destroy Israel and by attaining the means to do so, Iran violates the twin taboos on which the post-World War II order was built: never again Auschwitz; never again Hiroshima. The international community now has an opportunity to uphold that order. If it fails, then Israel will have no choice but to uphold its role as refuge of the Jewish people. A Jewish state that allows itself to be threatened with nuclear weapons--by a country that denies the genocide against Europe's six million Jews while threatening Israel's six million Jews--will forfeit its right to speak in the name of Jewish history. Fortunately, even the government of Ehud Olmert, widely criticized as incompetent and corrupt, seems to understand that, on this issue at least, it cannot fail.
To read what else TNR has published about Iran and its military weaponry, click here.
Yossi Klein Halevi is a contributing editor to The New Republic and a senior fellow of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. Michael B. Oren is a contributing editor to The New Republic and a senior fellow of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. He is the author most recently of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present.
ISRAEL: Knesset member Yuval Steinitz said Israel's successful Feb. 11 test of its Arrow anti-missile system proves Israel has the advantage over Iran and Syria. Steinitz also said the test proves that Israel "can bring down any kind of ballistic missile, a capability no power in the world possesses." During the test, which was conducted at 9:18 p.m. local time, the Arrow anti-missile system successfully intercepted a simulated warhead of an Iranian Shihab 3 missile.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #11 on:
February 16, 2007, 12:24:10 PM »
In a nearby thread I posted yesterday Col. Ralph Peters' piece about Mookie Sadr's apparent flight to Iran to avoid our surge in Baghdad. The following piece from an investment letter (which I post in its entirety so as to maintain context) has a very different interpretation and one well worth considering IMHO.
Gene Inger's Daily Briefing. . . . for Thursday, February 15, 2007:
The market's 'Valentine' . . .
based on the Fed Chairman's testimony was no huge surprise, and simply allowed robust relief rallying based on the continued 'perception' of moderating growth amidst mild inflationary pressures, as now being Fed-verified. It was probably assisted by the inability of the 'Valentine's Day' massacre at Chrysler to ruffle feathers much; though there are concerns clearly other than sweetheart issues.
In this regard that combination of factors contributing to rally extensions (Oil inventory reports didn't hurt..more). Nobody reported Switzerland's proposals to Iran essentially resulting in 'nuclear control' that could foster optimism or a sense of relief. However, it was reported that the Shiite leader (Sadr) had departed for Teheran, presumably fear of a JDAM (big precision bomb) falling on his head being a part of that determination.
We suspect there's more to it. While we can't verify that the extreme Shiite zealots of his ilk are fleeing in fear of U.S. retribution (as warranted as that surely is), neither do we dismiss another possibility; that the Western media hasn't considered. What's that one asks? Well, how about extremists being in Iran to assist coordination with Tehran as to how they might expand their mischief in Iraq or alternatively (even concurrently) address any American efforts to interdict their attempts to broaden regional influence.
And does the recent enemy effectiveness against our helicopters mitigate air-cover to our Forces, in a similarity to what happened to Russia against the Taliban after they'd acquired the capability to either knock-down choppers or compel evasive maneuvers. Yes, we say we aren't planning to attack Iran. But what if Iran continues attacking us?
Let's at least explore what might occur should push-come-to-shove, instead of simply accepting the idea of a U.S. disengagement or conversely engagement to protect the region (which the Battle Groups and Patriot Missile battery dispositions suggest likely as this goes forward). Let's presuppose that the road to conflict is underway, though I am not suggesting it's unavoidable. If it goes thusly (and keep in mind though maybe the media highlights General Pace saying that the evidence of Iranian weapons may be mostly circumstantial, that's not to say they're not involved or this won't escalate), it might be of interest to speculate how such a conflict could actually ramp-into-action, and what the implications are for commodities; not least in Oil, and thus to financials.
Yesterday a story surfaced about 'Austrian' sniper rifles in the hands of 'insurgents' at the margin, or in the hands of Iranian agents at the maximum, taking-out Americans, and at considerable distance. If you saw 'Future Weapons' on the Discovery Channel a few days ago, you likely saw this weapon, which is more accurate than the Barrett semi-automatic weapon our forces use, and which was also displayed on that show's comparison. Because the accuracy is unbelievable up to a half-mile distant (think as to how far that is for a sniper's round), the U.S. and UK had protested Vienna's sale a couple years back to Iran for 'policing'. Clearly I see the evidence of where they are. I also find it unconscionable to imagine that the Pentagon will sit-back and sustain this.
Assume America is heading toward war with Iran, inadvertent or otherwise. A picture of how the conflict might emerge, is becoming clearer. In all-out war, basic American military tactics will be air attacks, naval blockades, offshore bombardments, and the destruction of oil and power infrastructure, plus Iran's Persian Gulf naval presence.
Iran presumably will respond with deployment of ground forces on its borders, attacks more likely by their proxy-armies in Iraq against American troops inside Iraq, and also the likely activation of hundreds of trained, well-armed, dormant terror cells peppered from one end of the Persian Gulf to the other; plus possibly proxies in Lebanon etc.
America's visible response would derive from the two Naval carrier groups deployed in the Persian Gulf, supplemented by USAF fighters and bombers from neighboring quasi allies (but infiltrated heavily by Shiites and Islamist sympathizers), like Kuwait, Oman, Qatar -where U.S. Central Command bases operations for that region- plus of course the United Arab Emirates, and possibly Saudi Arabia and Egypt, should all the stops be pulled-out, and the tentative efforts of Sunni terrorists to bring a harmonious theme to both Sunni and Shiite 'jihad' efforts against the West, actually not succeed.
Bases in Europe possibly wouldn't be utilized, excepting Great Britain probably, if it's determined that B2 bombers need to be utilized operating out of bases there (we're in a sense nearly at a point where concerns about 'domestic' Islamic terror must take at best a secondary concern in England, even if there's a likelihood of renewed enemy terror actions in England, which they might anyway; and which this would tend to sort of smoke 'em out, though it will be controversial or surely dangerous). There's no way (in our thinking) to at this point mollify or pacify Islamic threats in England (or France) particularly, short of just doing what's in the 'real' national interests of these societies, come what may; as well as dealing with whatever comes (I suspect if unassimilated groups such as the Moslems in Europe fail to put their adopted homes ahead of old-country views of the world that theoretically they wanted to get away from when they moved to new residence, Europeans will stop putting up with 'victimization' nonsense, and get on with their lives, even if it means upsetting 'political correctness' or certainly perpetrator's lives; something European tradition experienced before if challenged). It thus strikes us that there won't be a risk of 'Eurabia' because Europe will reverse this.
As to an American land invasion of Iran; nonsense. It's out of the question, given Iran has a 1 million-strong army, neighbors won't allow it, and the lack of American troops to carry it out is obvious to everyone. That's dangerous however, because 'perception of impotency' to engage the Iranians may compel things going beyond 'expectations'. To wit; the Iranians could get quite cocky about their ability, thus underestimating us.
Also generally unreported, there have been some increases in opposition to fanatical 'mullah governance' in Tehran. Just today a number of 'Revolutionary Guard' extreme shock troops were killed or injured in an attack on a bus carrying them inside Iran. It's a 'sign of the times', in that at least some younger (that's key) Iranians aren't steeped, to the extent their elders think, in the ways of 'revolution', and/or admire al Qaeda, or even the West, to which they'd like to see a great Persian people re-embrace in time.
We doubt that the CIA is behind these efforts inside Iran. But we see this as welcome and a reason to be very careful how we tread, lest we (in typical Washington fashion) disrupt that which may undermine the enemy without our having to do Herculean type tasks. We suspect that the radical Shiite Sadr is actually in Iran to help Iran figure-out how to suppress and discipline their own 'sects' and population, plus plot adventurism against the forces of stability in Iraq. They may in fact be coordinating an effort not so much to 'ensure his safety' as reported in the news here, but to deny safety to civilian groups and the U.S. military in Iraq. In essence Sadr is the Quisling of this era, so if it is presumed that he is not there simply 'fleeing' (U.S. media oversimplification) then it is conceivable that he's there to help the demagogues plot their takeover of Baghdad.
Should it be shown Iran is plotting a takeover of Iraq (reserved for ingerletter.com) we could find a point where U.S. Special Operations may be pushed into Iran to carry out attacks on the country's prized nuclear research facilities or designated 'hot' or Quds (shock troop) targets. The objective: dismantling mullah command and control of Iran.
We dispute the conventional notion that Teheran's most lethal weapon is manpower, alone. We dispute the simplicity of the argument that destruction of their Air Force or Navy, accomplished in a day or two, would negate the risk from their terrorist forces, very much as they do threaten, numerous parts of the world. But right there, in their neighborhood, we believe the evidentiary use of sophisticated sniper rifles and AEP's (that's my acronym; Advanced Explosive Devices, which are the infrared-triggered as well as totally devastating 'shape charges', so I'm not going to minimize these, calling them simply IED's, because they're not improvised, but advanced munitions) provide ample evidence of surreptitious involvement of the Iranians with the terrorists, and we again believe all these discussions minimizing their capabilities underestimate enemy capabilities, just as was done in the past, and just as was/is done in the Lebanon too.
These jihadist and Shiite guys are professional killers, and they are being supported by a terrorist state: Iran. No ifs ands or doubts here. This is not political correctness; it is simply realistic political assessment. We aren't championing war; but war is coming to us; we have a choice: retreat or respond. Simply: face the music, as it is facing us. While there's valid argument as to whether or not the United States should be or not be involved between roving marauding or dangerous groups of Arabs and Persians, there is no underestimating the dangers as inherent in this situation. We even think that the (wishful thinking whether he's in Iran or still in Iraq) basic idea of Sadr fleeing to Iran misses the point: we believe he's working with the Iranian fanatics, not simply seeking refuge. There's a great difference; asylum versus conspiracy for making war. Or worse, for planning overthrowing the Baghdad regime. Again it's all a reflection of 'desire' (or naiveté) that reports tend to oversimplify all of this. Ingerletter.com hence believes that facing the reality of this before it faces us in devastating ways is the key.
From its army alone, we should point out that Iran can marshal oh, a several hundred thousand troop force along its border with Iraq and Afghanistan to pressure American forces in those countries, and it can call on Syria to inflame its border region with Iraq as well. Or pretend that attacks on the IRG today was not from al Qaeda.. (reserved).
Iraqi Shiite militias (partial remarks reserved for ingerletter.com members). Together, these radicals command some 80,000 to 100,000 men; armed, funded, trained, and possibly planning coordination by Iran right now, via the personage of Sadr's 'visit' to Iran for the purpose of fomenting war, not fleeing. Iran's air defense is modernized; thanks to Russia. Should it prove adequate, it risks downing American pilots, sapping morale and raising more political questions here. Iranian dogma dictates that war will translate into regional upheaval; but it may not if it spooks Sunni's into realizing their perceived enemy (even al Qaeda's) isn't what they thought (the U.S.), but their closer neighbor; Iran. It may actually be demonstrated if Iran targets U.S. Central Command in Qatar and the U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet in Bahrain, which has a majority who are Shiite so possibly pro-Iranian. Or in Lebanon, pro-Iranian Hezbollah might fire-up the place, as conceivably would Hamas in Gaza. Only myopic views see these not intertwined.
One way or another, such a war will involve oil production and prices, and not drop oil into the 20's or 30's that so many bulls are expecting to embolden the stock market in the near-term (that's increasingly absurd, even without such a dangerous conflict; just because the 'war threat matrix' quotient keeps prices from dropping like that). A U.S. strategy will need to maximize Iranian pain without setting world oil prices ablaze with fear of supply disruptions. To do this, possibly as a 'blockade' or threat prior to attack, U.S. assaults must freeze Iran's offshore oil platforms while preventing Iran's shutting down everyone else by blocking the Straits of Hormuz to oil export shipping. Perilous.
If other oil producers, especially Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, maintain production and/or exports up, any rise in prices can be contained below a tolerable $85 a barrel in such a scenario. Now we're not advocating such a scenario; but with today's stock market, and the Goldilocks scenario, being bantered about as if there is no alternative to glee (in wartime?), it seems logical to contemplate the other side of the coin just in case.
Daily action . . .
is viewed by certain pundits as being the best of times to now make money; actually the move is the reward for those who already owned. One most risky approach might be the funds that invest in (reserved specifics) that have run-up most lately, while we do not dispute anything Chairman Bernanke said, absent disruptions.
For now, upside momentum continues, and generally sidestepped worrying about a couple other issues that surfaced during the day publicly, but weren't focused on (the Austrian arms showing up in the hands of those shooting at our boys is an example).
Increduously nobody is (yet) focusing on war or Trade Gap issues. Neither are they yet noticing how it's increasingly 'testy' in a military environment (maybe they notice, but they don't think it has meaning for stocks), or are they contemplating implications of what may be a frustration by (of all people) the terrorists and insurgents perceived leading the Jihad adventures, versus Tehran-backed Shiites, who have used certain weakness among the Sunnis to sow discord, and also to usurp leadership roles. This of course relates less to wanting expanded restored Islamic caliphates, we think, but more towards a quest to assert non-Arab-led Persian hegemony in the region. We'll offer the argument that risk is not low, but extremely high, and that this is not a lower risk investment environment because the market went up so much. Au contraire; it's higher and that increases the threat scenario; whether credit default concerns, war(s) or other areas. If the world doesn't fall apart, then the correction (nearly inevitable) is going to be constructive; if the world does fall apart; well then dangers are (reserved).
Inger part two
Reply #12 on:
February 16, 2007, 12:25:05 PM »
(intraday audio-email) remarks were inclined to anticipate revival efforts in-front and after Chairman Bernanke's testimony, but are concerned about this fling that's inclined to reverse virtually anytime. That the market hasn't been 'parabolic' like in 1999-2000 is definitely helpful; but since we're not looking for a secular peak, that's not the structure we're anticipating anyway. Hence; a milder sloping rally can still shift into (described mode). That certain foreign markets dipped -from parabolic- might be a concern transmitted across the sea. That's entirely ignored by panting optimists at current extended levels. Guideline short efforts weren't expected to work until a post-Fedhead time. Our view holds rallies occur, but unsustainable (per ingerletter.com).
Bits & Bytes . . .
provide investors ideas in a few stocks, often special-situations, but also covers an assortment of technology issues (needed for assessment of general factors in tech overall, or as compelling developments call for) that are key movers in the NDX, SOX or S&P, plus ideas ingerletter.com thinks might merit further reflection.
Apple (AAPL); Level 3 (LVLT); Intel (INTC); Texas Instruments (TXN), Microsoft (MSFT); Motorola (MOT); QPC Lasers (QPCI); Whole Foods (WFMI); LightPath (LPTH); Intel (INTC); PURE Bioscience (PURE); InkSure (INKS); Ionatron (IOTN); and Northrop (NOC); a small group commented upon via accompanying audio.
We can't answer detailed questions for you (how could we; companies release what they will when they do; ditto for the Departments of Defense or Homeland Security); but these are topics previously explored as part of our assessment of advanced tech stocks; notably for key reasons: we view Directed Energy Weapons and all related or sector products, of any 'pure play' or high-power solid-state laser-related companies, as new potentially important 'disruptive technologies' to benefit the U.S. defense; they're important as anything else able to shift the world into 21st Century technology.
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we have no association with publicly traded firms (never have had; never will) other than as shareholders while trading from time-to-time if deemed necessary for personal reasons; especially once initial targets are reached. We may be right or wrong on a stock, but are not financial PR or IR, and have never, and will never, be compensated by a company, or their representatives, directly or indirectly, for coverage. Our opinions may be valid or invalid, but reflect solely our own views.
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In summary . .
events continue reminding us of risks Allied fighting forces face, given continued attacks on free peoples, by elements including organized terrorist forces in various countries. A world addressing terror threats continues, as domestic issues absorb us less as we focus on the Middle East crisis and World War III avoidance.
Though few generally concurred for three years, our consistent view has been slow but persistent American growth isn't negative, allowing the protracted gradual growth without ancillary significantly high interest rate pressures. There's no truly-restrictive monetary policy; nor is there likely to be one, irrespective of (pressures as reviewed). That is a potential feature developing ahead, maybe late 2007-2009, barring disaster.
finds NYSE 'Mac' shuffling with intervening rebounds recently at +40 for the NYSE; and +7 on the NASDAQ, with complacency pervading ideas of sustainable extensions. It's also the case markets ignored 'negative divergences' in big-caps once again; preparatory to this key (and probably failing) upside flailing run.
It isn't fair to suggest we dispute bullish fundamentals; in fact we argued this thrust of a friendly monetary policy by the Fed when few others did during the crucial 2001-'02 timeframe. It hasn't changed; but an excess of those joining the chorus of celebrants 'now realizing' this five-year-plus old fiscal philosophy has developed, is what needs correcting. So that's the point here; we're not secular bearish; just desire a correction.
Issues continue including oil, terror; the whole Middle East, Korea, and economics. As assessed for a couple weeks, extended rebounds were showing just exhaustion syndromes , and now without interpretation or forecast, increasingly negative action.
Overall continue to think major Senior Indexes ideally reverse anytime; considerably so maybe; especially if we rebound only to reverse in the wake of Fed 'Hill' testimony. Wednesday bounced immediately because the Chairman's testimony allowed it to by validating the 'Goldilocks' prospects (in theory); but if the argument holds or not, this activity may merely set-the-stage for renewed downside (as ingerletter.com outlines). Again it is not that we disagree about the longer-term (we concur); it's the shorter-run that is so extended that historically not having correction is inherently dangerous. It's preferable that the adjustment occur sooner rather than later, for a bullish longer-term healthy condition to prevail. All the 'terrific' discussion about Fed policy or inflationary moderations are irrelevant if the international situation collapses, or the market does; for which there is precedent, irrespective of the prevalence of an optimistic unanimity. As a matter of historical note it's only when everyone's 'already in', because optimism reigns supreme, that matters can be 'rocked' by events other than a market valentine.
Enjoy the evening,
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #13 on:
February 19, 2007, 10:59:08 AM »
Geopolitical Diary: Examining Syria's Fears
In the Middle East, there was a series of events on Sunday that point toward growing pressure for Syria.
First, Syrian President Bashar al Assad paid a visit to Tehran, where Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told him Damascus needs to support the government in Iraq, and al Assad spoke out against rumors of a rift between Syria and Iran. The state-owned al-Baath daily in Damascus seemed to support his statements, writing -- in the context of Iranian-Syrian relations -- that, "Though their visions are not identical on everything, they however agree on two basic issues: Iraqi unity and the departure of the occupation forces, and the support of the political process in Iraq."
Meanwhile, Stratfor received word of a deal that Saudi Arabia has offered to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who (along with some other Hamas officials) is based in Damascus. Riyadh apparently has offered to provide protection and diplomatic status to Meshaal and other members of the movement's politburo, without preconditions, should they experience any pressure from Iran or Syria to renege on the agreement signed in Mecca with the rival Fatah party.
The implications of such an offer to Hamas are, for Syria, significant. The Syrians have been harboring Hamas and other rejectionist Palestinian groups in hopes of using them as a bargaining chip with Israel, from which Damascus would hope one day to regain the Golan Heights. The Saudis, however, recently were able to bring Hamas and Fatah leaders together to forge a power-sharing deal -- one which appears to be making progress. This raises concerns that Damascus might be losing its influence over Hamas. The concerns are underscored by the offer Riyadh reportedly made to Meshaal, since it means the Islamist Palestinian movement could find an alternative sanctuary.
An even more terrifying prospect for the Syrians, however, would be for Iran to pursue its own national interests in partnership with others, leaving Damascus completely out in the cold, regionally speaking. This is not necessarily an irrational fear -- and it would explain al Assad's decision to visit Tehran at this particular time, as well as a comment he made, in calling for closer cooperation between Iran and Syrian, that the United States and Israel are trying to sow discord among Muslim states.
It is clear that securing its influence in Iraq is one of Tehran's primary goals, and Syria recognizes that Iran might be willing to cooperate with the United States and the Arabs to achieve this end. Moreover, the Alawite-Baathist regime has not been blind to recent negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, or the fact that Iran has called for cooperation between Hamas and Fatah. The perception is that Iran is willing to help ease the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in exchange for U.S. concessions in Iraq.
The Syrians' worst nightmare, of course, would involve Iran and Saudi Arabia working out a deal to stabilize Lebanon. Saudi-Iranian dealings in recent weeks prompted Hezbollah to back away from demonstrations that had been designed to bring down the Lebanese government. And it would not be beyond the pale for Iran to acquiesce to a broader agreement between Hezbollah (its proxy) and Saudi Arabia's Sunni allies, if Tehran was able to secure its goals in Iraq in exchange.
Such a deal would be immensely detrimental for Syria, given its significant interests in Lebanon. The only way to ensure that something like this does not come to pass is for Damascus to work closely with Tehran. Iran, of course, wants Syria to cooperate on Iraq, as Khamenei clearly stated on Sunday.
At this point, it remains to be seen whether Iran and Syria can work out a mutually acceptable arrangement. But from all appearances, the rumors of a rift between Iran and Syria may indeed have some merit.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #14 on:
February 24, 2007, 07:27:33 AM »
NY Times 2/23/07
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 22 - As fears grow over the escalating
confrontation between Iran and the West, Arab states across the Persian Gulf
have begun a rare show of muscle flexing, publicly advertising a shopping
spree for new weapons and openly discussing their security concerns.
Iran Expanding Nuclear Effort, Agency Reports (February 23, 2007)
Typically secretive, the gulf nations have long planned upgrades to their
armed forces, but now are speaking openly about them. American military
officials say the countries, normally prone to squabbling, have also
increased their military cooperation and opened lines of communication to
the American military here.
Patriot missile batteries capable of striking down ballistic missiles have
been readied in several gulf countries, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and
Qatar, analysts say, and increasingly, the states have sought to emphasize
their unanimity against Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"There has always been an acknowledgment of the threat in the region, but
the volume of the debate has now risen," said one United Arab Emirates
official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized
to speak on the subject. "Now the message is there's a dialogue going on
with Iran, but that doesn't mean I don't intend to defend myself."
The Persian Gulf monarchies and sheikdoms, mostly small and vulnerable, have
long relied on the United States to protect them. The United States Fifth
Fleet is based in Bahrain; the United States Central Command is based in
nearby Qatar; and the Navy has long relied on docking facilities in the
United Arab Emirates, which has one of the region's deepest water ports at
The United States, too, has begun a significant expansion of forces in the
gulf, with a second United States aircraft carrier battle group led by the
John C. Stennis now in the Persian Gulf and with minesweeping ships.
The expansion has helped calm fears among gulf governments that the United
States could pull out of the region in the future, even as it has raised
concerns about a potential American confrontation with Iran, accidental or
As tensions with Iran rise, many gulf countries have come to see themselves
as the likely first targets of an Iranian attack. Some have grown more
concerned that the United States may be overstretched militarily, many
analysts say, while almost all the monarchies, flush with cash as a result
of high oil prices, have sought to build a military deterrent of their own.
"The message is first, 'U.S., stay involved here,' and second, 'Iran, we
will maintain a technological edge no matter what,' " said Emile el-Hokayem,
research fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a research center based in
Washington. "They are trying to reinforce the credibility of the threat of
Military officials from throughout the region descended this week on the
Idex military trade fair, a semiannual event that has become the region's
largest arms market, drawing nearly 900 weapons makers from around the
world. They came ready to update their military capacities and air and naval
defenses. They also came armed with a veiled message of resolve.
