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March 31, 2006

Red on Red in Gaza Bombing & Aftermath

In Gaza City, a car bomb killed a PRC commander aligned with Hamas, prompting finger-pointing and violence between Hamas and Fatah-aligned factions. The PRC is a group of about 200 terrorists, reportedly evenly split along Fatah/Hamas lines. The bombing was first blamed on Israel, who quickly denied involvement. When it became clear that the bombing was not a missile strike, the looks turned inward at rival Fatah factions outside the PRC.

Attack Image The Washingtom Post reported that PRC spokesman Abu Abir blamed the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority security services, naming specific individuals and declared that “we will behead them.”

The Red-on-Red violence spread through the streets of Gaza City, as PRC terrorists took the fight to the PA security forces. Tempers flared and the fighting spilled into the funeral for the killed PRC terrorist, as is customary for Muslims to bury their dead within 24 hours of death. At least three are reported killed, one on each side and a civilian caught in the crossfire.

Following the lead of new Hamas Interior Minster Saeed Seyam, who vowed to protect Palestinian terrorists, Hamas officials defended yesterday’s West Bank suicide bombing that killed four, calling it “resistance” against Israeli “crimes”. It will be interesting to note how Hamas treats today’s car bombing with the target no longer Israeli. It is telling that they announced an immediate investigation into the death of today’s dead Hamas terrorist in the PRC, but no investigation for the four dead Israeli civilians in yesterdays West Bank bombing.

Actions are heating up rapidly in the Palestinian Territories, and the more Fatah and Hamas fight amongst themselves, the less energy and resources can be dedicated to blowing up Israelis. Expect Iran to make every effort possible to refocus the two warring factions on Iran’s preferred target: Israel.

West Bank Bombing Opens Post-Elections Conflict Phase

A terrorist’s bomb killed four Israelis in the north central West Bank outside the entrance to the Israeli settlement of Kedumim, about ten miles west of Nablus. The Palestinian terrorist, identified by the new Fatah terror group Kateb al-Shahid Chamuda as a 24 year old male from Hebron, was reportedly dressed as an Orthodox Jew and hitched a ride from the drivers of the car. No report as of yet has identified how this is known. An elderly couple and a young female occupant were killed instantly in the blast. The fourth death is reported by some sources to be an Israeli teen that was in the vicinity.

Attack Image However, an early AP report cited Israeli television reporting that the bomb detonated outside the vehicle as well as Israeli Army Radio announcing that the bomb was detonated by remote control. It is more likely that the fourth body is not that of an Israeli teen, rather it is that of the bomber. If the bomber was indeed a hitchhiker and was inside the car, he surely would have wanted to detonate it from within. If he exited the vehicle, perhaps his handlers detonated his payload for him, which would explain both the fourth body away from the car and the quick Army determination that it was remote detonated.

Interestingly, two groups have claimed responsibility: al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and a new Fatah offshoot, Kateb al-Shahid Chamuda from the Balata refugee camp recently sieged by the IDF and home of two Palestinian al-Qaeda cell members arrested by Israel. According to Aaron Klein of World Net Daily, who has regular contact with Abu Aziz (aka Abu Nassar), the Nablus al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades commander called him immediately after the blast boasting that it was his operation and that many more are in the works for inside Israel.

Perhaps this attack was meant to deliver the hitchhiker to Israel as well, and when the driver neared his West Bank Israeli settlement destination, things changed. The bomber may well have decide to get out and try another attempt at hitching a ride to Israel. If so, his trailers likely decided to cancel that plan.

This terrorist attack is indicative of the role reversal discussed before, with Hamas in governance and Fatah factions assuming the role of primary terror organ. But it is important to note that Hamas and Fatah are in simultaneous competition with both Israel and each other.

The action of the past two days could be a sign of a concerted effort to pick up the operational tempo against Israel as the IDF nabbed a would-be suicide bomber at a roadblock in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank. The 18-year old Palestinian was caught wearing a 20-pound suicide belt that was disarmed. His confessed plans were to meet an operative inside Israel and be driven to his attack location, which was not disclosed.

On Tuesday, an Iranian-made Katyusha rocket was fired from northern Gaza in the direction of Ashkelon. As often happens with Palestinian-launched ballistic ordnance, it fell harmlessly in the desert well short of its general target. But the significance, as well noted by Vital Perspective, is that this is not a homemade Qassam, the latest Qassam III with a range of still only 10km. The Iranian-made Katyusha has a range of double that at 20km. It is believed to be the first Katyusha launch from Gaza. After Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, they warned the PA, Egypt and the rest of the world that Gaza could become a magnet for an influx of international arms. The writers at Vital Perspective note, “Unfortunately, this danger has been realized as the Palestinians continue to expand and enhance their terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, and deploy weapons which extend the reach of terrorism ever deeper into Israeli territory.”

Remember that one of the senior West Bank commanders of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Abu Nasser, has said that the Third Intifada is coming, and will be bloodier than either of the previous intifadas. This increase in operational tempo does not rise to the level of a Third Intifada yet. It is worth noting that the previous intifadas, led by the PLO and Arafat, involved a mass uprising with street-level violence as well. While there have been isolated street-level attacks recently, it has not risen to such a level.

What we are witnessing may transform into a Third Intifada, as Abu Aziz (aka Abu Nasser) warned, or it may simply become a first ‘something else’, with terrorist attacks and para-military attacks without the street-level violence of an intifada. But it certainly looks to be the beginning of a change from the relative quiet since the informal cease-fire took effect one year ago.

March 30, 2006

Iran Rejects UN Statement with Defiance

In Vienna, Iran has rejected the UN Security Council demands defiantly, as Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief representative to the IAEA, declared that “it is impossible to go back to suspension. This enrichment matter is not reversible.” Attempting to justify the position, Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, added that “Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and has never diverted towards prohibited activities.”

However, the UN Security council statement, approved formally today, noted with ‘serious concern’ in Paragraph 3 many outstanding issues regarding Iran’s clandestine program, ”including topics which could have a military nuclear dimension, and that the IAEA is unable to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.”

These outstanding issues and concerns include a direct IAEA reference to Iran’s ‘Green Salt Project’.

Some remain optimistic about the UN action, positive that, despite the watered down language, a 30-day clock has begun to tick for Iran enroute to real consequences. Secretary of State Rice and Ambassador Bolton believe if Iran fails to abide by the guidelines set forth by the Security Council and the IAEA, then the Security Council will revisit and take action in the form of sanctions. This outlook requires a belief that Russia and China will change their stance and eventually support the concept of sanctions against their major trading partner.

What Iran will do in 30 days’ time is an unknown, but if their recent history is a guide, predictable. Today’s defiant Iranian rejection should be viewed in context with past three years of Iranian actions and current posturing, including massive military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf area by both IRGC naval and ground forces. The week-long maneuvers are to be kicked off Friday with Iran firing a Shahab-2 missile “to show Iran’s desire for peace and friendship with neighbouring countries,” according to IRGC Naval Commander, Rear Admiral Morteza Saffari.

While the maneuvers were being announced yesterday, IRGC General Rahim Safavi warned against threats to Iran nuclear sites, and added that the Iranian response would be ”in a broad-based manner if threatened.” He added, “We are not after confrontation, are no threat to any country and follow a policy of detente but will not hesitate to defend our country if threatened by warmongers.” Iran’s neighbors would likely disagree strongly that Iran is no threat to them, including the recently threatened Qatar. Additionally, the IRGC’s own Hezbollah does not follow a policy of détente, nor do the other Iranian-funded terrorist organizations, such as Islamic Jihad and the effectively safe-housed members of al-Qaeda.

But these arms of Iranian foreign policy would certainly play a major role in what General Safavi considers a ‘broad-based’ response.

March 29, 2006

Permanent Five Agree on Iran: No Consequences, Please

The UN Security Council Permanent Five have reached an agreement on addressing the Iranian nuclear crisis with a softer draft submitted by France, Germany and Britain. There was a push to reach a consensus among the Council’s Permanent Five before their foreign ministers were to meet in Germany. The original proposal has been effectively watered down beyond usefulness. Perhaps, that is, unless you are running a clandestine nuclear program. The steadfast and persistent objections from China and Russia have once again outlasted and overpowered the resolve of Europe and the United States.

The agreed upon draft extends the original 14-day compliance window to 30-days as well as removes strong language in lieu of a gentler approach to the mullah regime. According to New York Times, China and Russia refused to accept the language that labeled the Iranian duplicitous nuclear quest as a “threat to international peace and security,” on the grounds that such language was a precursor to sanctions.

In a capitulation to the Sino-Russo stance, the language has been amended in the new text to merely acknowledge that the Security Council has a “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security” and defers responsibility of managing the crisis back to the IAEA body that could not resolve or manage the Iranian nuclear crisis to begin with, or for that matter resolve or manage the North Korean nuclear crisis or proliferation threats, such as the AQ Khan network that served both programs.

Rather than identify the Iranian regime’s nuclear program as a threat and addressing it directly, the Security Council is on a path to consume additional mounds of paper for the purpose of re-stating its responsibilities and abdicating enforcement. The IAEA has no enforcement mechanism.

It is presumed that after the expiration of the new proposed 30-day window for Iranian compliance, the IAEA must then make a determination that Iran is either in compliance, non-compliance or violation of the NPT and additional IAEA demands. The IAEA currently has chosen to categorize Iran as in ‘non-compliance’, having forgone the stronger language of ‘violation’. Will the IAEA summon the fortitude to ever determine that the regime is actually in violation? And if so, will the Security Council then follow suit and ratchet up their language? Will it matter?

