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August 30, 2006


The Budding Russia-Japan Relationship

By Fred Stakelbeck | August 30, 2006

Japan finds itself at a crossroads, facing important economic, energy and security issues that are forcing Tokyo to revise its foreign policy, while at the same time maintaining friendly relations with the West and traditional ally the U.S. One example of this change is Japan’s relationship with long-time military adversary Russia.

In June, Japan and Russia agreed on the importance of cooperation between the two countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso and Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov exchanged opinions on a variety of security issues, including North Korea, the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea and Iran’s continuing nuclear ambitions.

Recently, Tokyo has worked on behalf of Moscow in its pursuit of WTO membership and in March, a visa-free policy between both countries was reinstated. Moreover, Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out at the recent G8 Summit held in St. Petersburg that bilateral trade had grown by 70 percent in 2004 and by 30 percent in 2005. For his part, outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has called for a doubling bilateral trade, noting that the number of Japanese companies operating in Russia has increased from 60 to 130 in the past five years.

Although economic relations have played an important role in the budding relationship, Japan’s pursuit of energy resources has been the driving force behind improved relations between the two countries. Japan contains almost no oil reserves of its own, but it is the world's third largest oil consumer behind the United States and China. Of the oil consumed in Japan, 75 to 80 percent comes from OPEC, particularly Middle East countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and Iran. Recognizing the volatility of the Middle East region, Japan, like its Western counterparts, has sought to diversify its energy stream.

Enter Russia.

Russia holds the worlds largest natural gas reserves, the second largest coal reserves and is eighth in total oil reserves. According to the Oil and Gas Journal, an industry publication, Russia has proven oil reserves of 60 billion barrels with undiscovered conventional reserves larger than those of any other country in the world. By 2005 Russian total production averaged almost 9.5 million barrels per day (bpd) making Russia the world’s second largest producer of crude oil, behind only Saudi Arabia. All of this makes Russia an attractive energy partner for Japan.
At the conclusion of the recent G8 summit, Russia and Japan agreed to build a US$6.5 billion East Siberia-Pacific pipeline that is expected pump 80 million metric tons of crude a year, or 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd), from Russia’s Far East to the Asia-Pacific region, with a branch going to mainland China. Japan’s Prime Minister Koizumi has said the pipeline project will be “mutually advantageous.”

Japan’s government-affiliated Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp has been named as a possible player in the pipeline deal, with Japanese firms Sumitomo Corp and Inpex Corp also showing interest. Oil deposits in eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East are estimated at 20 billion tons, of which, only 950 million tons have been explored.

Another area of joint Russia-Japan cooperation has been Sakhalin Island, a large island northwest of Hokkaido settled by Russia and Japan for centuries. According to the Business Information Service for the Newly Impendent States (BISNIS), Sakhalin contains an estimated 350 million tones of oil and 600 billion cubic meters of natural gas. A consortium of thirteen Japanese companies known as the Sakhalin Oil and Gas Development Co Ltd hold significant shares in the offshore Sakhalin I and II projects with an eye on two other projects. Additional oil and natural gas deposits in the Russian Far East Republic of Sakha, the Kamchatka Peninsula and Magadan have also attracted Japanese interest.

The pipeline agreement and Sakhalin cooperation come as other energy disputes in the bilateral relationship remain unresolved. In particular, the lack of a peace treaty over the disputed Kuril Islands, which the Soviet Union claimed at the end of World War II, has caused continued friction. But in June, Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to dismiss the dispute, noting, “In relations with Japan, the line toward continuing political dialogue and boosting economic cooperation is completely justified while maintaining a principled approach toward a peace treaty and a sincere desire to see it concluded.”

Just last week, Russia announced a US$630 million plan to develop the disputed Kuril Islands, or Northern Territories, as they are referred to in Japan. The “Draft Plan for 2007-2015” outlines plans to build an all-weather airport this year and an energy production infrastructure. Russia’s security service, the FSB, plans to broaden its restricted border zones around the islands.

Although progress has been made in the relationship, serious disagreements and inconsistencies still exist. Contradicting President Putin’s recent conciliatory comments and offers to cede partial control of the Kuril Islands, Russian Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said recently that there were no plans to handover any of the disputed Kuril Islands to Japan.

