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May 30, 2006

Israel Steps Up Counter-Rocket Tactics

With volleys back and forth across the northern Israeli border with Lebanon throughout the weekend subsiding somewhat as a UN-sponsored truce holds, Israeli action in Gaza took a new, aggressive turn. Israeli reaction to rocket attacks from northern Gaza into Israel has to-date been reactionary in nature and most often after-the-fact. Artillery shelling of open fields and buildings used as the launch points of choice primarily by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committees terrorists has been the norm.

This time however, an IDF special unit was on the ground in Gaza and called in strikes on terrorists readying their rockets before they could fire, marking significant change in the timeline of Israeli action from reactionary to pre-emptive.

Whether this was a one-time intelligence source developed or a sign of the pace to come is not yet clear. But IDF neutralization of the attackers and their rockets before they could launch is a significant pre-emptive success and noteworthy.

To the north, Israel has vowed a far harsher response than that seen this weekend if rocket attacks and border attacks into Israel from Lebanon continue. It is believed that Israel has reiterated in no uncertain terms directly to the Lebanese government that they need to assert control and take responsibility for attacks launched from within their own territory, as Israel clearly intends to hold that government responsible, whether the attacks come from Hizballah across the frontier or from PFLP rocket positions within Lebanon’s southwestern borders. Lebanese officials were said to be working feverishly to bring the Hizballah and PFLP attacks to a close after Israel warned that Beirut would be a target of Israeli reprisals, clearly a punishment for lack of control.

In other developments, the IDF arrested a would-be suicide bomber and his ‘handler’ near Nablus as they attempted to discard a 15-pound suicide bomb belt when IDF troops approached.

Also, just as the 3,000-man Hamas militia was withdrawn into bases to ease tensions between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah Police Forces, Hamas has put the new force back onto the streets of Gaza. As tensions with Israel rise on all fronts, Hamas looks to gain some popular support back.

This is evidenced by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) offering to join the Hamas government, which it has refused to do to date. This is a needed assist to Hamas, who saw Abbas wield popular clout in calling for a referendum vote on dealing with Israel. But as tensions soar, Hamas likely expects to regain what it may perceive to have lost amid the financial crisis since taking office.

Meanwhile, four Hamas officials in Jerusalem – three ministers of parliament and the Minister for Jerusalem Affairs - have been ordered by Interior Minister Roni Bar-On to renounce their membership to Hamas or be forced to leave East Jerusalem. The Hamas members have refused, saying they have done nothing to violate Israeli law. Said Khaled Abu Arafa, “We are not studying all the legal aspects of this matter. We will fight the decision and will defeat it via legal means.”

Iran Announces Fusion Work as EU Presses Unwanted Deal

With the UN Security Council’s Permanent Five and Germany set to meet at the IAEA’s Vienna home this week, the EU continues to press forward in vain pursuit of a nuclear/economic package that would barter enrichment from the Iranian mullahs. The meeting is tentatively set for Thursday, June 1.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the EU3 is in discussions with the US, China and Russia seeking a mix of terms that may work. The Iranians, however, have consistently and frankly expressed no interest in such maneuvers.

The continued futility of the efforts are plainly visible in Lavrov’s reiterated that any deal would be based “on the condition that all issues that the International Atomic Energy Agency previously had to Iran will be resolved.” That is an impossibility that Iran has made stridently clear for three years.

Fully expecting the failure of a negotiated settlement on that basis, the United States is in a behind-the-scenes push for financial sanctions against Iran. According to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur report, the sanctions sought would “limit financial movements of all Iranian officials by blocking access to foreign currency and global markets, shut down their overseas government accounts and freeze assets in Europe and Asia.” Such sanctions, if agreed upon, would ostensibly be a clear logical ‘next step’ but would have the result of dividing world oil consumers into a clear choice of supporting the punishment and risking Iranian oil cutoffs or supporting Iran and guaranteeing their oil supply. Clearly, two camps would quickly form, possibly with little basis on any nuclear threat. Without doubt, they already have.

Consider carefully Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s words, quoted in Bangladesh’s Financial Express, as he said “Allowing Israel to develop nuclear weapons with impunity which it does not deny while others in the region are prohibited from doing so, is a blatant case of double standards. It has created a destabilising asymmetry in a volatile part of the world. We must recognise Iran’s right to develop such technology for peaceful purposes.”

Iran’s state-run media, IRNA, saw fit to edit and tone down that bit of clarity in Prime Minister Badawi’s quote.

Yet, Badawi minced few words. The simple attachment of the popular phrase “for peaceful purposes” to conclude his statement should not be permitted to obscure his central point: Iran must have nuclear weapons to counterbalance Israel’s nuclear arms.

The world must, as Badawi [and Iran] sees it, acknowledge “Iran’s right to develop such technology” as Israel has. Clearly, ‘such technology’ is nuclear weapons.

Every use of the phrase “for peaceful purposes” promotes a charade, whether by Iran, the IAEA, Europe, Russia, China, America or even the media.

With regards to oil supply disruption as a reaction to sanctions, Iran has long stated that they would not ‘use oil as a weapon’. Yet, Iran has also assured that their nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes, which makes their announcement of nuclear fusion research curious. Why would Iran announce research in an area of nuclear science that has no peaceful application? The only application of nuclear fusion is for thermonuclear bombs. Nuclear fission, a science wholly more believable within the context of peaceful power programs, has a place in a budding nuclear program that Iran regularly portrays. Fusion is another matter entirely.

While the world may indeed be so intoxicated by short-term conflict avoidance as to render itself willfully ignorant, Iranian intentions are clear for all who choose to see. Those intentions – and the horrors that come with their realization – are not for sale, barter or bargain.

May 26, 2006

Hamas Blinks: 3,000-Man Militia Withdrawn

Perhaps in an effort to salvage popular support rather than as a backing down to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas has sent their new 3,000-man militia from the streets and into bases, instantly reducing tensions in Gaza City and throughout the Strip. Whatever the move is in reaction to, the quiet is welcome.

Gaza GunsIt is more likely that Hamas is seeking to avoid a referendum vote that was threatened by Mahmoud Abbas rather than avoid direct conflict with Fatah forces. The very creation and original street deployment of the opposition force belies that logic. If Hamas did not accept the Fatah position on negotiations with Israel within ten days, Abbas threatened a public July Palestinian referendum taking the issue directly to the Palestinian people.

The significance of this is important to acknowledge, as it shows Abbas and his Fatah flexing muscle derived from perceived popular support on the issue. While Hamas may have won the majority of seats in the parliamentary elections in January, much of the support they once held has been eroded by hardships, violence and ineffective governance. It should also be noted within context that Hamas’ victory itself was less out of support for Hamas than a collective punishment for a corrupt Fatah.

Hamas sees only bad news in any referendum and/or elections in the short term, and this move was most likely made with precisely that in mind: political survival. In that sense, Abbas caused Hamas – and their 3,000-man street militia – to blink.

Hamas’ PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said of Abbas’ threat regarding dealing with Israel, “This is not a substitute for the political program of the government that was approved in parliament.” It is, however, indicative of a shift of popular support within the Palestinian Territories.

In another development today, in response to Israel’s approval yesterday of sending arms to Mahmoud Abbas’ presidential security forces in the face of assassination threats, Abbas’ office issued a statement denying that his office had asked Israel for the weapons. This is likely quite true, as Israel firmly believes they can work with Abbas and have absolutely no interest in his death. That would be a disaster and likely the end of any constructive efforts at discussion-based resolution.

As Abbas gains political capital through increasing public support, Israel has every interest in supporting him and assisting him in self-protection.

May 25, 2006

Jordan's Threat: Iran, Hamas & al-Qaeda

Jordanian Parliament Speaker Abdel Hadi Majali warned that Iran is a threat to Jordanian security, regardless of whether US military strikes take place or not. Citing Iranian involvement in Iraq and their support for Hamas, Majali said, “Iran is threatening Jordan’s security and it is targeting the stability of the country and not ousting its regime. Iran poses a real threat on Jordan. Jordan will be harmed whether Iran was the target of a military operation or not.”

