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March 28, 2007

Iran

An Inconvenient Truth: Back-Seating Iran's Terrorism

Open Policy Of Regime Change Needed, Not Nuclear Deals

By Steve Schippert | March 28, 2007

In the wake of the debate and criticism of the weak United Nations Security Council sanctions levied against Iran this past weekend, one thing remains clear: Iranian state-sponsored terrorism remains decidedly back seated to the more comfortably addressed nuclear crisis. The United States and the rest of the West continue to erroneously shelve Iranian terrorism, with its rich and bloody three-decade history, in complete deference to a still-undeveloped nuclear threat. While a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be tolerated, this reversal of priorities is a grave mistake.

In a war against Islamist terrorists, how can their chief state sponsor conceivably proceed unaddressed and unconfronted? Is it not Iranian terrorism that is the principle source of the nuclear fear held by the West? Is it not Iranian terrorism that causes the West to cringe at a nuclear Iran decidedly less so than a nuclear India, or even a nuclear Pakistan under the stewardship of Musharraf?

Iran Sanctions Are Hollow And Weak
Perhaps we are to draw comfort that the UNSC sanctions exist at all, but even the paper measures to address the maturing Iranian nuclear threat are weak and not compelling. In fact, they are likely to be ignored by Iran once again. Victor Comras noted the alarmingly weak language in UN Security Council Resolution 1747. The language included repeated calls on states to “exercise vigilance and restraint” when dealing with travel of select named individuals and the sale of a short list of military items, rather than to call on states to block or disallow.

The sanctions unanimously approved against Iran on March 24 are not even new, but simply an expansion of the existing set of minimal limitations stated in UNSC Resolution 1737 from December 23, 2006. Comras also notes that, when held under review, the sanctions now levied against Iran are less penalizing and less restrictive than recent sanctions against Serbia, Lybia, Iraq, Congo, Afghanistan, and Sudan.

To the extent that the Iran sanctions exist, they are in place because of mistrust over the Iranian nuclear program, its clandestine nature and the nature of the regime itself. Observers should bear in mind that Iran’s quest for ‘peaceful nuclear power’ was placed under the direct military supervision and guidance of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, wrested from its civilian nuclear department in 2004, just its existence was publicly revealed. Recall also that under the December UNSC resolution intended to curb Iran’s nuclear quest, the Bushehr nuclear facility under Russian construction was exempted and permitted to proceed.

Iranian Terrorism Is Clearly Not Compelling
The existing sanctions proffered by the UN Security Council are weak and not compelling. On the other hand, Iran’s history of state sponsored terrorism is compelling. Correction: It should be.

Iranian terror continues apace, just as it has for nearly 3 decades, without the international address and concern that its nuclear program is afforded. Since the 1979 storming of the United States embassy in Tehran during the Islamic revolution in Iran, Iran’s complicity in terrorist attacks around the world is clear. The US embassy bombings in Kuwait and Lebanon in 1983 along with the US Marine Barracks is commonly known by Americans.

But do many know of Iran’s support for Ayman al-Zawahiri’s planned Egyptian coup in 1990, according to top al-Qaeda operative Ali Mohamed now in US custody? He also divulged that Iran paid Zawahiri $2 million for information on Iranian military plans in the Persian Gulf. Do many consider that Iran met with (eventual) al-Qaeda operatives and Hizballah at the Popular Arab Islamic Conference meetings held in Sudan after the Gulf War of 1990-1991? That bin Laden met regularly with Iranians in Sudan for the purposes of uniting against the West, principally the United States?

How many, while pondering the prospects of a potentially nuclear Iran, consider such in context with Iran’s Hizballah training al-Qaeda terrorists in the art of suicide truck bomb operations in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley ahead of the 1998 simultaneous US embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya? Perhaps also lost is that the 2003 al-Qaeda attacks on three housing complexes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia were ordered by al-Qaeda commanders Saif al-Adel and Saad bin Laden, operating from within Iran while under “house arrest.”

And this is just cherry-picking the lot. Yes, Iran’s history of state sponsored terrorism should be compelling, but it clearly is not.

Rewarding Terrorism And Building Iran’s Plants
According to the Security Council statement following the listed UN sanctions, if only Iran will cease its uranium enrichment, the members propose “a fresh start in the negotiation of a comprehensive agreement with Iran.” Without regard to the state’s extensive activities in terrorism, past and present, the members agreed to “actively support the building of new light water power reactors in Iran through international joint projects.”

In keeping with the tradition of dismissing Iranian terrorism activities, it would also be acceptable to wave one of the few penalties levied against Iran for the hundreds murdered through its terrorist activities. For if Iran will only let the West build and fuel their nuclear reactors, on the table will also be the “possible removal of restrictions on United States and European manufacturers in regard to the export of civil aircraft to Iran.” Provisions are included for economic, telecommunications, energy partnership and agriculture cooperation with the world’s leading terrorist regime.