Earlier in March, India agreed to a nuclear fuel supply from an international consortium headed by the United States. The consortium, called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, is an effort to curb dangerous proliferation by guaranteeing a safe supply of fuel for nuclear reactors for states that want nuclear power without the threat of clandestine weapons programs.

Yesterday, ahead of the Permanent Five agreement, Iran agreed that an international nuclear fuel supply is a good idea…if the fuel is produced from a facility on Iranian soil. This was stated in yet another rejection of the current state of the Russian Proposal, which exists solely for the purposes of removing uranium enrichment and potential plutonium production from within the control of the mullah regime.

The picture is clear. Russia and China have interests in Iranian trade that preclude it from any action (or wording of statements) that punish (or lead to the punishment of) the Iranian regime. Iran has interests in nuclear technology that reach far beyond nuclear power. In fact, Iran’s claim of nuclear power desires is primarily a front for weapons research. With the staunch, persistent objections of veto-wielding China and Russia leading to inaction at the UN and direct mullah control of the nuclear program within Iran’s borders leading to consistent progress, a nuclear-armed and self sufficient Iran is inevitable short of action taken outside the auspices of the United Nations.

Any efforts to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran appear lost. Prepare to accept a nuclear Iran.

A nuclear Iran already at war with the United States and the rest of the West.

March 27, 2006

Hamas All Smiles and Ready for Talks and Cash

“The previous Palestinian administration recognized Israel. And so? What was the result? Has anything changed?… It would be a mistake to insist that the problem is in the recognition (of Israel) by Hamas.”
— Hamas Spokesman Khaled Meshaal, 01Mar06

Amid consistent refusal to amend the Hamas charter explicitly calling for the destruction of the state of Israel, Hamas leaders now tighten their ties and button their jackets while saying nearly everything short of any such fundamental change in order to placate a Western international community seemingly unwilling to abandon funding for a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

Ismail HaniyaHedging their bets, Hamas has been playing to their Arab neighbors for financial support amid the questionable future of the cash supply traditionally received from the West. Incoming Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, called for support from members of the Arab League summit in Khartoum, Sudan. While he made calls for Arab contributions of $130 million per month, Khaled Meshaal reminded them that the Hamas-run PA requires upwards of $170 million to operate. While the Arab League has promised (as they have in the past) to draft a resolution pledging support, not many expect them to live up to their pledges (as they have also balked in the past). The Arab League is expected to pledge $55 million per month, but have a history of meeting only 30% of their stated pledges for Palestinians.

With little tangible support from their own Arab brothers expected, Hamas has begun to offer refined public words calling for new talks with The Quartet and the headlines that followed are predictably optimistic, including Hamas ready for international MidEast peace push and Hamas Gov’t Seeks Mideast Mediator Talks.

Caveat Emptor.

Hamas seeks the appearance of peace talks and the re-opening of the flow of international funding. Ask them about their chart, which still calls for the destruction of the state of Israel. Or, more readily visible, examine the quotes beneath the optimistic headlines.

Incoming Palestinian Prime Minister Haniyeh said first, “Our government will spare no effort to reach a just peace in the region, putting an end to the occupation and restoring out rights.”

He quickly followed that with an outrageous claim that Hamas has never supported terrorism, much less committed a terrorist act. “We have never been supporters of war, terrorism or bloodletting. Instead it is the Israeli occupation that waged all forms of terrorism against our people in chasing them out of their homeland, besieging it and starving it,” he then proclaimed.

Khaled Meshaal pointed a thinly veiled finger at his Arab brothers in the Arab League when he said, “We hope that our Arab brothers would provide this support and provide it quickly because unfortunately there has been a shortage and lack of commitment.”

Speaking to the new Hamas overtures to lure talks with The Quartet (EU, US, Russia, and the UN), Haniyeh added, “The government is ready for dialogue with the Quartet, and looking for every possible way to end the conflict and the occupation.”

Well, perhaps not every possible way. Two ways for Hamas to possibly end the conflict come to mind readily.

Perhaps Hamas leaders might consider arresting terrorists who murder or seek to murder Israeli (or any other) civilians, contrary to the pledge of the incoming Interior Minister Saeed Seyam who vowed to instead protect terrorists, proclaiming proudly, “Saeed Seyam did not come to the government to revive any security cooperation or to protect the occupation and their settlers. I came to protect our people and their fighters, to protect their trees, their properties and their capabilities.”

And, of course, Hamas might consider removing the call for the destruction of Israel. Not simply by removing the words from their printed charter, but more importantly by expunging it from their belief system and genuinely accept a two-state solution. Neither of these two things are likely to occur, though Iran-like gestures for ‘talks about talks’ will not be in short supply. As the openling quote from Khaled Meshaal illustrates, Hamas truly sees negotiation to be a dead-end proposition and recognition of Israel out of the question. Today’s gestures to the contrary are calculated for Western consumption. Indeed, Haniyeh tipped his own hand openly denying Hamas’ past or present support for terrorism.

So it is with great trepidation that Western observers should receive the news that Hamas is now seeking peace talks. The purpose of any such talks, in light of the two above very telling Hamas stances, is not to achieve any peace, but rather to resume the flow of international monetary relief in the form of massive cash grants.

March 24, 2006

Hamas Minister Vows to Protect Terrorists: No Arrests

Hamas has appointed their new Interior Minister, Saeed Seyam, who arrived on the scene leaving few questions regarding the Hamas approach to internal security. “The day will never come when any Palestinian would be arrested because of his political affiliation or because of resisting the occupation,” he said in an interview. He swore to protect Palestinian terror groups in the name of resistance proclaiming, “Saeed Seyam did not come to the government to revive any security cooperation or to protect the occupation and their settlers. I came to protect our people and their fighters, to protect their trees, their properties and their capabilities.” Sayem pronounced that, under his watch, the various Palestinian groups, rather than be arrested for attacks on Israelis, will be coordinated with for ‘day-to-day’ security issues.

This is the character that can be expected from a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, and the principal reason that Israel has sealed their borders to the point of even blocking Palestinians who have held permits to work in Israel. Hamas’ character is not serving the Palestinian people on the economic front in this regard, and Hamas remains unapologetic in its uncompromising approach to confrontation with Israel. The Palestinian Authority – and the Palestinian people it serves – remains dependent on Israel. Fully 21% of the Palestinian economy is already constituted by outside aid. Another significant segment of their economy relies upon cross-border trade with and employment within the very Jewish state which Hamas vows to destroy in both its charter and in its regular rhetoric.

This presents no small measure of irony as Palestinians decry border closures that happen after attacks or threats on their people, yet demand that the very state under constant, violent, bloody attack must allow the attacking society access to their stated enemy’s booming economy. Perhaps the Palestinians should either choose peace and economic access or bloody warfare and the resultant total self-sufficiency. As Israel has denied access to Palestinian workers, it appears Israel has made this choice for them.

Yet, just as Hamas puts forth an openly contentious front, Mahmoud Abbas and the defeated Fatah leadership continue to resist the Hamas elected majority, including recent revelations of plans for secret peace talks with Israel and the US. Said Abbas, “I am convinced that within less than a year, we will be able to sign an agreement.” But Israel doubts, regardless of Abbas’ intentions, that Fatah has any power with which to bring any such negotiations and their potential resultant agreements to fruition within the Palestinian Authority.

Increasingly, the division between Hamas and Fatah is not limited to battles between Abbas and the Hamas-led parliament and can be seen clearly in towns like Kalkilya in the Territories, where the Hamas mayor has come under attack on numerous occasions, including the late night drive-by shooting that pounded his car parked in his driveway. Like most incidents, these are intended to send a message. Some Palestinians have already begun to ask, ‘What has Hamas done for us?’ So goes the uncomfortable transition from battle cry to governance.

So, while the US has delayed a decision on Palestinian aid until after the Palestinian cabinet is officially formed Sunday, the eventual decision can be foreshadowed with reliable accuracy by listening to the rhetoric of the men nominated to become ministers. If the Interior Minister will not arrest terrorists after attacking Israeli civilians and goes so far as to defend them and protect the ‘fighters’, there is little room for nuance from the West or taqiyyah from Hamas.

March 23, 2006

Optimism Lost: Security Council Deadlocked on Iran

As the Security Council’s possession of the Iranian nuclear crisis spills into its third week without unanimity, China and Russia proclaimed that they remain united in the two countries’ approach to resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis. Vladmir Putin had been in China for talks since early in the week. Said China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, “Under current circumstances, Russia’s proposal is a helpful way to break the impasse. We call on all parties concerned to step up their negotiations and demonstrate flexibility.”

The Chinese and the Russians state that they do not want any action from the security council on Iran, fearing that any firm UNSC action would result in Iran completely abandoning IAEA contact. Wang Guangya, China’s UN ambassador, seemed to reaffirm this message of non-action in New York when he said, “From the beginning I proposed that if the Security Council is to support IAEA authority, it is to have a brief political statement. Support the IAEA, call on Iranians to cooperate, then put some pressure.”

This is a curious statement, though not new by any means. The IAEA’s authority is derived from its acceptance by other nations and the enforcement mechanism embodied only by UN Security Council measures. It has been clearly demonstrated that Iran has no confidence in the IAEA nor desire to cooperate with them. Any proclamation of any other nations in ”support IAEA authority” rings hollow to the most important nation to recognize such, Iran. To stand tall and announce support for an IAEA that was powerless to affect Iranian outcomes previously without providing concrete Security Council enforcement is self-defeating and cyclical.

In light of the current stalemate on China and Russia’s differing approaches, Britain and France are considering changing strategies, in what seems the first hint of acknowledgment of a Security Council impasse.