In an abrupt shift this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed that his nation's trans-Siberian oil pipeline will export oil to China, instead of Japan, first. This was an obvious surprise to Tokyo and raises questions concerning the trustworthiness of Moscow.

Finally, the Russian patrol boat attack two weeks ago that took the life of a Japanese crab fisherman near Kaigara Island, one of several islands claimed by both Russia and Japan, will hurt the relationship. Japan called the act “unacceptable,” while Russia’s Deputy Ambassador Mikhail Galuzin demanded Japan respect Russian territory.

Continued altercations and unsettled issues leave the future of the relationship in doubt. Will both countries become strong energy partners, or will historical differences continue to present insurmountable obstacles which lead to conflict?

Fred Stakelbeck is a Board Member with the Center for Threat Awareness. He is an expert on the economic and national security implications for the U.S. of Asia’s emerging regional and global strategic influence.

August 16, 2006


Southern Lebanon: Coalition of the Unwilling

By Steve Schippert | August 16, 2006

The Israeli political leadership is adding to its series of missteps in the war with Hizballah by creating a power vacuum in southern Lebanon in the wake of a withdrawal order issued to the IDF well ahead of the arrival of international forces, let alone the deployment of any significant portion of the 15,000-man contingent of the Lebanese army. An IDF withdrawal is accelerating well ahead of the arrival of replacement forces – other than Hizballah – and, while unnamed Israeli government officials claim otherwise, the pace of the withdrawal is clearly visible.

Only Hizballah Is Faster Than Israeli Withdrawal

With the UN-mandated international force intended for southern Lebanon not even agreed to yet, let alone constituted, it is being reported that the IDF expects to be fully withdrawn in a hasty exit from Lebanon within just one to two weeks, according to a report in The Australian. The article quoted journalistic sources describing the atmosphere in southern Lebanon as confused, “with units of Israeli soldiers very close to Hezbollah fighters, and the chaos heightened by unexpectedly large number of civilians flooding back to the area."

And with this Israeli plan, which can be rightly dubbed ‘Operation Vacuum,’ the Hizballah re-manning and reinforcement of their southern Lebanon positions can and will begin in earnest. To that end, Hizballah terrorists likely already have begun to assume their previous positions under cover of the “unexpectedly large number of civilians" re-entering in waves.

UN Has Hopes, But No Troops

Unfortunately, Israel is well ahead of the United Nations, rarely noted for its alacrity, as the UN ‘hopes’ to be able to field 3,500 troops into the region by the end of the same two-week period. This is barely 10% of the IDF force currently and rapidly vacating the area.

Said UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hedi Annabi, "We hope that there can be an initial deployment of up to 3,500 troops within 10 days to two weeks. That would be ideal to help consolidate the cessation of hostilities and start the process of withdrawing and deployment of the Lebanese forces as foreseen in the resolution."

But the United Nations can do little more than hope, as Annabi cited the obvious in saying that such a force can only be formed from other states "if the political will is there."

There can be little doubt that Hizballah and the Iranian regime – answerable to no public electoral mechanism - have cornered the market on political will. Not even the Israeli government, fighting a long war for its very survival in the face of an enemy dedicated to its destruction, could muster the political will to bring the full brunt of war to those who would incite it.

Lebanon Allows Hizballah to Keep Arms

Already seeking to defy the UN ceasefire agreement, the Lebanese government is working on arrangements to avoid disarming Hizballah by allowing the terrorists to keep their arms so long as they do not display them in public. For its part, the Lebanese army is incapable of standing up to Hizballah alone, a condition engineered long ago by Iran and long-occupying Syria.

But as Lebanon’s UN Ambassador Nahoud Mahmoud made clear Monday, the Lebanese government never intended to use force to disarm Hizballah regardless of the agreed-upon UN ceasefire plan, saying, "Hizballah will just leave the area as armed elements as I understand it, and the Lebanese army will take over the whole region along with the United Nations forces."

The Lebanese government seems to seek the illusion of control within their own territory, furthering the charade that is the UN ceasefire widely touted as the emergence of peace. With no UN forces on the horizon and, for that matter, their collective resolve as yet unknown, the UN ceasefire and the power vacuum created by the unprecedented rapid Israeli withdrawal leaves the weakened Lebanese government effectively cornered.