These are not rewards befitting a murderous regime whose only record worse than international terrorism is its brutality towards its own people, including political imprisonment and torture. Nothing will change with the current regime in place. These are the rewards that should await the good people of Iran once the mullahcracy is defeated and removed from their midst.

An Open Policy Of Regime Change Needed
Apologists continue to forward the concept that Iranian attacks on Americans and Iraqis in Iraq are the work of ‘rogue elements’ of the IRGC’s Quds Force, dismissing yet more terrorist activity. This is absurd. In Iran, the regime deals with ‘rogue elements’ of its society by publicly hanging teenagers from cranes and burying women up to their necks and arranging brutal public stonings. The message is both public and unmistakable. There have been no such public disciplinary displays to discourage ‘rogue elements’ within its own ranks who are brazen enough to potentially spark international incidents. That’s because the attacks on American troops and Iraqi civilians are not the work of any such illusionary ‘rogue elements’ of Iran’s Quds Force terror operators.

With the regime controlling the Iranian state sponsorship of international terrorism, the only cure is the demise of the regime itself. In the absolute best case nuclear scenario, Iran would cede its program and domestically produced Iranian nuclear arms would be avoided. But what of their terrorism? Any deals made regarding their nuclear intentions would serve to strengthen and reward the regime. But their terrorism would remain.

Critics now say that we cannot attack Iran or we will drive the people into the regime’s arms in nationalistic fury. This increasingly popular argument is usually presented when any direct action against an Iran is discussed. While not advocating an attack here, this argument must been seen as the false choice it is. It presumes that the Iranian general public is on our side and we on theirs. While that is certainly true, especially among the booming Iranian youth population, since when have we as a government really determined to support the Iranian people? In what manner are we supporting them? Two radio stations, Voice of America and Radio Farda? Worrying about ‘losing’ the Iranian public without actually fundamentally supporting them is a disgracefully self-serving and myopic position.

It is ironic that the one place where Middle Eastern democratization would work most naturally is the last place we seem interested in fostering it. The people of Iran already have a democratic system in place. More importantly, what awaits the thirsting Iranian people – unlike the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan - are already-existing institutions, including a judicial system, a parliamentary system, and an electoral process. The problem is that the Islamist regime rigs the system by eliminating candidates that may pose a challenge to their power.

Imagine the devastating effect on Islamist terrorist groups worldwide when the plentiful jihadi resources of the Iranian mullah regime are taken off the marketplace. Some groups, especially Hizballah, would find themselves effectively crippled without the lifeline from their terror masters. As an added bonus for the UN Security Council, the Iranian nuclear crisis will be effectively resolved.

With haste, we should implement an open policy of regime change in Iran and actually and materially support the Iranian people before arrogantly lamenting how we just might ‘lose them.’ Here’s an intelligent start.

March 20, 2007

South Africa

South Africa: Drop Iran Sanctions Now

UNSC President Declares Them Not Divine, Demands 'Timeout'

By Steve Schippert | March 20, 2007

Have you heard? South Africa is “not window dressing” to the heavyweights at the UN Security Council, and their silly list of additional sanctions proposed against Iran are “not written by God.” And with that, Monday’s productive UNSC session at Turtle Bay can be officially recorded.

The Security Council is expected to vote later this week on agreed-to additional sanctions on Iran
for its intransigence regarding its nuclear program. Leading up to this has been a curious series of events and visits.

In late February, Iran's Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and lead nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani travelled to South Africa to meet with South African president Thabo Mbeki. His visit just happened to be right before his trip to London to meet with the UN Security Council Permanent Five and Germany regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

Relax, we were assured, as “South African officials downplayed any significance in the timing of Ali Larijani's visit.”

Odd coincidence to be sure. Aside from a shared history with Pakistani nuclear proliferator AQ Khan, a generally hostile disposition towards anything American, and the 'Terrorist Black Holes' of lawlessness in and around South Africa that Iran is sure to enjoy, there's not much the two nations have in common. Or is there?

South African Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad then traveled to Iran for a Council of Ministers Meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation soon after on March 7. Not much was reported to have gone on, of course, aside from economic talks and some African Union security issues.

A funny thing happened on the way to the UN Security Council vote on additional Iran sanctions. The current UN Security Council sitting president, who just coincidentally happens to be the South African UN Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, insisted Monday that all sanctions proposals against Iran be dropped, "including an arms embargo and financial bans on an Iranian state bank and the Revolutionary Guards."

Those pesky Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps boys. You know the ones. The ones whose Qods Force operators executed four American soldiers after abducting them in a professional raid in Karbala, Iraq, killing a fifth American soldier in the process? Yes, those Revolutionary Guards.