The Europeans, with American support, are thinking about forcing a Security Council vote, forcing not only China and Russia, but all 15 nations on the council, to put their money where their mouths are. The consideration is to potentially move from a UN Security Council presidential statement, which is stronger and requires unanimity among the 15 members, and change to a Security Council resolution, which simply requires a majority vote without veto but carries less weight.

The French Ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere still publicly holds out hope of a vote of unanimity, saying yesterday, “That’s my assessment. It is still possible.” Privately, however, he surely harbors more doubt than optimism.

Any measure from the Security Council with unanimous support will be watered down to the point of ineffectiveness. That was always believed to be so. It had only been the public proclamations of optimism from unexpected sources that had raised hopes, such as that from US Ambassador John Bolton, not known to mince words for public consumption.

But that optimism seems to be waning and words to that effect are no longer being heard from Bolton. Instead, heard is the talk of forcing a vote, changing from a ‘statement’ to a ‘resolution’ and from unanimity to majority.

March 21, 2006

Ahmadinejad Demands West’s Apology

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad demanded an apology from the West over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, saying, “Today they tell our nation that nuclear energy is a bad thing and it is not necessary for our people to have it. But the nation of Iran has stood. Those who head war and crimes accused the Iranian nation of war seeking. They insulted our nation. I do advise them to apologize.”

But the apology was not as forthcoming as he may have hoped as Britain also ‘stood’ on its position of a 14-day Iranian ultimatum from the UN Security Council. Monday’s session of talks ended without agreement, however, though many, including US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, remain more optimistic than ever that a firm resolution will be passed post-wrangling.

According to a report by London’s Telegraph, a Western diplomat said that the ”vast majority of Security Council members are ready to act. Russia and China are not signed up yet, but they have given pretty strong signals that they will.”

It would be interesting to hear how much of the private conversations between Putin and the Chinese revolved around alternative short-term energy needs in their meetings held Monday in China. Perhaps. Perhaps not. But if either or both will agree to (or not obstruct) UN action towards Iran, this surely must be in the cards. Russia is more likely to support the majority of the Security Council on Iran. China relies heavily on Iranian oil imports and would necessarily need to make some adjustments in such an event, at least in the near term.

Also not very reassuring for Ahmadinejad was President Bush’s terse warning to Iran over its long-stated foreign policy aim of the destruction of Israel. “I see a threat in Iran. The threat is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel. I’ve made it clear and I’ll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally Israel,” President Bush declared.

Undeterred, Iran is set to step up its uranium enrichment by activating a 164-centrifuge cascade, virtually daring the Security Council members and the American president to act.

One underlying reason that may have prompted President Bush to use the language he did and specifically address the Iranian threat to Israel is the recent ratcheting of both rhetoric and reinforcement currently underway by Hezbollah along the Lebanon-Israel border. Last week, Kofi Annan even called Syria’s Assad regarding the Hezbollah buildup on the border and Israel remains on high alert to the north. Both Syria and Hezbollah are Iranian clients, the latter an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps creation in the early 1980’s. Iran’s tentacles of terror in the form of cash, arms and training encircle Israel. Hezbollah, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Islamic Jihad are openly coordinating and planning attacks on Israel.

Meanwhile, on Monday Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed to free all of its prisoners and land from Israel, warning that no matter how vigilant they may be, that Hezbollah will attack. He declared , “This enemy must understand that in Lebanon there is a resistance that cannot leave its detainees in jails, forget its occupied land and be patient with assaults and violations.”

Couple that with the obligation brought about by Hamas’ dependence on Iranian funds to fuel their governance of what’s left of the Palestinian Authority and the picture comes undeniably into focus for even the casual observer.

Less and less are these groups seen as mere proxies for Iran. With increasing clarity, these groups are de facto arms of Iranian foreign policy, by obligation or by desire. And Iran’s foreign policy objectives are neither subtle nor obscure.

Because of this collision velocity, the Iranian crisis and the Arab-Israeli crisis, once covered as separate but related tracks in this space, will in the coming weeks increasingly intertwine nearly indistinguishable by the force of their own inertia.

March 20, 2006

Security Council Slow but Progressing on Iran

If there has been anything encouraging regarding the Iranian nuclear crisis in the past weeks and months, it was that US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, ended last week confident that the UN Security Council would find a way to ‘send a strong message to Iran’. From another source, including the American Secretary of State and President, this would be expected diplo-speak. But the American Ambassador to the United Nations is not prone to use diplo-speak. So when he says such a thing, it carries far more weight than from another source.

The Security Council formally took up the Iranian dossier and indeed ended the Friday session with no tangible gains. But, as foretold by Bolton, progress was indeed afoot. Today, after a weekend of informal discussions and coffee table wrangling, six of the 15 members of the Security Council are meeting outside the confines of the UN body to hammer out some form of agreement worked around the framework of the British-French proposal. The proposal originally set forth a 14-day window for Iran to come into full compliance with IAEA demands, including a halt to all enrichment operations. Left unspecified were specific consequences. Russia and China originally balked at the idea, but that there has been no vociferous opposition since the initial response coupled with a quiet weekend and today’s outside talks are signs that Bolton’s sense of UNSC resolve may have been well founded.

Ambassador Emyr Jones Perry of Britain said on Friday, “I think that we are very close to agreement, at least for the overwhelming majority of the council members.” That despite Russian objections.

Tehran was working at a fevered pitch to gather Arab allies, shoring up old relationships and offering favorable trade, tourism and other relations to seemingly any and all Arab states who would throw their lot with Iran on the nuclear issue. From Syria to Tunisia to Egypt, Iran rubbed elbows and traded smiles with all who would entertain them.

But some states remained unimpressed, most notably the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. The UAE disputes the Iranian possession of several Persian Gulf islands – islands that could become pivotal in a security crisis – and Jordan’s King Abdullah warned of an encroaching Iran. Said Jordan’s pragmatic King Abdullah, “My concern is political, not religious — revolving around Iran, Iran’s political involvement inside Iraq, its relation with Syria and Hezbollah and the strengthening of this political-strategic alliance. This would create a scenario where you have these four — Iran, Iran-influenced Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah — [with] a strategic objective that could create a major conflict.”

Meanwhile, General George Casey said that he did not harbor much confidence in the coming American-Iranian talks regarding Iraq. He noted, “They’re playing, I think, a very delicate balancing act. On the one hand, they want a stable neighbor. On the other hand, I don’t believe they want to see us succeed here.” Demonstrating his doubts, he said that the Iranian influx of IEDs and other weapons and fighters simply has to stop.

Regardless, to the degree that the world remains polarized regarding the Iranian crisis, many of those supporting Iran do so clearly and simply out of distaste for anything American, especially the current sitting president. In Tehran, a religious scholar denounced President Bush for his aggression against Iran and the Arab world and called the Iran-US conflict a war between good and evil. He was a ‘researcher and writer on theological topics’…from Spain.

March 19, 2006

Released Iraqi Mukhabarat Notes Translated

With the recent release of FMSO DOC-EX Operation Iraqi Freedom Documents, much remains in Arabic. One such document titled the Iraqi Intelligence Service (Mukhabarat) document is an English printout of an FAS look at Iraq’s Mukhabarat.

It contains hand written notes in Arabic, including a written cover page and several hand written notes, most of which are simply translations of the written English text. What is interesting is the interest in monitoring the internet, including the FAS site, which is following the Mukhabarat. This was provided by the FSMO without translation of the Iraqi notes.

Below, thank you to a valued Arabic speaking ThreatsWatch reader, is an English translation of the hand-written Iraqi Mukhabarat cover page and two of the notes written that obtain something other than a direct translation of the FAS’ English text.

Formations of the Intelligence Apparatus on the Internet.

You will find below some relevant information about the Intelligence published on the internet. It is clear that the information is somewhat old, but nevertheless it contains some important and accurate details and it lists names such as the following:

  • 1- The late RAFI’ Daham (deceased)
  • 2- Mr. Mana’ Abdul Rashid
  • 3- Mr. Iad al-Douri - Crossed out
  • 4- Muthanna al-Takriti (a relative of No. 2 above according to the report)
  • 5- General Abdul Aziz al-Kurkhan
  • 6- Mohamad Yassin Al-Shamri from Mosul
  • 7- Dr. Mohamad Al-masri - Director of Directorate No.8
  • 8- General Abdul Hamid Khalaf al-Bayati - Director of Directorate no. 9
  • 9- Colonel Hussein Abdul Khaliq al-Douri
  • 10- Saadoun Ali al-Takriti from Alouja
  • 11- Ahmad al-Dulaimi
  • 12- General Abdul Hamid Yassin al-Ghorairi from al-Haditha
  • 13- Ibrahim Al-Ani
  • 14- Saadoun Mohamad al-Mashhadani (almash-hadani)
  • 15- Colonel Kamel Qirtas al-Janabi
  • 16- Mohamad al-Douri / Abu Nihad
  • 17- Subhi Ibrahim al-Jabouri from Biji
  • 18- Sayyid Ihsan - (about the Iranian Group Mojahideen al-Khalq) i.e. fighters on behalf of the Iranian people.
  • 19- Jamal Omar al-Rawi

I would suggest that the internet is monitored, as this is important for selecting suitable operatives to work abroad in future.

(signed) Abu Muhannad
(signature name not clear)
End of translation of main page.

Scribbles on other pages:

Most entries are merely Arabic translation: FAS text just the same in Arabic.

Below Directorate 14, Page 7 of 8 (pdf):
“Responsible for training at Salman Pak and is responsible for the attempted assassination of Bush and the killing of Taleb al-Suhail.”

Below last entry on Page 8 of 8 (pdf):
“The information is considered out of date and updated 97-11-26.”