"We believe there is a need for power to protect peace, and strong people
with the capability to respond are the real protectors of peace," said Sheik
Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the president of the United Arab Emirates and
ruler of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, at the exposition. "That is why we are
keen to maintain the efficiency of our armed forces."
The Persian Gulf has been a lucrative market for arms. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait
and Oman spend up to 10 percent of their gross domestic product on the
military, amounting to nearly $21 billion, $4 billion and $2.7 billion,
respectively, estimates John Kenkel, senior director of Jane's Strategic
If they follow through on the deals announced recently, it is estimated that
countries like the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia will
spend up to $60 billion this year. The biggest buyer in 2006, according to
the defense industry journal Defense News, was Saudi Arabia, which has
agreed to buy 72 Eurofighter Typhoon combat jets for $11 billion. It also
has a $400 million deal to upgrade 12 Apache AH-64A helicopters to the
Longbow standard. The kingdom also reportedly plans to acquire cruise
missiles, attack helicopters and tanks, all for a total of $50 billion.
Arab States, Wary of Iran, Add to Their Arsenals but Still Lean on the U.S.
Published: February 23, 2007
(Page 2 of 2)
Kuwait reportedly bought 24 Apache Longbow helicopters, while the United
Arab Emirates has continued to take delivery of 80 F-16 Block 60 fighters,
with plans to buy air tankers, missile defense batteries and airborne early
warning systems. Bahrain ordered nine UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters in an
estimated $252 million deal, while Oman reportedly bought 30 antitank rocket
launchers in a $48 million purchase and is planning a naval overhaul.
"It is a message to enemies that 'We are taking defense seriously,' " Mr.
Kenkel said, emphasizing that the new arms were for deterrence.
"If the U.S. ever does pull back, these countries in the gulf have realized,
they may have to fend for themselves," Mr. Kenkel said. "As the Boy Scouts
say, always be prepared."
The most marked change is in the public nature of the acquisitions, which
previously would have been kept secret, many analysts here said, itself a
form of deterrence.
"They have been doing these kinds of purchases since the '90s," said Marwan
Lahoud, chief executive of the European missile maker MBDA. "What has
changed is they are stating it publicly. The other side is making
pronouncements so they have to as well," he said, speaking of Iran's recent
announcements about its weapons capacity.
Senior United States military officials say gulf countries have become more
nervous as Iran has conducted naval maneuvers, especially near the Straits
of Hormuz, the main artery through which two-fifths of the world's oil
"A year ago you could have characterized the interaction with the Iranians
as professional," said Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh, departing commander of the
Fifth Fleet. "What's different today has been the number and amount of
exercises and the proximity of those exercises to the Straits of Hormuz
The exercises were among the reasons for the expansion of Navy forces in the
region, he said, but have also raised alarm about the potential for
accidents to lead to an unintended war.
Admiral Walsh said that American warships remained in international waters,
and that Iranian and American ships kept close watch on one another. Some
critics of the Bush administration have alleged that the increased military
presence in the gulf risks igniting a conflict.
Admiral Walsh said the increased American presence was aimed at o reassuring
gulf states that the United States remained committed to their security, but
also welcomed their efforts to build deterrence.
"We have found that we need to be physically present to prevent such armed
behavior," he said of the Iranian maneuvers. "We're mindful we're not giving
up any water, but also being careful not to take a provocative stance."
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #15 on:
April 19, 2007, 11:17:41 PM »
The Gulf States and Containing the Shiite Revival
Iran's prospects in Iraq and the spread of Shiite Islam in the region have put the Sunni states of the Persian Gulf on edge. Though the Gulf powers cannot rely on their own military strength to counter Iran's expansion, they do have several tools at their disposal to help keep the Iranians at bay -- the most important of which is cold, hard cash.
Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's fall and the subsequent rise of Iraq's Shiite majority represented the collapse of a strategic Sunni buffer state for the Sunni Arab world. This opening also provided Iran a golden opportunity to spread its influence into the heart of the Arab world by consolidating control over the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. Though the United States has served as the main blocker to Iranian ambitions in Iraq, it has become increasingly clear that Washington is in no position to enforce a political resolution in Baghdad through military force.
With the Iraq war having passed the four-year mark, the Sunni states of the Persian Gulf are growing more and more alarmed at the thought of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, which would leave Iran to pick up the pieces. These states cannot be assured that Iranian power in Iraq will not eventually seep through their own borders -- especially considering that the Shia in Saudi Arabia inhabit the oil-rich Eastern Province, which borders Iraq and Persian Gulf states like Kuwait and Bahrain that have sizable Shiite populations of their own. The Arab Gulf states have a variety of tools at their disposal to fend off the Iranians, though each has its limits and risks.
The Gulf States' Levers -- and Weaknesses
Militarily speaking, the Arab Gulf states rely completely on the United States for their defense. U.S. allies in the Gulf are receiving some of the best U.S. military hardware available, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates just got the OK from Israel to provide Saudi Arabia with advanced military technology to bolster the Saudi defense posture in the Gulf. (Details of the actual technology are still sketchy.) But for all their technological sophistication, Saudi forces lack the skills, war experience, mentality, training, manpower and leadership of a true military power. That said, the Saudis do have the means to contain Iran's militant proxies.
The Arab Gulf states have a critical need to maintain a robust Sunni presence in Iraq to counter the country's Shiite majority, which has gained control of the Iraqi government for the first time. While the Shiite political powers in Iraq are strengthened by well-trained Shiite militia groups trained and supplied by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Sunni insurgency in Iraq receives substantial funding and support from Iraq's Arab neighbors. This strategy helps prevent the Shiite militants from running over the Sunni population in Iraq -- at the cost of playing with fire. Saudi Arabia has a jihadist threat of its own to deal with, and sooner or later well-trained veterans from Iraq will be returning to the kingdom to fight.
The Saudis also hold the energy lever in their hands. By substantially expanding Saudi oil production from its current 8.6 million barrels per day (bpd), the Saudis could seriously strain the Iranian energy industry, which already sorely lacks the technology, experience and government backing needed to fund major refinery projects, and therefore heavily depends on high oil prices. As a result, the world's fourth-largest oil producer actually imports 40 percent of its gasoline, and parcels out heavy gasoline subsidies to Iranian citizens for fear of sparking domestic unrest, further draining Iran's economy. But for Saudi Arabia to make a big enough dent in the energy markets to hurt Iran, Saudi oil production would have to get up to 15 million bpd. This would take until at least 2015, relegating this to a long-term option for the Saudis.
Finally, the Gulf Arabs possess the risk-free option of putting their petrodollars to good use in containing the Iranian advance. Iraqi and Saudi officials announced April 18 that the Saudi government has agreed to forgive 80 percent of the more than $15 billion that Iraq owes the kingdom. Riyadh is not under any illusions that its war-torn neighbor would be able to repay the debt any time soon, if at all, but this goodwill gesture toward the Shiite-dominated government will help the Saudis buy some much-needed influence in Baghdad. The Saudi government is well-aware that the Iraqi Shiite bloc does not see eye to eye on a number of issues with its patrons in Tehran, and hopes to exploit this rift by weaning the Shiite Arabs in Iraq away from Iran.
Cash for Influence
The idea of using cash to pull Iran's Shiite allies closer to the Arab fold has taken hold throughout the Arab Gulf region. The Alawite-Baathist regime in Syria -- a close ally of Iran -- stands to benefit a great deal from this strategy as literally hundreds of millions of Gulf dollars are now flowing into Syria in the form of foreign investment. For example, Kharafi Group, a Kuwaiti conglomerate, now operates a taxi company, has opened four Costa Coffee outlets and has helped finance the opening of a new Sheraton hotel in Damascus. Syria's economy has long stagnated under the al Assad regime's Soviet-style economic policies, and its population is hungry for foreign goods.
Saudi Arabia has long used cash to buy influence in Lebanon as well, where Iran has made extensive inroads in the Shiite community. The Saudi royal family groomed slain Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and helped finance his ambitious development projects in Beirut, which have now passed on to his son, Saad al-Hariri, who prefers to live his life as a business tycoon rather than a political leader. Though the al-Hariri family owes a great deal to Riyadh for the latter's success in developing Beirut into a cosmopolitan hub in the Middle East following Lebanon's devastating civil war, Iran's Shiite proxies in Lebanon have put up a stiff resistance to Saudi influence. By financing development projects in Lebanon's impoverished, Shiite-concentrated south, the Iranians have gained a strong foothold in the country to empower Hezbollah politically and militarily.
The Ethnic Card
In each of these projects, the Gulf Arab governments are realistic in terms of how much of a political return they expect to receive. Pumping cash into Iranian strongholds throughout the region will not sever local Shia's ties with the Iranians; Shiite identity is a structural factor the Iranians can always exploit. Instead, the Saudis and the other Sunni states hope to use the Arab ethnic factor to their advantage to counter Iranian influence.
But playing the ethnic card also comes with a price. To keep the Arab Shia in their camp, the Iranians have pulled ahead of the Saudis in this game by calling for pan-Islamist unity, in which Muslims are urged to rise above nationalistic and sectarian divisions. This pan-Islamist campaign threatens Saudi Arabia's role as the leader of the Islamic world, particularly in situations in which it seeks to play up the Arab ethnic factor to drive a wedge between Iran and the Arab Shia.
Arab powers in the region face a reality in which Iran is recasting the region's balance of power in favor of the Shia through its extended reach in Iraq and its nuclear ambitions. Though the Arab Gulf states face substantial limitations in their ability to suppress their historical Persian rival, the realization has sunk in that the United States will not be able to run the Iraq show on its own -- meaning the Gulf Arab governments are going to have to put their petrodollars to the test.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #16 on:
April 27, 2007, 07:41:40 PM »
Saudi Arabia: Al Qaeda's Widening Focus
April 27, 2007 21 42 GMT
Saudi security forces announced April 27 that they have rounded up 172 militants plotting to attack oil facilities and military bases in the kingdom. Al Qaeda's core leadership appears to be working to give a boost to the network's regional nodes, from North Africa to the Persian Gulf. Conditions in Iraq have led to this widening of al Qaeda's focus, though the capabilities of the regional nodes remain dubious.
The Saudi Interior Ministry announced April 27 that it had arrested 172 militants, including non-Saudis, plotting attacks against Saudi Arabia's oil refineries, public figures and military bases. Saudi police also seized more than $32.4 million in cash from seven armed cells in the kingdom. The suspects, according to a Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman, had been "influenced by the deviant ideology" (a common Saudi reference for al Qaeda.) Prior to this roundup, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif bin Abdul-Aziz told reporters that the interior ministry will soon announce a new list of most-wanted militant suspects in the kingdom.
The possible revival of al Qaeda's Saudi node came to light in February with the reappearance of the group's online magazine, Sawt Al Jihad, which called for attacks against energy-related targets on the Arabian Peninsula. The regular publication of Sawt Al Jihad was, previously, closely linked with a higher degree of operational strength for the Saudi node. Since the February online edition, however, the Saudi node has not kept up with its historic biweekly publication schedule, calling the group's publishing capabilities -- and operational ability -- into question.
The February edition of Sawt Al Jihad claimed that several of the militants who participated in the February 2006 attack against the oil facility in Abqaiq are "still alive and still fighting," and even included an interview with one of the survivors of that attack. The attempt on Abqaiq marked al Qaeda's first notable attempt to target Saudi Arabia's energy infrastructure and revealed that the group's target selection was shifting beyond Western operations and personnel. The planners behind the Abqaiq operation have had more than a year to learn from their mistakes, and judging from the rhetoric in Sawt Al Jihad, they likely have been gearing up for a larger attack against key Saudi oil installations.
Saudi officials said some of the suspects rounded up in this latest raid had received aviation training in other countries, implying a 9/11-style plot to fly aircraft into a target, such as an oil facility. Al Qaeda's core leadership has a known penchant for using aircraft in large-scale operations, though Saudi Arabia has ample empty space to re-route flight paths and set up no-fly zones over major energy installations. Although the Royal Saudi Air Force possesses the most advanced air-defense system in the region outside of Israel, it is doubtful that Saudi operators could identify the emerging threat or that Saudi commanders could react to it in time to prevent an airborne suicide attack from being at least partially successful.
Even if the Saudi node attacked a major oil target in Saudi Arabia -- whether by plane, boat, car or foot -- it would only damage a portion of any facility, considering the sheer size of and security surrounding energy installations (the Abqaiq facility, for example, occupies more than a square mile of territory.) That said, even a failed attempt on a vital energy target, such as the Ras Tanura oil port, would send massive psychological shockwaves through the energy market -- a fact al Qaeda acknowledged in the Sawt Al Jihad publication, saying the price of oil would have spiked even more had the Saudi government not lied about the extent of the damage.
Riyadh's series of counterterrorism strikes since June 2004 have significantly degraded the Saudi al Qaeda node's operational capabilities. The damage from the recent roundup will end up taking even more wind out of the node's sails, forcing the militants to regroup, re-evaluate their pending operations and tighten operational security to avoid further run-ins with the police. Though the Saudi node is unlikely to return to its glory days of the summer of 2004, when al Qaeda activity was most intense in the kingdom, the group continues to come up with ambitious plots and shows no sign of getting wiped out in the near future.
In addition to the Saudi node, al Qaeda appears to be giving a boost to other regional branches, revealing a surge of activity by al Qaeda franchises across the board. Over the past month, North Africa has witnessed a significant uptick in jihadist activity by al Qaeda's node in the Maghreb. Suicide bombings are also on the rise in the Horn of Africa as Somalian Islamists appear to be enhancing their cooperation with jihadists. In Afghanistan, Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah has aligned himself more closely with al Qaeda by giving credit for the February Bagram Air Base attack to Osama Bin Laden, even though the Afghan Taliban command is more than capable of pulling off such an attack itself.
The most active al Qaeda node is in Iraq, where the country's continued downward spiral has created an ideally chaotic environment for the group to maintain a strong presence. Though al Qaeda's Iraq node is in a relatively comfortable position, it has been facing increasing flack from the Sunni nationalist insurgents who have been turning against their former jihadist allies in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province. As the environment in some of Iraq's Sunni areas has turned increasingly inhospitable to the jihadists, some of these militants could be driven to return home and wage attacks in their home countries using the tactics they have picked up in Iraq. This already appears to have taken effect, as illustrated by the Algerian node's adoption of suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.
A surge of al Qaeda activity does not necessarily imply improved capability. As the latest raid in Saudi Arabia illustrated, Saudi security forces are extremely active in rooting out al Qaeda cells, and the North African police states are quite capable of containing the jihadist presence in their countries. The best chance of success for al Qaeda remains in its usual hotspots of Iraq and Afghanistan. That said, the level of training these two theaters of operation provide allows al Qaeda to ensure its continuity, as lessons learned there regarding operational security and tradecraft spread to al Qaeda's local affiliates.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #17 on:
June 02, 2007, 06:40:28 AM »
Syria's Useful Idiots
By MICHAEL YOUNG
June 1, 2007; Page A13
BEIRUT, Lebanon -- On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council voted to set up a tribunal that will try suspects in the February 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Syria is the leading suspect in the case, so the establishment of the tribunal serves as a step toward creating a stable Lebanon. It also poses a clarifying question to the United States: What will engaging Syria mean for building a liberal future for Lebanon?
At the moment, it is clear that Syria hasn't stopped meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs. The Security Council only created its tribunal after efforts to establish a similar tribunal within Lebanon were stymied by Syrian allies. Indeed, to understand what is at stake in the Lebanese crisis today, flip through the report released last April by the U.N. commission investigating the Hariri assassination.
The commission, led by Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, now assumes that Hariri's assassination was tied to his political activities, particularly his preparations for the summer 2005 legislative elections. This sets up a key passage in the report: "[A] working hypothesis is that the initial decision to kill Hariri was taken before the later attempts at rapprochement got underway and most likely before early January 2005. This leads to a possible situation in the last weeks before his murder in which two tracks, not necessarily linked, were running in parallel. On one track, Hariri was engaged in rapprochement initiatives and on the other, preparations for his assassination were underway."
Lebanese citizens celebrate Wednesday's establishment of a U.N. tribunal for the Rafiq Hariri murder.
For anyone who followed Lebanese politics at the time, this deceptively anodyne passage says a lot. Hariri was hoping to score a victory against Syria and its Lebanese allies during the elections, after Syria had extended the mandate of his bitter rival, President Emile Lahoud. The Syrians felt that such a victory would jeopardize their position in Lebanon and, although there was mediation to patch up Hariri's differences with the Syrians, the plot to eliminate him continued. It is plain from Mr. Brammertz's phrasing that those who were planning the former prime minister's elimination are the same ones with whom the intermediaries were trying to reconcile him.
Mr. Brammertz is building a case that, from the information provided to date, can only point the finger at Syria and its Lebanese supplicants. The Hariri tribunal, now that it has been formally established, poses an existential threat to the Syrian regime, and it is in Lebanon that the Syrians have and will continue to hit back to save themselves.
The outbreak of violence in northern Lebanon between the Lebanese army and a group calling itself Fatah al-Islam is the latest stage in such an endeavor. In a BBC interview last week, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora openly linked Fatah al-Islam to Syrian intelligence. The group has claimed to be an al Qaeda affiliate, but observers in Lebanon, including Palestinian sources usually critical of the Siniora government, qualify this, saying that Fatah al-Islam is acting on Syria's behalf. The daily Al-Hayat has reported that the group's weapons come from caches belonging to Palestinian organizations under Syrian control, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Fatah al-Intifada, from which Fatah al-Islam allegedly broke off.
Meanwhile, a more subtle battle is taking place over interpretation of what is happening in Lebanon. This is especially important because there are those in Washington who still insist that something can be gained from dealing with Syria. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi thought so in April when she visited Damascus, did the Gertrude Bell tour of the Hamadiyyeh souq, and capped it all with a visit to President Bashar Assad, all for precisely nothing in return.
The Iraq Study Group also thought Syria could be a useful partner in Iraq, even as all the signs suggest that Damascus has little real influence there and is sowing dissension to compensate. That's why understanding what is going on in Lebanon is vital for a sense of what can be gained from Syria elsewhere. Yet something is amiss when the most obvious truths are those the pundits won't consider.
For example, what did the former CIA agent Robert Baer mean in Time magazine, when he wrote that the Lebanese government should "know better" than to believe that Fatah al-Islam is a Syrian creation, because "at the end of the day Fatah Islam is the Syrian regime's mortal enemy"? Mr. Baer's point was that a Lebanese civil war might undermine Syrian stability, but also that Sunni Islamists oppose the minority Alawite Syrian regime. He reminded us that "the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood used northern Lebanon as a rear base to seize the Syrian city of Hama in 1982."
It is Mr. Baer who should know better. Syria has fueled a sectarian war in neighboring Iraq by funneling Sunni al Qaeda fighters into the country, without worrying about what this might mean for its own stability. Syria's vulnerabilities have not prevented it from hosting Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. And Syria's anxieties notwithstanding, throughout its years in Lebanon it developed ties with many Sunni Islamist groups and recently welcomed to Damascus a prominent Lebanese Islamist it has co-opted, Fathi Yakan.
The point is that Syria will have no qualms about provoking sectarian discord in Lebanon to ward away the menace of the Hariri tribunal.
And what are we to make of the journalist Seymour Hersh, now considered an authority on Lebanese Sunni Islamist groups on the basis of a flawed article he wrote for the New Yorker last March? In that article, and in a recent CNN interview, he indirectly suggested that Fatah al-Islam had received weapons not from Syria but from the Siniora government.
The only source Mr. Hersh cited in his article for the Fatah al-Islam story was Alistair Crooke, a former MI6 agent who co-directs Conflicts Forum, an institution advocating dialogue with Islamist movements. Mr. Crooke did not have direct knowledge of what he was claiming, as he "was told" that weapons and money were offered to the group, "presumably to take on Hezbollah."
Mr. Hersh is wading into very muddy waters with very simple ideas. The relationship of the Lebanese government and the Hariri camp with Sunni Islamists is byzantine, but there is no evidence to date that the government or the Hariris had any strategy to use al Qaeda against Hezbollah. In fact most Lebanese Sunni Islamists are not linked to al Qaeda. And Mr. Hersh has provided no proof that Fatah al-Islam received government assistance. Still, the Syrian regime's media has repeatedly used Mr. Hersh's charges to discredit the Lebanese government.
Then there are those with little patience for Lebanese independence. Arguing that Syria is worth more to the U.S. than Lebanon, they advocate Washington's ceding Lebanon to Syria as a price for constructive dialogue. For example, Flynt Leverett, a former National Security Council staffer now at the New America Foundation, recently told National Public Radio, where he appears regularly, that the Bush administration had "romanticized" the 2005 "Cedar Revolution." This was his way of implying that the latter was worth discarding. For Mr. Leverett and others, a Lebanon free of Syria is inherently unstable, even as they disregard Syrian responsibility for that instability.
In a March 2005 op-ed in the New York Times, as Lebanese took to the streets demanding a Syrian pullout, Mr. Leverett urged the U.S. to abandon efforts to establish a "pro-Western government" in Beirut. Instead, he proposed that "the most promising (if gradual) course for promoting reform in Syria is to engage and empower [President] Assad, not to isolate and overthrow him."
This makes for restorative reading today, as Mr. Assad's regime pursues its destabilization of Lebanon, Iraq and Palestinian areas, ignores domestic reform and continues to detain thousands of political opponents in its prisons.
There is nothing wrong with keeping an open mind on Syria. However, an "open mind" can be shorthand for blindness or bad faith. Given the evidence, it makes no sense to dismiss Syrian involvement in the Lebanese crisis, or to blame the crisis on an al Qaeda affiliate allegedly financed by the Lebanese government. Nor does it make sense to assume that Lebanon is a burden that the U.S. should jettison in favor of a stabilizing Syria, considering the fact that al Qaeda materialized from across the Syrian border. We're asked to believe that a group, said to be financed by the Siniora government, picked a fight with that very government, and somehow innocently did so just as the U.N. prepared to establish a tribunal the Syrians fear.
When Syria is systematically exporting instability throughout the region, you have to wonder whether its regime can be a credible partner to the U.S.
Mr. Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star in Beirut and a contributing editor at Reason magazine.
RELATED ARTICLES AND BLOGS
Justice for Lebanon
June 1, 2007; Page A12
Russia and China refused to endorse Wednesday's Security Council vote to establish an international tribunal for the February 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon's former prime minister. The tribunal, they argued, was an illegitimate form of outside interference in the country's domestic affairs. As for Syria's role in Mr. Hariri's murder -- the very reason the tribunal was needed in the first place -- that's a form of meddling our friends in Moscow and Beijing apparently prefer not to notice.
The good news is that these two veto-wielding powers abstained from the vote, which means the tribunal will be established by international fiat by June 10 if the Lebanese parliament fails to do it before then. In Beirut, this brought dancing in the streets; Mr. Hariri's son Saad called the resolution a "victory the world has given to oppressed Lebanon and a victory for an oppressed Lebanon in the world."
By contrast, Syria denounced the U.N. vote as a "degradation of Lebanon's sovereignty," which -- considering the source -- is almost amusing. Iranian-proxy Hezbollah was equally dismayed: It has spent the last six months attempting to block the tribunal by calling mass demonstrations and trying to bring down the democratic government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. For Hezbollah especially, the resolution marks a major political defeat, and therefore a strategic victory for anyone who cares about Lebanon's future as a sovereign democracy.