Jordan has long accused Hamas of using Jordanian territory and citizens for terrorist activities, including the capture of weapons stashes and Hamas arrests. Iran has openly supported Hamas, especially since their election victory and dominance in the PA, seeking increased influence in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Today, Jordan is urging President Bush to reject Olmert’s planned Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Jordan fears that the vacuum created would inflame the region and create serious instability within the Hashemite Kingdom, largely comprised of their own Palestinian population. According to an unnamed Bush Administration official, “The bottom line from the Jordanians was: ‘We have enough of a problem with al-Qaeda and Hamas. This makes it worse?’”

It most certainly does. This truth was perhaps best captured at The Belmont Club several weeks ago, where the ironic reality of the potential end of Israeli occupation of the West Bank was noted with biting clarity.

By threatening to hunker down inside his borders, Olmert will effectively turn the Palestinian problem inside out: it is Egypt, Jordan and Syria that must face the prospect of sharing frontiers with a new terrorist-infested state without the protection of Israel-style fence.

While the region has long decried the Israeli occupation as unjust (Jordan less so than Syria and others), the reality is that those regional actors enjoy the benefit of the very Israeli security provided by the occupation and border enforcement. Will, as Caroline Glick offers, the West Bank pullout be a disaster multiples worse for Jordan that the Gaza pullout was for the Sinai & the rest of Egypt? That remains to be seen, but there is certainly just cause for concern.

Consider today’s Jerusalem Issue Brief, The Islamist Threat to Jordan by Nibras Kazimi for fresh context. At length is discussed the growing threat Jordan faces from a dispersing al-Qaeda in Iraq, currently shifting venues from the loss at the hands of Coalition Forces to greener pastures and a more historically populist cause: the Arab-Israeli Palestinian Conflict.

Kazimi highlights the shift of Zarqawi’s group to new key areas: Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, the Sinai (the latter two a symbiotic relationship) and Jordan. While Zarqawi (and others) eye Jordan and likely lust for an Israeli West Bank withdrawal, success for them in Jrdan will not come easily.

The elusiveness of a unifying Jordanian identity now provides a window of opportunity for the jihadists who seek another raison d’etre for Jordan’s borders and history: it is to be the “Land of Mobilization and Fortitude” (Ard al-Hashdi wal-Rabat) - the staging ground for the liberation of Palestine and the destruction of Israel. Therefore, the “usefulness” of Jordan is to provide an opportunity for jihadists such as the Jordanian terrorist, Abu Musa’ab al-Zarqawi, to transfer the fight from the various battles being waged around the world to what they have traditionally called “The Direction of Delayed Jihad” (Qiblet al-Jihad al-Mu’ejjel) in Palestine. Zarqawi claimed in a recent video release, “We fight in [Iraq] but our eyes are on Jerusalem.”

But for that to happen, the Hashemites and their reasonably secure intelligence and military apparatuses would have to be overthrown, or at least weakened by a campaign of mayhem and chaos to the point at which they lose control over some portion of their territory from which the jihadists can launch attacks on Israel - a strategy followed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) prior to September 1970. By that measure, it appears that the Zarqawi branch of al-Qaeda is aiming to create a ring of chaos around Israel in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, and the Sinai, as well as Jordan.

This is definitely cause for concern for Jordan, and they are not being unreasonable in their cautious request to their American allies. But it should also be noted that successful attacks and organization within Jordan has been fleeting. Jordan’s intelligence and counterterrorism services, the Jordanian Mukhabarrat (secret service), are among the most effective in the world, if not the most effective. It is no mistake that Jordan is the one place on the planet that Zarqawi had long ago been tried and sentenced to death (in absentia) for terrorist acts.

Whether regarding Iranian state-sponsored terrorism, Hamas, al-Qaeda or other terrorist organization, Jordan remains at the forefront of the War on Terror and perhaps the most underappreciated ally America has in that fight, in or out of the region.

Conflict Deepens Despite Palestinian Talks

Violence continues in Gaza amid announcements of truce talks between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah. Incidents between the two factions throughout Gaza continued yesterday, including the killing of Fatah’s Nabil Hodhod, the head of the Palestinian Preventative Security Service.

Hodhod died in his car in a grenade attack. As his body was brought to the hospital, Fatah gunmen fired from hospital balconies at Hamas members on the street below.

But while the talks between the two have started, Abbas set a 10-day deadline for Hamas to agree to some sort of terms regarding dealings with Israel. The reaction from Hamas to Abbas’ statement was mixed and whether the strategy nets results or deeper conflict remains to be seen.

From the Israeli side, Prime Minister Olmert restated the deadline for the end of this year for a Palestinian agreement, saying, “We cannot wait for the Palestinians forever.” The Prime Minister was addressing a joint session of the US Congress during his visit to the United States.

Hamas’ initial reaction to the Israeli Prime Minister’s deadline was one of flat rejection. Hamas’ political bureau head, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said frankly, “Hamas has not and will not negotiate,” calling the terms “mere justifications for a certain political path that the Israelis want to implement and impose on the Palestinian people.”

Meanwhile, from Egypt, Arutz Sheva reports more information on the al-Qaeda/Gaza links to the Sinai bombings in Egypt and the apparent establishment of an al-Qaeda foothold in Gaza, Jordan and the Sinai.

Furthermore, an Egyptian authority on fundamentalist Islam, Abd el-Rahman Alian, told the Al-Arabiya television station that Al-Qaeda is working towards a three-point organizational structure, encompassing Amman, Gaza and Sinai, under the command of Iraq-based leadership. Alian said that Hamas rebels have joined the Egyptian-based Tawhid terror group and Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

This is another indication of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s shift from the Iraqi theater to the rest of the region, inching closer to Israel.

There is little good news coming from the Palestinian Territories, whether al-Qaeda links within Gaza, open street fighting between Hamas & Fatah or Israel’s resignation to pursue a unilateral plan of disengagement from the West Bank amid the PA’s bloody internal conflict. There will be much reporting of press conferences and statements by both Hamas and Fatah regarding resolution and ending the conflict. The direction of the internal Palestinian conflict, however, will be told by actions on the street regardless of genuine intentions (or not) of either faction’s leadership.

May 24, 2006

Iran 'Reaches Out' With Shahab-3 Missile Launch

With the backdrop of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s visit to Washington and meeting with President Bush, Iran test-fired a Shahab-3 missile. The Shahab-3 is believed to have a maximum range of between 1,000 and 1,350 miles and capable of delivering a first-generation nuclear warhead with Tel Aviv within range.

Boston Globe: Missile GraphicWhat’s most important about the missile test is not statistics or new developments. What’s most important is its true inspiration: Grandstanding while Israeli and American leaders meet in Washington. In fact, the Jersusalem Post reports that the test itself was deemed only partly successful. There are no indications that this firing had any other purpose beyond media generation.

The anticipated EU light-water reactor offer in exchange for their enrichment program is expected to be center stage among the United Nations Security Council Permanent-Five(P5 - US, Russia, China, UK & France) and Germany today. The considered offer is expected to guarantee Iran a nuclear reactor supplied by the EU and a steady supply of civilian nuclear fuel pending approval from the US, Russia and China.

There is pressure among some European circles for the United States to give a security guarantee to the Iranian mullahcracy, vowing that it will not topple the regime. As they have with various other offers seeking to trade away the Iranian enrichment program, Tehran has dismissed any American security guarantee as untrustworthy.

Nonetheless, the United States is likely to back the pre-rejected EU proposal, but it is seeking first from Moscow an endorsement of a binding Chapter Seven resolution that adds consequence to official Iranian rejection.

Curiously, the Financial Times notes that “US ‘hawks’ led by Dick Cheney” are attempting to derail the EU ‘Nukes for No Nukes’ deal. While the headline reads ”US hawks ‘hinder moves’ on Iran nuclear incentives”, the opening paragraph reads as a grievance against such a bullish position, quoting unnamed sources. Yet, it is not until the tenth of eleven paragraphs that the Financial Times article mentions the lede again to explain that the uncooperative ‘hawks’ “fear a repeat of a similar agreement reached with North Korea in 1994 which did not stop the communist regime from pursuing a secret weapons programme.”