End of translation.

The Iraqi Mukhabarat thought the FAS analysis accurate enough to warrant a monitoring of the internet. It denied nothing contained within beyond stating that it was outdated.

UPDATE: Power Line has added context and properly notes Salman Pak, while concluding: While it would be a mistake to put too much weight on any single document, the Mukhabarat’s seeming endorsement of FAS’s description of its activities would appear to confirm, among other things, Iraq’s production of poisons for use in “covert offensive operations,” and its training of terrorists for “clandestine operations abroad.”

NOTE: Our translator noted an error in our transcription, which now reflects appropriately. From the translator: “The signature which is not clear at the end of the list of the 19 names is Abu Muhannad (nn) not Abu Muhammad as you published. There is a difference.”

March 17, 2006

Operation Swarmer and Sudden Iran-US Talks on Iraq: Connection?

Yesterday, two major unexpected events took place: Operation Swarmer commenced to clear the Samarra area of insurgents and terrorists in the largest single operation since early in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and just as suddenly, Iran asked for and the United States agreed to face-to-face talks on the situation in Iraq.

But of far greater importance could be the potential that the American/Iraqi operation and the sudden Iranian calls for talks may not be merely coincidental in timing, but quite possibly directly related.

One potentially revealing quote came from Iraqi presidential security adviser Lt. Gen. Wafiq al-Samaraei, who said the operation was targeting “a bunch of strange criminals who came from outside the county [sic] and among them a bunch of Iraqi criminals who help them.”

American and British officials have long stated that Iran has maintained far-reaching tentacles into Iraq, injecting money, munitions, manpower and malicious intent.

“Tehran’s intention to inflict pain on the United States and Iraq has been constrained by its caution to avoid giving Washington an excuse to attack it,” said John Negroponte, director of national intelligence during a Senate hearing.

In the latest proof of Iran ‘inflicting pain’ with attacks on US military personnel came in the form of milled and shaped copper IEDs. They were not captured from a warehouse and presumed from Iran. They were captured in transit crossing the Iran-Iraq border headed into Iraq.

Iran’s activities in Iraq have been reported by various media outlets as well, as noted by Dan Darling in his October 2005 Weekly Standard column on Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps General Qassem Suleimani and his Qods Force.

The Anti-American activities of Qods Force aren’t simply limited to protecting the al Qaeda leadership. According to a report in Time, as early as September 2002 Ali Khamenei placed General Suleimani in charge of organizing various Iraqi groups as part of an Iranian plan to dominate the country following Saddam’s removal. Among these targeted groups were the Badr Brigades military wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI is now a key member of the Iraqi ruling coalition), the Mujahideen for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (MIRI), Thar-Allah, and Iran’s favorite proxy, the Lebanese Hezbollah. […]

As reported by the London Arabic newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat, al-Sadr visited Iran in late 2003 and met with General Suleimani. At the onset of al-Sadr’s uprising, the paper reported that Qods Force had set up training camps at Qasr Shireen, Ilam, and Hamid in southern Iran along the Iraqi border to train the radical cleric’s Mahdi Army and financed his campaign to the tune of $80,000,000.

Fast forward to this past month and the implications remain. Consider the direct words from Donald Rumsfeld barely one week ago regarding Iran’s operations in Iraq. “They [Iran] are currently putting people into Iraq to do things that are harmful to the future of Iraq. We know it, and it is something that they… will look back on as having been an error in judgment.”

Does the sudden Iranian call for talks with US on the same day of an operation aimed at Iraqi and foreign fighters in eastern Iraq point to an Iranian recognition of the ‘error in judgment’ that Secretary Rumsfeld spoke to?

Rumsfeld characteristically leaves very little room for nuanced interpretation. But he continued when pressed by questions. Consider the following response from Secretary Rumsfeld:

Asked whether the alleged insertion of Iranian forces into Iraq was backed by the central government in Tehran, Mr Rumsfeld said: “Of course, the Qods force does not go milling around willy-nilly, one would think.”

Regarding Operation Swarmer, it is somewhat curious how little information is being made available. Considering that it is the largest operation since the invasion, it is at least curious that the same series of still photographs were used by nearly every media report concerning the operation, even many hours into the operations. While no operation is intently and actively telegraphed (willingly), Operation Swarmer has the feel of a relatively tightly sealed operation regarding the flow of information.

This morning, The Telegraph reports that, as Operation Swarmer continues, around 48 people have been detained as of the time of their writing. A quote from the deputy governor of the province of Salaheddin, Abdallah Hussein is very interesting:

“The rebels in the area are a mix of local nationals and foreign fighters,” he said. “We have their voices recorded along with their names and pictures.”

Again, foreign fighters. One wonders how many of the recordings might possibly be voices speaking Farsi.

It is unlikely that Operation Swarmer (as well as the American and Iraqi pressure its design represents) and the sudden call from Iran to hold discussions on Iraq are unrelated. Early yesterday, Iran’s call appeared to be a way for Iran to maneuver into direct talks regarding their clandestine nuclear weapons program and UN sanctions. Upon closer inspection, that conclusion, while convenient and plausible, seems to differ from the reality on the ground.

March 16, 2006

US Willing to Talk with Iran on Iraq

The White House said today that the United States is willing to talk with Iran about Iraq, but will not allow any such talks to spill over into Iran’s nuclear confrontation with the West. US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, an American of Afghani birth, will most likely be the point man in any such talks.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that “this is a very narrow mandate dealing specifically with issues relating to Iraq,” and will not be allowed to transition into any nuclear discussions in parallel with IAEA and UN Security Council efforts.

The talks were originally called for yesterday by SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz Al Hakim. The Iraqi SCIRI has long had deep Iranian influence and support. For a quick look at it’s history, see the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin’s Dossier: The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (October 2003)

SCIRI was not a political success during the reign of Saddam Hussein. The Baathist regime’s security apparatus was effective in containing its influence inside the country. Moreover, SCIRI’s association with Iran damaged its credibility among non-Shiites in Iraq and undermined its legitimacy within the Shiite community. Charges that SCIRI is little more than an Iranian quisling are misleading, however - the Supreme Council and the Islamic Republic developed a strong relationship based on mutual influence. Many SCIRI leaders are of Iranian origin and some became so influential within the Islamic Republic that they assumed official positions in its government. Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, who briefly preceded Hakim as chairman of SCIRI , is now the head of Iran’s judiciary.

Under the tutelage of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), SCIRI established a military wing in 1983, called the Badr Brigade. This force quickly grew into a full-fledged corps and joined regular IRGC forces on the front lines during the Iran-Iraq war. The relationship with the IRCG has persisted and deepened over the past two decades. The main Badr Corps training center, located just west of the Vahdati air force base in Dezful, and most of its other facilities in Western Iran and Tehran are IRGC property. The Badr Corps is believed to have between 10,000-15,000 fighters, though only around 3,000 are professionally trained (many of these being Iraqi army defectors and former POWs).

The United States and Britain have long accused Iran of direct armed involvement in Iraq, including but not limited to Iranian IEDs in Iraq, thousands of the Iranian Qods Force infiltrating southern Iraq. The latter is supported by the words of a recent Iranian defector and former IRGC officer.

“The scale and breadth of Qods Force operations in Iraq are far beyond what we did even during the war with Saddam”, the officer said, referring to the IRGC’s extensive activities in Iraq during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. “Vast areas of Iraq are under the virtual control of the Qods Force through its Iraqi surrogates. It uses a vast array of charities, companies and other fronts to conduct its activities across Iraq”.

“We would send our officers into Iraq to operate for months under the cover of a construction company”, he said. “Kawthar Company operated in Najaf last year to carry out construction work in the area around Imam Ali Shrine, but it was in fact a front company for the Qods Force. Qods officers, disguised as company employees, established contacts with Iraqi operatives and organised underground cells in southern Iraq”.

All things considered, if the United States is going to engage in any direct talks with the Iranians, that Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad will be at the epicenter is very reassuring. American interests with regards to Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan could lie in no more capable hands. Any other point man would be cause for concern.

Iran Seeks Direct Talks with US on Iraq in Quest for More Time

Yesterday’s call for meetings between Iran and the United States over Iraq raised eyebrows, coming from Iran’s staunch ally in Iraq and leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Abdul Aziz Al Hakim. Hakim said, “We want the wise Iranian leadership to open a clear dialogue with America regarding Iraq and reach an understanding on disputed issues in Iraq, a dialogue for the benefit of the Iraqi people.” Iran and the United States have not had formal talks since the 1979 revolution and takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran.

This should be considered with Iran’s other ‘Man in Iraq’, Muqtada al-Sadr. al-Sadr recently pledged that he and his Mahdi Army are ‘at the service’ of Iran, which is but a piece of the encroaching regional hegemony of the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism.

In Act Two of the Iranian diplomatic ballet, today Iran called for the direct dialogue with the US in what could be considered the most public ‘closed door’ parliamentary meeting ever as news of the move splashes the screens and pages of news organizations throughout the world today. Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told the ‘closed door’ meeting of Iran’s Mejlis (parliament), “To resolve Iraqi issues and help establishment of an independent and free government in Iraq, we agree to (talks with the United States).”

But to understand today’s moves, it must be acknowledged that Larijani is agreeing to a call made only by Tehran’s own man in Iraq, SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz Al Hakim. The US has made no such offer or suggestion.

In fact, Iran has desired for some time to engage the US in direct talks on its clandestine nuclear program, which Washington has rejected, preferring to follow IAEA and UN Security Council joint procedures. Larijani, who functions as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, is attempting to lure the United States into direct talks on the nuclear crisis by first floating the idea of talks on Iraq through al-Hakim. Iran believes they will be able to parlay that into talks on their nuclear program if the US, who along with Britain accuses Iran of sending men and munitions into Iraq to do battle with the Coalition forces, can be brought to the table on Iraq.