Nobody should be under any illusions that the road forward for the tribunal will be easy. The Syrians have consistently tried to derail the U.N. investigation leading to the tribunal. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, who recently met with Condoleezza Rice in Egypt, was secretly taped threatening Rafik Hariri just weeks before his death. He then lied about it to U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis -- a useful reminder of the value of trying to negotiate anything with the regime of Bashar Assad.
Damascus almost certainly had a hand in the assassinations of anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians Gibran Tueni in 2005 and Pierre Gemayal in 2006. More recently, the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat has reported that the leadership of Fatah al-Islam, an al-Qaeda affiliated group in Lebanon, consists entirely of Syrian officers. The Lebanese army has been fighting a pitched battle with the group for the past two weeks in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared -- this despite the fact that the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh reported that the Lebanese government, with the connivance of Saudi Arabia and the Bush Administration, was actually behind the group. (See Michael Young's dispatch nearby.)
As in Iraq, the Syrian game in Lebanon is to foment chaos and then offer itself as the solution. The gambit has plainly impressed at least some people: Wang Guangya, the Chinese ambassador to the U.N., argued that the tribunal would "add to the uncertainties embodied in the already turbulent political and security situation in Lebanon." Comments like that will surely embolden the Syrians to sow more chaos in Lebanon to show that the price of justice in the service of a fallen leader will be prohibitively high.
But whatever happens next, passage of the resolution has shown the Syrians and their Lebanese friends that they cannot assassinate political enemies without paying a price of their own. As U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad put it Wednesday to the Security Council, "there can be no peace . . . without justice." We've heard that slogan before; in the case of Lebanon, at least, it happens to be true.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #18 on:
June 25, 2007, 04:05:45 PM »
Winds of War
Iran is making a mistake that may lead the Middle East into a broader conflict.
BY JOSHUA MURAVCHIK
Monday, June 25, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
Several conflicts of various intensities are raging in the Middle East. But a bigger war, involving more states--Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, the Palestinian Authority and perhaps the United States and others--is growing more likely every day, beckoned by the sense that America and Israel are in retreat and that radical Islam is ascending.
Consider the pell-mell events of recent weeks. Iran imprisons four Americans on absurd charges only weeks after seizing 15 British sailors on the high seas. Iran's Revolutionary Guard is caught delivering weapons to the Taliban and explosives to Iraqi terrorists. A car bomb in Lebanon is used to assassinate parliament member Walid Eido, killing nine others and wounding 11 more.
At the same time, Fatah al-Islam, a shady group linked to Syria, launches an attack on the Lebanese army from within a Palestinian refugee area, beheading several soldiers. Tehran trumpets further progress on nuclear enrichment as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeats his call for annihilating Israel, crowing that "the countdown to the destruction of this regime has begun." Hamas seizes control militarily in Gaza. Katyusha rockets are launched from Lebanon into northern Israel for the first time since the end of last summer's Israel-Hezbollah war.
Two important inferences can be distilled from this list. One is that the Tehran regime takes its slogan, "death to America," quite seriously, even if we do not. It is arming the Taliban, with which it was at sword's point when the Taliban were in power. It seems to be supplying explosives not only to Shiite, but also Sunni terrorists in Iraq. It reportedly is sheltering high-level al Qaeda figures despite the Sunni-Shiite divide. All of these surprising actions are for the sake of bleeding the U.S. However hateful this behavior may be to us, it has a certain strategic logic: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."
What is even more worrisome about the events enumerated above is that most of them are devoid of any such strategic logic. For example, the Hamas "putsch" in Gaza--as Marwan Barghouti, the hero of the Palestinian intifada, labeled it from his prison cell--was an enormous blunder.
Hamas already mostly controlled Gaza. It is hard to imagine what gains it can reap from its "victory." But it is easy to see the losses. Fatah, and the government of its leader Mahmoud Abbas, will be able to restore their strength in the West Bank with the eager assistance of virtually the whole outside world, while Gaza will be shut off and denied outside aid far more strictly than during the past year. Israel will retaliate against shelling with a freer hand. Egypt will tighten its border. And Hamas has in one swoop negated its own supreme achievement, namely winning a majority in Palestine's 2006 parliamentary elections. Until now, Hamas had a powerful argument: how can the West demand democracy and then boycott the winners? But now it is Hamas itself that has destroyed Palestinian democracy by staging an armed coup. Its democratic credentials have gone up in the smoke of its own arson.
Syria's actions in Lebanon scarcely make more sense. The murder of parliamentarian Eido will solidify and energize the majority that opposes Syria. Some suppose that, having now bumped off two Lebanese MPs (Pierre Gemayel was the other one), Syria plans to shave away the anti-Syrian majority in Lebanon's parliament by committing another five murders. But if so, this is a crazy gambit. Such a campaign would invite international intervention. It might well fracture the pro-Syrian forces: More Shiites will abandon Hezbollah and more Maronites will turn against Hezbollah's cat's-paw, Michel Aoun. And the murders might be for naught anyway: By-elections are already being planned that are likely to replace the martyred legislators with others of the same mind. As for the attack on the Lebanese army, Fatah al-Islam is on the brink of being crushed, leaving behind only more hatred of Syria and a better-armed, more confident Lebanese army.
As for Iran's actions, while arming the Taliban and Iraqi terrorists may make sense, what is the point of seizing British sailors or locking up the four Iranian-Americans, including the beloved 67-year-old scholar, Haleh Esfandieri, none of whom are involved even in political activity, much less in the exercise of hard power?
The apparent meaning of all of this pointless provocation and bullying is that the axis of radicals--Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah--is feeling its oats. In part its aim is to intimidate the rest of us, in part it is merely enjoying flexing its muscles. It believes that its side has defeated America in Iraq, and Israel in Gaza and Lebanon. Mr. Ahmadinejad recently claimed that the West has already begun to "surrender," and he gloated that " final victory . . . is near." It is this bravado that bodes war.
A large portion of modern wars erupted because aggressive tyrannies believed that their democratic opponents were soft and weak. Often democracies have fed such beliefs by their own flaccid behavior. Hitler's contempt for America, stoked by the policy of appeasement, is a familiar story. But there are many others. North Korea invaded South Korea after Secretary of State Dean Acheson declared that Korea lay beyond our "defense perimeter." Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait after our ambassador assured him that America does not intervene in quarrels among Arabs. Imperial Germany launched World War I, encouraged by Great Britain's open reluctance to get involved. Nasser brought on the 1967 Six Day War, thinking that he could extort some concessions from Israel by rattling his sword.
Democracies, it is now well established, do not go to war with each other. But they often get into wars with non-democracies. Overwhelmingly the non-democracy starts the war; nonetheless, in the vast majority of cases, it is the democratic side that wins. In other words, dictators consistently underestimate the strength of democracies, and democracies provoke war through their love of peace, which the dictators mistake for weakness.
Today, this same dynamic is creating a moment of great danger. The radicals are becoming reckless, asserting themselves for little reason beyond the conviction that they can. They are very likely to overreach. It is not hard to imagine scenarios in which a single match--say a terrible terror attack from Gaza--could ignite a chain reaction. Israel could handle Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria, albeit with painful losses all around, but if Iran intervened rather than see its regional assets eliminated, could the U.S. stay out?
With the Bush administration's policies having failed to pacify Iraq, it is natural that the public has lost patience and that the opposition party is hurling brickbats. But the demands of congressional Democrats that we throw in the towel in Iraq, their attempts to constrain the president's freedom to destroy Iran's nuclear weapons program, the proposal of the Baker-Hamilton commission that we appeal to Iran to help extricate us from Iraq--all of these may be read by the radicals as signs of our imminent collapse. In the name of peace, they are hastening the advent of the next war.
Mr. Muravchik is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #19 on:
July 10, 2007, 08:23:48 AM »
I have no idea as to the merits of the suggested solutions of this piece, but post it in amazement that Turkey's incipient invasion of Kurdistan, Iraq has garnered so little attention:
By ILAN BERMAN
July 10, 2007; Page A20
You have to feel sorry for David Petraeus. The commander of the multinational force in Iraq already has his hands full overseeing the "surge." Now he needs to deal with another, equally pressing problem. According to Iraqi officials, Turkey has mobilized some 140,000 soldiers along its common border with Iraq, in a maneuver that many see as a prelude to some sort of military confrontation between the two countries.
The reason has everything to do with Ankara's threat calculus. Today, Turkish officials and analysts alike are preoccupied with four interlocking strategic fronts. The first is the country's southeast, where Turkey's military continues its long-running struggle against the separatists of the radical Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). The second lies across the border in northern Iraq, where officials say Kurdish rebels are operating with the knowledge -- and possibly even the tacit backing -- of Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The third and fourth are the sizeable Kurdish enclaves in Syria and Iran -- communities that officials in Ankara fear could similarly become outposts for anti-Turkish activity.
Washington has been slow to grasp the gravity of this threat, and even slower to address it. Until quite recently, the Bush administration brushed aside Turkish appeals for an expansion of the war on terror to include Kurdish terrorism, preferring to focus solely on the threat of al Qaeda and its affiliates. Worse, persistent talk in Washington of Iraqi "federalism" or "soft partition" sent shockwaves through officials in Ankara, who believe that the emergence of an independent "Kurdistan" could encourage neighboring Kurdish enclaves to seek self-determination, likely peeling away Turkish territory.
Only last year, in a belated response to Ankara's urgings, did the administration appoint a special envoy for combating the PKK. The post, as well as the credentials of the envoy -- Gen. Joseph Ralston, a former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- were viewed in Turkey as a long-overdue sign of seriousness. But, by all accounts, bilateral progress has been slow and Mr. Ralston's efforts stymied by bureaucracy. The Beltway debate over Iraq, meanwhile, has heightened Turkish fears that they soon could be forced to face an expanded insurgent threat on their own.
All of which has spurred Ankara to action. In recent days, observers say, the Turkish government has launched a "great mobilization" that has positioned more than a quarter of its half-million-strong army in southeastern Turkey, awaiting orders for a cross-border operation. Such an incursion could be catastrophic. The quasi-autonomous government of "Iraqi Kurdistan" has made clear that it is ready and able to repulse a Turkish invasion. The U.S., meanwhile, has hinted that it would be obliged to defend and assist Iraqi forces in the event of such a conflict. Thus a Turkish raid could spark a war between a NATO member state and the U.S.-led Coalition.
Up until now, Ankara has appeared to understand the danger. Over the past several weeks, its military created a number of "temporary security zones" on the Iraqi border to interdict cross-border terrorist activities. But Turkish officials have made perfectly clear that this step is not a permanent solution to their security problem.
Fortunately, an opportunity to avert a crisis exists. Back in the spring of 2002, in an effort to assist Georgia in its fight against terrorism, the Pentagon launched the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP) -- a bilateral military training initiative intended to enhance the former Soviet republic's counterterrorism, border security and intelligence capabilities. Practically, GTEP served as a useful capacity-building exercise, helping Tbilisi consolidate control over inhospitable terrain and expand the effectiveness of its forces. Politically, however, GTEP was much more; by increasing Georgia's competence to combat terrorism within its own borders, it eliminated a potential pretext for Russian imperialism. By 2004, the 20-month program had attained tangible results, simultaneously bolstering Tbilisi's anti-terror abilities and reducing the reasons for Russian intrusion.
If implemented quickly, the same model could reap benefits in northern Iraq. Despite its virtual political autonomy, the KRG is not an independent entity. It is beholden to the Iraqi central government, and to the Coalition, which now has greater authority pursuant to a May 30 security agreement signed by Mr. Barzani and U.S. commanders. Both now need to seize the initiative to create an institutional mechanism capable of defending Turkey from cross-border attack.
Of late, Baghdad has begun to show welcome signs of responsibility on this score. In early June, after months of dialogue with Turkish officials, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki officially signaled his intent to outlaw the activities of the PKK. Mr. Maliki and company will need to go beyond mere rhetoric, however, and immediately formulate a concrete plan for containing the activities of Kurdish insurgents in northern Iraq. For its part, the Coalition must throw its weight behind a serious plan for northern Iraq, one that addresses Turkey's security concerns in a real and tangible way.
Anything less, and the Iraqi insurgency could become the least of Gen. Petraeus's problems.
Mr. Berman is vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #20 on:
July 10, 2007, 08:35:08 AM »
Second post of the morning:
Another Iraq Front
By ROBERT P. FINN
July 10, 2007
Turkey is edging toward going after Kurdish PKK guerillas in northern Iraq. The Council of Ministers yesterday discussed calling Parliament into special session to approve a possible military incursion before general elections later this month, but in the end didn't take a decision. The Turkish military itself has been ready to move for weeks. The Turks have complained about the U.S. dropping the ball on fighting terrorism in the Kurdish areas of Iraq, and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül recently made clear to Washington that Turkey needed no permission from anyone to move into northern Iraq.
All this has serious implications, none of them good, for Turkey domestically and for the region. Iran is forging an alliance of convenience with Ankara against the Kurds. Any Turkish military attack threatens to destabilize the only relatively calm region of Iraq.
Early last month, Turkish and Iranian forces located on their respective borders with Iraq fired numerous rockets into areas where the PKK has been active, apparently in coordination with each other. Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper identified the passes under attack by Turkish troops as those at Seranish, Destetag, Kesane, Banike, Geli and Batufa. (In a twist of history, these are the very areas where hundreds of thousands of Kurds climbed to safety while they fled Saddam Hussein's soldiers in 1988 and again in 1991, after the First Gulf War.) Iranian forces have allegedly fired on the PKK redoubts south of Kandil mountain, which straddles the point of the trilateral border.
Officials from the Peshmerga, the Iraqi Kurdish militia, were quoted as saying, "We've never seen the Turks coming like this." Turkish maneuvers on the Iraqi border are a familiar rite of springtime, and Turkish incursions into Iraq in pursuit of the PKK have taken place numerous times in the past, but not recently, at least officially. Some Turkish troops are even stationed at firebases in northern Iraq.
The rising tensions in northern Iraq stem, first off, from frequent terrorist bombings in Turkey in recent weeks blamed on the PKK. An attack in Ankara killed eight and wounded scores at the height of the evening rush hour. The bomber's code name was allegedly Adok, a Kurdish word that means a sacrificial offering. Forty-two people, most of them soldiers, were killed by terrorism in May, and attacks have continued. A road mine in southern Sirnak on Sunday killed a village guard. A number of suicide bombers and quantities of bomb material, most allegedly brought by the PKK from Syria, have been captured recently. Deaths from the struggle with the PKK have risen to over 650 since the beginning of last year, while the PKK claims the total is 900. So Turks are fed up. Police have had, for the first time, to erect barriers at military funerals to protect senior government officials from angry, shouting citizens.
The other cause of trouble is politics. The head of the Turkish General Staff, Gen. Yashar Buyukanit, announced this spring that a foray into Iraq was needed, but deferred to the government on the final decision. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the same, but has so far made no move. He recently complained that "retired generals are going around exciting the people" and that the political and military consequences of any incursion into northern Iraq have to be evaluated.
As Turkey moves toward a general election on July 22 that may well be the most important in its modern history, the pressure on Mr. Erdogan to do something in northern Iraq is strong. The military and the secular elite have taken up the issue, seeking to fuel popular discontent with the government. They see Mr. Erdogan's government and his party as soft on the Kurdish issue and not pushing the U.S. hard enough.
The U.S. is on the record as opposing a military intervention in Iraq by Turkey, but Turks are worn out by what they perceive as U.S. foot-dragging on doing anything about the PKK. European resistance to Turkish EU candidacy and media propaganda claiming that the U.S. wants to set up an independent Kurdistan help to inflame Turkish nationalism. A sensationalist 2005 Turkish best seller, "Metal Storm," even forecast the U.S. and Turkey going to war in 2007 after a Turkish incursion into northern Iraq.
Iran may be coordinating with the Turks against the PKK but is no doubt also pleased at the problems the situation is causing for U.S.-Turkish relations. Such maneuvering is common to this area, where a century ago imperial Russians were inciting Kurdish tribes to destabilize the region. The Kurds have long been the victims of such power manipulations in the region, divided by others and among themselves.
The military show of strength may come to no more than that, as the international community rushes to defuse yet another crisis in the area. A parliamentary resolution would allow, not demand, an incursion.
The question of the PKK as a threat to Turkish national sovereignty and the question of the Kurds and their role in Iraq, however, will remain linked. A Turkish general who visited northern Iraq pointed out that the Kurdish flag and anthem are played for visitors in the north, not the Iraqi ones. As long as that does not change and the PKK receive refuge in the mountains, many Turks will be ready to act and U.S.-Turkish relations will be clouded.
While the U.S. considers the PKK a terrorist organization, it has also basically turned over security in the northern areas of Iraq to the Kurds. Surely it still has the clout to make it clear to the Kurds that this does not give them carte blanche to accommodate terrorist camps. The number of PKK fighters in northern Iraq is not huge, perhaps three or four thousand, but certainly larger than the "hundreds" to which Prime Minister Erdogan has referred. The authorities in Iraq can shut the PKK down, as they have in the past, and the U.S., for its own good, should push them to do so.
Mr. Finn, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan who also served several diplomatic tours in Turkey, teaches at Princeton.
If Saddam were still in power
Reply #21 on:
July 11, 2007, 06:42:48 PM »
What We Pre-Empted
Today's world would be far worse if Saddam were still in power.
BY PETER J. WALLISON
Wednesday, July 11, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
Given the problems and U.S. casualties in Iraq, polls show a large majority of the American people believe the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. Yet if we imagine what the world would look like today if Saddam Hussein had not been deposed, it seems clear that almost no outcome in Iraq would be as adverse to the interests of the United States as today's world with Saddam still in power.
It is important to recall that Saddam had thrown the U.N. weapons inspectors out of Iraq in 1998, and allowed them to return in 2002 only because of the credible threat of a U.S. attack. In addition, the sanctions regime was collapsing--Saddam had learned how to extract billions of dollars for weapons out of the humanitarian exceptions to those sanctions--and our European friends, and perhaps U.N. officials themselves, were complicit in this. Under these circumstances, Saddam could not have been "contained" or rendered harmless, and Iraq could not have been indefinitely subject to U.N. inspections. At some point, Saddam would have been able to throw out the inspectors again, with no further action by the U.N. It was clear that the U.N. itself would do nothing to enforce its own resolutions.
We also know from the reports of the weapons inspectors that Saddam and his scientists were working to develop nuclear weapons, work that certainly would have continued if Saddam had remained in place. Saddam had already demonstrated that he would use chemical weapons, and there is no reason in logic that he wouldn't also restore his chemical weapons stocks once the inspectors had left. He had the largest army in the region, and had shown a determination to use it for expanding his control beyond Iraq. It's not far-fetched, therefore, to consider what economists call a counterfactual--what things would look like today if the U.S. had not invaded Iraq.
First, U.S. troops would still be in Saudi Arabia. Our troops were there because of the Saudis' fear of an Iraqi attack. We should recall that one of the principal reasons Osama bin Laden cited for attacking us--not only on 9/11, but for many years before--was that U.S. troops were supposedly defiling the Muslim holy places in Saudi Arabia. As absurd as this seems to us, it apparently resonated with the Mohamed Attas of this world. With Saddam still in power, American arms would be necessary to protect Saudi Arabia, and our presence there would still be a continuing irritant among militants and a source of al Qaeda-inspired terrorist attacks against the United States around the world.
Imagine, also, trying to persuade Iran to abandon the development of nuclear weapons when Iraq--which had attacked Iran--was actively engaged in doing exactly that. We hope now to change Iran's course through economic sanctions--a difficult prospect to be sure--but that would be a hopeless quest if its leaders and population believed they needed nuclear weapons to deter Iraq. Once it became clear that Iran would develop nuclear weapons, many Sunni Arab nations would want a nuclear deterrent, and Israel's position would be hideously complicated.
Then there are Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Before Saddam was deposed by the U.S. invasion, he was bidding for leadership of the Arab world in its opposition to Israel and U.S. policy in the Mideast. We can now see the resources he would have brought to bear in that effort. Saddam was a Sunni leader of a Shiite country. As he watched the Islamic world becoming more fundamentalist, he too became more overtly religious. Undoubtedly, he saw himself as the new Nasser, the one person who could unite the Arab and perhaps the Islamic world against the West and Israel. If he had remained in power, he would now be contesting with Iran for sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas. With these two regional powers competing in their militancy against Israel, there would be little chance of a Mideast peace any time soon. Gaza, now under Hamas control, would become a protectorate of Iraq, and the effectiveness of the West's financial boycott would have been nullified.
Saddam's interest in driving the U.S. out of the Middle East would be coincident with those of al Qaeda and he would have the weapons of mass destruction that al Qaeda has been seeking. We could never be sure that if we opposed Saddam--say, in another Iraqi invasion of Kuwait--he would not make weapons of mass destruction available to al Qaeda.
In short, it would be difficult to construct a scenario in which the ultimate outcome of events in Iraq today would be as negative for the United States as a world in which Saddam remained in control of Iraq. So, while we are justifiably dismayed about what is happening today in Iraq, we should not allow this to obscure the central point--that the world is a better and safer place because Saddam is out of power. Looked at this way, we have already achieved a lot; what remains now--as the president and John McCain have said--is to steady ourselves and see it through.
Mr. Wallison is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; he was White House counsel in the Reagan administration.
Turkey, Kurds, Iran, US
Reply #22 on:
July 17, 2007, 08:47:13 PM »
Turkey: Kurds, Iran and Prodding the United States
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 17 defended a preliminary natural gas deal with Iran to carry natural gas to Europe following strong criticism of the agreement from the White House. With U.S.-Turkish relations taking a serious hit from the Iraq war and its aftermath, Turkey is clearly sending a political message to the United States that it still has a number of ways to pressure Washington into cracking down on Kurdistan Workers' Party rebels in northern Iraq.
Iran and Turkey have signed a preliminary agreement to pump Iranian natural gas to Europe via Turkey, a senior Turkish energy official who requested anonymity said July 16. A U.S. State Department spokesman criticized the agreement the same day, saying now is not the right time to invest in Iran's energy sector, and that Iran has not necessarily proved itself to be the most reliable partner in this regard. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded by defending the agreement, saying Iran had made an attractive offer. He added, "Should we not think of our country's interests at this point? Is the United States going to ask why we did not seek their permission? I believe [the United States] will understand."
Turkey signed a deal with Tehran in 2001 to ship 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Iranian natural gas from Tabriz to Europe via Turkey. Washington greatly disapproved of the deal at the time, not liking the idea of a NATO ally defying its sanction strategy against the Islamic republic. Iran and Turkey now apparently have decided to take their energy cooperation a step further by signing an agreement to pump 30 bcm of natural gas per year to Europe via Turkey, leaving no need for alternative supplies to feed the Nabucco pipeline project.
The European Union designed Nabucco to reduce its dependence on Russia for natural gas. Though clearly Europe will fund Nabucco, and Turkey makes the most sense as the primary transit point into Europe, there is still the question of which country actually will fill the pipeline with natural gas. In no particular order, the prospective suppliers for Nabucco are Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Complications attend each of these suppliers.