Olmert Government Denies Rapid Withdrawal

An unnamed official from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said on Tuesday that Israel will resume the war if Hizballah refuses to disarm. But in the face of the current ‘Operation Vacuum’ currently afoot, such words surely strike many with bewilderment.

Hizballah has said that it will not disarm, the Lebanese government has determined that Hizballah will be permitted to keep their arms, and there are no UN-guided international forces near the Lebanese coastline, UN-forces that surely are not going to act in defiance of their host army who will not disarm Hizballah.

What precisely did the Olmert government expect?

Running counter to reports to the rapid Israeli withdrawal, an Israeli official said that “the IDF would not complete its withdrawal from southern Lebanon until the international force was deployed - even if it took months - to prevent a vacuum in Lebanon that could endanger Israeli civilians." But those words do not square with the situation as it appears.

Marjayoun Reveals IDF–Olmert Disconnect

Marjayoun Corridor 2006The most telling indication that the Israeli government has no designs to maintain a presence in southern Lebanon “even if [deployment of international forces] took months" is the vacation of Marjayoun corridor, a key area taken by the IDF at the onset of the 48-hour last-minute push northward into Hizballistan and toward the Litani River.

The Australian incorrectly dismisses Marjayoun and the Marjayoun corridor as insignificant. It notes the Israeli withdrawal from “strategically unimportant territory around the mainly Christian town of Marjayoun, seized during their final push late last week, and this morning were leaving Bourj al-Mulouk, which lies between Marjayoun and the Israeli border."

But a closer look at the map provided reveals why the IDF took the Marjayoun corridor at the very outset of the major ground push to the Litani River. It’s significance is logistical in nature, as with all bridges across the Litani River destroyed, the roads leading through the corridor are the only remaining accessible re-supply routes from Hizballah’s Bekaa Valley resource stores and the ‘Katyusha Brigades’ remaining in place throughout southern Lebanon. The un-bridged Litani River created a natural barrier, the coastline well to the west had been long blockaded and to the east of the corridor lay the Blue Line of Israeli amassed defenses.

No, the Marjayoun corridor was certainly not “strategically unimportant territory."

Taking this strategically important territory was a preparation for what the IDF expected to be at least a month-long fight within the southern Lebanon ‘box.’ Cutting Hizballah terrorists off from re-supply in place would begin to pay dividends in just days and save many IDF casualties in the coming weeks. The IDF likely expected to fully engage Hizballah and clear them and their rockets from the area, and did not expect it to be a quick fight. At minimum, they had at least expected to remain in place for a matter of weeks or more until the ‘international community’ lived up to their end of the agreed-to bargain of an international force to replace them.

Conclusion: Coming Soon To A Theater Near You

What the IDF expected and what the Olmert government has given it has proven, once again, to be more of a disparity than a commonality. The IDF planned to protect itself in fulfilling its mission by cutting off Hizballah supply routes to the southern box completely. The Olmert government has chosen to protect itself by aborting the mission altogether.

The taking of and sudden withdrawal from the Marjayoun corridor – and the rest of southern Lebanon in short order - makes this abundantly clear.

This fight will be resumed once again, likely sooner rather than later. Hizballah is not re-arming for peace, and their actions will determine the time and date of re-engagement. They have effectively increased their status and regained both their territory and the initiative.

If Iran and Hizballah wait long enough, they will have forced Israel not only to engage them among civilians once more, but also through and among the Lebanese army and international forces from around the globe.

As Hizballah swarms to eagerly fill the beckoning void, left in the wake of the rapid IDF withdrawal and ahead of the arrival of any reluctant Lebanese force or as-yet-non-existent international force, Israelis in Haifa and the rest of northern Israel will venture out with an alert eye to the sky.

Already in deep political trouble, the moment a Hizballah rocket revisits the northern Israeli civilian population, the life expectancy of the Olmert government will be effectively measured in hours.

If it survives that long.

August 14, 2006


Hizballah Was On The Ropes

By Steve Schippert | August 14, 2006

As the ceasefire agreed to under UNSC Resolution 1701 has gone into effect just hours ago, signs remain expectedly mixed on its effect. Israel has ceased artillery and air strikes on Hizballah and the rain of rockets from Hizballah onto Israeli cities appears to have stopped.