It is at least curious, coming from an Iran who denies involvement in Iraq. But, again, the talks on Iraq are not the aim. Rather, a whole new round of talks on the nuclear issue – and specifically a whole new timetable – is the true Iranian ambition.

As the overtures are made by al-Hakim and Iran, President Bush is set to release a revised National Security Strategy report recently completed, which reaffirms the 2002 National Security Strategy (pdf) that marked what is known as ‘The Bush Doctrine’ of a forward-leaning and aggressive prosecution of the War on Terror, including the policy of pre-emptive strikes. The revised National Security Strategy report puts Iran as the top priority, declaring “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran.”

The new document speaks directly in raffirming pre-emption as a part of the National Security Strategy.

“If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self-defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. … When the consequences of an attack with weapons of mass destruction are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize. … The place of pre-emption in our national security strategy remains the same.”

While in Australia, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke optimistically of the prospects of the UN Security Council taking firm action on Iran. Whether she truly harbors the confidence she speaks publicly of is questionable at best. But, what is important to garner from her words is much less her degree of faith in the UN Security Council’s eventual results but rather the American intent to let the UN/IAEA process run it’s course. Direct talks with Iran while that process is ongoing are very, very unlikely.

In describing Iran, Secretary of State Rice called Iran the “central banker of terrorism”, and this is at the core of the conflict with Iran, not simply their pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran’s tentacles of terrorism reach from Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, to Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the Palestinian Territories and, lest it be forgotten, their continued harboring of al-Qaeda leadership within their own borders.

In 2001, President Bush said to the nations of the world, “You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists,” as he challenged the nations of the world with much clarity and no nuance to decide their position. There is no other nation whose decision is clearer than Iran.

It is not the weapons, nuclear or otherwise. It is the regime that deliberately seeks to usher the return of the 12th Imam with their messianic quest to pave the way by creating turmoil and horror throughout the region and the world. Before the West fears the prospect of a nuclear Iran, it should first acknowledge and fear their aims, pursued with deep religious conviction and without fear of death. The West is not dealing with the rational thought we ourselves employ.

March 15, 2006

The Iranian Strategy: No News is Good News

The headline reads “Iran, Russia Reach Nuclear Agreement, says Asefi”. This prompts a rapid and curious closer look at the article put forth by Iran’s state-run media, the Islamic Republic News Agency, with much curiosity about which parts of the Russian Proposal on uranium enrichment have been tweaked. Answer: None.

The agreement announced by Asefi had nothing to do with any nuclear fuel cycle and everything to do with rhetorical approach. What they agreed to is that, since the matter has left the IAEA and now sits atop the Security Council’s ‘To Do List’, the Iranian Nuclear Crisis “should be settled within the framework of the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA.

The problem is that the ‘watchdog’ has no teeth. The cooperation the IAEA receives from any nation is based upon a combination of general agreement in nuclear standards and practices and perception of consequences. Those consequences, firmly within the framework of the IAEA, come in the form of handing off dossiers irresolvable by the IAEA, powerless in enforcement on its own, to the UN Security Council for remediation. This is where we are right now.

Yet, Iran has demonstrated no general agreement in nuclear practices and continues to demonstrate their perception that Security Council consequences will be nill to weak, at best.

What this agreement essentially says is, now that the Security Council – who formally requested that the IAEA refer the case to them – has the case, it should be unceremoniously sent right back down for the IAEA to resolve. That the IAEA, lacking any real internal enforcement mechanism(s), could not resolve the matter is of little apparent concern.

This is not a ‘nuclear agreement’. Or is it?

Continuing with the failed IAEA attempts to gain cooperation and compliance is, in the eyes of the Iranian regime, clearly a nuclear agreement. For, the Iranian nuclear program continued to proceed throughout IAEA presence and international negotiations, inconvenience notwithstanding. For Iran, no action is action and no news is good news. If the matter is simply kicked back to the IAEA, ‘strongly worded statement’ or not, it’s back to business as usual and progress as expected.

But the British and the French have put forth a forceful proposal to the UNSC demanding that Iran have 14 days to halt uranium work and come into full compliance with the IAEA demands. Clearly, China and Russia are vehemently opposed to any such time constraints and language, including the text “to re-establish full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development” and a request for Iran to ‘reconsider’ the building of the Arak heavy water plant, crucial to plutonium production.

While the plan has some time flexibility built in, it is expected that Britain would insist on an agreement to tangible consequences via targeted sanctions for failure to abide. Any proposal with such teeth will surely never pass muster among all members of the Security Council.

On targeted sanctions, the US House of Representatives International Relations Committee voted 37-3 to put forth a measure expanding existing sanctions on Iran, including extending them to include blocking aid to any country extending assistance to the Iranian energy sector, which clearly includes both China and Russia, permanent members of the UN Security Council and currently opposing any measures against Iran.

Both President Bush and the State Department took issue with the measure, calling it too sweeping and counterproductive. State Department legislative affairs chief, Jeffrey Bergner, in a letter to the House Speaker said that such a move would “create tensions with countries whose help we need in dealing with Iran and shift the focus away from Iran’s actions and spotlight differences between us and our allies.” While it is important that the legislative representatives take the Iranian nuclear threat seriously, as clearly this vote indicates, this specific approach may likely be a measure that could be summed up as ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’.

In Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insists that pressures on Iran aim only to divert attention from the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. He said that this will never happen and that Iran will never lose focus on the Palestinian issue, adding, “All Iranian people and world free nations declare their hatred of the criminal acts of the US and Zionists by chanting slogans of `Death to the US’ and `Death to Israel’.”

With support for the mullahs’ nuclear weapons sprint increasingly questioned by both the Mejlis (parliament) and everyday citizens, this rallying call focusing on a more unifying cause is to be expected. The Iranian regime may not perceive any Security Council sanctions as likely, but it increasingly makes Iranian citizens nervous. This is a good thing.

Unfortunately, while Iran is determined to resist any pressure from the Security Council over its nuclear program, it is becoming clear that little real pressure on the Iranian regime from that body exists, real or perceived.

March 14, 2006

Hezbollah, al-Aqsa and Islamic Jihad Coordinating Attacks

With the Jewish holiday of Purim underway, Israel fears and Palestinian terrorist groups warn of attacks on civilians during their celebrations. As al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades relies heavily on suicide bombers, Qassam rockets and mortar fire into Israeli towns, Zakariya Zubeidi, al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades’ Jenin leader, said recently that the Palestinian terrorists have ‘a few surprises’ in store for the Israelis. One of those surprises may have been a bold new tactic of planting roadside bombs in advance on Israeli streets where Israelis gather to celebrate Purim.

Aaron Klein adds detail to reports that two teenage Palestinian would-be bombers were arrested at an Israeli checkpoint. They were not suicide bombers. In their car, they had 45 pounds of explosives meant to be planted along streets and detonated during the crowded Purim celebrations. The IED roadside bombings strategy’s success in Iraq is being parlayed now by terrorists groups, including a sharp rise in Afghanistan and now an attempt at employing the tactic against Israel. The key unique challenge to Palestinian terrorists is physically getting to the point of attack through heavy Israeli border security.

AbbasZubeidiZakariya Zubeidi, a man not without Israeli friends, is a young and powerful Palestinian terrorist leader who once kept Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waiting outside the gates of Jenin in order to prove as much. While al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is a wing of Fatah, power struggles are endless and ideologies far from monolithic. Vital Perspective has translated an interview of Zubeidi that appeared recently in the German publication, Welt am Sonntag. In the article, it is noted that, when Zubeidi finally carried Abbas into town on his own shoulders, the crowd chanted “Zubeidi, Zubeidi, Zubeidi!”, not Abbas’ name (Abu Mazen). ”Mahmoud Abbas got the message.” (Another interesting look at Zubeidi can be found at al-Ahram Weekly.)

It has been noted by many that, while Hamas remains in power, the burden of Israeli attacks will shift squarely to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Zubeidi confirmed this point blank, saying, “Hamas will not carry out military operations in Israel during the next weeks and months. We, the Brigades and Jihad, will take over this role.” He also noted his plans to tighten the alliance between the long-time Iranian-backed PIJ and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and proclaimed that, contrary to recent statements denying such, al-Aqsa is receiving material support from Iran via arms, money and training from Hezbollah. The denial may have come from the PIJ, but can there be any doubt that, if al-Aqsa is receiving training, money, and arms from Iran’s Hezbollah, that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad most certainly is? In fact, Zubeidi went so far as to confirm that al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades coordinates terror operations with Hezbollah. “Without the help of our brothers in Hezbollah we could not have continued our struggle. They give us money and weapons. We coordinate our military operations.”

Israeli Intelligence says that Iran is urging the Palestinian Islamic Jihad to increase attacks on Israel in the run-up to the March 28 elections. It also claims Hezbollah is planning attacks and announced a state of alert along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

ZubeidiIsraeli towns, especially Ashkelon just north of the Gaza Strip and towns in the Negev to the east of Gaza, are under fire from Palestinian rockets and mortars on a daily basis. This goes largely unrecognized. Meanwhile, as Israeli forces storm a Jericho prison in an attempt to secure the murderer of an Israeli minister before security at the prison erodes further, more violent Palestinian demonstrations are afoot.

Add to the existing threat the specter of potential al-Qaeda involvement and escalation, and the scope and sheer scale of attacks on Israelis may be set to increase exponentially.