Curious how that just fell off the radar screen, isn’t it? Right along with the other intelligence on Iranians killing Americans (among others) in Iraq. Perhaps we should just go about our business. Do some shopping. Can’t go letting a state engaged in killing American citizens through terrorist attacks for a quarter of a century go mucking up the status quo, now. Talk about “An Inconvenient Truth.”

But no matter. Why worry about dead Americans and state-sponsored terrorism when there’s a nuclear program to consume our debates, talks, negotiations and other unproductive endeavors?

To be sure, South Africa has arrived, as its UN Ambassador and this month’s sitting UN Security Council president declared that his nation is “not window dressing” to the big powers. After all, the existing additional sanctions proposal agreed to by the United States, Russia, Great Britain, China, France and Germany “was not written by God,” he said. If it were, Ahmadinejad would have informed us by now.

South Africa is now an advocate of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and their ‘peaceful’ nuclear program. So much so that not only did the South African UN Ambassador call for the scuttling of all sanctions against Iran, he also called for a 90-day “timeout” so that we can engage in “political negotiations to find a long-term solution.”

Forget that negotiations have been ongoing since 2003. Forget that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (and other Iranian leaders) have declared that Iran’s nuclear program is “not negotiable,” and that Iran will not budge, “not one iota.” Forget that for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and many others in the Iranian power structure, the “long term solution” will not be marked by nuclear-generated electricity, but in “ushering in the return of the Mahdi,” an apocalyptic messianic quest that requires warfare, bloodshed and misery untold in human history. But most of all, forget the state-sponsored terrorism.

Forget also that the UN, the IAEA and the UN Security Council proceedings are political. What the South African Ambassador means is that he wants a process that is political without consequence. Perhaps a visit to the history books is in order, but one is surely not likely to find where a belligerent state actor has been compelled by that track. But then, that’s likely the whole point, after all.

From the outset, the Iranian nuclear crisis has been little more than, as any good Marine would say, a Dog & Pony Show. It has been reduced to a traveling circus on the New York–Vienna–Natanz circuit. Meanwhile, the intelligence (or, in the newly imposed intelligence standard, ‘evidence’) on Iran’s terrorism and sponsored acts of terrorism collects dust.

If you can’t be bothered with state-sponsored terrorism and want to consume yourself with an immediate nuclear crisis, took a good hard look at Pakistan. Please.

March 18, 2007

Egypt

Pharaoh's Triangulation

America Should Be Wise to Mubarak's Game

By Kirk H. Sowell | March 18, 2007

In recent days Egypt has witnessed dramatic but impotent protests against new changes to the constitution which both the democratic and Islamist opposition label as a strengthening of the police state. A familiar pattern has recurred - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in power since 1981, raises the specter of the Islamist threat in order to justify his rule in Western eyes, engineers a new law enhancing his power, in plain view of all raises the iron fist the moment that the secular opposition protests, and declares it a day of progress for Egyptian democracy. Over the weekend Arab TV channels al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya have reported on protests by the secular Egyptian Movement for Change, nicknamed Kifaya ("Enough!"), against a new constitutional reform, with police streaming into the streets to put an end to it.

If nothing else, this shows that to the list of Mubarak's "reforms" he can add the abolition of the concept of irony in Egypt - Egyptian citizens protest peacefully against the police state, so the police descend in full view of international television and suppress the protest.

America's foreign aid to Egypt is defended as necessary to shore up a "moderate" Arab government at peace with Israel which is holding back the threat of militant Islam. Here I will argue that the reality is much to the contrary - the Egyptian government deliberately suppresses non-Islamist democratic activism with an iron fist and quietly but carefully maintains conflict in Palestine as an outlet for anger at home, while U.S. support for Mubarak's government is a significant factor in driving anti-Americanism among the Egyptian population.

* * * * * * * * * *

Al-Hayat ("Mubarak Defends Constitutional Amendments and Expresses Regret Over Opposition Boycott of the Referendum") reports that the thing that has the opposition upset is that the proposed constitutional amendments will change judicial oversight of elections in a way that will empower the state apparatus controlled by the ruling party, and also ban political activity on the basis of religion. If it were only the Muslim Brotherhood protesting then perhaps Mubarak's reforms would deserve some consideration, but secular opposition has been vigorous, while gathering the most attention from the police for their efforts.

Anthony Shadid at the Washington Post has an article that is worth reading in understanding the collapse of the secular opposition ("Imagining Otherwise in Egypt: Opposition Campaign Embodying Bush Vision Now Lies in Pieces"). He summarizes the results of the past five years of democratic activism:

...Today, that movement is in shambles. Its most committed supporters admit to a lack of vision, an inability to capture the imagination of the Egyptian people. Its leadership is riven by disputes over everything from the veil to charges of corruption. The government has crushed its momentum with impunity, deploying the ubiquitous security forces to arrest scores of activists, intimidate others and signal to the rest that it will no longer tolerate unsanctioned protest. Across the divide, the government's supporters and foes are unanimous in their belief that U.S. pressure for change, occasionally effective in the past, has now decisively subsided.