However, reports of ‘quiet’ are mixed and how long any quiet will hold remains to be seen. Most believe any quiet will be short lived, as the ceasefire left the conflict completely unresolved. To be sure, Hassan Nasrallah declared that Hizballah will attack any IDF forces within Hizballah-held territory in the same statement that included his acceptance of the ceasefire. Israel remains in place.

To that end, there are already Hizballah attacks on IDF troops in the southern Lebanese village of Hadatha. The ceasefire has put the forward-leaning IDF in a precarious situation that resembles nothing of peace yet is defined as something other than war-fighting. The Israel News Agency quoted an IDF official on the Hadatha incident saying that the IDF soldiers under attack “took defensive positions, requested that they [Hizballah] lay their arms down, fired warning shots and then fired at the approaching Hezbollah terrorists. The firefight occured over a short period of time.”

Those who may have believed – or hoped – otherwise should note the above incident and conclude that Hizballah will not be laying down their arms to honor any United Nations decree. The extent to which they will honor UNSC Resolution 1701 runs parallel with the extent to which it is advantageous for them, primarily in ending deep IDF strikes on their infrastructure and permitting conditions that aid their attempts to re-fortify and re-arm terrorists in southern Lebanon.

According to a Haaretz report, Israel is considering lifting the naval blockade on Lebanese ports and once again allowing flights into and out of Beirut. But the most telling piece of information within that context is that, if Israel decides to lift these blockades, it will once again allow traffic to flow into the Bekaa Valley from Syria without restriction. If the Israeli political body goes this far, the capitulation will be complete and the flow of arms, men and supplies to Hizballistan will begin anew.

It should be clear that Hizballah will remain in southern and eastern Lebanon until they are defeated and ejected by the IDF. Not only will the 'international force' fail to engage Hizballah to disarm them the only way possible, neither will that force's host soldiers, the Lebanese Army's 15,000-man deployment.

Lebanon's UN Ambassador, Nouhad Mahmoud, made this point clear and left no room for any misinterpretation, saying that the Lebanese Army soldiers "are not going to use force" to disarm Hizballah. "Hizballah will just leave the area as armed elements as I understand it, and the Lebanese army will take over the whole region along with the United Nations forces."

The belief that Hizballah will “just leave the area,” armed or disarmed, appears either disingenuous or complicit, but certainly is far removed from reality.

And with that, the paper mandate is relegated to failure, a proverbial dog with all bark and no bite. If the Lebanese Army is not going to use force - nor even require Hizballah to disarm - who among the commanders of any potential 'international force' is going to issue the order to engage, fight and disarm Hizballah - according to the paper mandate - if the Lebanese Army will not do such for themselves?

Yet, despite the discouraging words from Lebanon’s UN ambassador, the Jerusalem Post reports that at least some Lebanese Christians are more aligned with Israel in their quest to diminish Hizballah than others in Lebanon appear to be. While there is certainly no love for Israel within Lebanese communities, a fair number likely quietly had hoped that Israel would have taken Hizballah down a notch or two farther. Hizballah truly is and has been an internal threat to the fledgling democracy, and it is to this end that they have received and continue to receive Iranian and Syrian lifelines, beyond the stated goal of “wiping Israel off the map.” We might consider the larger jihadist conviction to erradicating the bid'ah of democracy from the MIddle East as being just as significant an objective, unless that democracy serves to bring them to power.

Ejected from a visible presence in Lebanon following the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Syria has long sought to destabilize the Lebanese government while protecting the status of Syria’s appointed Lebanese president, Emil Lahoud. One of the most effective means to do this, aside from targeted assassination attempts of anti-Syiran figures, has been the continued support of Hizballah and its reign over Hizballistan within Lebanese borders.

Has anyone paused to contemplate the implications the UN’s ceasefire will have on the fledgling Lebanese democracy? With Hizballah undeniably awarded a reprieve, it may now celebrate knowing it has been rewarded for its actions and enjoys an increased self-perception of legitimacy and tangible power within Lebanon. The Lebanese Army is both unable and unwilling to confront and disarm Hizballah – let alone any foreign forces whose primary mission, from private to colonel, will be to simply survive and go home.