With both the Purim celebrations ongoing through Wednesday and the coming Israeli elections in two weeks, the probability for major attacks on Israelis is high. From the same interview, Zakariya Zubeidi pointed to prepared suicide vests and declared his intention to ”do everything in my power to bomb Netanyahu to victory,” preferring Netanyahu’s direct, confrontational style to that of Olmert or his predecessor, Ariel Sharon. Unquiet days lie ahead.

Russia and China Refuse Strong Statement on Iran

With the Iranian nuclear dossier now firmly in the hands of a convened United Nations Security Council, the Council displayed on Monday that its hands are far from firm. Surprising no one, the first day of discussion ended with Russia and China refusing to agree to a strongly worded statement to Iran, much less sanctions, on its largely clandestine nuclear program. Wang Guangya, China’s Ambassador, said, “I think that we want a constructive statement. I think they (US, France & Germany) want to be too tough.” A constructive statement by this definition would fall short of any sanctions and direct language challenging Iran to abandon the enrichment process.

Yet, seemingly contradicting the Russian refusal at the UN Security Council deliberations, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blasted Iran’s behavior during the negotiations process, stating bluntly, “Iran is absolutely no help to those who want to find peaceful ways to solve this problem.”

To the optimist, Russia’s actions at the Security Council Monday appear to be those of an economically depressed country trying desperately to find a way to not impose sanctions on a major trading partner, frustrated and surely growing short of patience.

To the pessimist, however, it is yet another tangible byproduct of the Sino-Russian quasi pact and further evidence that the UN is too polarized and ineffective to achieve the meaningful resolutions it was founded to facilitate. The pessimist also notes that Iran will begin building their own nuclear plants within three to six months, fully independent of foreign assistance.

Meanwhile, the on-again-off-again talks between Iran and Russia are apparently on again. Within the same day, a spokesman for Iran’s foreign minstry, Hamid Reza Asefi, declared once more that any Russian proposal that does not include enrichment in Iran is dead. Yet, within twenty-four hours of that statement, talks of the same are on again, albeit behind closed doors and unconfirmed by either side.

Regarding the back and forth nature of Iranian statements and actions, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said, “It shouldn’t come as any surprise to anybody that the Iranians would love to talk further. They’ve loved talking for the last four years and they’ll talk for as long as they can as they master the technical difficulties they’ve encountered in the uranium enrichment process.”

Possibly, the talks could be including discussions of an international consortium of sorts running Iran’s facilities on Iranian soil for them. Mansoor Ijaz discussed this as a middle ground solution Monday as one of four approaches to dealing with Iran highlighted by the Christian Science Monitor. [For an excellent look at some of the particulars of the consortium approach, both strengths and potential weaknesses, read The Arms Control Wonk here and here and be sure to read the comments.]

The consortium approach would indeed test the Iranians’ sincerity in their claims to only want nuclear power. However, perhaps not. Though reverse engineering of the advanced centrifuges in any such plant(s) by Iranians (flatly described as ‘non-trivial information’ in an excellent comment at Arms Control Wonk) and the very real possibility that the Iranians could just boot everyone and commandeer the facility(s) alone are mentioned, it must also be considered that this addresses only the known Iranian facilities. This is the greatest weakness in the consortium approach. To deny that there is, to some level, a parallel clandestine nuclear program is unwise and naive. A consortium addresses none of this.

What is not known is more troubling than what is known regarding their nuclear program.

And this brings the issue back to Iran’s oft repeated right to nuclear technology. No one begrudges Iran nuclear power. Further, the world would probably not fall out of its collective chair if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon…except for the regime that would control it.

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday, “There will be no peace and tranquility in the region as long as the Zionist regime continues to exist.” He later added regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue, “If we insist on our right stances and act properly, all the relations and equations will change.”

At first glance, that seems to take the sting off his original sentence. However, considering Iran’s ‘right stances’ include funding and arming Hezbollah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and Hamas, the sting remains.

Iran is the puppet master for international terrorism. This is where the problem lies, not with nuclear power or even necessarily nuclear weapons, per se. Rather, it is the nature of the regime, its disposition and its bloodlust to eliminate Israel, primarily by pulling the strings that keep the fight going.

March 12, 2006

Secret No More: Iran’s Underground Command Complex in Tehran

Iran has completed in secrecy an underground command center in north central Tehran, not far from Iranian governmental buildings nor, ironically, far from many foreign embassies. [Red stars on the map indicate embassies to the west of the Mosalla prayer grounds.] The underground bunker complex was revealed by the same group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), that originally exposed Iran’s secret nuclear facilities in 2002.

Map of TehranLocated near the huge Mosalla prayer grounds, a system of tunnels connects the complex to several Iranian government buildings, it was reported. In the vicinity are the offices of the state security forces, the energy department and the Organization of Islamic Culture and Communications. Likely built to withstand a confrontation with the West over its nuclear program, this is another example of the deceptive nature of Iran, which began long before their admitted deception of the EU-3 negotiators in the negotiations over the past three years. Ahmadinejad and the Iranian regime have been preparing the Iranian people for conflict and attempting to link their nuclear program to a sense of nationalistic pride. The attempt has possibly not been as successful as hoped, as there appear those who question whether conflict and suffering are worth it.

On Saturday, Iran claimed the US had offered peace talks through the United States’ Ambassador to Iraq, Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad. An Iranian official showed a letter in Farsi that bore a signature claimed to be that of Dr. Khalilzad. But the US Embassy said in a statement that, while Ambassador Khalilzad has the authority to talk to the Iranians, no letter of any type has been sent to the Iranians. If the Iranians had indeed received a letter offering talks from the Ambassador, surely there would have been a large-scale press conference held to show the falseness of the recent rhetoric aimed at Tehran from Washington. The relative quietness of the event suggests otherwise.

For Israel’s part, always at the epicenter of all-things-Iran, Former Israeli Army Chief of Staff, Moshe Ya’alon, said that Israel definitely had the capability of a pre-emptive strike on the Iranian facilities and that their attacks are not limited to airstrikes, a reminder of Israel’s submarine-launched strike capabilities. Israel is not convinced that it will not have to take matters into their own hands. A “senior Israeli Defense Ministry official” said to The Jerusalem Post that America is not doing enough to stop the Iranian nuclear threat.

“America needs to get its act together,” the official said. “Until now the US administration has just been talking tough but the time has come for the Americans to begin to take tough action.”

In Washington, President Bush warned Iran and Syria about their meddling in Iraq. It is open knowledge that Iran has sent thousands into the south of Iraq and continues to send advanced IED’s through the northern border into Iraq. But should there come an open conflict between the United States and Iraq, the level of Iranian carnage within Iraq will see a sharp increase as Iran’s chosen battlefield for confrontation with America.

But Iran will not be at liberty to choose the battlefield of choice for the American forces, which will include all known nuclear facilities and, now, their underground command bunker complex in the heart of Tehran.

March 10, 2006

US Demands Weapons Return From Bolivia

The United States is demanding the return of weapons supplied to support an elite Bolivian counterterrorism force who, since the election of Evo Morales as president, have had their leadership purged and replaced with those aligned with the new leftist militant president. The Bolivian CT unit has been trained by elements of the Navy Seals and Delta Force and the weapons wanted back include “high-powered sniper rifles with laser target finders, night-vision goggles, electronic-surveillance devices and communications sets used for encrypted or coded transmissions.” Morales has ordered his men not to return the equipment and Col. Daniel Barreto informed them that he was heading to the base to recover the weapons. A showdown here is developing.

Evo Morales has also personally filed treason charges against his predecessor, former interim President Eduardo Rodriguez, for obsolete Chinese missiles that ended up in the United States. In an operation before Morales was elected, the CIA, with cooperation of some in the previous government, snared 38 of Bolivia’s Chinese-made HN-5 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. Former President Rodriguez has said that he was unaware of their ‘shipment’ to the United States. Formally, the charges against the former president are ‘spying, falsifying documents and subjecting the country to foreign control.’

The missiles were reportedly due to be destroyed, according to the Washington Post article. However, Bill Gertz reported in late February that both the US and the leaders of the Bolivian CT team feared that they would fall into the hands of terrorists aligned with Evo Morales and his leftist movement if they won the election, which Morales did in December. Interestingly, the Chinese have offered to replace the confiscated ManPAD SAMs, surely with a newer, more capable version of the Chinese copy of the Soviet SA-7.

Chinese influence continues to increase in South America as the continent’s countries race farther and farther to the left with leaders like Venezuela’s Higo Chavez, Argentina’s President Nestor Kirchner, and now Bolivia’s Evo Morales, all of whom rub elbows affectionately with Fidel Castro. Add to the mix the ever-increasing overtures also made to them by leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and it becomes clear that South America is becoming a strong bastion of anti-American governments.

Not surprisingly, Morales’ government is seeking to get coca removed from international toxic substance lists. While Evo Morales was widely reported as a simple grassroots coca farmer, in America we tend to call such powerful men in coca production drug lords. Just last week, after touting the nutritional value of coca leaves for their high calcium and phosphorus content (among other things), Morales’ own Foreign Minister, David Choquehuanca, said that they were so healthy that “Possibly, instead of giving milk in our school breakfasts, we need to give coca leaves to our children.”

Unlike Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales was elected in an election that was seen as open and fair, as Bolivia’s anti-Americanism has grown quite strong among the grassroots. But, while critics point to the American demand for weapons return as hypocritical to the American support for democracy, critics could not be farther from the truth.

Just as is the case in the Palestinians’ free choice to elect the terrorist group Hamas to positions of governmental leadership, those elsewhere who freely choose poor leadership in the form of drug lords and/or terrorists will simply have to live with the consequences. No nation is obligated to continue any form of support when the substance of such support must first pass through the hands of such men.