That does not seem an unreasonable objection and hardly one deserving of the dismissive tone delivered by the Financial Times.

Iran’s intermediate game is to win direct talks with the United States, talks which would likely take on the circus atmosphere that surrounded the Iranian direct talks with the EU-3 over the past two years. Iran has nothing to lose with another round of talks (read: time), and everything to gain rhetorically with public and direct US talks on the nuclear crisis, allowing them to demonize the US and drive a wedge between EU-American partnership.

There is in fact little evidence to support a genuine “sign of changing strategy” from the Iranians, as former Iranian government official Saeed Laylaz is quoted by the Washington Post. He added, “They realize the situation is dangerous and they should not waste time, that they should reach out.”

It is doubtful they realize anything of the sort, no matter how badly many crave direct talks with the Iranians.

Launching a Shahab-3 within the same news cycle is a less than amusing way of reaching out.

May 23, 2006

Hamas-Fatah Tension Builds with New Fighting

Few periods in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict have seen as much turbulence short of open regional warfare as recent weeks. This week is no exception as Israeli Prime Minister Olmert visits Washington while new Hamas forces face off against Fatah-dominated police forces in Gaza gun battles in the streets.

Olmert is expected to confer with President Bush regarding his Israeli plan to disengage from the West bank, a position that the Bush Administration opposes. The Administration is hinting that any disengagement and drawing of permanent Israeli borders would, in their view, require Palestinian agreement to those borders. That, however, is likely a self-defeating proposition as the battling Hamas and Fatah factions are no more likely to both agree to a common set of boundaries to propose to Israel any sooner than they agree to where to draw the lines between their own internal power structures. Though both have indicated a common set, the pre-1968 boundaries, when push comes to shove, it may be difficult for powerful personalities on both Palestinian powers to agree to surrounding details.

Hamas’ Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said, “If Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, peace will prevail and we will implement a cease-fire [hudna] for many years. Our government is prepared to maintain a long-term cease-fire with Israel.” The regularly renewed ‘hudna’, while recognized potentially by Hamas officially, will have little sway over other Palestinian terrorist groups. Furthermore, with Hamas currently employing surrogate terrorist groups to carry out attacks against Israel, many Israelis do not accept such an offer at face value.

Earlier today, Israeli forces surrounded a Ramallah apartment barely 200 yards from the home of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and captured captured top Hamas terror commander Ibrahim Hamed, wanted by Israel for eight years. Threatening to destroy the apartment with Hamed inside before he surrendered, Israel has linked the Hamas terrorist to attacks that have killed 78 Israelis.

In Gaza, even though the IDF is currently drilling for a Gaza incursion, Fatah and Hamas armed factions have seen their time more occupied by fighting each other. Exacerbating the situation, Monday’ Gaza City gun battles saw a Jordanian embassy worker killed in the Palestinian crossfire. Ismail Haniyeh has publicly called for calm in Gaza saying, “I tell our people not to be worried, our people are united despite these painful incidents. There is a real danger ahead of us and that is the (Israeli) occupation.”

But while Hamas and Haniyeh may hope to deflect blame and ultimate responsibility to the Israelis, the undeniable truth that underlines the situation on the ground in Gaza is that the new Hamas force in Gaza was created expressly to directly confront, challenge and battle Abbas’ Fatah-dominated security forces. These forces include the police in a spar for control of the political and armed power strings within the Palestinian Territories.

There is indeed “real danger ahead” of the Palestinian people, but that danger comes less in the form of Israeli tanks and airstrikes than it comes from angry clashes between Fatah and Hamas factions in the streets and neighborhoods throughout Gaza and, potentially soon, the West Bank as well.

May 19, 2006

Palestinian Authority Infighting Escalates

In a recent RapidRecon entry, readers were directed to a closer look at the Popular Resistance Committees, whose head, Jamal Abu Samhadana, has been tasked with overseeing the formation of a new Hamas security force. Mahmoud Abbas ordered the Hamas security force disbanded, but those calls went unheeded in a direct challenge to the authority of the Fatah Palestinian president. The new Hamas security force is largely comprised of terrorists from the PRC, and it has now taken to the streets to challenge Abbas’ Fatah-dominated Palestinian Police, among other security forces under his control.

A gunfight outside a Gaza City police station erupted after the new Hamas force cut off streets leading to the headquarters. Said a policeman, “It began with the two sides shouting at each other and it developed into a gunfight.” The UK Independent reports that the Palestinian Police began to march outside in front of the Hamas force’s position chanting “We are the authority. We salute Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas]” and “Jerusalem, the president, the homeland.”

A Hamas spokesman offered the explanation that the gun battle began only after unknown elements drove by in a car and opened fire on the police station. That explanation was immediately dismissed by Fatah members at the scene.

For over half an hour, sporadic exchanges of gunfire snapped the air, eventually claiming at least four wounded including two of the Palestinian police.

Hamas’ PA Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, referred to the PRC-led militia as a “back-up force” and refused to pull them from the streets, insisting that they were perfectly legal, saying, “This force will be according to the law and integrated into the security services. The force is not directed against anyone. As they were in the forefront of resistance, they are now protecting the land and security.”

That they were “in the forefront of resistance” is important and undeniable. The PRC is a relatively new organization, established in September of 2000 by Abu Samhadana. It has drawn its membership from terrorists from the militant wings of Fatah, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Hamas. That they are not listed on the American or European list of terrorist organizations is puzzling. That status should be changed very soon. Their ideology is clearly Islamist and they are thought of in the same Islamist ideological arena as al-Qaeda, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Egypt is demanding that Hamas turn over a suspect in the recent Dahab bombings, and are accusing Hamas of harboring the attack’s plotter after he infiltrated Gaza escaping from Egyptian authorities. Egypt believes that senior PRC leaders are providing safe haven for the relative of an Egyptian with known ties to al-Qaeda who also participated in the Dahab bombings which killed twenty-four. A PRC spokesman denied the allegations.

In another development early today involving Egypt, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri was arrested at the Rafah Crossing by Abbas’ police force and $817,000 in cash confiscated as he tried to smuggle the money to Hamas from Qatar via Egypt. The BBC reports that the money has been released to the PA Interior Ministry. This is perplexing, as the Minister of the Interior for the PA is Hamas’ Said Sayyam. It is possible that, with ‘dozens of armed security forces’ rushing to the scene, a deal may have been struck to avoid another bloody clash between Fatah and Hamas factions in the south of Gaza.

For some background, Reuters has a fairly good quick look at the various Palestinian forces in play.

Hamas is clearly enlisting the services and official partnership of affiliated terrorists in order to directly challenge Abbas for complete control of the Palestinian Authority. That challenge may now be coming to a head as armed forces are put to the street. The fear among Palestinians of complete submergence into a direct civil war is palpable and well founded.

Said Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Mahmoud Abbas, “I think the situation is a pressure-cooker situation. We don’t want anything that may endanger the situation or push it from bad to worse.”

But Abbas and his loyal Fatah forces are not in complete control of events that would “push it from bad to worse.” Hamas has an equal say in the matter, and the official formation of the new PRC-led forces and their deployment to the Gaza City police headquarters for direct confrontation are clear indicators that Hamas thinks quite differently.

May 18, 2006

Angry Over 'Chocolates', Iran Laughs to the Bank

After the EU’s Clinton-esque offer of a nuclear plant to a nuclear threat, the unappeasable Ahmadinejad is angry. Said the bitter Iranian president, “They say they want to give the Iranians incentives. They are treating us like a four-year-old child who can be given nuts and chocolate in exchange for gold.”

The ‘nuts and chocolate’ in the form of a light-water nuclear power plant from Europe is the nuclear energy that Iran insists is its aim. The ‘gold’ in the form of enrichment currently being developed by Iran is the fissile material production for weapons that is the true goal of the clandestine Iranian program.

What the angry rejection of nuclear power by Iran represents is the unmasking of the Iranian charade of peaceful nuclear power. This is most likely the aim of the offer, fully expected to be rejected out of hand, which it was before even official presentation.