"The sense of powerlessness is complete," said Mohammed el-Sayed Said, a secular activist and writer who is trying to win permission to publish a new newspaper, the Alternative. "We're back to the status quo we wanted to liberate the country from"...

Secular activists have long claimed that they are even more forcefully suppressed than the Islamists, a charge which is hard to verify precisely, but which from my observation is defensible. Shadid includes a personal account from one Kifaya activist of the state's response to his open call for a more representative government:

...on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2004 -- a colleague dropped Qandil off at 3 a.m. near his home on the bustling road to the Pyramids. It was Ramadan again, the Muslim month of fasting when Cairo seems to stay up round-the-clock. A few minutes later, a car with four men barreled toward him and stopped. The men jumped out, blindfolded him and stuffed him in the back seat. The car then careened into Cairo's warrens, passing checkpoints unhindered.

"I thought I was a dead man," Qandil recalled. During the hour-long ride, he remembered being given a clear message: "No more words about the big people," he was told. Next time he would be killed. A few minutes later, one of the men answered his cellphone. "Yes, sir," Qandil recalled him barking, as if answering an order.

The car stopped on the outskirts of the city, on the road toward Suez. Qandil said the men stripped and beat him, stole his cellphone and the equivalent of about $100, then left him lying in the desert at the side of the road...

Shadid also notes that Egypt has served as a base for Palestinian radicalism, although unfortunately he introduces the subject by writing "[t]hen came the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, in September 2000, its images filtering across a landscape..." Unlike the first intifada in the late 1980s, which truly was a popular uprising which mostly targeted the Israeli military, the Al-Aqsa Intifada to which Shadid refers was a coordinated terrorist campaign which mainly targeted Israeli civilians. Shadid is correct in describing how it is portrayed in the Arab world, but the Post should not be describing this as a fact. Shadid's broader point on the issue, however, is valid - searing popular anger toward Israel and the United States, useful at times, has from time to time turned toward Egypt's own problems, although the government has continued to be successful and slanting most public attention toward Palestine. And with most Egyptians apathetic or turned elsewhere, the secular opposition has run aground.

This is indeed exactly how it plays in Egypt, and Mubarak wants it that way. It isn't simply anti-Israeli protests that Egypt tolerates, indeed encourages, but Hamas has received weapons across (more often, literally under) the Egyptian border and Hamas members given sanctuary in Egypt have been able to move back and forth in and out of Gaza. None of this would be possible without the complicity of Mubarak's authoritarian state. The maintenance of violence in Palestine serves Mubarak's interests as a means of channeling popular anger outward, and as a way of presenting Egypt to the world as a necessary mediator. Right now the Egyptian government and the Egyptian-dominated Arab League (its head, Amr Musa, is a former Egyptian foreign minister) are pushing the west to accept the new Hamas-Fatah unity government. If the Palestinians were to ever succeed in establishing an independent state in peaceful coexistence with Israel, Egyptian eyes would turn toward affairs at home, and the government would have to confront a suddenly empowered monster it thought it had kept on a short leash.

* * * * * * * * * *

The United States should use this as another opportunity to revisit the $2 billion foreign assistance package it gives to the Egyptian government each year. The Muslim Brotherhood is indeed a threat; broadly partnered with the Wahhabi establishment in Saudi Arabia, the MB has served as the seed for radical Islamists movements across the Arab world, as its model of radicalizing society from the roots up has been widely followed, most notably by the Palestinian Hamas. Many of its members have moved seamlessly from social and political activism to membership in terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and Hamas' military arm. Osama bin Laden's late mentor, Abdullah Azzam, was an influential MB activist and propagandist in Jordan and Palestine before moving to Saudi Arabia to teach, where he would influence his most infamous pupil. There is no evidence that Azzam was outside the Brotherhood mainstream before he began his partnership with bin Laden.

Yet the Mubarak regime is not a brake on radical Islam, but a generator of support for the movement. Its corruption and suffocating inefficiency give the MB its strongest platforms. The average Egyptian is not a natural terrorist-sympathizer, nor does he yearn for a Wahhabi or Taliban-style implementation of Islamic law. Yet he is responsive to the call of Islamic values, and if he is educated enough to see through the smokescreen created by the state controlled media, he is eager for an alternative to Mubarak. Egyptian society is divided into three main elements. One large segment of the population is traditionalist, apolitical and easily kept at bay; a smaller but energetic and influential segment is made up of Islamist-minded college graduates and religious leaders who form the cadre of the MB; and there is an even smaller element of educated activists, some the backbone of the pro-democracy Kifaya, others more Marxist-oriented, who seek secular alternatives.