With freedom comes equal measure of responsibility. Hamas and Morales were not responsible choices. America is not bound to support the mechanisms of their rule, freely chosen or otherwise.

March 8, 2006

Russia Opposes Consequences for Iran

As the IAEA made it official and formally referred Iran’s nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council, Russia restated its opposition to any consequences for Iran in its deceptive and defiant nuclear sprint.

First, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed that Russia opposed any form of sanctions against Iran, saying, “I don’t think sanctions as a means to solve a crisis have ever achieved a goal in the recent history, so … we must rely on the professional advice of the IAEA, the watchdog of the nonproliferation regime.”

Second, FM Lavrov reminded all that Russia also opposes any military solution to the Iranian crisis by adding that Russia was “convinced that there is no military solution to this crisis.” Lavrov made both points after emerging from a closed-door session with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who shares those views and publicly rebuked Vice President Dick Cheney for warning Iran that “meaningful consequences” will result if their current nuclear pursuit is continued.

Between Kofi Annan and veto-wielding Russia, it is apparent that any such “meaningful consequences” will not come at the hand of the United Nations Security Council. Add the IAEA’s own perpetually hesitant director, Mohamed ElBaredei, and the combined parts net a finished product of inaction.

Aside from sanctions or military force, what is left as consequence, be it from the Security Council or any other source, including the new developing ‘Coalition of the Willing II’ being grafted by Washington for just that purpose. The answer is simple. There are no consequences left.

Russia, Annan and ElBaredei each prefer to allow the IAEA process - a negotiation charade of factual and operational hide & seek - to continue, seemingly in perpetuity.

But the IAEA lacks the teeth of enforcement. The Iranians, as well as all other parties, know this. This is precisely the role of the UN Security Council. Yet, in reality even the Security Council itself lacks teeth beyond rhetorical agreement (or disagreement) among the individual members. It is the individual members who each represent a single tooth through individually instituted policies and militaries. And if the Security Council lacks agreement among the individual members, as it clearly does, it achieves nothing and leaves an issue divided.

There is much room for debate as to the direction and actions to be taken regarding Iran’s belligerence on the nuclear issue. There is much room for criticism on the West’s actions in response. But there is no room for debate that the destined path of the United Nations — through its subsets of the IAEA and the Security Council — is once again a path of indecision, inaction and ineffectiveness.

Defiant Iran Says ‘Let the Ball Roll’, Threatens 'Harm and Pain'

At the IAEA meetings in Vienna, Iran and the United States exchanged blows through written statements. On the heels of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying, “The United States has been very clear: the enrichment and reprocessing on Iranian soil is unacceptable,” and Vice President Dick Cheney’s stark warning to Iran of “meaningful consequences”, a written American statement declared that it was time for the UN Security Council to take up the issue in earnest.

In the letter, the United States demanded that Iran begin to cooperate fully with IAEA inspectors and reiterated that “Iran will face consequences if it does not meet its obligations.” The statement also read that “the time has now come for the Council to act.” US dlegate to the IAEA Gregory Schulte added, “Iran has still not come clean.”

Iran’s response was defiant and bold, reading, “The United States may have the power to cause harm and pain but it is also susceptible to harm and pain. So if the United States wishes to choose that path, let the ball roll.”

On this, many in the West agree with Iran. Let’s do let the ball roll already. The fruitless efforts of a hesitant international community and a powerless, unenforceable IAEA have run their course. There has been three years of reasoned negotiation and unreasonable Iranian actions and maintained secrecy and deception.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called for the US to tone down its rhetoric in light of Cheney’s straight-forward warning to Iran. When asked about Vice President Cheney’s remarks warning Iran of ‘meaningful consequences, Annan replied, “We should all try to lower the rhetoric and allow for calm, serious discussion on this issue. But the Iranians will also have to understand what the world expects of them. They have to find a way of convincing the world they are not going to go the nuclear route.”

At some point, Annan and ElBaredei must recognize that Iran cannot “convince world they are not going to go the nuclear route” while they are actually squarely on that route. Kofi Annan should reconsider his words within the context of the recent remarks by former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani, who revealed the true nature of the Iranian position when he said, “When we were negotiating with the Europeans in Tehran we were still installing some of the equipment at the Isfahan site … In reality, by creating a tame situation, we could finish Isfahan.”

At some point, the clock must stop on talking and consequences in various forms be allowed to take form, much less merely be spoken of…and criticized for their utterance.

The IAEA itself has said that Iran has failed to live up to its obligations and has itself already voted to refer them to the UN Security Council for review. Yet, over one month later, the debate continues on a vote already taken.

The Iranian response has not been one of reason, but one of defiance, broken IAEA seals, removed cameras, the clearing of contaminated trees and the resumption of uranium enrichment, all amid the backdrop of Iranian rhetoric that included a call by Iran’s own president to have Israel ‘wiped off the map’.

Vice President Cheney made no such rhetorical display. A statement that there will be “meaningful consequences” for continued Iranian defiance should be made by the UN Secretary General, not criticized by the same.

March 7, 2006

US Gathering Post-Security Council Coalition on Iran

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns indicated that the United States is preparing to gather a coalition against Iran in expectations that, even with a referral to the UN Security Council, its review of the Iranian nuclear dossier will generate little punitive or preventative measures of substance with both permanent members Russia and China adamantly opposed to any imposition of sanctions on Iran.

Undersecretary Burns said, “So in order to get the attention of the Iranians and convince them that they’ve got to roll back, you might have to arrange a coalition of countries - and I don’t know if Russia and China will be part of that - that would apply targeted sanctions.”

This is a clear indication of both the United States’ lack of confidence in the Security Council and its determination to prevent Iran’s nuclear program from progressing unchallenged. This determination was underscored today by Vice President Dick Cheney, who warned Iran of ‘meaningful consequences’ if it did not stop it’s nuclear sprint. “The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course the international community is prepared to impose meaningful consequences,” Vice President Cheney said. He followed those words with an even stronger message, saying, “For our part, the United States is keeping all options on the table,” he said. “We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”

After meetings in Washington between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Russian representative denied yesterdays reports that Russia had made a compromise offer to Iran regarding future enrichment, suggesting that the only offer of the day was that of Iran’s offer to suspend ‘industrial-scale enrichment’ for two years in exchange for the ability to continue enrichment research.

Secretary of State Rice restated the American resolve on the Iranian nuclear issue, also offering little sign of confidence in the Security Council’s potential action. In regards to any enrichment compromise with Iran, she asserted, “The United States has been very clear: the enrichment and reprocessing on Iranian soil is not acceptable.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan spelled out in plain language that the issue is less about the technology or even nuclear weapons, and squarely about the nature of the Iranian regime that seeks them with such determination. “It hid its nuclear activities for two decades from the international community. It has refused to comply with its international obligations. This is about the regime and its behavior. That’s what this is about and that’s what our focus is,” McClellan told reporters at a White House press conference.

Iran’s deception is borne out clearly in the words of Iran’s former head nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, when he said in a closed-door meeting, “When we were negotiating with the Europeans in Tehran we were still installing some of the equipment at the Isfahan site … In reality, by creating a tame situation, we could finish Isfahan.”

Isfahan is the uranium conversion plant where Iran removed the IAEA’s nuclear seals in August 2005. This was later followed in January 2006 by Iran’s removal of IAEA seals from the underground Natanz facility’s enrichment equipment, the next step in the nuclear fuel cycle.

The pattern is clearly evident and there is little room for debate about the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The United States is wise to begin pursuing an alternate plan outside the divided United Nations Security Council.

Russia Rejects Iranian Nuclear 'Compromise'

While Mohamed ElBaredei, as noted yesterday, pushed the notion that a deal between Iran and the West (through Russia) was close to being accepted, Russia, amid pressure from the United States and Europe (principally Germany and France) pulled the plug on the deal by rejecting Iran’s offer to suspend ‘industrial-scale enrichment’ voluntarily in exchange for enrichment for research purposes. Original reports said tht the Iranian offer was a suspension for just two years.

ElBaredei seemed to support the Iranian position to a degree when he said, “Any moratorium of more than two years and any suspension of nuclear research activities (as the West demands) will make it difficult to reach a deal. The face-saving solution is to enrich uranium on a limited scale … during the two years.” But this research only would lead to better centrifuges and their mass production within that two year window in preparation of the planned end of the two-year ‘industrial-scale enrichment’ moratorium.

Before the National Council for Resistance in Iran revealed Iran’s secret Natanz and Arak nuclear sites in 2002, Iran’s strategy had been concealment and deception. Since then, Iran’s strategy has been delay and deception. This is demonstrated clearly by an Iranian negotiator boasting of fooling Europeans in a closed door meeting with Iran’s top clerics and academics. Iran’s former head negotiator with the EU-3 talks, Hassan Rowhani, said to the gathering, “From the outset, the Americans kept telling the Europeans, ‘The Iranians are lying and deceiving you and they have not told you everything’. The Europeans used to respond, ‘We trust them’.”

Regarding the manipulation of the EU-3 negotiators, Rowhani remarked, “When we were negotiating with the Europeans in Tehran we were still installing some of the equipment at the Isfahan site … In reality, by creating a tame situation, we could finish Isfahan.”

This is the same thinking that prevails in Iran’s current attempts to maintain allowed ‘research enrichment’. It is as much for cover for the rest of the program and fuel cycle as it is for the knowledge gained via the research, including the heavy water plant in Natanz and the laser enrichment programs running near Tehran.