The Larger Impact

Hizballah was once on the ropes. The international community, having no stomach for reality nor the fortitude to confront the most heavily armed jihadist organization on the planet, granted Hizballah its reprieve by joining them in suing for a ceasefire and saving them from the only force willing to confront them: the IDF.

The Israeli government may face trouble ahead - having ignored the wishes of the IDF and the Israeli public - for having backed the UN and external diplomatic concerns rather than confronting and destroying Hizballah with the full and unrestrained power of its forces.

Most assuredly, when Hizballah takes up arms against Israel again, it will continue its practice of fighting from within the civilian population of Lebanon, and now is likely to seek additional refuge in and among the Lebanese and international forces that rightly should have already disarmed the group based on UN resolutions prior to even UNSC Resolution 1701.

The conclusion of this battle - declared a victory by Hizballah - is accurately described as a victory for jihadist world wide. The world failed to support Israel, failed to stand firm against a terrorist enemy, and failed to address the enabling states and ideologies which fuel this fire.

August 11, 2006


Bojinka II: The Pakistani Connections

By Steve Schippert | August 11, 2006

From ABC News, Brian Ross and Richard Esposito report that British Intelligence had a man on the inside of the 30-man cell that sought to blow up US-bound airliners in a plot becoming known as "Bojinka II," nearly identical in scope and method to Operation Bojinka I in 1995. In British Penetrate Terror Cell, it is also detailed that an arrest in Pakistan two days earlier caused the British operation – Operation Overt – to descend upon the cell before they learned of the individual arrested. A link between the deep mole and the arrested would have apparently tipped the cell to the British operation.

Also, the BBC reports that a Pakistan arrest several weeks ago originally unearthed the plot, which Pakistan claims uncovered the plot and led to the British investigation.

While it was feared that the Pakistani arrest on the Afghan border days ago would jeopardize the British operation, it is worth noting that the five ringleaders of the 30-man terror cell are not among the apprehended and on the loose, presumably still in Britain. Word from Pakistan would logically reach the leaders first. Did they take immediate evasive action and run aground in haste without informing the 24 who were eventually arrested?

With regard to the nature and connectedness of the terrorists in the Bojinka II cell, the ABC report characterizes the cell members in a fashion that is sure to be echoed by far too many. Referring to the plot as “homegrown” and the British cell’s members as “young, longtime residents or citizens, inspired by al Qaeda and perhaps loosely linked to the old hierarchical terror group” misses the mark.

At the end of the day, these "young, longtime residents or citizens" of Britain must be recognized as no more British than they are Mexican. Most of the cell members were of Pakistani origin or descent. They clearly did not identify with their host nation nor hold any affinity for it.

It is difficult to imagine the condition as 'loosely linked' to al-Qaeda, certainly with an operation of this ambition and scale. As the ‘foot soldiers’ that they were, their plot was either guided and/or funded by al-Qaeda or it was not. But, as should be increasingly clear, the name of the label – al-Qaeda or otherwise – should matter far less than is popularly perceived. There is an ever increasing trend among terror groups to shelve their ideological and religious differences and focus on the common enemy, Israel and America - Jews and Crusaders - and all that ally with them in the West, including Britain.

Further, make no mistake; the "old hierarchical terror group" is alive and well and not a ‘new, busted-up decentralized mess’ as the chosen descriptor implies. Consider the quality of al-Zawahiri's latest messages and one must conclude that funding is still adequate and that command and control is still effective. al-Qaeda leadership, bruised and pursued, is not remanded to the dark recesses of a cave in Pakistan, cut off from the rest of the world and the rest of their terrorist organization.

Here's the rub: If the plot was “homegrown,” as asserted, and the terrorists merely "al-Qaeda-inspired" as opposed to al-Qaeda-led, why would a terrorist arrest in Pakistan cause the cell to scatter? This expected reaction is not consistent with ‘loose links’ to an arrested terrorist(s) in Pakistan. What prompted these arrests in Pakistan?

But more importantly, where did the money for the complex operation come from? Who was funding the airline tickets for dry runs and the six to ten actual attack flights? Who was funding the lab equipment and chemicals and supplying the technical skills necessary?