The Mubarak regime's strategy for maintaining power thus has four elements - control the masses through subsidies and state propaganda, hold down the Islamists but keep the them visible for Western eyes, do everything to prevent the emergence of a secular alternative to Mubarak rule, and funnel excess anger toward Palestinian radicalism while playing the role of mediator on the international stage. It is a formula for staying in power that Mubarak has perfected. There is no reason for U.S. policy to do anything to assist this modern Pharaoh in maintaining it.

In formulating a new U.S. policy on Egypt, curbs on radical Islamists could be accepted on the grounds that their rise would mean the end of all freedom in Egypt, but the government's suppression of true democratic activism must come to an end. There is no other way a genuinely pluralistic and stable political culture can develop in the country. Mubarak's regime ensures that the only domestic outlet is in the mosques, which in Egypt are dominated either by state-employed imams, who have no credibility, or Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated imams, who stir radicalism. That is a formula for radicalism without end. The U.S. must see through Mubarak's game, and say kifaya! to our Egyptian "friends." Enough indeed.

March 14, 2007

World

The Bleeding Edge

Technology is as Much Bane as Boon

By Michael Tanji | March 14, 2007

It came to light recently that unknown attackers temporarily incapacitated part of the infrastructure that supports the Web. Hammering several root domain name servers (DNS) – the mechanisms that allow text like “threatswatch.org” to replace numeric IP addresses – made it difficult if not impossible to access some of the .org and .mil domains. The effect may have been temporary, but the implications are far reaching.

People have been using and abusing computer networks for decades. Cliff Stoll documented his involvement in cyber-espionage as far back as 1985 and CERT/CC - the granddaddy of all cyber response teams - was born out of the chaos caused by the Morris worm in ’88. Since then, a variety of colorful personalities and organizations have come and gone, each leaving their unique imprint on the cyber security landscape. Time passes and the threats and vulnerabilities evolve, but there are a few constants we can count on.

For starters, the end-users of systems cannot be trusted to follow secure practices. This isn’t a statement against their intellect or intent; it is just a reflection of human nature. The computer (and by extension the Internet) has become one of those things that “just work,” similar to how many view a car. You’re supposed to do certain things to your car, but all most people do is put gas in it . . . and then they wonder why it breaks down. Users are followed quickly by poor coding practices, poor risk-management decisions, and a mad quest for features in order to attract customers (a.k.a. greed).

Into this environment steps a variety of threat actors, such as the aforementioned DNS hackers as well as organized crime groups. Nations like China have established warfighting doctrine that includes information warfare – a war they seem to be winning - and at least one terrorist group leader has extolled the virtues of using computer network attack against the infidel.

Attacks take numerous forms, from basic Web-page defacements (an almost quaint assault that peaked in popularity about a decade ago) to identity theft, file system extortion (they encrypt your files and then hold the password for ransom) and of course denial-of-service attacks. Some organizations are better prepared than others, but as several years of personal data loss events has shown, even organizations that should have a handle on these issues can have serious weaknesses in their policies and practices.

Perhaps the most dangerous yet under-appreciated attack is the semantic one: compromising a system to lightly but significantly alter system content. It has happened at least once before to a major news outlet. A compromise at the CDC a few weeks ago portends the seriousness a sophisticated attack of this nature could have on the health and welfare of the population.

The counter to all these threats is a multi-billion-dollar cyber security industry that makes a healthy profit selling hardware and software; hardware and software that itself falls victim to exploitation and compromise. The anti-virus industry alone is one of the largest self-licking ice cream cones ever made, as they rely on clues left behind on victim systems to help defend those that have not yet been attacked. In an age when a worm can infect hosts worldwide in a few minutes, the futility of such an approach becomes glaringly obvious yet unchanged. Only after decades of being “owned” are we beginning to take concrete steps towards a secure operating posture.

Despite the inherent weaknesses and the onslaught of threats we still rush to incorporate information technology without making the necessary changes in process and policy. Only a few of those who foist technological boondoggles on our national security apparatus actually have a command of the technology or the broader relevant issues; too many decisions are made after reading a blurb in an in-flight magazine or after a very expensive lunch with a recently retired colleague who, oddly enough, is selling a system.

The benefits to incorporating more information technology into our defense and security systems can be significant, but we cannot approach technological adoption like the .com-ers did a decade ago. When the net-centric, future-combat bubble bursts, more than the stock market is likely to fall.

Pakistan

Polling The Pakistani Revolution?

How Not To Analyze Potential Outcomes In A Post-Musharraf Pakistan

By Steve Schippert | March 14, 2007

The stability of Pakistan and the security of its nuclear weapons remains dependent upon the continued presence of its president, General Pervez Musharraf. Though his cooperation with the United States has been less than America may have hoped, Musharraf remains the only option. However imperfect and often frustrating the nature of his actions – or inaction – in prosecuting a war with the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region, he is the only buffer that stands between al-Qaeda terrorists and an already formed nuclear arsenal.