The West is slowly learning how to work Ahmadinejad and the much more powerful Supreme Leader, Ali Akbar Khamenei and the rest of the Guardian Council. They will never be persuaded to change course, especially with a number of them in a devout religious messianic quest. To those, enrichment is far more than earthly ‘gold’.

The trick for the West is continue to plague the Iranian mouthpiece and elicit such angry responses that fly counter to Iranian claims of peaceful intentions and further unmask the regime to a world that seeming fears a nuclear aggressor in Iran far less than any confrontation in any form to prevent its impending reality or a disruption of oil flow.

While some within the regime may be concerned about their flailing economy and the prospects of economic isolation in the form of international sanctions, those fears are assuaged by the reality that bellicose words from Ahmadinejad’s lips often directly control the asking price of their chief export and sole economic life preserver, oil.

To be sure, there is no supply shortage and, in fact, a glut forming from diminished demand caused by prohibitive prices. The current spiked price of oil has little to do with supply and demand and everything to do with traders’ nervous reaction to the Guerilla Marketing efforts of Ahmadinejad under watchful encouragement of the Supreme Leader.

Meanwhile, Moscow still doubts and opposes sanctions, virtually the entire planet opposes military action and, all the while, Iran laughs at offers of cash, security and even nuclear reactors in exchange for the cessation of enrichment. While the world debates how to handle the crisis, the only progress made is that of Iran’s enrichment work and their oil price manipulation to fund it.

May 16, 2006

Iran and Turkey Squeeze Iraq’s Kurds

The merger of the dominant political parties within Kurdish Iraq, Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), while very good for the long-suffering Kurds within Iraq, poses all sorts of problems for Kurdish Iraq’s neighboring states, Iran and Turkey. As the Iraqi Kurds seek to increasingly speak with one public voice while arriving at it more and more via internal wrangling, it solidifies their position’s strength within the Iraqi government and affords it both increased power and options going forward, should the Iraqi government falter and/or the security situation sink below tolerable levels.

Iran and Turkey plainly and openly fear the Iraqi Kurds and their ability to embolden the Kurds within each country towards active separatist movements, eventually seeking to establish a Kurdistan comprised of swaths of present-day Iraq, Iran and Turkey.

It is within this context that Turkey and Iran have been massing troops and artillery to their borders with Iraq. Neither country wants the civil war that will ensue as Kurds would eventually seek to take with them a swath of land from which to create a contiguous Kurdistan from the corners of Iraq, Turkey and Iran.

With this as a principal motivating factor, the relationship between the Turkish and the Iranian governments continues to warm. The two are looking to expand parliamentary ties and build closer diplomatic relationships as Iran’s Expediency Council Chairman, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, noted that the two have common security concerns in region. Rafsanjani said, “Iran and Turkey are great states with effective role[s] in the region. Neighborhood and common grounds between Iran and Turkey in terms of religious and cultural affinity serve to develop Tehran-Ankara relations.” Both he and Turkish Ambassador Gurcan Turkoglu mentioned stability in Iraq and the Palestinian issue, but did not publicly address directly the elephant in both their living rooms, the Kurds.

But the elephant can be clearly seen if not heard. And, this elephant will remain for far longer than the American and coalition forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.

EU to Offer Iran Nuclear Reactor

It is revealed today that, among the ‘sweeteners’ the EU spoke of Sunday while contemplating their next offer to Iran, The EU3 to offer Iran a European light-water nuclear reactor in exchange for the cessation of Iranian enrichment programs, including uranium, plutonium, centrifuge and laser enrichment research and operation. The approach has won the explicit support of China.

Iran, however, has already refused any and all future attempts to barter its enrichment program, as Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi reminded that “Iran’s decision to pursue this internationally acknowledged right is definite and irreversible.” If the world doubts this will apply to the current EU3 offer, his words were preceded by a clarifying remark specifically addressing the expected EU attempt. “For three years of intensive talks with the EU, Iran has numerously clarified its will to produce nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes,” Assefi said. Among those peaceful purposes worthy of the international conflict that currently embroils Iran, the EU, the United States and the UN Security Council, is the development of medical isotopes that, like nuclear power plant fuel, are also attainable from outside sources.

Simply put, Iran’s enrichment program and facilities are not for sale. There is no price tag associated with them.

Friday will be the official end of the Iranian ‘peaceful nuclear technology’ charade. Offered Iran are power plants and the fuel to run them, which is Iran’s primary stated objective. Also in the package will be a series of obscenely favorable trade incentives for a nation with a stumbling, struggling economy. After this latest attempt from the EU3 is officially rejected in proper form, any doubt about Iran’s intentions will be removed.

This definitive rejection is precisely what the EU3 and the United States fully expects. It will set the stage for Chapter 7 sanction proposals at the UN and buttress the West’s position that Iran is not seeking nuclear power but nuclear arms. This, however, does not mean that the UN will be spurned into action. That may be fully a year’s worth of troubling developments away, if achievable at all.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei laid into the world media over coverage of the Iranian nuclear crisis. Khamenei ranted, “Today the world media empire sees it as expedient to say Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, while the propagators know it is a lie. Today the world media is totally monopolized by the ones who own the largest weapon factories and the most destructive atomic bombs.” But it has been Iran’s own recalcitrance and overt threats that have dictated the tone of the crisis and the coverage that has ensued. Threatening that Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’ and following that with statements that it is not only achievable but imminent does little to bolster the Iranian cause if that cause is, in fact, peaceful nuclear power.

So, while Vladimir Putin and Tony Blair discuss Iran at the Kremlin, the price of crude oil continues to rise, buoyed by the bellicose words of the Iranian regime, whether from Khamenei, Assefi or Ahmadinejad.

And while Iran continues to press their ‘peaceful nuclear power’ intentions, they also continue to deny that they will use oil as a weapon. Yet, their nearly exclusive influence on the rise in oil futures – and thus the multiple-fold increase in their income via their chief export – continues to provide the needed windfall to fuel their nuclear research amid a flailing economy.

Oil is a weapon, and it is wielded daily in pursuit of Iran’s coming nuclear arsenal. It cannot be trumped by offers of nuclear reactors or favorable trade, for Iran is enjoying the most favorable trade possible: Governance over the asking price of their only real export.

Europe cannot replace $70 per barrel. They know it. America knows it. The UN & the IAEA know it. And, of course, Iran knows it.

May 15, 2006

ElBaradei Downplays Uranium Find in Iran

The European Union heads into Monday Iran Rejects Incentives in order to entice Iran from its nuclear program and uranium enrichment activities. But before even making it to the table, Iran has rejected it, reminding once again that its nuclear program is not for sale, regardless of economic and security incentives that may be offered it by Friday of this week. Offers to Iran have been made for nearly two years, all of them summarily dismissed. They simply are not interested.

Last week’s revelation that equipment from Iran’s razed Lavizan plant tested positively for highly enriched uranium could prove quite problematic for the persistent Iranian regime. While Ahmadinejad has outright denied the test results are true, it is expected that Iran will eventually claim that the equipment swabbed by the IAEA was used and that the residue of HEU trace back to the equipment’s origin, Pakistan.

While that may prove true, just as did the tested samples from Natanz earlier, it puts Iran’s denial that its military is involved in their clandestine nuclear program squarely on its head, as the Lavizan site was a military facility, also suspected of carrying out explosives tests consistent with testing nuclear detonators.

For the IAEA’s part, Iran’s state-run media arm, IRNA, noted that IAEA head Mohamad ElBaradei has already said the HEU find was of little significance and likely traceable to Pakistani centrifuges again.

In another exchange, ElBaradei said that the world should be less concerned about Iran with nuclear weapons and more concerned about terrorists getting them. Said ElBaradei, “The fear of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons is much more [of a risk], in my view … than a country acquiring nuclear weapons right now.” This thinking demonstrates a failure to acknowledge the Iranian theocracy as the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism. They founded Hizballah and support Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, PFLP and others via funds, arms and training. Iran also currently houses at least 25 of al-Qaeda’s top deputies. The Iranian regime is synonymous with terrorism.