Consider Thursday’s arrest of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed in Lahore, Pakistan, apprehended at virtually the same time the British arrests were made. Saeed was the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terrorist group believed to be responsible for the July 11, 2006 synchronized train bombings in Bombay, India that killed more than 200 civilians. The Lashkar-e-Taiba attack list is quite extensive.

Lashkar-e-Taiba’s links to al-Qaeda are both intimate and strong. In late 2004, Dan Darling described the group as “basically subcontracted by al-Qaeda to run its infrastructure, propaganda, and recruiting efforts in South Asia while the central leadership remains underground.”

Lashkar-e-Taiba was banned by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in 2002 following an LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001.

Hafiz Mohammed Saeed then turned his energies to creating a new ‘charity’ called Jamaat al-Dawat, whose benefactors include many madrassas throughout Pakistan. In fact, at least one of the terrorists in the July 7, 2005 London bombings attended one of Jamaat al-Dawat’s madrassas.

In April of this year, the US State Department officially listed Saeed’s Jamaat al-Dawat as a terrorist organization.

But it should be noted that Saeed’s arrest is only ‘house arrest’ and for a confinement duration of only one month. Prone to fiery speech and crowd incitement, this is not the first time Saeed has been placed under ‘house arrest’ by the Pakistani government in 2006.

Was the charitable Saeed a source of the Bojinka II plotters’ funding? What action initiated his ‘house arrest’? Money was known to have been wired to the plotters from Pakistan, which means authorities knew of both ends of the transaction

And what of Pakistan’s claims of supporting the British operation? Was it genuine support or – with the Lahore and Karachi arrests that accompanied the UK arrests Thursday – was it possibly a matter of Pakistan simply getting ahead of the news knowing the trail will inevitably lead back to their own soil?

Regardless of the unknowns, what is known is that a terrorist plot on the scale of the 9/11 attacks was successfully thwarted and pre-empted.

What is also known is that all things al-Qaeda inevitably lead directly to Pakistan.

August 3, 2006


France Conciliates Iran but Shuns Syria Over Crisis in Lebanon

By Kirk H. Sowell | August 3, 2006

There has been much discussion in recent days regarding the possibility that France might lead an international peacekeeping force in Lebanon after French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy indicated that they were willing to do so, given certain conditions. France has a long historical relationship with Lebanon and maintains a "special relationship" with its former colony similar to that between the United States and Israel. Yet France boycotted a UN meeting over the issue Wednesday, saying that conditions were "premature" for the insertion of an international force into Lebanon. The primary difference between France and the U.S. over the issue is that France, along with the European Union, favors forcing an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hizballah and then introducing troops to strengthen the Lebanese military and disarm Hizballah, while the U.S. insists that the disarmament of Hizballah is a precondition to a sustainable ceasefire.

Perhaps what is most surprising is that France has decided upon a conciliatory strategy with Iran while shunning discussions with Syria. This has created a split with the U.S. as Iran ties cooperation in Lebanon to concessions over its nuclear program, while creating a simultaneous split with the European Union, which insists on negotiating with Syria.

Paris Breaks with Brussels Over Syria While Iran Declares the Cost of Its Cooperation

In a July 31 interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, Douste-Blazy indicated Paris' diplomatic stance on Lebanon: "In regard to this matter, it is clear that Iran plays a stabilizing role in the region." He indicated during the interview that he was traveling to Beirut for discussions with Lebanese officials. He did not mention that he planned to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Manusher Mottaki, yet Mottaki emerged from that meeting, according to Le Figaro, "happy to note that France had called for an 'immediate ceasefire' in Lebanon."

The same article contains an insight which may help explain the true reason for the initiation of this most recent conflict between Israel and Hizballah, and the price Tehran seeks to exact in exchange for bringing it to an end (ThreatsWatch translation):

...For Tehran, the fact that Paris does not make the disarmament of Hizballah a precondition is 'a positive change.' The deployment of an international force to stabilize south Lebanon was also discussed. According to a French diplomat, Mottaki did not express opposition to this proposal. But this opinion was not expressed by others, who emphasize the hostility of Tehran to the deployment of troops with the objective of neutralizing Hizballah along the border with Israel. This Iranian veto would be in any case negotiable, in exchange for Western concessions in regard to the nuclear issue. Tehran has made no secret in practice of its intention to relate the crisis in Lebanon to that arising from its nuclear ambitions...