Suffice it to say, the alternative to Musharraf is unknown at best and horrifying at worst. The prospects of a Pakistan sans Musharraf is finally beginning to spark discussion. However, much of that discussion is wholly unsatisfying and lacking the starkness which colors the true outlook.

Take for instance a commentary by Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, republished at the International Herald Tribune. In Just how delicately must U.S. treat Musharraf?, Mazzetti states the nuclear risk in Pakistan and asks, “But just how fragile is Musharraf's hold on power? And might the United States have more leverage than it believes?” Both of these are excellent and important questions. The course Mazzetti has chosen to ponder them, however, is wholly inadequate. Considering the stakes, one might even call the logic presented dangerous.

In an effort to diminish the potential for an Islamist-run Pakistani terrorist state, the commentary presents Pakistani polling data – yes polling data – from the 2002 elections in Pakistan. From this data, it is reasoned that there is not the popular support for an Islamist state run by the likes of figures in the Taliban, al-Qaeda or Islamist elements of the Pakistani military intelligence corps – the ISI.

After all, “religious political parties received just 11 percent of the vote, compared with more than 28 percent won by the secular party led by Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister.” Looking at more recent polling data, it is noted that “Islamist politicians received a drubbing in local elections in 2005, gaining less support than expected in their power base in the tribal areas.”

Of course, under Musharraf, polling data has always been suspect, but that is beside the point. For sake of argument, let the reader assume that the data is accurate that Islamist politicians loyal to the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance indeed received less than expected support in the tribal areas of the border region.

In the tribal areas – North and South Waziristan agencies of the FATA in particular – this issue is decided. The Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance bloodied and defeated the Pakistani military through intense motivation and superior willpower. In relatively short order, North and South Waziristan were ceded by Musharraf with his military defeated and assassination attempts on him persistent.

Can there be any doubt as to who controls those same tribal regions with an iron fist? The polling data did not matter then. It does not matter now.

Unfortunately, revolutions, insurgencies and the establishment of theocracies are not decided by polling data or popularity, though they can make the task at hand less difficult. Revolutions are decided by who has the most guns, the best explosives and, most importantly the most dedicated and motivated fighters.

To that end, the argument can be made that perhaps the Pakistani military may remain loyal to Musharraf and his direction even after his demise, be it by bullet, by bomb or by exile. But that argument is not made. It is merely alluded to, and in hollow fashion.

Let the reader judge how hollow.

In the New York Times version of the same article, One Bullet Away From What?, Mark Mazzetti draws upon the expertise of Robert Richer, a former CIA associate director of operations in 2004 and 2005. Richer enables a dangerously dismissive approach to the threat in saying, “I am not particularly worried about an extremist government coming to power and getting hold of nuclear weapons.” The logic presented in support of this view? “If something happened to Musharraf tomorrow, another general would step in,” Richer continued.

But which general, one might ask. To answer that, the reader is offered the official Pakistani ‘succession plan,’ where – on paper – “Based on the succession plan, the vice chief of the army, Gen. Ahsan Saleem Hyat, would take over as the leader of the army and Mohammedmian Soomro, an ex-banker, would become president.”

In order to understand how shallow this outlook is, one need only think like an Islamist in Pakistan so thirsting for power that assassinating the president is both a viable and expedient route to that end. If you are that Islamist, would you assassinate a detested president only to see him succeeded by men who share the same agenda and aims as the man you just murdered?

To believe this, one must accept two very false points; that an assassination of Musharraf is merely a punishment meted out and that the assassination order would come from a man or group who does not seek to gain power. The official Pakistani ‘succession plan’ looks nothing like the succession plan the Islamists have in mind.

Hamid Gul is often considered the most powerful man in Pakistan. Gul was head of the ISI when bin Laden and the Arab Afghans were organized to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. He has known Usama bin Laden for a long time and considers him a friend. Gul also was instrumental in the organization and formation of the Taliban, whom he says “implemented and ideal system” in Afghanistan and “upheld the dignity of women.”

In a March 5, 2007 interview in the Urdu-language Nawa-e Waqt, Gul said flatly that Pakistan’s “political parties have disappointed the nation and if the situation does not improve, the country should prepare for a revolution.” Pause here for the significance of such a statement from a 'retired' Pakistani general and former head of the ISI...

He went on to state that the “people of Pakistan want the system of a Medina state [sharia law] to be enforced in the country.”

How can that be when “religious political parties received just 11 percent of the vote” in 2002? The answer is obvious. Polls do not matter in revolutions. Nor do the official succession charts of the state to be under attack.