How might terrorists acquire nuclear arms but through a state? Which state is most likely to do so but a state sponsor of terrorism? This logic is unsettling coming from the head of the world’s nuclear watchdog organization.

But another question also arises regarding ElBaradei and the IAEA.

The IAEA has had the samples in question for some time, likely months. The samples were acknowledged in a 28Apr06 IAEA report to the UN Security Council. How long before the report the samples were taken is not yet clear.

Yet the sample findings were only made available three days ago - and only then initiated by anonymous insiders. How long can it possibly take to determine the presence of HEU?

Was ElBaradei and the IAEA keeping the analysis quiet? Or did his IAEA drag their feet in beginning the fissile material analysis?

It cannot possibly take months to perform particle analysis, especially when the issue at hand is an acute international crisis.

So why now? That is a question that remains to be answered.

Considering the results of the tests were made public by ‘anonymous sources’ rather than ElBaradei or an IAEA spokesman, ElBaradei’s above comments immediately downplaying them - or more accurately, the logic behind them - are troubling.

May 13, 2006

Iranian Equipment has Enriched Uranium 'Approaching Weapons-Grade'

In yet another piece of evidence that counters Iranian claims of a peaceful nuclear power program, the IAEA released test results that found traces of very highly enriched uranium on swabbed vacuum pumps that were in the Lavizan facility northeast of Tehran. After the IAEA raised questions about the facility and informed Tehran of their desire to inspect in late 2003, the regime promptly dismantled the entire facility in early 2004, including the removal of at least several inches of topsoil. The IAEA later tracked down and sampled the vacuum pumps (used to circulate Uranium gas through centrifuges) that were in use at the Lavizan facility before it was razed.

It is important to note that the IAEA has found ‘highly enriched uranium’. Highly enriched uranium (HEU) is considered to be a mixture that is at a 20% purity level. Weapons-grade HEU is considered to be a mixture at 80% uranium purity. Weapons-Grade Iran had recently announced officially that it had enriched uranium to a 4.8% purity level, sufficient for fueling a nuclear power plant and had no plans for enriching to a higher level.

With those numbers in mind, consider the levels cited by diplomats familiar with the tests as cited by the Associated Press.

Initially, they said the density of enrichment appeared to be close to or above the level used to make nuclear warheads. But later a diplomat accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency said it was below that, although higher than the low-enriched material used to generate power and heading toward weapons-grade level.

This from equipment that was used in a military-run facility thoroughly razed and sanitized by the Iranians once it was brought into question. These are also levels generated before 2004. Iran explained previous positive HEU tests as material present in used equipment acquired from other countries. That will likely be the offered explanation in this case as well, and the only possible explanation that will allow Iran to wiggle from under the weight of the findings. While Iran has not yet offered an explanation for the HEU findings, but Ahmadinejad has already dismissed it.

The ‘used foreign equipment’ explanation will not, however, answer the question of why the facility this equipment was used in was razed after inspections were requested, including the very topsoil that surrounded it. (See this in the series of ISIS photos provided by Vital Perspective.) Iran has said in the past that the Lavizan site was demolished to make room for a park. This should be summarily dismissed. With the value Iran places in its nuclear program, leveling a fully functional facility for swings and picnic benches is a laughable explanation.

In light of this announcement, it is interesting that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared today that Iran would operate its nuclear program under IAEA control. Ahmadinejad said, “The IAEA monitors Iran’s nuclear program, and all further activities of Iran in the sphere of nuclear energy will be conducted under the IAEA’s control.” But Iran’s past actions are clearly not consistent with this assertion, including the removal of IAEA cameras and the breaking of seals under IAEA protest.

Continuing, he added, “The international community should not be nervous since Tehran’s nuclear program is absolutely peaceful. Iran is ready for talks with all the countries of the world except Israel.”

If Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful, then why did Iran ask the Pakistani Army for a nuclear bomb (once they produced one) in 1990? If Iran operates under IAEA control, why was Lavizan demolished and cleansed before the IAEA could carry out the requested inspection?

The truth in Ahmadinejad’s words come in their conclusion. “Tehran will never succumb to outside pressure, like it or not.” That much we can be sure of. Outside pressure would presumably include the UN’s IAEA, based in Vienna and New York.

May 12, 2006

Iran Asked Pak Army for Nuclear Bomb in 1990

Many interesting pieces of information are contained within an Associated Press article today. In an interview with the former Pakistani Army Chief of Staff, Retired Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, he discusses several instances of advising the Iranians on nuclear matters, including recently advising them to threaten retaliation against Israel if the US attacks its nuclear facilities.

Retired Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg said he suggested their government “make it clear that if anything happens to Iran, if anyone attacks it - it doesn’t matter who it is or how it is attacked - that Iran’s answer will be to hit Israel; the only target will be Israel.”

That is precisely what IRGC commander Mohammad Ebrahim Dehghani did last week.

This is the tactic that Beg said he used while Pakistan was developing a nuclear weapon: He warned that any (US or Israeli) attack on Pakistani facilities would be retaliated against by attacking India.

But the most interesting piece of information Beg, who is no friend of America, disclosed was that Iran approached him in 1990 and asked not for nuclear technology, but for a nuclear bomb.

In the AP interview, Beg detailed nearly 20 years of Iranian approaches to obtain conventional arms and then technology for nuclear weapons. He described an Iranian visit in 1990, when he was army chief of staff.

“They didn’t want the technology. They asked: ‘Can we have a bomb?’ My answer was: By all means you can have it but you must make it yourself. Nobody gave it to us.”

What Beg’s motives are for speaking about this is anyone’s guess. However, it is worth noting here that Beg stands accused of being involved in AQ Kahn’s proliferation network, which supplied Iran with its primary nuclear technology.

This flies in the face of every mention of peaceful nuclear power by the Iranian regime. General Beg’s account, it should be mentioned, is nearly impossible to prove or disprove. However, there is nearly nothing that suggests Iran’s assertion of peaceful power plants holds merit, while the preponderance of the evidence suggests a nuclear arms program, including decades of clandestine activity, purchasing technology from a nuclear bomb maker, underground fortified facilities, razing the Lavizan facility when an IAEA inspection is requested, cutting down trees in research areas to remove traces left behind on the leaves….the list goes on.

Consider also the next bit of advice General Beg recently gave to the Iranians while advising them to retaliate against Israel for any strikes.

He said he also advised them to “attempt to degrade the defense systems of Israel,” harass it through the Hamas government of the Palestinian Authority and the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, and put second-strike nuclear weapons on submarines.

Very interesting advice, considering it was within the past weeks. Perhaps it was long term advice, as putting ‘second strike’ nuclear weapons on submarines assumes a ‘first strike’ capability. And there is good reason for it, as there is not much mystery as to what will happen should Iran launch a first strike on Israel.

But the point is that Beg, intimately familiar with the Iranian program, makes no argument about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He knows precisely what the Iranian ambition is.

The article concludes with another account of Iranian approaches to Pakistan for nuclear assistance, this time from the former Pakistani ambassador to Iran.

Another angle on these early contacts comes from Tanvir Ahmed, Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran from 1987-1989. He said he had a rare meeting with Iran’s nuclear inner circle in January 1988.

“It was the only time I was allowed in the inner sanctum of the nuclear discussions. I was asked to a lunch. … they wanted to know whether Pakistan would help them on the nuclear side. They never said they wanted nuclear weapons. They said they wanted to master the nuclear cycle,” Ahmed recalled.

Ahmed said he told them it was unlikely, but promised to relay the request to Zia. He said Zia told him: “You gave them the right answer.”

It should also be noted that this conversation took place at least a year before the Iranians asked the Pakistani Army Chief of Staff directly for a weapon, according to his own account.

Hamas Splintering Over Israel Recognition?

On the same day that it was released by Israel that two Hamas terrorists were caught trying to enter Israel to establish a terror cell and carry out attacks on Israelis, Hamas spokesman Khaled Suleiman announced that Hamas is prepared to not only recognize previous PA-Israel agreements, but actually recognize the Israeli state within the confines of the 1967 borders.