French officials have been clear that they have no intention of granting similar graces to Syria. Relations between France and Syria have been cold since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005. Syrian officials have been implicated in the murder by the UN-sponsored Mehlis investigation, and many in France and elsewhere believe that culpability for this crime and others goes to the top of Syria's political system, ending with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Aside from the longstanding relation between France and Lebanon, Hariri was a personal friend of French President Jacques Chirac. Le Figaro notes that many find it contradictory to negotiate with Iran but not Syria, yet "the French respond that it is preferable to address the issue with the true decision-maker, more so than its Syrian vassal."

France's diplomatic strategy is a clear break with the EU, which believes that Syria can be part of the solution. The EU's High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Javier Salona is quoted in Le Figaro as saying that "Even though I have not visited Damascus recently, I stay in contact with Syrian authorities... there is no disconnect." The article notes that German and British diplomats are of the same mind, believing that Syria is "key to resolving this conflict," further noting that Paris' boycott of Damascus caught Brussels off-guard, causing some to question how France could play a lead role and maintain its current course.

It should be noted that the international Arab newspaper Al-Hayat reported on Wednesday that Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos visited Damascus, meeting with both Assad and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mualim and offering "political and economic incentives."

The UN Diplomatic Dance

Statements made by American and French officials make clear that the difference between the two countries is that France demands an immediate ceasefire and the disarmament of Hizballah by Lebanese forces with international assistance to follow, while the U.S. agrees with Israel that the Hizballah threat must be neutralized prior to the arrival of peacekeepers, being skeptical of the likelihood of a mostly European and Turkish force being willing to use force against Hizballah, as its disarmament would likely require. Despite the boycotting of Wednesday's meeting, Le Monde quoted France's UN ambassador as saying that he would participate in ceasefire discussions on Thursday. Le Nouvel Observateur reported, however, that French sources indicated that they would not attend a meeting about the formation of a peacekeeping force, judging the matter still premature. As phrased by Le Nouvel Observateur, France "believes that it is necessary to simultaneously push forward political negotiations and discussion of the deployment of a multinational force," the execution of both of which would be to follow a ceasefire (Washington Post, Nouvel Observateur, Le Monde).

Meanwhile, most of France's political leaders have gone on vacation. It is not clear what, if any, ramifications this might have on France's role in the Lebanon crisis. As reported in L'Express, this includes the president and prime minister, but not Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and presumably not the foreign minister, although the article is silent on Douste-Blazy. L'Express notes that this comes at a time when France is expected to take a major diplomatic role in Lebanon, and ministers are quoted as saying that they are ready to be "mobilized at an instant." This is a time of year when most French take long vacations, but at a minimum this does not send the signal of a government fully engaged.

It seems highly unlikely that there will be a ceasefire soon. According to the most recent report in the Washington Post, the current Lebanese proposal would include Syria and Iran in the negotiations and involve an insertion of multinational troops followed by negotiations between the Lebanese government and Hizballah over disarmament. This will surely be unacceptable to Israel, although it has the support of those Arab governments which initially criticized Hizballah for attacking Israel. With diplomats now looking to next week for the likely earliest agreement on a ceasefire, Israel will press forward with its offensive for now.

That France is calling Iran a force for stablization and the EU encouraging Syria to see this as a chance to extract concessions, leaves little hope in the negotiations now ongoing. The French had been steadfast in demanding Hizballah's disarmament, but have apparently softened on that. Israel has bloodied Hizballah badly, but the effort has strengthend the position of the terrorist group within the Arab world, and of the Syrian government vis-a-vis both its own population and Europe. Israel will need to cripple Hizballah in order to make this fight pay off.

August 2, 2006


Tehran Deploys bin Laden’s Son to Syria

By Steve Schippert | August 2, 2006

Any question regarding cooperation between Iran and al-Qaeda should be answered by news that Iran has 'freed' Usama bin Laden's son, Sa'ad bin Laden, in order to get an al-Qaeda foothold from Syria and project it against Israel. The degree to which Usama bin Laden’s son was ‘freed’ on July 28 is directly related to the degree to which he was imprisoned. It should likely be interpreted as a deployment, not a release. According to the German Die Welt article, written by Bruno Schirra, "From the Lebanese border, he has the task of building Islamist terror cells and preparing them to fight together with Hizbollah."