For an Islamist seeking “a Medina state,” General Ahsan Saleem Hyat and Mohammedmian Soomro are not acceptable successors. This much should be plainly clear. In the same Nawa-e Waqt interview, Gul addressed this rather directly in saying “leadership living abroad in exile should be recalled back home.” Nevertheless, Gul assures that “the nation itself gives birth to leadership in times of revolution.” In that, perhaps he is forecasting his own rise. He surely is not speaking of the rise of Ahsan Hyat or Soomro.

The question is when Gul and the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance will make their move. The former head of Pakistan’s ISI hinted at the urgency in saying that “we need to rise up as the time has come.” He may have foretold a period of perceived opportunity when he said “The US President will remain effective in power until next October; then the last year of his rule will begin and he will become ineffective. The Afghan leaders are now openly saying that Pakistan has done more damage than the United States, which is a cause of great concern for us.”

There are many productive ways to approach and analyze the potential outcomes in Pakistan if Musharraf is successfully assassinated and removed from power. Demonstrated here, it is hoped, is that citing Pakistani polling data and official government succession charts is decidedly not among them.

If there is a poll that matters to the Islamist jihadists, it is the American presidential poll.

March 8, 2007

Iran

Nuclear Blips On The Terrorism Radar

With Iran, America Seems Intent On Tracking The Wrong Blip

By Steve Schippert | March 8, 2007

Ahmadinejad’s trip to Saudi Arabia and subsequent talks with the Saudis is being praised as a giant leap forward in some quarters. It can be found described as a “landmark event” that has "set a new tone for the hitherto elusive ‘Islamist solution’ to the multiple crises." In order to take this leap of faith, however, one must first believe that Ahmadinejad and the government he represents are sincerely seeking a peaceful resolution to the “multiple crises” Iran is deeply enmeshed in, including Iraq.

Iran’s hand in the sectarian strife, which is not limited to but centers around the bloodshed between the Shi’a and Sunni in Iraq, is difficult to question in light of the weaponry, training and personnel found in Iraq. In fact, the #3 Quds Force commander reportedly remains in US custody following a December US raid in Baghdad. There is a relatively small circle of observers who acknowledge this as a cause for concern. This group includes military and intelligence personnel on the ground in Iraq. Yet outside that warrior's circle, the level of awareness of Iranian actions in Iraq and the common concern dissipate rapidly.

One wonders just how this can be. Hundreds of world class Austrian Steyr .50 caliber sniper rifles captured in US raids have been traced back – by serial number - to an Iranian order fulfilled in 2006. Iranian dissidents not only revealed that deadly Iranian EFPs were being shipped over the Iranian border into Iraq, but they identified the Iranian facilities that were manufacturing the concave milled copper projectiles. What’s more, the infrared triggering mechanisms for roadside bombs that have proven so difficult to detect and defeat have been sourced back to Iranian origin. Not by conjecture, but once again by tracing the serial numbers to an order fulfillment, this time from China.

Yet, as echoed loudly by detractors and dissenters, the Iranian intelligence ‘smacks of pre-war intelligence on Iraq all over again.’ On display are not satellite photos and labels of what one or another building must certainly be. No, on display are Iranian weapons, with instances of traced serial numbers back to point of purchase. Hardly shades of 2003.

The argument once was whether or not Iran has played a role in fomenting violence and killing Americans, Iraqis and Britons. That argument has clearly been ceded and thus transformed into the unnatural question of whether ‘top Iranian regime officials’ personally ordered the weapons shipments. This is nearly an impossible standard to prove. An American special prosecutor with access to offices and records cannot prove who knew what CIA agent’s name, when or who he or she may have told. And we are to expect our intelligence community – with highly limited assets and access in Iran – to devine the inner communications of the secretive Iranian Quds Force and their regime superiors?

These arms are not simply supplied to Shi’a militias, but also to al-Qaeda and aligned movements (AQAM). This according not to Washington think tanks or analysts, but by the men who face and find these weapons and those who field them. Men who often die from them. Why would Iran take such actions?

The Iranian government recognizes both the opportunities and the potential risks associated with American success in Iraq. Iran recognizes that it can destabilize Iraq, and by doing so it will prevent unification and a coherent Iraqi identity from developing. Likewise, destabilization weakens perceptions of the United States throughout the region and in Iraq, which results in other Middle Eastern states offering lesser aid to Iraq, to the War on Terror and generally hedging their bets on our success.

By doing this, Iran gains for itself greater influence in the region. In the long term, Iran thus exerts further force on the primarily Sunni peoples of the Arabian peninsula through their ties with Shi'a opposition groups in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

It isn't unwarranted to long for a reasonable Iranian actor in the region. What is unreasonable is to believe that moderated tone, on and off revelations on a nuclear development program or back-door deals to support terrorist organizations are the actions of a reasonable Iranian actor.