Turkmenistan, for example, would have to violate existing energy agreements with Russia to become a dedicated supplier for this project. Iraq remains an incoherent mess. Egypt and Saudi Arabia would require infrastructure largely built from scratch to do the job. Finally, Iran has a wall of political sanctions that would have to be broken down through a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement. In spite of this, Iran is probably best positioned to supply Nabucco. The 2001 Iranian-Turkish deal already allows about 10 bcm to be shipped into Turkey, and unlike Saudi Arabia or Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey share a border. Moreover, Iran also has larger natural gas reserves than all the other prospective suppliers combined.
Turkey previously has talked about getting Russia to supply natural gas for the pipeline, which defeats the Europeans' original purpose of building it. By now saying Iran will be a major partner in Nabucco, Turkey appears to be sending a clear political message to Washington that Ankara is unhappy with the U.S. handling of Iraq and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Kurdish rebel group that focuses its attacks on Turkey -- using bases in northern Iraq as its refuge and a staging ground for operations.
Turkey harbors deep reservoirs of resentment toward the United States. Turks at practically every level of society argue that the United States has done nothing to contain the PKK, while Washington hypocritically expects full compliance from Ankara to help calm the situation in Iraq. Ankara also fears that any political settlement the United States attempts to push through in Baghdad will allow Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to make considerable progress toward greater political and economic autonomy -- something that could encourage Kurdish separatism inside Turkey. As a result, Turkey has spent the past few months engaged in heavy military posturing to convince the KRG and Washington that Ankara will not hesitate to send troops into northern Iraq to take care of the PKK, even if this ends up derailing Washington's political negotiations over Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Iranians are eager to take advantage of this deterioration in U.S.-Turkish relations by forming a strategic partnership with Ankara. Turkey also steadily has improved relations with Syria and has sought to assume the role of mediator between Israel and Syria, despite Washington's wish to keep Damascus isolated.
Iran, Turkey and Syria all find common cause in ensuring that Iraqi Kurdistan is boxed in by its neighbors. Iran also sees itself and Turkey as the rightful powerhouses of the Middle East -- as non-Arabs and as successors to the Ottoman and Safavid empires, respectively. Of course, plenty of divisive issues hamper such a partnership, including Turkey's secularist and Iran's Islamist ideology, as well as their opposing stances toward the West. But with the U.S.-Turkish relationship taking a beating, Iran sees a gap that it very much wants to fill. In fact, the Iranians already have begun to prove their worth to the Turks by launching cross-border operations against PKK rebels in northeastern Iraq.
This explains why Erdogan rather cheekily ridiculed Washington's expectation that Ankara ask for the U.S. position before signing this deal with Iran. Erdogan's comments also come just five days before the July 22 Turkish parliamentary polls. The ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party wants to extract maximum electoral mileage by tapping the growing anti-U.S. sentiment within the Turkish public. Though Erdogan is relatively confident that the AK Party will hold onto its parliamentary majority, he also knows his party will lose some seats, and he is trying to minimize this loss as much as possible.
This obvious political jab by the Turks intended to apply greater pressure on Washington to give into Turkish demands and crack down on PKK rebels in northern Iraq is sure to grab Washington's attention. The only way to break Turkey out of this growing strategic partnership with Iran and Syria will be through action against the PKK. In the interest of gluing Iraq back together, Washington does not appear prepared to take such action just yet -- meaning U.S.-Turkish relations are bound to suffer further as a result.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #23 on:
July 30, 2007, 08:41:47 AM »
Geopolitical Diary: On Iraq, All Things Definitely are Not Equal
The United States accused Saudi Arabia on Sunday of undercutting security and stability in Iraq. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad told CNN that the kingdom and other regional Arab states not only are not doing enough to help Washington with regards to Iraq, they actually are undermining U.S. efforts there. The remarks follow Khalilzad's July 27 op-ed in The New York Times in which he said several of Iraq's neighbors -- not just Iran and Syria -- are pursuing destabilizing policies.
U.S. problems with Saudi Arabia and Iraq's Sunnis have been widely expected, given the outcome of the second round of U.S.-Iranian talks. The agreement between Washington and Tehran on the formation of a security subcommittee to oversee efforts to contain Sunni and Shiite militants was bound to upset the Saudis. Riyadh is not an active participant in the formal process, which already has the Saudis miffed. More important, however, any U.S.-Iranian understanding is bound to empower the Iranians and their Arab Shiite allies in Iraq in unprecedented ways -- threatening the interests of the region's premier Sunni power: Riyadh.
Riyadh thus far has issued no official reaction to either the outcome of the second round of U.S.-Iranian talks or to Sunday's public tongue-lashing by the Bush administration. This is not surprising, though, as the Saudis prefer to act indirectly, if not outright covertly. Their primary means of influencing events in Iraq is to control the flow of men and resources to Iraq's jihadist movement. As longtime Stratfor readers remember, Saudi support for Islamist militancy was a critical feature in the operation of the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan war, and later in the creation of al Qaeda. Using such tactics to affect a war on its very doorstep is certainly not a lost art as far as the Saudis are concerned.
Yet, in the years since 9/11 these are not tactics that engender warm, fuzzy feelings in Washington. The Saudis, however, would not be risking tensions with the United States over Iraq unless they were convinced that U.S.-Iranian dealings on Iraq had reached the point of putting Saudi interests at stake. U.S.-Saudi tensions, then, are a sign that Washington and Tehran have made significant progress toward stabilizing Iraq. Stratfor has noted in the past that U.S. efforts to placate the Shia upset the Sunnis -- and vice versa. So, ironically, Washington's public criticism of the Saudis indicates that the proverbial snowball has moved into a slightly less fiery part of the nether world.
Now that there is forward movement with the Iranians, the question is whether Saudi efforts can torpedo the progress. That is unlikely in any meaningful way, given that the Saudis have few options at their disposal. Sure, they can try to support jihadists, but that is a double-edged sword for them. Consider for a moment that the Saudis actually succeed in derailing the Iran-U.S. effort. With a wrecked Iraq on the Saudi border, hyped-up jihadists would be looking to hurl themselves at something else.
Put differently, the Saudi attitude toward Iraq is a problem, but not one that threatens to destroy the negotiating process altogether -- unlike the critical position of Iran. Yet, although the Saudis lack the ability to spoil the Iraq process, the United States cannot afford to completely ignore them. So, when in doubt, bribe. This weekend, the United States announced plans to shovel some $20 billion in weapons to the Saudis and the other Persian Gulf states. After all, the primary concern of the Arab states with regards to Iraq is the security threat posed by an emergent Iran.
The Saudis want the weapons, of course, but more important they want an Iraqi Sunni community that is politically strong enough to block the geopolitical advances of Iran and the Shia so that the Iranians can be contained within Iraq. All things being equal, this is a goal the Arabs and the Americans share. But all things are not equal. The United States needs to stabilize Iraq and begin pulling out -- and for that it needs to deal with Iran. Thus, the concerns of the Arab states have become secondary.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #24 on:
July 30, 2007, 03:21:51 PM »
Second post of the day:
U.S./TURKEY: The United States and Turkey are preparing to conduct a covert military strike against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, The Washington Post reported in a column by Robert Novak. The report says the operation is aimed at preventing a Turkish invasion of Iraq and has been presented to members of Congress.
One wonders about the patriotism of Novak here--
unless this is a deliberate plant
but even that undercuts the ethos that one should not report these things , , ,
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #25 on:
July 30, 2007, 08:41:13 PM »
Iraq: The United States and Turkey Put Iraq's Kurds Under Pressure
July 30, 2007 21 44 GMT
U.S. syndicated columnist Robert Novak published an op-ed article July 30 saying the United States and Turkey are planning to launch a joint operation against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels in northern Iraq. This appears to be an intentional leak from the U.S. administration to appease Ankara and pressure Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government to act against the PKK to fend off a Turkish incursion. But just the talk of a U.S.-Turkish military operation in Iraq will end up further complicating U.S. efforts to effect a political resolution in Baghdad and could even give Iran an opportunity to outshine the United States.
The United States is planning a covert operation with the Turkish army to "help neutralize" Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels in northern Iraq, according to a July 30 Washington Post op-ed article by syndicated columnist Robert Novak. In the article, Novak says that secret briefings were held on Capitol Hill during the previous week by Eric S. Edelman who, before taking his current job as undersecretary of defense policy, was the U.S. ambassador to Turkey and an aide to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. When Edelman proposed the plan to unspecified lawmakers on the Hill, he reportedly assured them the operation would succeed, "adding that the U.S. role could be concealed and always would be denied."
Evidently, this plan is not so secret anymore, and it would be nearly impossible for the United States to conceal its role in any operation in northern Iraq now that the plan has been made public. It comes as no surprise that this leak came through the Washington Post and through Novak, who is well-known for his 2003 expose that identified Valerie Plame as a CIA operative. Washington evidently wanted to leak this story -- but why?
First, it assures Turkey that the United States is not turning a blind eye to PKK activity in northern Iraq, where the group has set up at least seven camps consisting of some 3,000 fighters. Anti-U.S. sentiment is soaring in Turkey to the point where senior officials in the political and security apparatus are seriously questioning whether Washington is intentionally using the PKK to harm Turkish interests. Turkish newspapers now regularly carry headlines accusing the United States of directly providing weapons support to the PKK, which only further enflame the Turkish public, whose feelings toward the PKK mirror those the Americans have about their soldiers getting killed in Iraq every day. News of a planned joint operation in northern Iraq is music to many Turkish ears, though the Turks will remain skeptical of the U.S. relationship with the PKK until they see action on the ground.
Second, Novak's article sends a clear message to Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) that Washington's patience has worn thin, and that the only way to stave off a major Turkish incursion is for the KRG to do the dirty work itself and take action against the PKK. Though the PKK has sympathizers in northern Iraq for its fight against Turkey, and PKK rebels have found a safe-haven in the mountains, Massoud Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) do not exactly get along with their Kurdish PKK brothers. More than once, the KDP and PUK have fought against the PKK. In past internal struggles, the KDP has pitted the PKK against the PUK and vice versa. In fact, Barzani, who is largely in control of the areas bordering Turkey in northwestern Iraq, offered Turkey the KDP's assistance against the PKK in May 1997 in exchange for Turkish help in fighting the PUK. To make a long story short, the PKK is essentially a bargaining chip for the now-united Iraqi Kurdish leadership, which is fully expecting political concessions from Washington in exchange for a crackdown on PKK guerrillas.
But Washington is not exactly in a position to make significant political concessions to the Kurds -- namely anything involving the status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk -- while it is desperately attempting to forge a political consensus in Baghdad among Iraq's warring factions. Any talk of the United States launching a joint operation with the Turks in northern Iraq is only going to harden the Kurds' stance on contentious issues holding up the political process (such as the pending oil legislation), making it all the more difficult for Washington to move the negotiations along.
With Novak's story making the headlines, the United States is betting that the Iraqi Kurdish leadership will succumb to pressure to act against the PKK itself, and thus preclude the need for a major Turkish incursion -- which would be an extremely messy situation considering the bloody result of having two NATO allies, PKK rebels and battle-hardened peshmerga forces fighting it out in mountainous terrain. U.S. forces in Iraq also are deeply engaged in the ongoing surge strategy to bring everything below Iraqi Kurdistan under some semblance of control, and they simply cannot afford to divert a significant number of forces up north to a new battlefront.
It is now up to the Iraqi Kurdish leadership to decide its next steps. Barzani is the more boisterous and nationalistic of the Iraqi Kurdish leaders in his statements, but has (not coincidentally) put a lid on his remarks to avoid riling the Turks further when the country is already itching to take action against the PKK. The PKK also has scaled back its attacks, and -- with some nudging by the KRG -- even called for a cease-fire July 17 to make it harder for Turkey to justify a major military operation. But insincere cease-fire calls will not suffice for Turkey, and the KRG is beginning to realize it will need to take a step further in pressuring the PKK if it wants to ensure that northern Iraq maintains its stable security and investment climate.
Moreover, Turkey has had a tumultuous election season and still has to hold what will likely be a very contentious presidential election some time in the next month. In order to maintain stability, the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party is very unlikely to approve a military operation into northern Iraq until after the presidential election passes. That election will probably involve the AK Party, with the backing of the Nationalist Movement Party, choosing as its presidential candidate Abdullah Gul, whose earlier nomination sparked a countrywide legislative crisis. If Gul gets the job, then the AK Party will have an even stronger incentive to go after the PKK to neutralize any potential backlash to Gul.
Before deciding on a course of action, the KRG has another important thing to consider: weather. Turkey historically has invaded northern Iraq in the spring, when the weather is optimal for military operations and the foliage in the region is not fully grown. After the Turkish presidential election, it will be fall, and snow sometimes falls in northern Iraq as early as November. That leaves a very short time frame for Turkey to act, or it would likely have to wait until the following spring. The weather does not completely rule out a Turkish military operation in the fall or early winter, but it will play a major role in the Turkish military chief's decision based on past incursions. If U.S. and Iraqi diplomacy could buy the KRG some time during Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's upcoming visits to Iraq in August and to Washington in the fall, Iraq's Kurdish leadership might be able to get by with taking limited action against the PKK. After all, the PKK traditionally calls for a cease-fire once the cold weather starts to kick in and heads for its hideout in the Qandil mountain range along the Iranian border to hibernate until the snow melts and the insurgency can start anew.
Iran, meanwhile, is watching Washington's diplomatic games closely and has been looking for opportunities to get closer to Ankara while anti-U.S. sentiment over the PKK is flaring in Turkey. The Iranians have strategically carried out cross-border military strikes against PKK hideouts in northern Iraq in recent months to win the hearts and minds of the Turkish public and highlight the common threat Turkey and Iran face from PKK activity in northern Iraq and the growing autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan. As U.S.-Turkish tensions intensify in the coming weeks and months over military action against the PKK, Iran could see this as an opportunity to take action on its own against PKK guerrilla fighters and outshine the United States, thus bringing Tehran a step closer to its vision of a more robust, albeit flawed, anti-U.S. alliance in the region.
With so many variables in play in northern Iraq, Washington will have to move carefully to avoid getting caught in a bigger mess than it can handle while the bulk of its attention remains on finding a political resolution in Baghdad. The PKK might be a nuisance for the United States at this stage of the negotiations, but Turkey is set to convince Washington that this so-called nuisance is the crux of the U.S.-Turkish partnership
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #26 on:
August 10, 2007, 11:00:58 PM »
August 10, 2007 21 18 GMT
Talk of Russia making a grand return to the Mediterranean by developing a naval base off the Syrian coast has given Syria a unique opportunity to play off a resurrection of Cold War tensions between Washington and Moscow. Though a Russian naval presence on Syrian soil would give Damascus a stronger deterrence against external aggression, the Syrian regime is not willing to sell its national security to the Russians just yet. For now, Syria's focus will remain on using the Iraq negotiations to break out of its diplomatic isolation.
Speculation is arising over the seriousness of Russia's plan to resurrect its naval presence on the Mediterranean. So far, Syria has gone out of its way to deny that any such plan exists, insisting that all talk of Russia using Syrian port facilities in Tartus and Latakia is a figment of Israel's propaganda machine.
But beyond the statements, Syria is facing a very interesting political decision. Russia sees a window of opportunity in which the United States' attention is absorbed in Iraq and in its intensely delicate negotiations with Iran. Though the thought of Russia sending warships to the Mediterranean could have provoked a strong U.S. response a decade ago, it is no secret that the U.S. military's bandwidth is greatly constrained and there is room for other major powers -- like Russia -- to start playing in the Middle Eastern sandbox again.
A Russian naval presence off the Syrian coast could allow Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime to better inoculate itself against a potential attack by the United States or Israel. Damascus is nervously watching for any movement in the U.S.-Iran talks over Iraq. Like the Russians, the Syrians enjoy the fact that U.S. military forces have their hands too full to seriously think about engaging them in a round of forceful behavior modification. With or without a solid political resolution in Baghdad, the U.S. military position in Iraq is not going to last forever, and Syria will not be able to stay under the radar as easily as it has over the past six years. Without a strong defensive missile shield of its own, the Syrians could look to their Russian guests at Tartus and Latakia to get the Israelis, Americans or even the Turks to think twice about threatening Syria militarily.
At most, a Russian naval presence off the Syrian coast would complicate plans to strike Syria. The Russians have pledged to set up sophisticated air defenses around the Latakia and Tartus naval bases that will also provide an air umbrella for the entire Syrian coast and parts of the hinterland. Syria has formally depended on Russia for military supplies and training since the Cold War. While the supplies are nice, Damascus still does not view Russia as a reliable military ally should things come to a head. Al Assad likely remembers well his father's distrust of Kremlin support during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which both the United States and the Soviet Union worked to ensure the war ended in a stalemate. Syria has also watched how the Russians have strung along the Iranians over the construction of the Bushehr nuclear reactor (now running a decade behind schedule), and has not enjoyed having to grovel for arms sales, particularly during Russian President Vladimir Putin's reign.
Though trust is very much an issue, a Russian naval fleet would still serve a clear purpose in Syria's view. The United States would unlikely be prepared to risk engaging in a military confrontation with Russia (which could very well lead to a crisis with Washington's European allies) on any level for the sake of targeting the Syrian regime. Furthermore, Israel would be troubled by -- among other things -- the potential concurrent deployment of land-based air defense assets, like late-model S300 batteries, to a Russian facility. These are highly capable air defense assets that Syria has been trying to acquire for a decade. Though Damascus could not rely on them to actually defend Syrian interests, their mere presence would change the threat environment for Israel and make things like low-level flights over al Assad's summer home in Latakia a bit riskier. In short, the Russians would be offering an attractive insurance policy for the Syrians.
But Syria is also looking at another window of opportunity in Iraq, where it sees the United States desperate for a political resolution. Syria is in the process of demonstrating in any way possible that it can play a key role in suppressing the Iraq insurgency and getting Iraq's former Baathists on board with a political deal. The Iraq negotiations would then serve as an avenue for Syria to extract political concessions in Lebanon and break out of its diplomatic isolation by normalizing relations with the United States, moving al Assad a huge step ahead in his quest for national security. The Syrian regime is also well aware that Israel and the United States privately prefer keeping the al Assad regime intact for lack of a better, non-Islamist alternative. As long as al Assad faces no immediate threat of regime change, he has ample room to negotiate his way to Washington's good side while the Iraq talks are in play.
Moreover, the Syrians cannot expect the Russians to show up on their doorstep anytime soon. While Russia could park a handful of surface combatants from the Black Sea Fleet in Tartus or Latakia tomorrow, the construction of more meaningful naval facilities takes time and considerable investment. There is no clear indication that Russia has a genuine interest in making such an investment now, though Moscow has much to gain by talking about it and playing up the threat of Russia's expansionist desires.
The Syrians likely will keep the Russian naval option on the table, but for now al Assad's focus is on exploiting the Iraq talks to gain U.S. recognition. So far, this plan is progressing, with Syria just having wrapped up a two-day international security conference -- attended by the United States -- aimed at stabilizing Iraq. The United States is also looking into different ways to work with the Syrians while appearing to keep its guard up, including channeling messages through the Canadians to the Syrian regime.
Damascus will publicly downplay any talk of the Russian naval fleet to avoid rocking the boat with Washington while the Iraq negotiations are in progress. But should Syria feel the United States is not willing to play ball over Iraq, the Russian naval base option gives Damascus a most useful bargaining chip to play both sides of the U.S.-Russian divide
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #27 on:
August 29, 2007, 02:54:08 PM »
Move and Countermove: Ahmadinejad and Bush Duel
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Aug. 28 that U.S. power in Iraq is rapidly being destroyed. Then he said that Iran, with the help of regional friends and the Iraqi nation, is ready to fill the vacuum. Ahmadinejad specifically reached out to Saudi Arabia, saying the Saudis and Iranians could collaborate in managing Iraq. Later in the day, U.S. President George W. Bush responded, saying, "I want our fellow citizens to consider what would happen if these forces of radicalism and extremism are allowed to drive us out of the Middle East. The region would be dramatically transformed in a way that could imperil the civilized world." He specifically mentioned Iran and its threat of nuclear weapons.
On Aug. 27, we argued that, given the United States' limited ability to secure Iraq, the strategic goal must now shift from controlling Iraq to defending the Arabian Peninsula against any potential Iranian ambitions in that direction. "Whatever mistakes might have been made in the past, the current reality is that any withdrawal from Iraq would create a vacuum, which would rapidly be filled by Iran," we wrote.
Ahmadinejad's statements, made at a two-hour press conference, had nothing to do with what we wrote, nor did Bush's response. What these statements do show, though, is how rapidly the thinking in Tehran is evolving in response to Iranian perceptions of a pending U.S. withdrawal and a power vacuum in Iraq -- and how the Bush administration is shifting its focus from the Sunni threat to both the Sunni and Shiite threats.
The most important thing Ahmadinejad discussed at his press conference was not the power vacuum, but Saudi Arabia. He reached out to the Saudis, saying Iran and Saudi Arabia together could fill the vacuum in Iraq and stabilize the country. The subtext was that not only does Iran not pose a threat to Saudi Arabia, it would be prepared to enhance Saudi power by giving it a substantial role in a post-U.S. Iraq.
Iran is saying that Saudi Arabia does not need to defend itself against Iran, and it certainly does not need the United States to redeploy its forces along the Saudi-Iraqi border in order to defend itself. While dangling the carrot of participation in a post-war Iraq, Iran also is wielding a subtle stick. One of the reasons for al Qaeda's formation was the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. Radical Islamists in Saudi Arabia regarded the U.S. presence as sacrilege and the willingness of the Saudi regime to permit American troops to be there as blasphemous. After 9/11, the Saudis asked the United States to withdraw its forces, and following the Iraq invasion they fought a fairly intense battle against al Qaeda inside the kingdom. Having U.S. troops defend Saudi Arabia once again -- even if they were stationed outside its borders -- would inflame passions inside the kingdom, and potentially destabilize the regime.
The Saudis are in a difficult position. Since the Iranian Revolution, the Saudi relationship with Iran has ranged from extremely hostile to uneasy. It is not simply a Sunni and Shiite matter. Iran is more than just a theocracy. It arose from a very broad popular uprising against the shah. It linked the idea of a republic to Islam, combining a Western revolutionary tradition with Shiite political philosophy. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is a monarchy that draws its authority from traditional clan and tribal structures and Wahhabi Islam in the Arabian Peninsula. The Saudis felt trapped between the pro-Soviet radicalism of the Iraqis and Syrians, and of the various factions of the Palestinian movement on the one side -- and the Islamic Republic in Iran on the other. Isolated, it had only the United States to depend on, and that dependency blew up in its face during the 1990-91 war in Kuwait.
But there also is a fundamental geopolitical problem. Saudi Arabia suffers from a usually fatal disease. It is extraordinarily rich and militarily weak. It has managed to survive and prosper by having foreign states such as the United Kingdom and the United States have a stake in its independence -- and guarantee that independence with their power. If it isn't going to rely on an outside power to protect it, and it has limited military resources of its own, then how will it protect itself against the Iranians? Iran, a country with a large military -- whose senior officers and noncoms were blooded in the Iran-Iraq war -- does not have a great military, merely a much larger and experienced one than the Saudis.