What is being called the Barghouti peace plan was signed by jailed leaders of various Palestinian terrorist organizations.

The document was signed by Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti, Hamas’s Abdel Khaleq al-Natsheh, Islamic Jihad’s Bassam al-Sa’di, the Democratic Front’s Mustafa Badarneh and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s Abdel Rahim Malouh.

Fatah spokesman Ahmed Abdel Rahman described the letter as good and serious and called on all Palestinian factions to respond positively.

AP Photo:  Barghouti in JailThat it was signed by leaders who are all jailed in Israeli prisons indicates direct Israeli involvement in the effort beyond the bright lights of the media & official spokesmen and isolated from the violent clashes between the battling factions of Fatah and Hamas vying for power within the Palestinian Authority.

It is no coincidence that, on the heels of this development that Israel has decided to release millions of dollars in Palestinian tax revenues collected on behalf of the PA but withheld since Hamas’ election victory and simultaneously resume fuel shipments to Palestinians. Gulf News states that Israel has caved to international pressure, but viewing the events within the same context properly, it is clear that the Israeli actions were in response to an at least symbolic moderation among the most violent among the Palestinians.

But not all Hamas members are on board with the recognition of Israel and the moderation expressed, and surely not all of the members of the other signatory groups are either.

Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ political leader exiled and working from Damascus, Syria, pleaded with the region to send arms, money and new recruits in a speech delivered while the Barghouti draft was being finalized. In an effort to appeal to the widest audience, Meshaal said, “We ask all the people in surrounding Arab countries, the Muslim world and everyone who wants to support us to send weapons, money and men. You should not shy away from of this. This is resistance, not terrorism.” But images of the shells of commuter buses and the shattered bodies destroyed by Hamas in the past belie this message. If some of Hamas is willing to moderate, clearly Meshaal is not among them.

We may be seeing the beginning of the splintering of Hamas into two distinctly different groups. The same can be said of the other groups as well, with, for example, the non-compliant members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade driven farther from the abiding signatory members of Barghouti’s Fatah.

The upside of this development is huge, while the downside is simply business as usual. If the Barghouti peace Plan proves to be sincere substance and not merely advantageous short-term symbolism, this is an important step. Given the history of the groups, that is a big ‘if’.

But most substantive change begins with a gesture. Could this be that gesture? Time will tell.

May 11, 2006

Ahmadinejad: Tyrannical Israel 'Will be Destroyed'

Before departing Jankarta after talks with the Indonesian president, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took more verbal shots at both Israel and the United States, defiant and rightfully fearless toward the unlikely possibility of UN Security Council sanctions.

Ahmadinejad called Israel, the region’s only fully functional democracy, “a tyrannical regime “that will one day will be destroyed.” With regards to the international conflict over Iran’s ’peaceful nuclear program’, he said within the same conversation that “There are no limits to our dialogue. But if someone points an arm (a weapon) at your face and says you must speak, will you do that?”

Yesterday, however, the Iranian president went out of his way to define the limits of Iran’s dialogue, declaring that Iran would not back down. In three years of talks with the EU-3, the UN and Russia, Iran has talked at length but negotiated little. There indeed may be no end to Iran’s dialogue, but its clandestine nuclear program has proven to be, without doubt, non-negotiable. As far as any negotiations with the United States are concerned, the defiant Ahmadinejad suggested that America first lose its “bad attitude.”

Ahmadinejad has reason to be confident, as it has been evident since the beginning of the process that Iran has little to fear from the UN Security Council with partners China and Russia shielding the regime from any hint of sanctions from the international body. That protection from Iran’s partners doomed any efforts to reach a binding UN resolution compelling Iran to abide by IAEA directions and requests, including halting its enrichment program. Yet, ironically, in a move hailed by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei himself, the failure to deliver any enforcement mechanism behind the IAEA’s own efforts resulted in what is being called the “carrot and stick” plan, driven principally by the EU-3 nations of Britain, Germany and France.

Said ElBaradei, “The only solution to the Iran situation is a comprehensive package through dialogue, through negotiation.” He added further, “It is very good that the Security Council holds its horses.” But is it? His IAEA has absolutely no enforcement capabilities without those horses galloping at the Iranian gates. Stabling them reduces his inspection regime and requests to comical fodder for the Iranian regime. Yet, he cheers his organization’s own weakening? Recall that Iran broke the IAEA seals at the Natanz facility and removed the cameras with IAEA inspectors observing helplessly. Enrichment continues today.

The “carrot and stick” plan is an attempt to communicate to Iran options, including economic and security reward for good behavior as well as consequences for continued belligerence.

But the ‘carrot’ alternative to an enforceable UN resolution cannot be discussed without noting that the EU-3 made extensive economic offers in the form of highly favorable trade agreements in 2004. Iran rejected them then and will reject them now. Their nuclear program is seen as a manifest destiny and simply is not for sale and non-negotiable.

Further, the ‘stick’ has already been laughed at, and for good reason. Both China and Russia have proven to be steadfast and reliable partners in Iran’s management of the nuclear crisis, fueled as much by their common opposition to American endeavors as their lucrative oil, defense and technology trade relationships with the mullah regime.

So when Ahmadinejad declares that Iran is “open to talks,” the world can rest assured that Iran knows the precise limitations of any such talks – limitations comfortably within the scope of Iran’s interests and the preservation of their clandestine nuclear weapons program with a little help from their friends.

The world might well prepare itself for one of two impending realities. One potential reality is a pre-emptive strike from Israel, more concerned for its own survival than global consensus. The other is a nuclear-armed state sponsor of terrorism and all of the fallout that would result.

The UN is paralyzed without consensus – a consensus that will never materialize among the Security Council Permanent Five – reducing the IAEA to dismissible status.

The EU lacks the courage to confront Iran and America currently lacks the political will.

That will leave Israel to defend itself against a nuclear armed nation that routinely publicly announces its destruction in pursuit of a religiously inspired ‘manifest destiny’. The world may think of an attack on Israel as a tragedy. Israel thinks of it as death. Israelis do not refer to Israel in the third person.

Dark days appear to lie ahead if the current course remains unaltered.

Indonesia Offers to Mediate Iran Negotiations

While in Indonesia, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held a press conference with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, where he reiterated that Iran will not back down to the West or the UN on its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad attempted to position Iran as ‘champion of the downtrodden’ by declaring that Iran’s nuclear drive was not just for Iran. Ahmadinejad said, “Today the people of Iran are not just defending their own rights, but also those of other nations. They [the United States and other Western powers] want to prevent other countries from reaching the pinnacle of science and technology.”

He went on to say that the United States was simply a nuclear profiteer dominating the world nuclear market and added, “They pretend that they are concerned about the nature of the nuclear program of the Islamic republic of Iran. This is a big lie.”

As for the West’s drive for a negotiated settlement of the issue, he stated once more that Iran would “absolutely not back out” of its nuclear efforts. Yet negotiation was on the mind of the Indonesian president.

President Yudhoyono expressed support for Iran and believed that Iran was willing to resolve the standoff peacefully through negotiation. He even offered to mediate between the sides, which he said Ahmadinejad was very receptive to. “We need to breathe new life into the negotiations,” the Indonesian President said.

Yet, as evidenced by Ahmadinejad’s words once more at the press conference and Iran’s actions over the past three years, not much seems negotiable to the Iranians. Whether with the EU-3, Russia or the UN, negotiations with Iran thus far have proven akin to taking a vegetarian to a hamburger stand.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said point blank that future US-China relations depend heavily on their handling of the Iranian nuclear crisis, referring to their coming decisions at the UN Security Council as “exhibit A” and “critical”.

For Russia’s part, Moscow welcomed a senior Iranian official to hammer out the details of launching the Russian-built Bushehr plant on the Persian Gulf coast and nuclear fuel supplies for the plant as Vladimir Putin railed against the United States in his Russian state of the nation speech.

Meanwhile, Israel’s National Security Council, Giora Eiland, stated that while discussion of a military option on Iran is not warranted, there is precious little time for a diplomatic solution. From Jerusalem, Eiland said, “We do believe that a political solution to the problem is still achievable although time is running out. The relevant time terms can be measured in months.”