This is not only a significant development in the current war between Israel and Hizballah, but more importantly, a clear indication that the fight against Hizballah is not an isolated conflict. Rather, it is a center-stage act in the War on Terror and a crescendo thus far in the West’s war with Islamists – Suni and/or Shi’a – a war that was declared by word and deed many times over by Islamists, including but not limited to al-Qaeda. It is a war still reluctantly engaged and defended against by those who would do so…and left unacknowledged and denied by those who would not.

The Die Welt report will be surely questioned by some, but Bruno Schirra has proven a very connected and reliable source in the past, and that fact should be considered by those who may question the potential validity of Shirra’s full report expected Thursday at Die Welt (Die Welt - English via Google Translation Service).

Bruno Schirra is well connected to German intelligence. His reports from Spring 2005 in the German magazine Cicero on German involvement in Iraq were so embarrassing to Germany's Schroeder government that they prompted German intelligence raids on both the Cicero offices and Shirra's home.

He was the investigative writer who brought attention to Iran’s housing of top al-Qaeda leaders. Dan Darling shared the entire text of the article in November 2005. For the reader’s convenience, below appears the key paragraphs from that Bruno Schirra article as it directly relates to today’s news that Sa’ad bin Laden was ‘freed’ by Iran.

The author of this article was able to look at a list of the holy killers who have found safe refuge in Iran. The list reads like the Who's Who of global jihad, with close to 25 high-ranking leadership cadres of Al-Qa'ida -- planners, organizers, and ideologues of the jihad from Egypt, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, North Africa, and Europe. Right at the top in the Al-Qa'ida hierarchy: three of Usama Bin Ladin's sons, Saad, Mohammad, and Othman.

Al-Qa'ida spokesman Abu Ghaib enjoys Iranian protection, as does Abu Dagana al-Alemani (known as the German), who coordinates cooperation of the various jihadist networks throughout the world from Iran. They live in secure housing of the Revolutionary Guard in and around Tehran. "This is not prison or house arrest," is the conclusion of a high-ranking intelligence officer. "They are free to do as they please."

Saif al-Adel, military chief and number three in Al-Qa'ida, also had a free hand. In early May 2003, Saudi intelligence recorded a telephone conversation with the organizer of the series of attacks in the Saudi capital Riyadh that claimed over 30 victims, including seven foreigners, in May 2003. Saif al-Adel gives orders for the attacks from Iran, where he operated under the wing of the Iranian intelligence service.

For years, according to the findings of Middle Eastern and Western intelligence services, Iranian intelligence services have already worked together repeatedly with Sunni jihad organizations of Al-Qa'ida. "As an Islamist, I go to the Saudis to get money," the Jordanian GID man outlines the current practice of Islamist holy warriors. "When I need weapons, logistical support, or military terrorist training and equipment, I go to the Iranians."

The blueprints for the Al-Qa'ida attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 originated in Tehran. The man refers to witness statements, documents, and telephone recordings.

The full Die Welt article on Thursday may detail what is likely safe to assume: Sa’ad bin Laden was surely not sent to Syria alone, and Syria is quite possibly not the only destination.

In a recent analysis of al-Qaeda #2 man Ayman al-Zawahiri’s latest statement, The Zawahiri Proclamation: One Ummah, One Jihad, it was suggested that al-Qaeda’s ability to exert command and control is far greater than many may have preferred to accept. But today’s word of Sa’ad bin Laden’s deployment to Syria -- at the behest of the Iranian mullahcracy – reminds observers that not only was al-Qaeda’s command and control not limited to the isolation of a Pakistani cave, but in fact has in part enjoyed comfortable cover and concealment from an Iranian umbrella of security.

Al-Qaeda has publicly called for cooperation among terrorist groups, Sunni and Shi’a. Iran’s reciprocating response, apparently on July 28, should be observed for the clarity it brings to the War on Terror. There is little room for nuance and little margin for such error.

Update: Today's brief Die Welt article was written by Jacques Schuster (Google Machine Translation here). The full analytical article by Bruno Schirra on the same is set for Die Welt publication Thursday.

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