The Saudis have Iran's offer. The problem is that the offer cannot be guaranteed by Saudi power, but depends on Iran's willingness to honor it. Absent the United States, any collaboration with Iran would depend on Iran's will. And the Iranians are profoundly different from the Saudis and, more important, much poorer. Whatever their intentions might be today -- and who can tell what the Iranians intend? -- those intentions might change. If they did, it would leave Saudi Arabia at risk to Iranian power.
Saudi Arabia is caught between a rock and a hard place and it knows it. But there might be the beginnings of a solution in Turkey. Ahmadinejad's offer of collaboration was directed toward regional powers other than Iran. That includes Turkey. Turkey stayed clear of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, refusing to let U.S. troops invade Iraq from there. However, Turkey has some important interests in how the war in Iraq ends. First, it does not want to see any sort of Kurdish state, fearing Kurdish secessionism in Turkey as well. Second, it has an interest in oil in northern Iraq. Both interests could be served by a Turkish occupation of northern Iraq, under the guise of stabilizing Iraq along with Iran and Saudi Arabia.
When we say that Iran is now the dominant regional power, we also should say that is true unless we add Turkey to the mix. Turkey is certainly a military match for Iran, and more than an economic one. Turkey's economy is the 18th largest in the world -- larger than Saudi Arabia's -- and it is growing rapidly. In many ways, Iran needs a good relationship with Turkey, given its power and economy. If Turkey were to take an interest in Iraq, that could curb Iran's appetite. While Turkey could not defend Saudi Arabia, it certainly could threaten Iran's rear if it chose to move south. And with the threat of Turkish intervention, Iran would have to be very careful indeed.
But Turkey has been cautious in its regional involvements. It is not clear whether it will involve itself in Iraq beyond making certain that Kurdish independence does not go too far. Even if it were to move deeper into Iraq, it is not clear whether it would be prepared to fight Iran over Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, Turkey does not want to deal with a powerful Iran -- and if the Iranians did take the Saudi oil fields, they would be more than a match for Turkey. Turkey's regime is very different from those in Saudi Arabia and Iran, but geopolitics make strange bedfellows. Iran could not resist a Turkish intervention in northern Iraq, nor could it be sure what Turkey would do if Iran turned south. That uncertainty might restrain Iran.
And that is the thin reed on which Saudi national security would rest if it rejected an American presence to its north. The United States could impose itself anyway, but being sandwiched between a hostile Iran and hostile Saudi Arabia would not be prudent, to say the least. Therefore, the Saudis could scuttle a U.S. blocking force if they wished. If the Saudis did this and joined the Iranian-led stabilization program in Iraq, they would then be forced to rely on a Turkish presence in northern Iraq to constrain any future Iranian designs on Arabia. That is not necessarily a safe bet as it assumes that the Turks would be interested in balancing Iran at a time when Russian power is returning to the Caucasus, Greek power is growing in the Balkans, and the Turkish economy is requiring ever more attention from Ankara. Put simply, Turkey has a lot of brands in the fire, and the Saudis betting on the Iranian brand having priority is a long shot.
The Iranian position is becoming more complex as Tehran tries to forge a post-war coalition to manage Iraq -- and to assure the coalition that Iran doesn't plan to swallow some of its members. The United States, in the meantime, appears to be trying to simplify its position, by once again focusing on the question of nuclear weapons.
Bush's speech followed this logic. First, according to Bush, the Iranians are now to be seen as a threat equal to the jihadists. In other words, the Iranian clerical regime and al Qaeda are equal threats. That is the reason the administration is signaling that the Iranian Republican Guards are to be named a terrorist group. A withdrawal from Iraq, therefore, would be turning Iraq over to Iran, and that, in turn, would transform the region. But rather than discussing the geopolitical questions we have been grappling with, Bush has focused on Iran's nuclear capability.
Iran is developing nuclear weapons, though we have consistently argued that Tehran does not expect to actually achieve a deliverable nuclear device. In the first place, that is because the process of building a device small enough and rugged enough to be useful is quite complex. There is quite a leap between testing a device and having a workable weapon. Also, and far more important, Iran fully expects the United States or Israel to destroy its nuclear facilities before a weapon is complete. The Iranians are using their nuclear program as a bargaining chip.
The problem is that the negotiations have ended. The prospect of Iran trading its nuclear program for U.S. concessions in Iraq has disappeared along with the negotiations. Bush, therefore, has emphasized that there is no reason for the United States to be restrained about the Iranian nuclear program. Iran might not be close to having a deliverable device, but the risk is too great to let it continue developing one. Therefore, the heart of Bush's speech was that withdrawing would vastly increase Iran's power, and an Iranian nuclear weapon would be catastrophic.
From this, one would think the United States is considering attacking Iran. Indeed, the French warning against such an attack indicates that Paris might have picked something up as well. Certainly, Washington is signaling that, given the situation in Iraq and Iran's assertion that it will be filling the vacuum, the United States is being forced to face the possibility of an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities.
There are two problems here. The first is the technical question of whether a conventional strike could take out all of Iran's nuclear facilities. We don't know the answer, but we do know that Iran has been aware of the probability of such an attack and is likely to have taken precautions, from creating uncertainty as to the location of sites to hardening them. The second problem is the more serious one.
Assume that the United States attacked and destroyed Iran's nuclear facilities. The essential geopolitical problem would not change. The U.S. position in Iraq would remain extremely difficult, the three options we discussed Aug. 27 would remain in place, and in due course Iran would fill the vacuum left by the United States. The destruction of Iran's nuclear facilities would not address any of those problems.
Therefore, implicit in Bush's speech is the possibility of broader measures against Iran. These could include a broad air campaign against Iranian infrastructure -- military and economic -- and a blockade of its ports. The measures could not include ground troops because there are no substantial forces available and redeploying all the troops in Iraq to surge into Iran, logistical issues aside, would put 150,000 troops in a very large country.
The United States can certainly conduct an air campaign against Iran, but we are reminded of the oldest lesson of air power -- one learned by the Israeli air force against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006: Air power is enormously successful in concert with a combined arms operation, but has severe limitations when applied on its own. The idea that nations will capitulate because of the pain of an air campaign has little historical basis. It doesn't usually happen. Unlike Hezbollah, however, Iran is a real state with real infrastructure, economic interests, military assets and critical port facilities -- all with known locations that can be pummeled with air power. The United States might not be able to impose its will on the ground, but it can certainly impose a great deal of pain. Of course, an all-out air war would cripple Iran in a way that would send global oil prices through the roof -- since Iran remains the world's fourth-largest oil exporter.
A blockade, however, also would be problematic. It is easy to prevent Iranian ships from moving in and out of port -- and, unlike Iraq, Iran has no simple options to divert its maritime energy trade to land routes -- but what would the United States do if a Russian, Chinese or French vessel sailed in? Would it seize it? Sink it? Obviously either is possible. But just how broad an array of enemies does the United States want to deal with at one time? And remember that, with ports sealed, Iran's land neighbors would have to participate in blocking the movement of goods. We doubt they would be that cooperative.
Finally, and most important, Iran has the ability to counter any U.S. moves. It has assets in Iraq that could surge U.S. casualties dramatically if ordered to do so. Iran also has terrorism capabilities that are not trivial. We would say that Iran's capabilities are substantially greater than al Qaeda's. Under a sustained air campaign, they would use them.
Bush's threat to strike nuclear weapons makes sense only in the context of a broader air and naval campaign against Iran. Leaving aside the domestic political ramifications and the international diplomatic blowback, the fundamental problem is that Iran is a very large country where a lot of targets would have to be hit. That would take many months to achieve, and during that time Iran would likely strike back in Iraq and perhaps in the United States as well. An air campaign would not bring Iran to its knees quickly, unless it was nuclear -- and we simply do not think the United States will break the nuclear taboo first.
The United States is also in a tough place. While it makes sense to make threats in response to Iranian threats -- to keep Tehran off balance -- the real task for the United States is to convince Saudi Arabia to stick to its belief that collaboration with Iran is too dangerous, and convince Turkey to follow its instincts in northern Iraq without collaborating with the Iranians. The Turks are not fools and will not simply play the American game, but the more active Turkey is, the more cautious Iran must be.
The latest statement from Ahmadinejad convinces us that Iran sees its opening. However, the United States, even if it is not bluffing about an attack against Iran, would find such an attack less effective than it might hope. In the end, even after an extended air campaign, it will come down to that. In the end, no matter how many moves are made, the United States is going to have to define a post-Iraq strategy and that strategy must focus on preventing Iran from threatening the Arabian Peninsula. Even after an extended air campaign, it will come down to that. In case of war, the only "safe" location for a U.S. land force to hedge against an Iranian move against the Arabian Peninsula would be Kuwait, a country lacking the strategic depth to serve as an effective counter.
Ahmadinejad has made his rhetorical move. Bush has responded. Now the regional diplomacy intensifies as the report from the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, is prepared for presentation to Congress on Sept. 15.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #28 on:
August 29, 2007, 10:46:00 PM »
Iraq: Al-Sadr's Six-Month Freeze
August 29, 2007 14 33 GMT
Radical Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr ordered a six-month freeze on activities by his Mehdi Army militia to "rehabilitate" the organization, according to al-Sadr aide Sheikh Hazim al-Araji, who spoke on Iraqi state television Aug. 29. Al-Araji said that the suspension of Mehdi Army activities means the militia will not launch attacks against U.S. and coalition forces, and that the suspension will last for a maximum of six months.
Upon al-Sadr's return to Iraq in May after spending months in hiding in Iran, Stratfor discussed how the radical Shiite leader had put plans in motion to purge his militia of renegades. Al-Sadr had lost a great degree control over his commanders, who were largely operating on their own, threatening the Iranian government's ability to demonstrate it had enough sway to rein in Iraq's Shiite militias.
Al-Sadr is a highly unpredictable figure in Iraq's Shiite community, and is as much of a problem for the Iranians as he is for the Americans. His movement directly threatens Iran's closest Iraqi ally: the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim. A spate of assassination attempts has targeted SIIC governors in southern Iraq, apparently as part of a larger struggle between al-Sadr's Mehdi Army and al-Hakim's Badr Brigades for control of the Shiite-dominated, and oil-rich, southern region of Iraq.
A Shiite pilgrimage in the southern shrine city of Karbala on Aug. 28 turned into a bloodbath between the Mehdi Army and the Badr Brigades, killing 52 people and prompting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to order a curfew in the city. The riots reportedly erupted near the sacred shrines of Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas, with al-Sadr's followers clashing with shrine guards and local policeman affiliated with al-Hakim's movement.
With or without a political agreement with the United States, the only way Iran can consolidate its gains in Iraq is through its dependence on the extremely fractious Iraqi Shiite community. With talk of a U.S. withdrawal gaining steam, Iran might have given al-Sadr an ultimatum to get his militia under control, or else face liquidation. Al-Sadr's movement already is facing attacks from U.S. and coalition troops in the south, and by announcing a cease-fire against U.S. and coalition troops, he could be trying to get himself out of a tight corner.
Sectarian tensions are running extremely high in Iraq, and Iran needs to make its own preparations for what looks to be an inevitable U.S. withdrawal -- beginning with getting the Mehdi Army's act together.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #29 on:
September 02, 2007, 01:05:04 AM »
From The Sunday Times
September 2, 2007
Pentagon ‘three-day blitz’ plan for Iran
Sarah Baxter, Washington
THE Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians’ military capability in three days, according to a national security expert.
Alexis Debat, director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center, said last week that US military planners were not preparing for “pinprick strikes” against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “They’re about taking out the entire Iranian military,” he said.
Debat was speaking at a meeting organised by The National Interest, a conservative foreign policy journal. He told The Sunday Times that the US military had concluded: “Whether you go for pinprick strikes or all-out military action, the reaction from the Iranians will be the same.” It was, he added, a “very legitimate strategic calculus”.
President George Bush intensified the rhetoric against Iran last week, accusing Tehran of putting the Middle East “under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust”. He warned that the US and its allies would confront Iran “before it is too late”.
One Washington source said the “temperature was rising” inside the administration. Bush was “sending a message to a number of audiences”, he said – to the Iranians and to members of the United Nations security council who are trying to weaken a tough third resolution on sanctions against Iran for flouting a UN ban on uranium enrichment.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last week reported “significant” cooperation with Iran over its nuclear programme and said that uranium enrichment had slowed. Tehran has promised to answer most questions from the agency by November, but Washington fears it is stalling to prevent further sanctions. Iran continues to maintain it is merely developing civilian nuclear power.
Bush is committed for now to the diplomatic route but thinks Iran is moving towards acquiring a nuclear weapon. According to one well placed source, Washington believes it would be prudent to use rapid, overwhelming force, should military action become necessary.
Israel, which has warned it will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, has made its own preparations for airstrikes and is said to be ready to attack if the Americans back down.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, a spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which uncovered the existence of Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, said the IAEA was being strung along. “A number of nuclear sites have not even been visited by the IAEA,” he said. “They’re giving a clean bill of health to a regime that is known to have practised deception.”
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, irritated the Bush administration last week by vowing to fill a “power vacuum” in Iraq. But Washington believes Iran is already fighting a proxy war with the Americans in Iraq.
The Institute for the Study of War last week released a report by Kimberly Kagan that explicitly uses the term “proxy war” and claims that with the Sunni insurgency and Al-Qaeda in Iraq “increasingly under control”, Iranian intervention is the “next major problem the coalition must tackle”.
Bush noted that the number of attacks on US bases and troops by Iranian-supplied munitions had increased in recent months – “despite pledges by Iran to help stabilise the security situation in Iraq”.
It explains, in part, his lack of faith in diplomacy with the Iranians. But Debat believes the Pentagon’s plans for military action involve the use of so much force that they are unlikely to be used and would seriously stretch resources in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Israel Probes Syrian Air Defense?
Reply #30 on:
September 12, 2007, 07:26:32 AM »
US confirms Israeli air strike on Syria
By Tim Butcher in Tel Aviv
Last Updated: 2:26am BST 12/09/2007
A US official has confirmed that Israeli warplanes carried out an air strike "deep inside" Syria, escalating tensions between the two countries.
Israel considers retaliation in Gaza
The target of the strike last Thursday remained unclear but Israeli media reported that a shipment of Iranian arms crossing Syria for use by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon was attacked.
Israeli army Merkeva tanks on the Golan Heights
Syria first reported the incident on the day, saying its air defences had engaged five Israeli planes, but did not say what their target was. Israel remained uncharacteristically silent, pointedly refusing to deny that its warplanes were involved in an operation. The closest it came to acknowledging the affair happened was when it made an undertaking to Turkey to investigate how an Israeli long-range fuel tank was dropped on Turkish territory near the Syrian border.
Another theory gaining ground yesterday was that Israel was deliberately attacking the Russian-made Pantsyr air defence system recently bought by Damascus. The sale includes provision for the Pantsyr system to be shipped on to Iran and it is possible the Israeli attack was co-ordinated with America to probe the effectiveness of the system. It is believed that Iran would use the Pantsyr system to defend its nuclear facilities.
Syria has sought to keep the incident in the public arena, saying yesterday that it had complained formally to the United Nations, accusing Israel of unjustified aggression.
Syria and Israel have fought major wars on three occasions, in 1948, 1967 and 1973, as well as numerous other skirmishes. The two nations remain formally at war although an uneasy calm has largely held for the past three decades. Meanwhile, Israel was contemplating a retaliatory strike on Gaza last night after a Palestinian qassam rocket injured 69 of its soldiers, five seriously, at the Zikim army base. Many of the Israelis were hit by shrapnel as they slept under canvas.
While the rocket was fired by members of the Islamic Jihad party, Israel said it would hold Hamas accountable because the group is the main authority in the Gaza strip since it drove out its Fatah rivals in June.
The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, convened an emergency meeting yesterday with military and security commanders to discuss a response to the attack.
Reply #31 on:
September 21, 2007, 11:28:58 AM »
Showdown in Lebanon
By MICHAEL YOUNG
September 21, 2007
BEIRUT -- On Wednesday Antoine Ghanem became the fourth anti-Syrian member of the Lebanese parliament to be assassinated in two years. He was the latest victim of a protracted political crisis in Lebanon that both preceded and was exacerbated by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005.
Soon after that murder, international pressure and a mass uprising dubbed "the Cedar Revolution" put an end to Syria's 29-year military presence in Lebanon. But Syrian President Bashar Assad never reconciled himself to the forced departure. Now Syria is trying to use the upcoming Lebanese presidential election to reimpose its hegemony over its smaller neighbor.
A Lebanese inspector investigates the damaged car of the anti-Syrian Lebanese lawmaker Antoine Ghanem, Thursday Sept. 20, 2007.
Next week Lebanon will enter the constitutional period, during which its parliament must choose a new president. The election might allow the Lebanese to finally be rid of Syria's peon, President Emile Lahoud, whose mandate was forcibly extended by Damascus three years ago. However, there is a real danger that it will be the final nail in the coffin of the Cedar Revolution.
The outcome will also help determine whether Syria can win an important round in a regional struggle pitting its alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas against a loose coalition of forces including the United States, the mainstream Sunni Arab regimes, and European states. Amid heightening polarization throughout the Middle East, a Syrian victory in Lebanon could also exacerbate simmering tensions elsewhere.
In fact, the election might conceivably not take place at all. Mr. Assad realizes that any successor to Mr. Lahoud who seeks to consolidate Lebanon's sovereignty would be a barrier to the revival of Syrian supremacy. Damascus's Lebanese allies, most significantly Hezbollah, agree.
Hezbollah, which presides over a semi-autonomous territory with a private army of its own, knows that only renewed Syrian sway over Lebanon would allow it to continue its struggle against Israel and the U.S. Iran backs Syria, both to keep alive Tehran's deterrence capability against Israel (thanks to the thousands of rockets it has supplied Hezbollah in south Lebanon), and because Syria is a vital partner in allowing Iran to expand its reach across the Middle East.
There are also opportunities in this election for Syria's adversaries. The anti-Syrian Lebanese parliamentary majority, as well as the Bush administration and its more reliable European allies, believe that any new president must secure the gains made in 2005, when Lebanon recovered its independence. Their priority is to prevent the election of someone who might turn back the clock. The problem is that this anti-Syrian majority sits with Syria's friends in the parliament, which elects the president. They must come to a mutually satisfactory agreement or Lebanon will find itself even more dangerously divided than it already is.
This election is not just about a president; it is also, for many of those involved, about existential issues. Hezbollah, a revolutionary, military party that feeds off conflict (or "resistance") to survive, has no place in a liberated, liberal, cosmopolitan country at peace with the world. Similarly, Syria's most prominent enemies -- the Sunni leader Saad Hariri, the Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt and the Christian Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea -- all risk political and even physical elimination if Syria triumphs. Damascus, if it cannot impose its man or a cipher whose flimsiness would allow Syria to gain ground, will encourage its allies to create a political vacuum as leverage to subsequently push a favorite into office.
Syria is also waging an existential fight. The tribunal to convict those responsible for the assassination of Hariri has been approved under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, and several weeks ago the Dutch government agreed to locate the court in the Netherlands (the exact location as yet undecided). For Mr. Assad, whose regime is a prime suspect in the Hariri murder, the signs are ominous. By again bringing Lebanon under his authority, the Syrian president doubtless feels he can hamper the court's proceedings, perhaps until more favorable circumstances allow him to negotiate a deal similar to the one that got Libya's top leadership off the hook for the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, as well as that of a UTA French airliner in 1989.
In this context, diplomatic sources in Beirut note that the Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa, and some European states, including the Vatican, had sought to delay formation of the tribunal. However, the progress on situating the tribunal suggests this effort failed.
That is why Mr. Assad might, after all, be more interested in holding a presidential election now, so Syrian allies in Beirut can gum up the tribunal's machinery before it's too late. In this scenario, Damascus would want a weak consensus candidate who stands somewhere in the middle. However, the nub of Syria's strategy could be to ensure that its comrades in Beirut, in collaboration with the Christian politician Michel Aoun, gain veto power in the government that will be formed after the election. That veto power -- plus a limp president and Syria's control over parliamentary procedure through the pro-Syrian parliament speaker -- would give Damascus substantial influence in Beirut, including over administrative decisions relating to the tribunal and to the implementation of the U.N. resolutions to disarm Hezbollah and maintain tranquility in the southern border area.
If Syria does prefer a president to a vacuum, this vulnerability must be exploited in coming weeks by those who want Lebanon fully freed of Syrian domination. Mr. Assad will play hardball, but he faces some heat. An Israeli air raid against Syria earlier this month, though reported to be directed against some sort of nuclear facility, may conceivably have been interpreted by Syria as an effort to intimidate it before Lebanon's election. In recent weeks, moreover, Saudi-Syrian hostility has escalated to unheard-of levels. Both King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt are fearful of Syria's close ties with Iran. For these two countries, a hegemonic, Islamist, Shiite Iran threatens their regional power and their Sunni-led regimes. This Sunni-Shiite rivalry happens to be playing itself out in Lebanon, where the results could have serious consequences for the Saudis and Egyptians.
The U.S. also knows the hazards of the Lebanese presidential election, and the Bush administration will not sign off on a president it regards as pro-Syrian. The difficult situation in Iraq, like Saudi-Syrian tensions, will probably make the administration tougher in opposing candidates it doesn't like. However, the European states -- France, Spain and Italy -- making up the bulk of the U.N. force in South Lebanon, worry that a void in Beirut might harm their soldiers. All have made it amply clear to Syria that it must change its ways in Lebanon, but they remain vulnerable on the ground, amid suspicion that Syria played a role, direct or indirect, in an attack last June that killed six troops of the Spanish U.N. contingent.
All sides, even Syria, would like to avoid a Lebanese vacuum at the end of November when Mr. Lahoud's time will be up -- if they can achieve their goals. The danger is that in the quest for compromise we might be heading toward a lowest common denominator on the presidency, thus giving Syria and its allies precisely what they want: a weak, ineffective president followed by a decisive advantage in any new government. That would only aggravate the current polarization in the country. Lebanon has the startling potential of becoming either the Middle East's salvation, or its nightmare. What happens here will have serious repercussions for what happens in the region as a whole.
Mr. Young is opinion editor at the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut and a contributing editor at Reason magazine.
RELATED ARTICLES AND BLOGS
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #32 on:
September 24, 2007, 12:22:45 PM »
Geopolitical Diary: Iran Fright Month
Newsweek reports in this week's edition that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney recently was considering asking Israel to launch a missile strike against the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz. Its purpose would be to provoke an Iranian counter-strike against Israel, which would give the United States an excuse to launch its own airstrikes against Iran. Newsweek cited two unidentified sources as saying that Cheney's former Middle East adviser, David Wurmser, had told this to others a few months ago. Wurmser's wife denied the story.
So we have two unidentified (of course) sources, citing a conversation months ago between an aide and an unnamed group of people, claiming that Cheney was considering asking the Israelis to attack Natanz. Cheney is nothing if not Machiavellian. Still, there are a few unanswered questions in this story. For example, why it would be easier for the United States to attack Iran after it retaliated against a pre-emptive attack from Israel? A lot of people would say that Israel got what it deserved for attacking Iran. Or, if the United States wanted to attack Iran, why not just attack it? In fact, the whole story is wacky, since the last thing that Washington wants to appear to be doing is attacking Iran on behalf of Israel. If the United States is going to attack Iran, it will sit much better with the Saudis, Jordanians and Egyptians if the attack is not done to avenge Israel.