To be sure, Ahmadinejad has moderated his public tone while he continues to encounter internal criticism from the Khomeinist corners of the Iranian power structure. But this should not be mistaken for a moderation of Ahmadinejad’s views, nor should his powerful Iranian rival critics be seen as a moderate alternative.

Ahmadinejad’s Khomeinist detractors, such as former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani, are the same Iranian core that has been at the helm of the Iranian terror machine for the past 28 years. The difference between them and Ahmadinejad is not a difference in the level of anti-American hatred or desire for Iranian nuclear weapons or other hostile views and aims.

The difference between them is more often than not simply the degree to which each competing side is willing to speak openly and candidly about them. Indeed, the Iranian nuclear program existed long before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency. It was also known to the West fully two years before he became president.

Yet, it can be plausibly argued that the debate and international condemnation of the Iranian nuclear program reached its current fevered pitch not because of its knowledge of the program, but rather because of the gasoline poured on the fire by Ahmadinejad’s reckless rhetoric. His repeated public calls that Israel should be “wiped off the map,” that this “is attainable, and soon” and myriad other assorted un-masked threatening statements caught the attention of the Western public, driving their respective policy makers to react accordingly.

The rebuking leveled at Ahmadinejad by those he is in a power struggle with is decidedly not for supporting Iran’s nuclear program when it should not be supported. Nor is it because he armed Hizballah with rockets fired on Israeli civilians when he should not have.

No, the criticism leveled at Ahmadinejad from rival Iranian mullahs is because of his language, his rhetoric and for the ire his words have drawn. Precisely because Ahmadinejad’s words speak louder than action, Iran no longer passes beneath the radar. Many now see the blips on the radar screen that once were rarely presented to them. Yet, even now, America seems intent on tracking the wrong blip.

Iran garners much media and public attention for their nuclear weapons program, netting the seemingly endless talks on sanctions and other forms of ‘diplomatic solutions’ to the Iranian nuclear crisis. The nuclear blip consumes a great deal of the time and resources of the United Nations and the governments of the members of the Security Council.

Yet, the more pressing nuclear threat does not emanate from Tehran and the Iranian regime, which has yet to produce either weapons grade fissile material or a viable nuclear weapon. Pakistan is an established nuclear power, with estimates of up to 55 nuclear warheads in their arsenal. And Pervez Musharraf, the embattled Pakistani president who faces persistent opposition and has survived numerous assassination attempts, remains the sole buffer between those nuclear weapons and al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other Islamists who seek an Islamist-run state and the demise of the largely secular Musharraf.

Further, some of the Islamists opposed to Musharraf, including Aslam Beg, seek a military alliance with the Iranian terror masters. These Islamists and their supported terrorist groups are but a single bullet or bomb away from removing Musharraf and gaining control of an existing nuclear arsenal. This is far more pressing than the Iranian nuclear crisis, yet garners scant attention.

Meanwhile, the blips of Iranian and Iranian-sponsored terrorism – Iran’s true clear and present danger - are disregarded in important quarters. As frightening a prospect as they would present, undeveloped Iranian nuclear weapons have yet to claim a civilian life. Yet, terror attacks bearing Iranian fingerprints continue to tally.

The terrorist group Hizballah was founded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the early 1980’s in Lebanon, the site of Iranian-sponsored bombings of the US embassy and the Marine barracks, killing hundreds. In similar fashion, Iran sponsored and directed the truck bombing attack on the Khobar Towers housing US military personnel in Saudi Arabia. This new utilization of suicide bombers and large vehicle-based bombs was taught to al-Qaeda, who maintained a relationship with Iran – predominantly through Hizballah - while ‘cohabitating’ in the Sudanese “terrorist incubator” under Hassan al-Turabi in the 1990’s. (For more on al-Turabi and the Sudan terror gathering, see Thomas Joscelyn’s The Pope of Terrorism, Part I and Part II.) The 1998 simultaneous al-Qaeda bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are widely believed a direct product of that cooperation, with indications of direct Iranian assistance to the al-Qaeda attackers.

Within Iraq, Iran has continued to supply and support both violent Sunni and Shi’a groups alike, ensuring their attacks on Iraqi civilians and Coalition and Iraqi troops are increasingly deadly and effective. But not only is Iran operating though the Badr Corps, al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army or through material support for the Sunni terrorists of Ansar al-Sunnah (formerly known as Ansar al-Islam and part of AQAM), its own top Quds Force commanders have been captured in US raids in Iraq.

The apprehension of Iranian Quds Force commanders and operators boldly in Iraq notwithstanding, the Iranian penchant for terrorism through proxies is precisely why a nuclear-armed Iran is so feared. The West should be thanking Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for getting the attention of the American and Western public, even if the topic that dominates news cycles has to date been the Iranian nuclear crisis.

Now, let’s be sure to direct that attention to the existing threat and true root of the Iranian problem: State-sponsored international terrorism.

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