Time is definitely running out. And, the offer from the Indonesian president to mediate talks notwithstanding, the Iranian stance is unfortunately not one suited for negotiations. While a tough stance is a customary and effective negotiation tactic, this is not a labor negotiation with salaries and health benefits at stake. The cost of failure is far more than a trip to the unemployment line.

Iran’s nuclear destiny is not for sale, regardless of any and all economic benefits strewn about once more from the EU.

May 10, 2006

Iran & al-Qaeda Fan Palestinian Flames

As the security situation in the Palestinian Territories worsens and Hamas continues to refuse recognition of Israel and existing agreements between the Jewish state and the PA, the Quartet agreed to an unrevealed mechanism to funnel Palestinian aid ‘directly to the Palestinians’ which will supposedly bypass Hamas.

But, while Hamas’ PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh ripped the US for insisting Hamas accept Israel, Israel accepted the Quartet plan and gave Hamas a one-year deadline to demonstrate good faith in negotiations. “If it becomes clear by the end of the year that we really have no partner, and the international community is also convinced of this, then we will take our fate into our own hands and not leave our fate in the hands of our enemies,” said Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon.

For his part, Haniyeh asked Palestinian terrorists to end the rocket attacks on Israel, reportedly reasoning that the Israeli artillery fire they claim to be responding to is actually in response to their initiation of rocket attacks. But, unheeded, 3 Qassam rockets were again fired at Israel, in the direction of Sderot and Ashkelon. The IDF responded with more artillery fire at the northern Gaza launch points.

Amid the swirling events, it was revealed by the IDF that it had intercepted an explosives shipment of Egyptian origin in the Mediterranean off the coast of Gaza, where the vessel had dumped 1,100 pounds of military grade TNT overboard before racing toward a crowd of other Gaza vessels near the shore. While IDF divers later recovered the explosives from the sea floor 100 feet below, they did not pursue the boat amongst Gaza fishermen. Arms smuggling continues to be a concern for Israel and remains the primary reason they will not permit a Palestinian seaport or airport to operate within Gaza.

Meanwhile, a new al-Qaeda group distributed their first communiqué in Gaza City, declaring loyalty to Osama bin Laden and vowing to “blow up our bodies in their positions” and “strike with an iron fist at all the crusader, American and Zionist campaigns.” Security in Israel and the Palestinian Territories is about to experience a new calculus as Hamas and Fatah continue to fight one another for control and al-Qaeda begins to actively enter the fray, capitalizing on the lawlessness to establish a new base of operations.

The news all around for the region is troubling. It is possible to view Haniyeh’s request of the terrorists in the Palestinian Territories to halt their rocket attacks as a positive development and a possible sign of moderation, just as it is possible to view Ahmadinejad’s letter to President Bush as a desire for discussion. Both will likely prove to superficial observations. Just as Ahmadinejad’s letter did not address the crisis within which it was submitted, the various Palestinian groups will likely forget his words, even if they are sincere – such groups now including an opportunist al-Qaeda seeking fertile grounds of operation in the wake of their failure in Iraq.

The events viewed in context and with a longer view in mind begin to illustrate a picture of a West losing its resolve. Within a 24-hour period, the Quartet submits and decides to relieve Hamas financially and the EU-3 offer Iran ‘new’ deal, one no different in reality than the one offered and rejected in 2004. The Islamist Iranian revolutionary regime clearly sees itself as fulfilling its destiny. And the West seems to be seeking to appease them with economic packages in exchange for that destiny – the destruction of Israel and regional military, political and religious hegemony through nuclear arms.

Why would Iran agree to economic packages when their belligerence assures them a far greater economic package without sacrificing to the West, as the words of Ahmadinejad nearly dictate the asking price of their life blood, crude oil exports? Iran reaps the reward of obstinate fury in route to their destiny, as Ahmadinejad and the mullahs reap windfalls from $70+ per barrel crude prices, dictated nearly exclusively beyond that by the chosen words among them. Manipulation beyond $100 per barrel is but a breath away, funding the very program in question and allowing for further fiscal support to Hamas, encouraging a continuation of both crises through bellicosity.

Why would Hamas recognize Israel when it counters their very purpose for existence, based on their own founding charter? For, in spite of any spoken words (again, sincere or insincere),- the Palestinian conflict - internal and external - rages on.

With Iranian support and increasing influence within and upon Hamas, it is becoming impossible to compartmentalize and distinguish the Iranian international crisis from the Palestinian crisis. This is by Iranian design. Enter al-Qaeda. The Palestinian conflict is far too important to regional players to allow Hamas to sue for peace, even if it desires it.

When 2006 comes to a close, the events of this day will be looked upon as one of the defining days of the year for the entire region and monumental steps in retreat for the West.

May 9, 2006

Iran, Hizballah, Iraqi Shi'ite Militias and SA-18's

The fallout continues after a British Lynx helicopter was shot down in Basra, Iraq on Saturday. Four British troops were killed in the crash as British officials held Muqtada al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi Army responsible for the attack which utilized a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile. Following a rise in attacks in the south of Iraq, at the hands of militias funded and armed by Iran, British forces appear to be lowering their security activities, dramatically reducing their over-the-road patrols fearing IED’s, replacing them largely with helicopter patrols. This decision left the Iranian-backed militias, primarily the al-Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades, relatively unchallenged and unfettered in their quest for dominance of Basra and the rest of southern Iraq.

Now that a helicopter has been shot down, there is talk in some circles of British withdrawal from Iraq altogether, while others see the incident as ‘A shot that changed the rules’. But the deputy commander of Multinational Forces - Iraq, British Lieutenant-General Sir Rob Fry, sees nothing in the talk of withdrawal. It is the Iraqi government’s job to track down and defeat these armed militias, and General Fry said that if they fail to do so, British troops may be deployed to do the job. Not only did the riots incited by the militias following the crash rightly disturb the Brits, but the stakes are now clearly higher and the specter of ceding southern Iraq to Iran via Shi’ite militias is feared an unpleasant reality.

After finding missile casings in the third floor of the building from where the missile was fired, it was confirmed that the missile used was a Russian design, quite possibly directly supplied from Iran or indirectly from Iranian child Hizballah or Syria. The article stops short of identifying the weapon for security reasons, but limits the field of potential suppliers rather specifically.

Iranian involvement in killing US, British and Iraqi forces via Hizballah facilitation has been going on for some time. It should be noted with interest that meetings have taken place publicly among Iranian, Hizballah and Syrian figures, including suspicion of activity from Imad Fayez Mugniyah, believed to be present with Ahmadinejad in a recent trip to Syria. Through proxies such as Hizballah, the al-Mahdi Army, the Badr Brigades (and others) and their press for nuclear weapons, Iran clearly seeks regional hegemony. This includes thinly veiled confrontation with Coalition forces within Iraq.

The primary Telegraph article referenced here stopped short of naming the model of the Russian-made missile used in the attack on the British Lynx, but did go so far as to say that “(h)undreds of the missiles [identified by/to The Telegraph] are known to have been sold to Iran and some to Syria, leading to speculation that some might have been passed to Iraq’s insurgents.” This includes several missile models, but points to two primary possibilities: The SA-18 Grouse (Igla 9K38) and possibly the even newer SA-16 Gimlet (Igla-1 9K310).

In recent years, attempts by Russia to sell the SA-18 Grouse in packages to Syria were halted under the objections of Israel, rightly fearing that any transfer to Syria would result in a transfer to Hizballah in Lebanon. The advanced SA-18, a vast improvement on the SA-7 already possessed by Hizballah, is feared by Israel as a threat to their civilian airliners more so than military aircraft. (The SA-7 was used in the failed attempt to bring down an El Al airliner taking off in Kenya. Perhaps an improved SA-18 would have found its mark with better targeting guidance, range and countermeasure [flare] evasion capabilities.)