Of course, the point of the story might be that Cheney came up with the idea so that the Israelis would start the war, creating an upswell of pro-Israeli feeling in the United States and forcing President George W. Bush into attacking Iran against his will. Or perhaps Bush and Cheney thought of this together as a way to force the Democrats to demand an attack on Iran, since Bush would never do something Congress disapproved of.
It's quite a story. The mere fact that it doesn't make a lot of sense should not detract from is elegance. Newsweek can't be wrong, because the story doesn't say that Cheney asked the Israelis to attack, only that he was thinking about it. It comes down to what "thinking" about something means. We're sure that Cheney has a lot of strange thoughts. But then so do we -- we just try not to tell them to people since they might tell their friends. Perhaps Cheney just isn't secretive enough.
Our constant amazement at the media aside -- we're much too small to be one of the media -- this piece might be part of Iran Fright Month. The Bush administration has tried very hard to convince Tehran that an air attack against Iran is a very real possibility. The administration has leaked a wide range of stories about a range of options against Iran. The goal of threatening Iran (as opposed to simply attacking Iran) is political -- to get Iran to shift its policies in Iraq. We've heard some indication of senior Iranian officials expressing concern that an attack could come, so it might be having an impact. But thus far, there is no sign of a shift in the Iranian position.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting, said in an interview with CBS, "It's wrong to think that Iran and the U.S. are walking toward war. Who says so? Why should we go to war? There is no war in the offing." He also reiterated that Iran does not want a nuclear weapon, pointing out, "If it was useful, it would have prevented the downfall of the Soviet Union. If it was useful, it would have resolved the problem the Americans have in Iraq."
There is actually a kind of logic to that -- but then Iranian presidents visiting New York always appear controlled, reasonable and pleasant. We have consistently taken the view that the Iranians are using the threat of nuclear weapons as a bargaining tool rather than expecting to complete a device, so we tend to believe him. His problem is that we may be the only ones who do. The Bush administration is going out of its way to intimidate Iran, and the United States is not a trivial force. We doubt that this signals a shift in Iran's policy, but at least Ahmadinejad's response makes more sense than Newsweek's story.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #33 on:
September 25, 2007, 10:34:03 AM »
Geopolitical Diary: Setting the U.S. Stage for Iranian Talks
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Monday that she sees no signs of talks with Iran on the issue of Iraq. Specifically, she said the Bush administration will "leave that channel open," though probably not "pursue it imminently."
Iranian-U.S. talks about Iraq's future are always touchy. Beyond the simple fact that Tehran and Washington do not exactly trust each other, the room for compromise between them is not exactly cavernous. The United States wants an Iraq that can hold its own against Iran and wield the threat of a renewed Sunni government fully armed and ready to repeat the 1980-1988 war. Iran wants an Iraq that is incapable of attacking and can threaten the United States with the unleashed fury of Iranian-aligned Shiite militias. Neither can make its dream come about without the other's acquiescence, but both have the ability to impose unilaterally the other's nightmare.
Negotiations are indeed what are on order. One effect -- indeed, the primary rationale -- of the Bush administration's decision to maintain as strong of a troop presence in Iraq as possible is to convince the Iranians that U.S. forces are not going anywhere -- not just now, but well into the term of the next U.S. president. Iran has a tendency to misjudge U.S. decision-makers, and now it is faced with a U.S. occupation in Iraq that will last, at bare minimum, another two years. Tehran might have been convinced a month ago that a U.S. departure was inevitable; now it cannot be so sure. The logic of talks to prevent Iran's worst-case scenario from occurring makes sense.
But not just yet. The United States first wants to set the stage. France is warning of war, Israel is (allegedly) bombing Syria, Germany is bullying sanctions, the Dutch are speaking of moral obligations to resist the Iranian nuclear program, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's attempt to turn a Sept. 24 speech at Columbia University into propaganda massively backfired. The international environment has deteriorated sharply in the past three years from Tehran's viewpoint -- with the worst developments reserved for the past few weeks. The U.S. State Department even confirmed Monday that it had invited none other than Iran's only ally, Syria, to an international conference on the future of the Palestinian territories. Syria has been on the U.S. no-talk list for years (ever since Damascus ordered the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister).
The goal is simple: to make Iran feel isolated, make Iran fear that its foes are on the verge of using military force, make Iran feel like talks with the United States are the least-bad option. It is not an illogical strategy, albeit one laden with risks. It assumes that Iran will ultimately find it useful to not just speak with the Americans, but actively cooperate with them on security issues of extreme national importance. After all, Iraq is too far gone for either the United States or Iran to fashion it into some semblance of normality alone.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #34 on:
September 25, 2007, 04:00:36 PM »
Israel, Syria and the Glaring Secret
By George Friedman
What happened in the Middle East on Sept. 6?
The first reports came from the Syrians, who said their air defenses fired at an Israeli warplane that had penetrated Syrian airspace and dropped some ordnance on the country's North. The plane then fled toward the Mediterranean at supersonic speeds, the Syrians said, noting that sonic booms had been heard.
A Syrian delegation was meeting Turkish officials about the same time, and the Turks announced that two Israeli fuel tanks had been dropped inside of Turkish territory, one in Gaziantep province and the other in Hatay province. That would mean the aircraft did come under some sort of fire and dropped fuel tanks to increase speed and maneuverability. It also would mean the plane was flying close to Turkish territory or over Turkish territory, at the northwestern tip of Syria.
The Israelis said nothing. It appeared at first glance that an Israeli reconnaissance flight had attracted Syrian attention and got out of there fast, though even that was puzzling. The Israelis monitor Syria carefully, but they have close relations with the Turkish military, which also watches Syria carefully. We would assume they have intelligence-sharing programs and that reconnaissance in this area could have been done by the Turks or, more likely, by Israeli reconnaissance satellites. Yet, an Israeli reconnaissance flight seemed like the only coherent explanation.
What was most striking from the beginning was the relative silence on all sides. The Israelis remained mum, not even bothering to leak a misleading but plausible story. The Syrians, after threatening to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council, have been less vociferous than one would expect. The United States had nothing official to say, but U.S. sources leaked a series of incompatible explanations. The Turks, after requesting an explanation for the fuel tanks, dropped the matter.
The leaks, which seemed to be coming from the Americans, raised the scope of the operation from a reconnaissance to something more. It was U.S. sources who said up to eight aircraft were involved in the operation. Early on, a leak originating in the United States implied that there might have been Israeli commandos involved as well. U.S. leaks also mentioned that a shipment of cement had been delivered to Syria from North Korea a few days before the incident and implied that this shipment might have contained nuclear equipment of some sort that was the real target of the attack. All three countries were silent officially on the intent of the attack, but the Americans were filling in some blanks with unofficial hints.
The media also were filled with a range of contradictory speculation. One story said this was a dry run for an Israeli air attack against Iran. Another said the Israelis were demonstrating their ability -- and hence the U.S. ability -- to neutralize Syrian air defenses as a signal to Iran that it, too, is vulnerable. Some stories also claimed that new missiles, not nuclear materials, were being shipped to Syria. There were many other explanations, but these were either pure speculation or were deliberately being fed to the media in order to confuse the issue.
Officials finally started to go public last week. Israeli opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was consulted in advance and supported Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's action in Syria. U.S. President George W. Bush went out of his way -- commenting directly and through his press secretary -- to make it understood that he also knew a raid had been carried out, but had absolutely nothing to say about it. That drew attention to two things. First, the United States knew what was going on. Second, the United States was going to keep the secret -- and the secret was an important one. Between Netanyahu and Bush, the reconnaissance theory was dead. An important operation occurred Sept. 6. It remains absolutely unclear what it was about.
Another leak appeared via the Sunday Times, this time with enough granularity to consider it a genuine leak. According to that report, the operation was carried out by Israeli commandos supported by Israeli aircraft, under the direct management of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. It had been planned since June, just after Barak took office, and had been approved by the United States after some hesitation. The target was in fact nuclear "material" provided by North Korea, according to that leak.
All of this makes perfect sense, save one thing. Why the secrecy? If the Syrians have nuclear facilities, the Israelis should be delighted to make it public. Frankly, so should the United States, since the Bush administration has always argued that nuclear proliferation to rogue states, including Syria, is one of the key problems in the world. The Syrians should be spinning the story like crazy as well, denying the nuclear program but screaming about unprovoked Israeli-U.S. aggression. The silence from one or two parties makes sense. The silence from all parties makes little sense.
Looked at differently, Israel and the United States both have gone out of their way to draw attention to the fact that a highly significant military operation took place in Northern Syria, and compounded the attention by making no attempt to provide a plausible cover story. They have done everything possible to draw attention to the affair without revealing what the affair was about. Israel and the United States have a lot of ways to minimize the importance of the operation. By the way they have handled it, however, each has chosen to maximize its importance.
Whoever they are keeping the secret from, it is not the Syrians. They know precisely what was attacked and why. The secret is not being kept from the Iranians either. The Syrians talk to them all the time. It is hard to imagine any government of importance and involvement that has not been briefed by someone. And by now, the public perception has been shaped as well. So, why the dramatic secrecy designed to draw everyone's attention to the secret and the leaks that seem to explain it?
Let us assume that the Sunday Times report is correct. According to the Times, Barak focused on the material as soon as he became defense minister in June. That would mean the material had reached Syria prior to that date. Obviously, the material was not a bomb, or Israel would not have waited until September to act. So it was, at most, some precursor nuclear material or equipment.
However, an intervening event occurred this summer that should be factored in here. North Korea publicly shifted its position on its nuclear program, agreeing to abandon it and allow inspections of its facilities. It also was asked to provide information on the countries it sold any nuclear technology to, though North Korea has publicly denied any proliferation. This was, in the context of the six-party negotiations surrounding North Korea, a major breakthrough.
Any agreement with North Korea is, by definition, unstable. North Korea many times has backed off of agreements that seemed cast in stone. In particular, North Korea wants to be seen as a significant power and treated with all due respect. It does not intend to be treated as an outlaw nation subject to interrogation and accusations. Its self-image is an important part of its domestic strategy and, internally, it can position its shift in its nuclear stance as North Korea making a strategic deal with other major powers. If North Korea is pressed publicly, its willingness to implement its agreements can very quickly erode. That is not something the United States and other powers want to see happen.
Whether the Israelis found out about the material through their own intelligence sources or North Korea provided a list of recipients of nuclear technology to the United States is unclear. The Israelis have made every effort to make it appear that they knew about this independently. They also have tried to make it appear that they notified the United States, rather than the other way around. But whether the intelligence came from North Korea or was obtained independently, Washington wants to be very careful in its handling of Pyongyang right now.
The result is the glaring secrecy of the last few weeks. Certainly, Israel and the United States wanted it known that Syria had nuclear material, and that it was attacked. This served as a warning to other recipients of North Korean nuclear technology -- most especially Iran. At the same time, the United States did not want to publicly embarrass North Korea, out of fear that the North Koreans would simply chuck the disarmament talks. Moreover, Damascus had no interest in publicizing that it had thoughts of a nuclear program, so it quieted down.
We should note that if this theory is true, and the United States and Israel discovered the existence of a Syrian nuclear program only from North Korean information, this would represent one of the most massive intelligence failures imaginable by both Israel and the United States. Essentially, it would mean that, unless this was the first shipment of material to Syria, Israel and the United States failed to detect a Syrian nuclear program on their own. That is possible, but not likely.
It is a neat theory. It might even be a true theory. But it has problems. The biggest problem is why Syria would be trying to obtain nuclear technology. Sandwiched between Israel and Turkey -- a country that has not had great relations with Syria in the past -- and constantly watched by the United States, the probability of it developing a nuclear capability undetected is infinitesimal, and the probability of Israel not taking it out is nonexistent. Moreover, Syria is not Iran. It is poorer, has less scientific and other resources and lacks the capability to mount a decadelong development effort. Syria actually plays a fairly conservative game, taking its risks in Lebanese politics and allowing jihadists to transit through the country on their way to Iraq. Trying to take on Israel or the United States in a nuclear gambit is not the Syrians' style. But certainly they were caught doing something, or they would be screaming to high heaven.
There has been persistent discussion of nuclear material in Syria, which, if we took the words seriously, would tend to indicate that something radioactive, such as enriched uranium or plutonium, was present. If what was delivered was not equipment but radioactive material, the threat might not have been a Syrian nuclear program, but some sort of radioactive device -- a dirty bomb -- that might be handed off to Hezbollah. The head of Israel's military intelligence was quoted as saying something about the attack having re-established Israel's deterrence power after its failures in the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. Perhaps the problem was that the material was being transferred from North Korea to Syria on its way to Lebanon, possibly to use against Israel.
That would explain Syria's relative silence. Concern that the deal with North Korea will fall apart might keep the United States quiet. But a Syrian transfer of such material to Hezbollah normally would set Israel to raging at the Syrians. The Americans might have kept quiet, but the Israelis would have leaked much earlier than this. Israel would want to use the threat as a tool in its public relations war.
Another reason for the silence could be psychological warfare against Iran. The speculation above might be true in some variant, but by remaining ominously silent, the Israelis and Americans might be trying to shake Iran's nerve, by demonstrating their intelligence capability, their special operations ability and the reach of their air power. With the Israelis having carried out this attack, this very visible secrecy might be designed to make Iran wonder whether it is next, and from what direction an attack might come.
Normally such international game-playing would not interest us. The propensity of governments to create secrets out of the obvious is one of the more tedious aspects of international relations. But this secret is not obvious, and it is not trivial. Though it is true that something is finally being leaked three weeks after the attack, what is being leaked is neither complete nor reliable. It seems to make sense, but you really have to work hard at it.
At a time when the United States is signaling hostile intentions toward Iran, the events in Syria need to be understood, and the fact that they remain opaque is revealing. The secrecy is designed to make a lot of people nervous. Interestingly, the Israelis threw a change-up pitch the week after the attack, signaling once again that they wanted to open talks with the Syrians -- a move the Syrians quickly rebuffed.
When events get so strange that interpretation is a challenge, it usually indicates it was intended that way, that the events are significant and that they could point to further instability. We do not know whether that is true, but Israel and the United States have certainly worked hard to create a riddle wrapped in a mystery.
Reply #35 on:
September 27, 2007, 05:54:46 PM »
Not the war, but a bit of background context:
SAUDI ARABIA: The World Bank on Sept. 25 recognized Saudi Arabia as one of the top global reformers in its annual "Ease of Doing Business" report. Recent reforms in Saudi Arabia improved the kingdom's position from 38th to 23rd in the 178-country ranking. The report calls Saudi Arabia the best place to do business in the entire Middle East and Arab world, ahead of Kuwait (ranked 40th in the world) and the United Arab Emirates (ranked 68th). The Saudi kingdom has made huge strides since 2003 to attract investment, motivated largely by Riyadh's need to engage in damage control after the 9/11 attacks. But the law of unintended consequences is creating another dynamic in the country; reforms to the financial and economic sectors have spilled over into civil society, where Saudis are demanding more freedoms. The challenge for the Saudi government is to maintain power while pushing ahead with reforms, which will not be limited to the money markets.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #36 on:
October 02, 2007, 02:07:32 AM »
Iran, Iraq: Upping the Ante with SAMs
Signs indicate that Iran is planning to supply its militant proxies in Iraq with shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. The threat of SAM shipments into Iraq is a useful pressure tactic for Iran to use in its negotiations with the United States over Iraq, but should the threat materialize, Tehran will be crossing a huge redline with Washington.
Stratfor has seen indications that Iran is planning to up the ante in Iraq by supplying its militant proxies with shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). These man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) are short range and are only able to shoot down helicopters and other low-flying aircraft. The U.S. military also announced Sept. 30 that it had seized Iranian-made surface-to-air missiles called Misagh-1s being used by insurgents in Iraq.
Iranian military and logistical support to Iraqi Shiite militants is nothing new. But adding SAMs to the weapons mix opens up a whole new can of worms.
U.S.-supplied Stinger missiles were eagerly and quite successfully employed by the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. These point-and-shoot, easily transportable, heat-seeking SAMs are an excellent tool, allowing insurgents to wage asymmetrical warfare. Sunni insurgents in Iraq employed SAMs, likely old SA-7s and SA-14s, to cause a surge of chopper crashes in early 2007, though most helicopter losses to hostile fire in Iraq have been attributed to small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire. Iran's Misagh-1s are a knockoff the Chinese QW-1 Vanguard, but still would do an extremely effective job of creating a worst-case scenario for U.S. forces in Iraq.
The Iranians have had plenty to think about since U.S. President George W. Bush announced that the United States essentially would be staying the course in Iraq by keeping enough U.S. troops in the country to appease the Sunnis and make Iran sweat. But even though the United States is standing firm on keeping the Iranians at bay and resisting calls to withdraw, Iran might not be entirely convinced that its chances of filling the power vacuum in Iraq are completely shot.
The Iranians face two options now that Bush has announced the U.S. policy for Iraq moving forward, and they may not have decided which strategy to pursue:
1. Accept that policy as a reality, continue with the usual military posturing and negotiate seriously with the Bush administration for a security agreement that recognizes Iranian influence in Iraq, or
2. Entertain the idea of negotiations, but focus its efforts on reversing U.S. policy under a new administration by raising the stakes further for U.S. forces in Iraq.
Bush's Iraq strategy can be defended so long as U.S. casualties do not shoot up to unacceptable levels. Chopper crashes in Iraq are attention-grabbing events that can take a heavy toll on U.S. public morale, and could create pressure on the U.S. administration to shift its strategy. Moreover, helicopters are absolutely integral to the conduct of U.S. operations in Iraq, and will only become more so as troops become spread more thinly in the coming year.
At this point, the Iranians cannot bet that the tide will turn enough in Congress for Republican senators to side with the Democrats and pressure Bush into a withdrawal. Time and again, Bush has defied the odds and battled off pressure in Congress knowing that no senator in his or her right mind would dare cut funding to troops. But if Iran is looking beyond the Bush presidency, it could be working toward bleeding U.S. forces in Iraq to the point at which any incoming U.S. president would be pressured into carrying out a withdrawal.
This strategy, of course, carries its fair share of consequences. With war threats looming, Iran has no guarantee that the United States would continue to be hamstrung in Iraq and refrain from attacking Iran, especially when it becomes widely apparent that the SAMs used to shoot down U.S. choppers are made in Iran. Iranian SAMs would be much more traceable than explosively formed projectiles, the deadliest form of IED, and it would not take much to make the connection to Tehran should Washington decide to make a case for war.
The Iranians probably are well aware that they would be heading for trouble if the SAM threat materializes. For now, the prospect of Iranian-supplied SAMs to Iraqi insurgents is enough to get Washington's attention. As long as this threat is used as a pressure tactic, negotiations between Washington and Tehran have a chance of going somewhere. But if U.S. choppers start going down, a shift in Iranian thinking will immediately be made apparent -- and it will be Washington's turn to make a decision on grand strategy in Iraq.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #37 on:
October 05, 2007, 10:33:01 AM »
Iraq: The Sectarian Tables Turn
Iraq's Shiite-dominated government issued a public criticism Oct. 4 condemning the United States for creating Sunni militias that operate outside the law. The formation of U.S.-backed Sunni militias to counter Iranian-backed Shiite militias fits into a larger U.S. strategy to pressure the Iranians into serious negotiations over Iraq. Iran, however, still appears to be undecided on how to progress in its own Iraq strategy.
The Shiite-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sharply criticized what it called a U.S. policy to create Sunni militias that are operating outside the control of the central government. The United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) -- Iraq's largest Shiite bloc, which has close ties to Iran -- issued a statement Oct. 4 accusing these Sunni militias of kidnapping, killing and blackmailing Shiite militiamen belonging to Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army in Baghdad's western Saydiya neighborhood. These U.S.-backed groups, the UIA says, are setting up checkpoints without coordinating with the government.
The tables appear to be turning in Iraq. The complaints that the Shiite bloc is now issuing are exactly the same complaints that Iraq's Sunni bloc has voiced over Iranian-backed Shiite death squads. And this is precisely the dynamic that the United States is aiming to create in order to push the Iranians into serious negotiations.
Iran's biggest advantage in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq was that it had strong and disciplined Shiite militias lying in wait for the very moment that Hussein fell. These militias gave Iran a cohesive and well-trained militant proxy to carry out its objectives in Iraq. In addition, Iran's principal allies in Iraq's Shiite bloc, namely Abdel Aziz al-Hakim's Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council party, were unified enough to guarantee a Shiite majority in the Iraqi government.
The Sunnis, on the other hand, were in disarray. They lacked a unified political voice and insurgent leader to effectively counter the Shia on both the political and militant fronts. The Sunnis themselves were deeply divided among the jihadist factions, the Islamist-leaning Sunni nationalist factions and the secular former Baathists.
However, lately the United States has focused its efforts on re-creating Iran's worst nightmare: the rise of another hostile Sunni Baathist regime. By striking deals with key Sunni tribal leaders, the United States has lessened its own workload by getting Iraqi Sunni nationalists to turn on the jihadists, but this tactical strategy also fits into the broader U.S. strategy against Iran. Fashioning a potentially potent Sunni front made up of former Baathists to counter the Shia could ultimately force the Iranians into cutting a deal, or so Washington hopes. Factional differences still exist within the Sunni militant community, and uniting the bulk of Iraq's Sunni community into a single force against the Iranians will be no easy task. But most of Iraq's Sunni nationalist and Islamist insurgent groups have formed alliances in recent months that will allow them to pool their resources and build up a more formidable militant front in anticipation of a post-U.S. withdrawal bloodbath with the Shia. Many of Iran's key Shiite allies in the government also have been taken out in insurgent attacks that have exacerbated intra-Shiite tensions and complicated Iran's position in Iraq.
Now that these newly-fashioned, U.S.-backed Sunni militias are deliberately working outside the control of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government, a crisis of confidence is brewing in Iraq's already fractured Shiite bloc.
Iran and Iraq's Shia have a choice to make. They can dig their heels in, raise the stakes for U.S. forces in Iraq, push for a U.S. withdrawal and prepare for the coming bloodbath with the Sunnis. Or they can decide that it is not worth the risk of losing what they have gained thus far to a Sunni force receiving strong backing from Washington and Riyadh. Iran also might be unwilling to risk dealing with any surprises from the next U.S. president. This calculus is what would push the Iranians closer to talks and Iraq's Shia into working out a viable power-sharing arrangement with the Sunnis.
At this point the Iranians appear to be undecided. On one hand, there are strong forces within Iran advocating talks with the United States. On the other hand, Iran is signaling that it is willing to up the stakes by shipping surface-to-air missiles into Iraq. There are also rumors going around Baghdad that new Shiite mercenaries have shown up on the streets and are getting paid $5,000 for every U.S. soldier they kill.
The Iranians could very well risk a military confrontation with the United States should they decide to bleed U.S. forces and take on the newly-formed Sunni militias directly. Without any guarantee that the United States would withdraw from Iraq to allow the Iranians to reap their gains, this is a risky move. We expect the Iranians to err on the side of caution, but the coming months will reveal whether they are prepared to move toward an understanding with the United States over Iraq.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #38 on:
October 08, 2007, 07:42:47 AM »
Geopolitical Diary: Talk of More U.S.-Iranian Talks
U.S. President George W. Bush told a group of businesspeople Oct. 3 that he would be prepared to negotiate with Iran if it suspended its nuclear weapons program. He repeated the call for negotiations in an Oct. 5 interview on the Al Arabiya television network. Iran responded Sunday by saying that it welcomes Bush's call for negotiations, but that it will not suspend its nuclear program as a precondition for such talks.