As soundly indicated by the recent US nuclear agreement with India, who has not agreed to the Nonproliferation Treaty, the West’s problem is much less with the nuclear development or even with Iran’s ‘right’ to nuclear technology, but squarely with the radical regime that seeks such technology while supporting terrorism both overtly and covertly.

The IAEA's Iran Mess

The IAEA dealings with Iran are a mess. In the first week of February, the IAEA members voted (27-3) to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council. Today, it appears that this decision is in question. IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaredei said that an agreement with Iran was still possible, perhaps within the week. “I am still very much hopeful that in the next week or so an agreement could be reached.”

Said one diplomat, “Iran is ready to compromise on the period of suspension of large-scale enrichment if it can keep its nuclear research activities.” But Washington insists that the continued pursuit of enrichment research is not acceptable. Iran offered to reinstate a voluntary moratorium on large-scale enrichment for two years, but the EU demanded a 10 year cessation of all nuclear enrichment.

Russia stated that its offer of joint enrichment on Russian soil is still on the table. Said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, “A whole set of measures is needed, including Iran’s resumption of the moratorium and return to the observation of the additional protocol [to the NPT] and its ratification.” But the Russian offer included a key concession: It would allow Iran to operate small-scale enrichment for research purposes.

The danger of allowing Iran to keep research activities alive is that it allows them to test their centrifuge designs, which reportedly have had some minor flaws. Once they fine-tune them, they will also have honed mass production of these centrifuges. When Iran then has enough (reasonably in about two years), this is when Iran can commence large-scale enrichment. The Iranian proposal makes good sense for them in this context. It allows them to push forward in their centrifuge design rather than force a process on lesser equipment, while getting them off the immediate IAEA hook (and the West off their backs) as they develop other aspects of their nuclear weapons program, such as their heavy water plant in Arak for plutonium production and laser enrichment research at sites around Tehran.

A two-year window with enrichment research allowed is a self-defeating endeavor.

Further clouding the issue are other developments, including the lack of support from India. On the heals of a nuclear technology sharing agreement with the United States, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Monday that he was opposed to any confrontation with Iran over the nuclear issue and was for a ’compromise formula’ instead. In an apparent effort to appeal to the left side of his coalition government, who opposed the deal with the United States on the grounds that it was succumbing to American pressure, Singh said, “Confrontation must be avoided at all costs. It is not in the interest of India or the stability of the entire region.”

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said of the IAEA meetings, “We want to see a peaceful and tranquil world and, therefore, we want to work on the basis of international regulations.” Iran ratified a law that stated that if Iran was referred to the Security Council, they would disengage from those international regulations, which they promptly did (and remain) after the 27-3 IAEA Board of Governors vote in early February.

Also on Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that a timetable for foreign troop withdrawal from Iraq would be ‘an essential move to put an end to the sedition in that country’.

Iranian IEDBut, as Mottaki uttered those words, the United States demonstrated that the very sedition he speaks of is supported and supplied by Iran. American military forces have intercepted shipments of advanced shaped-charge munitions shipped from Iran into Iraq and used as IED’s that are ripping into some of the strongest American armor in the field. They are triggered by motion detectors and have a copper core that melts on detonation and have pierced the armor of M1-Abrams tanks.

What the United States says links them to Iran are tell-tale manufacturing signatures — certain types of machine-shop welds and material indicating they are built by the same bomb factory.

“The signature is the same because they are exactly the same in production,” says explosives expert Kevin Barry. “So it’s the same make and model.”

U.S. officials say roadside bomb attacks against American forces in Iraq have become much more deadly as more and more of the Iran-designed and Iran-produced bombs have been smuggled in from the country since last October.

A former Iranian intelligence officer provided Kenneth Timmerman with a copy of Iranian 2006 OPLAN for operations in the Strait of Hormuz, complete with the seal of the Strategic Studies Center of the Iranian Navy. The documents appear fairly detailed and include an Order of Battle map labeled “the current status of military forces in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, 1384 (Iranian year that ends 20MAR06).”

Meanwhile, the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad has opened an Iranian Shia Council office in Ramallah, which the PA is now investigating. Islamic Jihad member Muhamad Gawanmeh said, “We want the Palestinian people to be exposed to the Iranian heritage and Shia principles. [Our goal is] to reinforce the relations between the Islamic republic of Iran and the Palestinian people. We are part of the Iranian Islamic project in the Middle East.” He also said that several other offices in the West Bank and Gaza are planned.

There seems no end to Iranian developments on many fronts, none of them positive. At every turn, Iran is more deeply involved in more terrorist organizations throughout the region, including harboring key members and planners for al-Qaeda and significant new economic-driven influence within Hamas and throughout the Palestinian Territories. Iran has made no substantive effort to allay Western fears over their nuclear program and, in fact, removed the seals from nuclear equipment at the protest of the IAEA before feeding uranium into the centrifuges and beginning enrichment. Iran, like North Korea before them, had the IAEA observation cameras removed from their facilities.

The IAEA members have already voted to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council and done so at the Security Council’s own request. It should be recognized that official referral and hand-over of the IAEA Iranian nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council lacks only the signature of the IAEA Director, Mohamed ElBaredei.

Yet, even after a 27-3 vote for referral, the referral itself is till in question. Further, there is serious doubt that anything substantive and/or preventive in nature would result from a Security Council review, with both Russia and China opposed to sanctioning Iran. If they will not impose even sanctions, what is it that the West can possibly expect to come of a referral?

March 1, 2006

Pakistan Steps Up Ops

In a likely effort to dampen criticism that it has lost control of Waziristan, the Pakistani military has mounted a major operation against an al-Qaeda training camp in Saidgai, claiming to have killed 40 mainly foreign terrorists and wounded an additional 20 in an effort to kill a Chechen al-Qaeda leader referred to only as “Imam.” One should note that the discovery of a major al-Qaeda training facility, particularly one housing eight residential quarters, contradicts long-standing Pakistani claims that its northern territories are not a haven for al-Qaeda and its allies. Nor is the first post-9/11 training camp that has been discovered in northern Pakistan – as Newsweek noted in the summer of 2005:

But Kohlmann said the existence of such training camps in Waziristan (where some intelligence officials believe Osama bin Laden has been hiding) has actually been known to the U.S. counterterrorism community for some time. Islamic militant groups have actually distributed videos and CD-ROMs showing militants training at one or more of such facilities. The videos of such training have also recently appeared on Internet Web sites, he said.
A senior U.S. counterterrorism official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the information under discussion, told NEWSWEEK that U.S. intelligence agencies had assembled information indicating that after 9/11, Al Qaeda forces driven out of Afghanistan had established “sanctuaries” in the remote Shkai area of South Waziristan. These sanctuaries were sufficiently hospitable to Al Qaeda that the terrorist movement could have been free to establish training facilities in the area, the official said, though such camps never existed on the same scale as the Al Qaeda camps that operated in Afghanistan before 9/11.

One might well note that the conclusions of the Newsweek article is somewhat naïve. As Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid noted recently in the Washington Post, al-Qaeda is far from defeated in northern Pakistan:

Bin Laden’s new friendship zone stretches nearly 2,000 miles along Pakistan’s Pashtun belt — from Chitral in the Northern Areas near the Chinese border, south through the troubled tribal agencies including Waziristan, down to Zhob on the Balochistan border, then to the provincial capital Quetta and southwest to the Iranian border. The region includes every landscape from desert to snow-capped mountains. Sparsely populated, it provides bin Laden an ideal sanctuary.

… Since then [early 2002], with no consistent political strategy to woo the Pashtun population away from bin Laden, the army has steadily lost ground. The political agents, who ran the tribal agencies with a mixture of bribery and pressure, have been replaced by arrogant generals ignorant of local conditions. Today the extremists rule over North and South Waziristan and other tribal agencies, while the 70,000 Pakistani troops stationed there are boxed up in outposts, too frightened to patrol the mountains. More than 100 pro-government tribal elders have been assassinated by extremists for divulging information to the U.S. or Pakistani secret services.

Meanwhile down south, the Balochistan provincial government is controlled by a coalition of pro-Taliban fundamentalist parties, which came to power in elections in 2002. Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islami, the party that controls the key ministries, openly supports the Taliban.

This has created a new stronghold from which the Taliban can launch attacks back in Afghanistan. The 99 U.S. soldiers killed last year in Afghanistan were mostly targeted by the Taliban based in Balochistan. While Washington’s principal aim has been to capture bin Laden and decapitate al Qaeda, whose members are believed to be in Waziristan, the United States has failed to pressure Pakistan to deal with the Taliban, despite protestations from Afghan President Hamid Karzai. On a visit to Islamabad this month, Karzai handed Musharraf intelligence dossiers detailing how suicide bombers are being trained in Pakistan. In the past few months, at least 30 attacks have killed nearly 100 people in Afghanistan, including NATO peacekeepers and a Canadian diplomat.
The dossiers listed the names and addresses of Pakistani recruiters and people who equip suicide bombers with explosives before sending them to Afghanistan. Much of the recruitment takes place at a radical Islamic bookshop, several mosques and some madrassas in the port city of Karachi, while the training is done at safe houses in Quetta and Chaman, in Balochistan province.

As to the identity of “Imam,” it is almost certainly Daniar, a Chechen rebel leader allied with al-Qaeda who commanded the group’s forces in their largely successful battle against the Pakistani military in 2004 alongside Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader Tahir Yuldashev, Quaran Atta, the local tribal chiefs Nek Mohammed, Sharif Khan, and Nur Islam, and the maulavis Abbas and Aziz. As the Asia Times recently noted, it was these attacks that led to al-Qaeda establishing itself in de facto control of Waziristan outside the regional headquarters Wana and Miranshah.

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