A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said, "Iran is ready for talks in a just, unconditional manner with mutual respect." He added, however, "Suspension of enrichment is an old debate. We have many times said that new issues should be discussed in negotiations." Most interestingly, the spokesman said that while Bush's remarks weren't new, they were "clearer than previous times."
That might well be true. Bush has not heretofore been this open about his willingness and desire to deal with the Iranians. However, the nuclear issue is still on the table. Bush wants to discuss Iraq with the Iranians, but only after their nuclear weapons program is shut down. The Iranians have no intention of abandoning their program prior to the negotiations. While we do think they would be prepared to shut it down in the long run, they will want to use it as a bargaining tool to extract maximum concessions from the United States before letting go of it. There is no way they would consider shutting down the program prior to talks.
The United States knows that. It does not expect the Iranians to concede this point. Therefore, one of two things is going on. The first possibility is that Washington wants to create a clear, public record that it has gone the extra mile in trying to work with Tehran, in order to convince allies and the general public that it has exhausted all of its reasonable nonmilitary options. It also is possible that the United States has in fact decided to upgrade its talks with the Iranians and will, in due course, negotiate over the negotiations, ultimately conceding that there will be talks prior to an end to the program.
Our prior view, after the surge began, was that the United States expected to engage Iran in serious negotiations over Iraq because neither side felt in control of the situation. Our view shifted as the Petraeus report came in -- we expected it to be modeled after the National Intelligence Estimate, increasing the likelihood of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Instead, the opposite happened.
A general consensus, including most congressional Democrats, has emerged that recognizes that a unilateral and rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces is not going to happen. Moreover, Bush highlighted his improved relations with the Sunnis on his last visit to Iraq. A U.S.-Sunni alliance is a worst-case outcome for the Iranians, so it is possible that they might want to go back to the table. For the Americans, on the other hand, a relationship with the Sunnis is a thin reed on which to hang the U.S. strategy in Iraq. They do need to talk to the Iranians.
That makes the case that this offer of talks from the Americans could be real. And two such offers in the same week is more than just building the public record in preparation for an attack. Our gut tells us that Bush might be serious about talking right now.
The answer, if any, will come in backchannel discussions over the status of Iran's nuclear weapons program. The United States can't engage in talks if the program is going forward full-bore -- the politics would be impossible. On the other hand, Iran can't talk if doing so means abandoning the program. That would weaken Tehran's entire negotiating position. The only middle ground -- and this could be fantasy -- is the suspension of some aspect of the program without stopping it. If this is a serious opening, that is what is being discussed now. The formula should be clear to both sides and after a period of posturing, a compromise can emerge. Or, the offer is nothing more than atmospherics, and like other negotiating opportunities between the United States and Iran, it will go away.
We hate resorting to the ugly "we'll see" as an ending -- but that is exactly where we need to end this. Probably neither side really understands the position of the other. Indeed, each side might not have fully defined its own position yet. The public discussion is of enormous significance, but the unknowns are of equal importance.
So we'll see.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #39 on:
October 18, 2007, 08:14:39 AM »
Geopolitical Diary: Emerging Turkish-Syrian Relations
The Turkish parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a government motion seeking a one-year authorization for multiple incursions into northern Iraq to root out Kurdish rebels. Earlier in the day, Syrian President Bashar al Assad, who is on a three-day trip to Turkey, backed Ankara's plan to conduct cross-border military operations in Iraq. At a press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, al Assad said, "Without a doubt, we support the decisions taken by the Turkish government against terrorism and we accept them as a legitimate right of Turkey."
At a time when Turkey is faced with opposition to its plans to send forces into Iraq from almost every quarter of the international community, Syria is the one state actor that has openly come out in support of Turkish plans. The only similar statement came from Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi -- the country's highest-ranking Sunni official -- who was in the Turkish capital the same day as al Assad. Al-Hashimi said it would be legal for Ankara to take whatever steps are necessary to preserve its national security should the Iraqi government fail to contain the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants.
Iraq, however, is not a polity in the traditional sense and al-Hashimi's comments reflect his partisan preferences rather than official Baghdad policy. Therefore the Syrian stance is unique and raises the question: Why is Damascus coming out so strongly in support of Ankara on this matter? A superficial explanation would be that the Syrians and the Turks share a common threat from Kurdish separatists in their respective countries. But that does not explain the larger context of the emerging Turkish-Syrian relationship, especially given that the two sides have had their share of bilateral problems (to put it mildly) over the PKK issue. In 1998, the Syrians expelled PKK chief Abdullah Ocalan, to whom they had been providing safe haven until the Turks threatened military action.
Bilateral relations between the two have come a long way since those days. In fact, in the last few years, there has been an unprecedented warming between the two countries. Al Assad's current visit to Turkey is his second in three years. In 2004, he became the first Syrian head of state to visit Turkey. In July 2007, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's chief foreign policy adviser, Ahmet Davutoglu, traveled to Damascus to encourage the al Assad government to play a constructive role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Al Assad's latest trip to Ankara comes on the heels of Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan's visit to Damascus last week, during which the Syrians were assured that Ankara would not facilitate any Israeli military action against Syria.
The Syrians were pleased to hear this in light of the Sept. 6 Israeli airstrike against a weapons facility near Syria's border with Turkey. Syria clearly needs good relations with Turkey because of its increasingly tense dealings with Israel, as well as with the United States. Just days ago, the Syrian president acknowledged that Ankara is acting as a mediator between Syria and Israel. Syria's situation is such that it can meaningfully deal with the Israelis only through Turkey.
Because of their ties to the Iranians, the Syrians have cut themselves off from the Arab states, especially those that have relations with Israel. Relations with Iran have also brought Syria closer to conflict with Israel. The Syrians need to offset the perception that they are a regional spoiler, and getting closer to the Turks could allow them to do so. Syria is taking note of the shift in Turkish behavior toward the United States, which works to its advantage. With Turkey adopting an anti-American stance, Damascus hopes to be able to leverage its budding ties to Ankara as a means of ending its isolation.
But Turkey does not attach the same degree of importance to its relations with Syria. The Turkish calculus is in fact very different. The Middle East is Turkey's main sphere of influence, and Syria is its immediate southern neighbor. It is therefore in Ankara's interest to see stability in Damascus, and playing the role of mediator between the Syrians and the Israelis helps it achieve this objective.
But this is not of immediate importance to the Turks. The single-most important item on Turkey's regional foreign policy agenda is the situation in Iraq and the ability of the PKK to use Iraqi Kurdish-controlled areas to pose a security threat to Turkey. Ankara will soon initiate military operations in northern Iraq, for which it has secured Syria's support. But beyond diplomatic support and possibly some level of tactical assistance on the ground, Syria has little to offer Turkey on the issue of Iraq or any other matter.
In short, the Syrians need the Turks more than the Turks need the Syrians. Turkey is also not about to help Syria at the cost of its relations with Israel. Syrian-Iranian relations are a major cause of concern for the Arabs, and the Turks very much value the influence they enjoy in Arab capitals. The downturn in U.S.-Turkish relations is also a temporary phenomenon, whereas the strain in Washington's ties with Damascus is much more chronic. For all these reasons, the warming of relations between Turkey and Syria is not likely to lead to a real strategic partnership between the two neighbors.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #40 on:
October 23, 2007, 11:55:37 AM »
Geopolitical Diary: Iran's Debate Over Risk
October 23, 2007 02 17 GMT
While intense diplomacy swirled around the possible intervention of Turkey into Iraq, the internal political situation in Iran became even murkier this weekend than it usually is. Iran's lead negotiator on nuclear issues, Ali Larijani, resigned his position as head of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) on Oct. 20. He was replaced by a fairly junior official, Saeed Jalili, who is deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, but also is being described as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's right-hand man.
Negotiators get replaced routinely, and in general this would be no more interesting than a similar replacement in the United States. But this case is different, given the critical importance of nuclear negotiations to Iran, the fact that a major summit just occurred between Ahmadinejad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the fact that the replacement has kicked off some interesting dissent in Iran. A key aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- who ultimately holds decisive power in Iran -- criticized the resignation, saying it was the wrong time for a change. Later the government announced that Larijani (who was reappointed to the SNSC as Khamenei's special representative) would accompany his replacement to a meeting with the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. Then reports surfaced to the effect that Khamenei himself had relieved Larijani.
All of this seems to pivot around Putin's visit to Iran. That visit produced two results. The first was that the Russians made it clear that they opposed any American attack on Iran, and implied that they might take some action in the event of such an attack. Russia cannot do anything militarily in Iran, but there are several vulnerable points that are of interest to the United States where the Russians could act. The second outcome of the summit was that Putin not only made no clear commitment on continuing to aid Iran's nuclear development, but in fact appears to have asked the Iranians to halt development on their own. In other words, in return for Russian strategic support, the Iranians would have to put their nuclear program on ice. The offer makes perfect sense from the Russian point of view: Iran remains a thorn in the side of the United States while the justification for an American attack is removed.
The offer might be attractive from the Iranian point of view as well. In the long run, a strategic partnership with Russia could be of more value to Iran than a few nuclear weapons (which probably would be destroyed by the Americans or Israelis anyway). Clearly the Iranians find this possibility attractive: The Iranian press is filled with stories praising Putin and his statesmanship.
But the offer appears to have kicked off an internal debate. The conventional view is that Ahmadinejad wants to build nuclear weapons under any circumstances, while others such as Larijani want to negotiate away the program -- and Khamenei is balancing between the two factions. Our view is a bit more complicated than this.
The issue in the Iranian leadership is not whether to negotiate away the nuclear program, but what the price should be. The offer of a Russian strategic relationship is attractive, but it hardly addresses all of Iran's needs and aspirations. Trading the nuclear program for that alone seems to put too low a value on it.
Larijani's personal views are unclear, but it is always assumed that the negotiator wants the negotiation to succeed, which would make him a moderate in the sense of being prepared to bargain away the program. That's possible, but it is not certain. In any case, the debate does not appear to us to be between hard-liners and moderates. That implies an ideological twist to it. Rather, the debate is between those who are prepared to incur some risk and those who want to minimize it.
Iran is a country of enormous bellicosity. Interestingly, when you look at its foreign policy, it tends to take few overt risks, preferring covert and deniable operations, and gestures like the nuclear program. Iran gets invaded more often than it invades. Accepting the Russian proposal might be attractive to much of the leadership because it reduces risk, including the risk of having a nuclear program. (This option is not entirely without risk, however -- the Soviets occupied northern Iran during World War II and were reluctant to leave.)
For Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, now is precisely the moment when risks should be taken. The Americans are weak, Iraq is fragmented, the Turks are up in arms. Ahmadinejad seems to be saying that alignment with the Russians is nice, but the Russians will have to bring more to the table to end the nuclear program. Specifically, they will have to bring the Americans to the table. The faction supporting Larijani seems to be saying that alignment with Russia is quite enough and it is time to reduce the risks. And given the confusion we are seeing, Khamenei seems to be waffling.
Last Edit: October 23, 2007, 11:57:57 AM by Crafty_Dog
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #41 on:
October 25, 2007, 02:43:26 PM »
AFGHANISTAN: Sources inform Stratfor that Taliban fighters in southwestern Afghanistan claim to have received AK-47 assault rifles from Iran and treatment for battlefield wounds in Iranian hospitals.
TURKEY: Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan will visit Iran on Oct. 27, IRNA reported. An unnamed Turkish Foreign Ministry official reportedly said Babacan will discuss the regional situation, particularly in Iraq, and conflict with the Kurdistan Workers' Party. The visit comes before foreign ministers of Iraq's neighboring countries are set to meet in Istanbul, the official added.
IRAQ, TURKEY: Oil continues to flow from Iraq to Turkey through a pipeline near Iraq's Kurdish region despite threats and sabotage attacks from Kurdish rebels and insurgents, Reuters reported, citing an oil shipper. Iraq has pumped nearly 400,000 barrels per day of oil to Turkey for the seventh consecutive day, the shipper said.
RUSSIA, IRAN: During Russian President Vladimir Putin's Oct. 16 visit to Tehran, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asked him to order Russian experts to help Iran figure out how Israel jammed Syrian radars prior to the Sept. 6 air raid, a Stratfor source in Hezbollah said. Iran wants to rectify the problem associated with the failure of Syrian radars because Iran uses similar equipment , the source added.
The Kurdish Bind
Reply #42 on:
October 29, 2007, 07:47:32 AM »
Geopolitical Diary: Washington's Kurdish Bind
Turkish forces have not yet moved into Iraq. Despite claims of continued clashes with Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) guerrillas inside of Turkey, the important news is what hasn't happened: There has been no major incursion of Turkish troops into Iraq's Kurdish region. We suspect that the pause is in response to U.S. requests for more time to address the PKK issue with the Iraqi government.
However, Ankara on Sunday sent Washington a deliberate signal about the consequences of not producing a solution acceptable to Turkey: Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan visited Tehran for meetings with his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki. In addition, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad phoned Turkish President Abdullah Gul to discuss the crisis.
Iranian-Turkish relations can best be described as "proper" -- meaning they are not particularly warm, nor are they as venomous as U.S.-Iranian relations. However, the Kurdish question is one on which Turkey and Iran have historically agreed -- and while not quite as critical to Iran as it is to Turkey, it is a major national security issue for both. In talking to the Iranians on multiple levels this weekend, the Turks were hinting to the Americans just how bad the situation could become. Any alignment of Turkey and Iran, on any level, would strike at the heart of U.S. strategy in the region, which is focused on the containment of Iran.
The Americans are caught in a bind. Since 1991, the United States has defended Kurdish interests inside of Iraq, carefully walking a tightrope with Turkey on the issue. If the United States were to back off its defense of the Kurds now, it would throw its entire Iraq strategy into chaos. It is more than just a question of the Kurdish role in the Iraqi government. If the United States went so far as to abandon the Kurds in favor of maintaining good relations with Turkey, the signal to all groups in Iraq would be that American guarantees will last only until other U.S. interests take precedence. Many in Iraq have been making that argument anyway, but a shift in U.S. support for the Kurds would confirm it. The Sunnis and Shia who have been considering alignment with the United States would certainly have to reconsider their position.
On the other hand, if Washington simply backs up the Kurds, the Turks are apparently prepared to reconsider not only their relations with the United States, but also their relations with the Iranians. To say that this would be a regional earthquake understates the matter.
Thus, the United States has to figure out a way to finesse the issue, getting the Kurds in Iraq not only to clamp down on the PKK, but also to turn over some of their members. However, clamping down is one thing; turning over leaders and members of the PKK to the Turks is quite another, and would pose huge political problems for the Kurds in Iraq. While factionalized, the Kurds still comprise a single ethnic group, and turning over PKK members who have conducted attacks on behalf of Kurdish independence will go deeply against the grain of the community. In fact, their very fragmentation decreases their propensity to turn each other in: Whoever did it might be regarded as a traitor to the Kurdish cause.
Turkey is trying to give the United States time to sort this out, but the Turks themselves don't have a lot of time. Public feelings in Turkey about PKK attacks are running high. There is also a sense that the United States is indebted to Turkey for permitting about 70 percent of the supplies used by U.S. forces in Iraq to flow through Turkish ports and over Turkish roads -- in spite of Turkey's opposition to the U.S. invasion. If Washington won't deliver the PKK but instead sides with the Kurds, the popular pressure on the Turkish government to shift its position regarding the United States will be enormous.
If you've ever wondered what it looks like between a rock and a hard place, ask the Bush administration. That's where it is on this issue. The United States can't threaten the Kurds too much without losing credibility with other parties it is wooing in Iraq; the Kurds can't simply turn over other Kurds to the Turks; and the Turks can't settle for anything less.
At the moment, the Iranians are doing everything they can to look statesmanlike. A situation that makes Ahmadinejad look like a calm and deliberate statesman -- that is what the space between a rock and a hard place looks like.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #43 on:
November 05, 2007, 08:55:08 AM »
Its getting really tricky to figure out in which thread to post about the Kurds!
1223 GMT -- TURKEY, IRAQ, IRAN -- Turkish Kurdish rebels are leaving Iraqi Kurdistan for Iran to avoid attack from the Turkish army, The Independent newspaper reported Nov. 6, citing Osman Ocalan, a former leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and brother of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. The move, he said, is a tactic among PKK members. "When they feel pressure in one country, they move to another." Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to meet U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington on Nov. 6 to discuss ways to deal with the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #44 on:
November 12, 2007, 07:24:07 PM »
Iraq, Iran: Prelude to a Pipeline
November 12, 2007 16 53 GMT
A spokesman for Iraq's South Oil Co. said Nov. 12 that the firm is working on a pipeline between the southern Iraqi region of Basra and the Iranian port city of Abadan. Such a pipeline would be very easy to build, logistically and financially, and would be a significant financial asset to both sides. But it requires a U.S.-Iranian understanding on Iraq.
A pipeline linking Basra to Abadan can be constructed quickly and inexpensively, given that 6.2 miles of flat terrain separates the two. It would help transport Iraqi crude from the Al Faw Peninsula through the Shatt al-Arab waterway to the refinery in Abadan, located in Iran's southwestern oil-rich Khuzestan region.
More important, though, the pipeline could increase Iraqi crude exports by roughly 400,000 barrels per day (the capacity of the Abadan refinery) -- which, at current prices, translates into a daily energy revenue increase of approximately $35 million. Iran's Abadan refinery could make use of cheaper Iraqi crude, allowing Tehran to export a similar amount of its own crude to the wider world. In addition to bringing together two major petroleum complexes on the northern side of the Persian Gulf, it also could help bolster pan-Shiite relations between Iran and Iraq.
Though the costs are few and the benefits many, this pipeline has a major prerequisite: a political settlement between the United States and Iran on Iraq. In recent days, there have been a few positive signs underscoring some progress in the U.S.-Iranian dealings, but a final deal remains elusive.
Another factor in a U.S.-Iranian deal -- one that would affect the pipeline's viability -- is finding a way to handle the oil mafia, anti-Iranian political forces and rival Shiite militias in the Basra region. The Iranians and their Iraqi Shiite allies would have to deal with these rogue elements to reap the benefits of such a pipeline. Since the intra-Iraqi Shiite situation is linked to a U.S.-Iranian deal, it would have to be sorted out more or less in the same time frame.
This pipeline is representative of the energy ties Iran and Iraq can enjoy if a political deal can be clinched.
George Friedman: Are we turning the corner in Iraq?
Reply #45 on:
November 13, 2007, 04:13:48 PM »
Iraq: Positive Signs
By George Friedman
The latest reports concerning the war in Iraq suggest the situation is looking up for the United States. First, U.S. military and Iraqi civilian casualties continue to fall. Second, there are confirmed reports that Sunni insurgents controlled by local leaders have turned on al Qaeda militants, particularly those from outside the country. Third, the head of U.S. Central Command, in an interview with the Financial Times, implied that an attack against Iran is a distant possibility.
It is tempting to say the United States has turned the corner on the war. The temptation might not be misplaced, but after many disappointments since 2003, it is prudent to be cautious in declaring turning points -- and it is equally prudent not to confuse a turning point with a victory. That said, given expectations that the United States would be unable to limit violence in Iraq, and that Sunni insurgents would remain implacable -- not to mention the broad expectation of a U.S. attack against Iran -- these three points indicate a reversal -- and must be taken seriously.
The most startling point is the decline in casualties, and particularly the apparent decline in sectarian violence. Explaining this is difficult. It could simply be the result of the more efficient use of U.S. troops in suppressing the insurgency and controlling the Shiite militias. If that were the only explanation, however, it would be troubling. Standard guerrilla warfare doctrine holds that during periods of intense enemy counterinsurgency operations, guerrillas should cease fighting, hide weapons and equipment and blend into the civilian population. Only after the enemy shifts its area of operations or reduces operational tempo should the guerrillas resume combat operations. Under no circumstances should insurgents attempt to fight a surge.
Therefore, if we were considering U.S. military operations alone, few conclusions could be drawn until after the operations shifted or slowed. In addition, in a country of 25 million, the expectation that some 167,000 troops -- many of them not directly involved in combat -- could break the back of an entrenched insurgency is optimistic. The numbers simply don't work, particularly when Shiite militias are added to the equation. Therefore, if viewed simply in terms of military operations, the decline in casualties would not validate a shift in the war until much later, and our expectation is that the insurgency would resume prior levels of activity over time.
What makes the situation more hopeful for the United States is the clear decline in civilian casualties. Most of those were caused not by U.S. combat operations but by sectarian conflict, particularly between Sunnis and Shia. Part of the decline can be explained by U.S. operations, but when we look at the scope and intensity of sectarian fighting, it is difficult to give U.S. operations full credit. A more likely explanation is political, a decision on the part of the various sectarian organizations to stop operations not only against the Americans but also against each other.
There were two wars going on in Iraq. One was against the United States. The more important war, from the Iraqi point of view, was the Sunni-Shiite struggle to determine who would control Iraq's future. Part of this struggle, particularly on the Shiite side, was intrasectarian violence. All of it was political and, in a real sense, it was life and death. It involved the control of neighborhoods, of ministries, of the police force and so on. It was a struggle over the shape of everyday life. If either side simply abandoned the struggle, it would leave a vacuum for the other. U.S. operations or not, that civil war could not be suspended. To a significant extent, however, it has been suspended.
That means that some political decisions were made, at least on the local level and likely at higher levels as well, as several U.S. authorities have implied recently. Civilian casualties from the civil war would not have dropped as much as they have without some sort of political decisions to restrain forces, and those decisions could not be made unilaterally or simply in response to U.S. military pressure. It required a set of at least temporary political arrangements. And that, in many ways, is more promising than simply a decline because of U.S. combat operations. The political arrangements open the door to the possibility that the decline in casualties is likely to be longer lasting.
This brings us to the second point, the attacks by the Sunnis against the jihadists. Immediately after the invasion in 2003, the United States essentially attempted to strip the Sunnis -- the foundation of Saddam Hussein's strength -- of their power. The U.S. de-Baathification laws had the effect of eliminating the Sunni community's participation in the future of Iraq. Viewing the Shia -- the victims of Hussein's rule -- as likely interested not only in dominating Iraq but also in retribution against the Sunnis, the Sunni leadership, particularly at the local level, supported and instigated an insurgency against U.S. forces. The political purpose of the insurgency was to force the United States to shift its pro-Shiite policy and include the Sunnis, from religious to Baathist, in the regime.
Given the insurgency's political purpose, the power of U.S. forces and the well-organized Shiite militias, the Iraqi Sunnis were prepared to form alliances wherever they could find them. A leading source of support for the Iraqi Sunnis came from outside Iraq, among the Sunni jihadist fighters who organized themselves under the banner of al Qaeda and, weapons in hand, infiltrated the country from outside, particular through Syria.
Nevertheless, there was underlying tension between the local Sunnis and the jihadists. The Iraqi Sunnis were part of the local power structure, many having been involved in the essentially secular Baath Party, and others, more religious, having remained outside the regime but ruled by traditional tribal systems. The foreign jihadists were revolutionaries not only in the sense that they were prepared to fight the Americans but also in that they wanted to revolutionize -- radically Islamize -- the local Sunni community. By extension, they wanted to supplant the local leadership with their own by supporting and elevating new local leaders dependent for their survival on al Qaeda power.
For an extended period of time, the United States saw the Sunni insurgency as consisting of a single fabric. The local insurgents and the jihadists were viewed as the same, and the adopted name of the jihadists, al Qaeda, caused the Americans to see them as the primary enemy. Over time, and particularly since the death of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the United States has adopted a more nuanced view of the Sunni insurgency, drawing a distinction between the largely native Iraqi insurgents and the largely foreign jihadists.
Once this occurred and the United States began to make overtures to the native Iraqi insurgents, the underlying tensions between the foreign jihadists and the Iraqi insurgents emerged. The Sunnis, over time, came to see the jihadists as a greater danger to them than the Americans, and by the time U.S. President George W. Bush last visited Iraq, several Sunni leaders were prepared to be seen publicly with him. The growing animosities eventually turned into active warfare between the two factions, with al Qaeda being outnumbered and outgunned and the natives enjoying all of the perks of having the home-court advantage.
From the U.S. point of view, splitting the Sunni insurgency politically and militarily was important not only for the obvious reasons but also for influencing the Shia. From a Shiite point of view -- and now let's introduce Iran, the primary external backer of Iraq's Shiites -- the worst-case scenario would be the re-establishment of a predominantly Sunni government in Baghdad backed by the U.S. military. The political accommodation between the United States and the Iraqi Sunnis represented a direct threat to the Shia.
It is important to recall that Hussein and his Baathist predecessors -- all Sunnis leading a predominantly Sunni government -- were able to dominate the more numerous Shia for decades. The reason was that the Shia were highly fragmented politically, more so than the Sunnis. This historic factionalization made the Shia much weaker than their numbers would have indicated. It was no accident that the Sunnis dominated the Shia.
And the Shia remained fragmented. While the Sunnis were fighting an external force, the Shia were fighting both the Sunnis and one another. Given those circumstances, it was not inconceivable that the United States would try, and perhaps succeed, to re-establish the status quo ante of a united Iraq under a Sunni government -- backed by U.S. power until Iraq could regenerate its own force. Of course, that represented a reversal of the original U.S. goal of establishing a Shiite regime.
For Iran, this was an intolerable outcome because it would again raise the possibility of an Iran-Iraq war -- in which Iran might take another million casualties. The Iranian response was to use its influence among the competing Shiite militias to attack the Sunnis and to inflict casualties on American troops, hoping to force a withdrawal. Paradoxically, while the jihadists are the Iranians' foe, they were useful to Tehran because the more they attacked the Shia -- and the more the Shia retaliated -- the more the Sunnis and al Qaeda aligned -- which kept the United States and the Sunnis apart. Iran, in other words, wanted a united Sunni-jihadist movement because it would wreck the emerging political arrangements. In addition, when the Iranians realized that the Democrats in the U.S. Congress were not going to force a U.S. withdrawal, their calculations about the future changed.
Caught between al Qaeda and the militias, the Sunnis were under intense pressure. The United States responded by conducting operations against the jihadists -- trying to limit engagements with Iraqi Sunni insurgents -- and most important, against Shiite militias. The goal was to hold the Sunnis in the emerging political matrix while damaging the militias that were engaging the Sunnis. The United States was trying increase the cost to the Shia of adhering to the Iranian strategy.
At the same time, the United States sought to intimidate the Iranians by raising, and trying to make very real, the possibility that the United States would attack them as well. As we have argued, the U.S. military options are limited, so an attack would make little military sense. The Iranians, however, could not be certain that the United States was being rational about the whole thing, which was pretty much what the United States wanted. The United States wanted the Shia in Iraq to see the various costs of following the Iranian line -- including creating a Sunni-dominated government -- while convincing the Iranians that they were in grave danger of American military action.
In this context, we find the third point particularly interesting. Adm. William Fallon's interview with the Financial Times -- in which he went out of its way to downplay the American military threat to Iran -- was not given by accident. Fallon does not agree to interviews without clearance. The United States was using the interview to telegraph to Iran that it should not have undue fear of an American attack.
The United States can easily turn up the heat again psychologically, though for the moment it has chosen to lower it. By doing so, we assume Washington is sending two messages to Iran. First, it is acknowledging that creating a predominantly Sunni government is not its first choice. Also, it is rewarding Iran for the decline in violence by the Shiite militias, which undoubtedly required Tehran to shift its orders to its covert operatives in Iraq.
The important question is whether we are seeing a turning point in Iraq. The answer is that it appears so, but not primarily because of the effectiveness of U.S. military operations. Rather, it is the result of U.S. military operations coupled with a much more complex and sophisticated approach to Iraq. To be more precise, a series of political initiatives that the United States had undertaken over the past two years in fits and starts has been united into a single orchestrated effort. The result of these efforts was a series of political decisions on the part of various Iraqi parties not only to reduce attacks against U.S. troops but also to bring the civil war under control.
A few months ago, we laid out four scenarios for Iraq, including the possibility that that United States would maintain troops there indefinitely. At the time, we argued against this idea on the assumption that what had not worked previously would not work in the future. Instead, we argued that resisting Iranian power required that efforts to create security be stopped and troops moved to blocking positions along the Saudi border. We had not calculated that the United States would now supplement combat operations with a highly sophisticated and nuanced political offensive. Therefore, we were wrong in underestimating the effectiveness of the scenario.
That said, a turning point is not the same as victory, and the turning point could turn into a failure. The key weaknesses are the fragmented Shia and the forces and decisions that might emerge there, underwritten by Iran. Everything could be wrecked should Iran choose to take the necessary risks. For the moment, however, the Iranians seem to be exercising caution, and the Shia are responding by reducing violence. If that trend continues, then this really could be a turning point. Of course, any outcome that depends on the Shia and Iranians doing what the United States hopes they will do is fragile. Iran in particular has little interest in giving the United States a graceful solution unless it is well compensated for it. On the other hand, for the moment, Tehran is cooperating. This could simply be another instance of Iran holding off before disappointing the United States, or it could mean it has reason to believe it will be well compensated. Revealing that compensation -- if it is coming -- is the next turn of the wheel.
Reply #46 on:
November 30, 2007, 02:36:53 PM »
Russia: A Wrench in U.S. Plans for the Middle East
Not to be outshined by the United States, the Russian government has been busy forging Middle East peace negotiations of its own, particularly between Syria and Israel over the Golan Heights. Though Iran is already nervous at the thought of Syria coming to terms with Israel, the mullahs in Tehran can be somewhat assured that the Russians have not really set their sights on a comprehensive peace agreement. Instead, Moscow is playing its own crafty game of diplomacy to sabotage Washington's efforts at Annapolis.
Russia has been spending a good deal of time in the Middle Eastern sandbox lately. From hosting Hamas leaders in Moscow to backing up Iran against the United States and playing the role of messenger between Israel and Syria, there is no conflict in the region that Moscow has not thrown itself into.
As part of this aggressive diplomatic campaign, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, the premier Russian troubleshooter on all issues Middle Eastern (going back to the Soviet days), paid a private visit to Damascus in early November to deliver a message from President Vladimir Putin. It is believed that Primakov played a role in convincing Syrian President Bashar al Assad to send a representative to Annapolis and abandon plans for a Hamas-led "countersummit" in Damascus. The Primakov visit was followed by a Nov. 15 trip by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Sultanov and Russian Middle East envoy Sergei Yakovlev to Tel Aviv, where the two met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Israeli National Security Council Secretary Ilan Mizrahi.
The next step in the game was revealed Nov. 29, when the Israeli daily Maariv reported that Sultanov is working on an Israeli-Syrian peace plan that would give Syria sovereignty over the Golan Heights, but provide a long-term lease for Israel to hold onto the strategic 7,296-foot Mount Hermon that it captured in the 1967 war. Information circulating in Moscow suggests that these moves are part of the Kremlin's efforts to convince the Syrians and Israelis to participate in a bilateral summit in Russia that would center on the issues of the Golan Heights and Syria's role in Lebanon.
For all this diplomatic maneuvering, the Russians are not exactly sincere in their efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East. Rather, the Russians intend to shift the track set by Washington at the Annapolis conference toward much thornier issues -- involving players the United States wants to avoid. By bringing up sticky issues such as the Golan Heights (which Washington had attempted to sidestep at the Annapolis conference) and organizing negotiations with Hamas (which Washington is trying to pretend does not exist as it moves negotiations forward between Fatah and Israel), Russia is strategically bending U.S. efforts at Annapolis out of shape -- all under the aegis of progress, of course. The Russian calculus is simple: shift the track toward "negotiations" that are certain to lead nowhere.
Despite Russia's true intentions, Iran is not comfortable in the slightest with the idea of Syria inching toward talks with Israel and the United States. These fears likely have been compounded by the sudden turnaround in Lebanon, where the pro-West opposition and the United States have pretty much agreed to granting Syria's wish in having Lebanon's army chief, Michel Suleiman, take the presidency. Unless Syria's negotiations with Washington are held in concert with Iranian negotiations with the United States over Iraq, Tehran does not want Damascus in the negotiating picture. However, given that any progress on the Golan Heights issue with Israel must include the question of Syria's support for Hamas and Hezbollah -- Israel's two primary national security concerns and the two bargaining chips that Syria is unprepared to sacrifice at this point -- the Iranians can have reasonable assurance that these talks will not lead anywhere. The Russians are not interested in alliance management in the Middle East. This is about throwing a wrench into U.S. plans to create a new order in the region.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #47 on:
December 13, 2007, 10:11:54 PM »
Iran: Toward a Regional Realignment
December 13, 2007 17 40 GMT
Iran's president will soon perform the Hajj at Saudi Arabia's invitation. Meanwhile, Iran and Egypt have made reciprocal high-level diplomatic visits for the first time since 1979. The moves are part of a major geopolitical realignment in the region, one that serves both U.S. and Iranian interests.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to perform the Hajj in Saudi Arabia on invitation from King Abdullah, Ahmadinejad's senior adviser Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, said Dec. 13. Meanwhile, high-level Egyptian and Iranian diplomats have made visits to each other’s countries for the first time since the Iranian Revolution.
These moves are part of a wider geopolitical realignment. They also are occurring with U.S. approval as Washington and Tehran pursue their respective interests.
Ali Akbar Javanfekr, media adviser of the Iranian president, Dec. 12 described Ahmadinejad's trip to Saudi Arabia as an important event in the relations between the two countries because it marks the first time a Saudi monarch has invited an Iranian head of state to perform the Hajj. The Dec. 18 visit will be Ahmadinejad's third to the kingdom since taking office in 2005.
Given the ethnic, sectarian and geopolitical tensions between the two nations, a Saudi monarch inviting an Iranian head of state to make the Hajj is a major development. The current context of the Iraq conflict, in which moves toward an international settlement are being made, increases the invitation's significance. Since the Saudis are conferring an honor upon the Iranians that would not have happened unless the two sides had reached -- or are close to reaching -- a modus vivendi on Iraq and other issues, Ahmadinejad's trip represents a sort of political Hajj.
Elsewhere in the region, the Egyptians are warming up to the Iranians. Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister for Asian Affairs Hussein Derar visited Iran in the first such trip since diplomatic ties between Egypt and Iran were severed in 1979. Iranian Majlis Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel also will be going to Cairo, in late January 2008. In an unprecedented development earlier in December, Ahmadinejad attended the Gulf Cooperation Council summit meeting in the Qatari capital, Doha.
Neither the Saudis nor the Egyptians can engage in such diplomacy with the Iranians without taking the United States into confidence. The Arab states have wanted to reach a diplomatic arrangement with the Iranians, but have not wanted to do so without U.S. involvement, which they see as a security guarantee. For its part, the United States is engaged in gestures to Iran, the most obvious example of which is the release of the National Intelligence Estimate stating that the Iranians halted their pursuit of nuclear weapons in 2003. Progress on the U.S.-Iranian track has allowed the Arabs to conduct their own negotiations with the Iranians.
A major geopolitical realignment is in the works, under which Iran is being integrated into the regional security system. This is because leaving Iran out of any such arrangement in post-Baathist Iraq is dangerous for the security of the Arab states and damaging to U.S. interests. Realignment with Iran is the only way Washington can balance its need to deal with Iran on the Iraq question while preventing Tehran from threatening the Arabs. By working with the Arab states to have them seek closer relations with Iran, the United States has found a way to get around criticism from its Arab allies that Washington has not involved them in the Iraq talks.
The Iranians have two strategic aims in all this: First, they want to emerge from their status as a pariah state without having to follow the route of the Libyans. Second, Iran seeks to become a regional powerhouse.
The Saudi and Egyptian overtures facilitate Tehran's first goal, since Iran can be reintegrated into the international arena without appearing to have completely caved in to international pressure. As to the second objective, the Iranians know that without an acknowledgment from the Arabs and the United States, any Iranian attempt to behave as a regional player will be seen as a hostile act that could lead to war. By gaining space in the regional power configuration, Tehran has made progress toward international player status.
U.S.-Iranian dealings on Iraq have facilitated Arab-Iranian diplomatic engagement. Whether this process will lead toward normalization of U.S.-Iranian bilateral relations remains to be seen.
Re: The Middle East War
Reply #48 on:
January 27, 2008, 07:32:25 AM »
January 26, 2008; Page A10
There's a fearsome consistency to the assassinations that have bedeviled Lebanon for the past three years. The victims are invariably killed by remotely controlled car bombs. Invariably, too, they are opponents, or obstacles, to Syria's designs in the colony it supposedly surrendered nearly three years ago.
Yesterday marked another such murder, this time of Captain Wissam Mahmoud Eid, a terrorism investigator who had already survived one assassination attempt in 2006. Eid had been involved in the forensic investigation following the February 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri, and later in the Lebanese government's battle with Fatah al-Islam, a Sunni terrorist group based in a refugee camp north of Beirut. Neither role could have endeared him to Damascus, which is generally believed to have played the main part both in Hariri's death and Fatah al-Islam's uprising.
Eid's murder ought to be a powerful reminder that Syria's purposes in the region remain intractable and malign. Yet as Detlev Mehlis, the German investigator who formerly led the U.N. inquiry into Hariri's murder, makes clear in the "Weekend Interview," the willingness to prosecute the case to a just conclusion seems to be petering out.
Much of the blame here lies with Washington. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put to rest whatever lingering fears Damascus might have had about U.S. intentions with her visit in April. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice followed up by inviting Syria to November's Mideast conference in Annapolis, and Hillary Clinton promises to offer diplomatic carrots to Damascus if she is elected. The killings will continue in Beirut, as long as nobody save the Lebanese seem to care.
The Hariri Investigantion whithers
Reply #49 on:
January 27, 2008, 07:41:23 AM »
Closely related to the preceding post:
Justice for Lebanon
By MICHAEL YOUNG
January 26, 2008; Page A11
Detlev Mehlis speaks slowly. So when he says, "I haven't seen a word in his reports during the past two years confirming that he has moved forward," there is time for the meaning to sink in.
The person Mr. Mehlis is referring to is Serge Brammertz, a Belgian prosecutor who, until a few weeks ago, headed the United Nations investigation looking into the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. In December of that year, Mr. Brammertz succeeded Mr. Mehlis as commissioner of the investigating team, known as the International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC). Now, Mr. Mehlis is making the rather serious charge that Mr. Brammertz may not have done much while working on the Hariri case.
On Feb. 14 it will be exactly three years since Hariri was killed in a massive bomb explosion, with 21 others, in Beirut. The event sparked weeks of protests directed against Syria -- which most Lebanese blamed for the killing -- demanding an end to its 29-year military presence in Lebanon.
The so-called "Cedar Revolution" led to a transformation of the political system when Syria withdrew its army, and its adversaries won a majority of seats in Parliament in subsequent elections. Since then, Damascus has tried to reassert its power in Lebanon -- but the Hariri investigation, if it points an accusatory finger at Syria, is its Achilles heel.
The Security Council has established a Lebanese-international tribunal under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter to try the suspects. The tribunal, now being set up in The Hague, is an exceptional creation, much like UNIIIC was. This week a U.N. official revealed that judges had been selected. Never before has the Security Council overseen a political murder investigation.
With Mr. Brammertz having recently left Lebanon to take charge of a special tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Mr. Mehlis has decided to speak up. It is a rare occasion that he has agreed to do so on the record -- and one of the last, he insists. As a senior prosecutor at the Superior Prosecutor's Office in Berlin, he is keen to close his own personal file on the UNIIIC years, but also to warn that the vitality of the Hariri inquiry may be disappearing. "A new commissioner has been installed. So it's a good time for a very last summing up on my part," Mr. Mehlis says.
Whether UNIIIC was exceptional or not, Mr. Mehlis made it a point of appearing an unexceptional man while commissioner -- but one with pit-bull persistence. He'd shown that persistence before. It took him nine years to bring convictions for the 1986 bombing of the LaBelle discotheque in Berlin. He accused Libyan officials of being behind the attack. That experience, he says, left him with the view "that justice prevails, but you have to have patience."
But Mr. Mehlis is plainly worried that justice might not prevail in the Hariri investigation. It "appears to have lost the momentum it had until January 2006," he says. "When I left we were ready to name suspects, but it seems not to have progressed from that stage."
Indeed, Mr. Brammertz never named new suspects in his investigation, though he did mention he'd identified "persons of interest." Mr. Mehlis is dismissive: "If you have suspects you don't allow them to roam free for years to tamper with evidence."
Particularly odd to Mr. Mehlis is that his successor reopened analysis of the crime scene upon arriving in Lebanon. That not only cast doubt on the German's methods, it wasted valuable time. Mr. Brammertz's conclusions ended up confirming those of Mr. Mehlis, namely that Hariri had been killed by an above-ground explosion.
But Mr. Mehlis sees such behavior as emblematic of a broader problem -- namely that UNIIIC has told us little we didn't already know before Mr. Brammertz became its commissioner: that Hariri was killed for political reasons and that there were several layers of participation in the conspiracy. "We needed two years of investigative endeavor to discover this?" he laughs.
When Mr. Mehlis first arrived in Beirut, he visited the families of three of the victims in the Hariri blast and frequently talked to the media. Mr. Brammertz, in contrast, gave no interviews and never once addressed the Lebanese on what the case personally meant to him.
But what if Mr. Brammertz did not reveal his cards for tactical reasons? After all, he asked to maintain the secrecy of his investigation. Mr. Mehlis responds that to him, as a German, the notion of a secret investigation sounds ominous. "The Lebanese public has to be informed, even if there are setbacks in the investigation. In a democracy people have the right to know, particularly when a prime minister was murdered and people don't trust the authorities. This was an opportunity to restore credibility to the justice system."
Mr. Mehlis also sees a practical rationale for more openness by an investigator: "To have the support of the public, to encourage witnesses to come forward with information, and for governments to send specialized investigators, you need to give them an idea of what you are doing."
The Hariri investigation was always seen by its defenders as a lever to render political assassination in the Middle East more difficult. In Lebanon particularly, where dozens of leading politicians and officials have been killed since the 1970s (the latest a police intelligence officer on Friday, among whose duties was reportedly following the Hariri affair), this was the one crime, people felt, that international attention would not allow to go unpunished.
Lebanese optimism aside, the point was a valid one: Respect for the rule of law, so lacking in Arab societies, could only benefit from a successful legal process to punish the guilty. That rationale remains persuasive today, as more and more people in the West doubt that Arab societies can be democratic. The Hariri investigation was there to say that democracy without law is a chimera.
His actions as UNIIIC commissioner left few doubts as to who Mr. Mehlis thought was behind the crime. He asked the Lebanese authorities to arrest four prominent pro-Syrian generals from Lebanon's security services and Presidential Guard. He took affidavits from Syrian officials, including intelligence officers. He even sought to question Syria's president, Bashar Assad.
Mr. Mehlis departed before this could go through, and he doesn't know what later happened. Media reports suggested that Mr. Brammertz held "a meeting" with the Syrian leader, but that is legally different, Mr. Mehlis explains, than a formal judicial interview, which even Lebanon's former president submitted to.
I remind him that two of his key Syrian witnesses did not seem particularly reliable. One told a press conference in Damascus that his testimony was fraudulent; another, a former intelligence officer, later became a suspect in Hariri's murder at Mr. Mehlis's request, and has made contradictory statements.
Mr. Mehlis responds that in such crimes you cannot be choosy about who to deal with. "What do you expect, white angels? Those two gave us a lot of information, which we could sometimes corroborate with information received elsewhere. In the end, the tribunal will determine their credibility, and ask why they agreed to sign their statements." Mr. Mehlis adds: "Maybe the witnesses were there to discredit the investigation, but that can help us determine who wants to discredit the investigation."
I put it to Mr. Mehlis that, whatever the UNIIIC discovers, there is palpable international reluctance to carry the Hariri case to its conclusion. Few at the U.N., for example, are eager to destabilize Syria's regime, assuming its involvement is proven.
His answer is ambiguous: "As a prosecutor you can't prosecute governments and countries; you prosecute individuals. When I headed UNIIIC, there was a will to get to the bottom of the crime -- shown in all the Security Council resolutions on the matter. Why not now? One of the most helpful [member nations] was Russia, which persuaded Syria to comply with the resolutions. Even with states having different interests, common understandings can be reached."
So what about today? "Traditionally, there is tension between politics and justice and I accepted that [former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi] Annan did not want more problems because of the Hariri case. Yet he was always very supportive of my work and well-being. The U.N. did not interfere in my efforts and had no leverage over me, as I was not after a position in the organization. Even had the U.N. tried, there were investigators from 17 countries who might have thought differently, making this impossible."
Mr. Mehlis doesn't so much fear a cover-up as that the Hariri case will stall. The tribunal, he predicts, will be set up this summer, but "people should not expect a trial within the next two to three years, unless the investigation regains momentum." Otherwise, what might happen? "I fear that suspects will end up in a judicial no-man's land, with Lebanon claiming they are under the U.N.'s jurisdiction, and the U.N. saying that they must remain under Lebanese jurisdiction."
What Mr. Mehlis is saying, in so many words, is that a tribunal does not a trial make. The tribunal will be formed and judges nominated, but unless the prosecutor has something solid to take to court, the process may lead nowhere. Still, he is mildly optimistic: "Definitely, no one can abolish this tribunal. I may not be happy about the time frame, but am deeply convinced the case can be solved and will be solved."
Mr. Mehlis also cautions that the U.N. would suffer from failure in the Hariri affair. "The U.N.'s image is at stake, particularly in Lebanon, where people put high hopes, perhaps too high, in the Hariri investigation."
So, what is his advice to Daniel Bellemare, Mr. Brammertz's Canadian successor? "Concentrate on the Hariri case itself; don't try to write a history book. Focus on the whos, hows and whys of the crime. Analysis can never replace solid investigative police work."
Most important, Mr. Mehlis says the Hariri case must remain in the public's consciousness. "For years the LaBelle case dragged on with small successes and failures, but it was always kept alive on the prosecution's side by my working to inform the media; and on the victims' side because their families created pressure groups. I feel that in the Lebanese case, the families of the deceased can certainly play a much more active role."
That may be true, but victims or their families rarely have a voice in the Arab world. The fate of the Hariri tribunal will help determine if that changes. Beyond the assassination of a high-profile politician, the question is whether the international community finally agrees that things need to be different in the Middle East, or just goes back to accepting the old ways.
Mr. Young is opinion editor at the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut and a contributing editor at Reason magazine.
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