Global Security notes the 1997 agreement by Russia to sell 500 of the SA-18’s to Iran, which is also reflected at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) site as the number known in the Iranian arsenal, likely far more nearly a decade later. And, if Iran has them and desires it, Hizballah has them already as well. In fact, the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin noted in 2003 that it was suspected that Hizballah already had possession of the SA-18’s, shipped before Israel successfully pulled the plug on an earlier Russian-Syrian arms deal. If Hizballah received a number of the SA-18’s, it is only logical to conclude that Syria may have also. This would be consistent with The Telegraph’s numbers, saying that “(h)undreds of the missiles [500 as shown] are known to have been sold to Iran and some to Syria [following the Hizballah supply logic].

If Hizballah indeed has them, under the direction of Iran it is more than plausible that Shi’ite militias in the south of Iraq will have them as well, if and when Iran desire(d) it so. Gauging by the Hizballah assistance in bomb making (similar concealment and triggering techniques showing up in Iraq) and the capture of IED shipments directly from Iran across the Iraq border, an SA-18 threat in Iraq is very real.

It has been believed (though unconfirmed) that in January, an SA-18 was fired upon a C-130 transport carrying US Congress members from Baghdad to Kuwait. The Congressional passengers said that whatever was fired at the aircraft, countermeasures onboard allowed evasion of the missile. In an effort to further policy fitting US domestic aircraft with countermeasures against missiles, Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said, “We had a scare in Iraq in January, when my colleagues said they believed a shoulder-fired missile was fired at their plane.”

Was the British Lynx attack simply the first successful SA-18 attack since the January attempt at a high-value target?

May 8, 2006

IDF Relentless as Hamas, Fatah in Bloody Feud

The most active terrorist organization in the Palestinian Territories has been the relatively new Popular Resistance Committees, a blend of terrorists largely from Hamas, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. On Friday, Israel launched an airstrike into the Gaza Strip and killed five terrorists training at a PRC base camp. The Hamas-led Palestinian government condemned the attacks as a “horrendous bloodbath”. Concurrently, the IDF launched operations in Nablus’ Balata refugee camp, where one terrorist, brandishing a Molotov cocktail, was killed and 5 wanted terror suspects were captured.

Following later rocket attacks intended to strike Israel from northern Gaza, the IDF launched a volley of artillery fire into launch positions on Saturday and Sunday. The first rocket attack found the Qassam rocket fall short of its mark, failing to cross the Gaza-Israel border. It could be an indication that the terrorists firing the rockets have moved back behind the launch points previously used and shelled by the IDF. Palestinian medics said that two farmers were killed in the artillery barrages, again giving indication that Israeli artillery is following them back as well. It also indicates that the number of the much longer-range Katyusha rockets brought into Gaza may indeed be a smaller number than initially suggested.

Inside the PRC seems to be the only arena where Fatah and Hamas elements can cooperate. Early Monday, a gunbattle in Gaza broke out between Hamas and Fatah at Khan Younis, as no safe haven of cooperation exists on the Gaza streets amid the fight for control of the Palestinian government. Two of the dead were from Fatah and one from Hamas with several others wounded. Hamas had accused Fatah members of kidnapping one of their men.

There were reports Sunday that Israeli intelligence had disrupted a plot to kill Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. According to the UK’s Sunday Times, “Hamas’s military wing, the Izza Din Al-Qassem, had planned to kill Abbas at his office in Gaza, intelligence sources said.” Hamas denied plotting an Abbas assassination.

Israpundit takes a closer look at the Sunday Times’ author, Uzi Mahnaimi, and comes to the conclusion that the assassination story should be taken with a grain of salt. Fact or fiction, it is a believable concept, bolstered by the growing violent clashes between Fatah and Hamas on the Palestinian streets.

Iran Again Threatens NPT Withdrawal

Iran has, once more, threatened to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in a letter sent from the Iranian Mejlis to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The Iranian parliament wrote that withdrawal will occur if Annan and the Security Council “fail in their crucial responsibility to resolve differences peacefully.” Via ABC News, AP’s Ali Akbar Dareini correctly notes in his article the difference between Western usage of the word ‘peacefully’ and the Iranian Mejlis in this instance. For the Iranians, peaceful does not simply infer the absence of military strikes, as sanctions are considered by them an act of war.

Remember that the Iranian Mejlis suspended IAEA inspections earlier in the year after being referred to the UN Security Council. Also, in February, Ahmadinejad telegraphed Iranian withdrawal from the NPT. He said, “The Islamic Republic of Iran has continued its nuclear drive within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the NPT, but if we see that you want to deprive us of our right using these regulations, know that the people will revise their policy in this regard.”

Iran was in fact dragged kicking and screaming to the IAEA framework only after its clandestine nuclear program was revealed in detail three years ago. Further, any suggestion that Iran “continued its nuclear drive within the framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty” is laughable considering Iran’s own admission that its primary source of technological advancement was from the network of the notorious nuclear proliferator, AQ Khan, including its current operating centrifuge designs. Khan is known as the ‘Father of the Islamic Bomb.’

At a GCC Summit Saturday, Sunni Arab states openly raised concerns about Iran’s nuclear intentions, fearing a nuclear armed revolutionary Shi’ite power in the region. In response, Iran made efforts to calm Gulf Cooperation Council states about its nuclear activities, assuring the council that the Bushehr nuclear plant nearing completion on the Persian Gulf coast is safe. But the questions from the Arab leaders and the Iranian reply are veiled references clearly understood by both sides. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Qatar nor the UAE fear a nuclear power plant upwind. They do, however, fear nuclear warheads downrange. Both sides understand this with absolute clarity.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan also expressed concerns over a Shi’ite-dominated government in Iraq and its potential relationship with and manipulation by Iran, saying, “If there is Iranian intervention in Iraq, let it be only to bring Iraqi points of view closer together.” Of course, Iran’s involvement in Iraq has been to bring the Shi’ite and Sunni sects to open warfare internally and to bring insurgents and terrorists closer to sophisticated and deadly Iranian-made IEDs.

May 3, 2006

Pressure on Iran Mounts from Multiple Fronts

It is expected today that Britain, France, Germany and the US will address the UN Security Council regarding the path of addressing the Iranian nuclear crisis. With the Iranian regime in their crosshairs, their scope is sighted on firm sanctions against the mullah-run theocracy for their obstinacy in dealing with the international community’s concerns via the IAEA.

However, according a Reuters report, the group “probably will not distribute a text that Russia and China still oppose. Moscow and Beijing fear it would be a step toward sanctions or even military action.” What this means is that discussions will be verbal among the Council members as the Western powers continue their efforts to persuade The Bear and The Dragon to support concrete efforts to terminate the Iranian dash toward nuclear arms.

It is important to keep these discussions at Turtle Bay within proper context. That context is, in part, the growing sense that the UN handling of Iran is practically expected by most in the West to fail to achieve measurable results as talk of an extra-UN ‘coalition of the willing’ gathers steam. Such a coalition outside of UN actions (or in spite of UN inaction) can be expected to be a shorter list of dissident governments than currently seen as pressing the Security Council for action. Germany, for one, is part of the group addressing the Security Council, but, as Merkel has said, does not support any sanctioning outside of the UN body.

Iran’s National Security Chief, Ali Larijani, is the man ‘who would be king’ in Iran, the favorite in the presidential elections last year who was stunned by defeat at the hands of Ahmadinejad. Speaking in Abu Dabai, he offered support for the Gulf Cooperation Council to mediate between Iran and the West regarding their clandestine nuclear program. In an effort to assuage Arab fears of a nuclear Iran, the statement was designed to appear as an extended hand as Larijani attempted to rally his Persian Gulf neighbors around anti-Americanism.

Said Larijani, “The US is now planting seeds of discord between Shias and Sunnis in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.” That statement should be weighed within the context of Iranian meddling in Iraq via IRGC operatives scurrying throughout the Shia south in Iraq and the suspicions of Iran’s hand in fueling the current sectarian violence aimed at destabilizing the fledgling America-friendly Iraqi democracy.

While the US has no interest in a violent Shia-Sunni rift in Iraq, it is possible that there has been communication with and support extended to groups opposed to the mullah regime, be they Kurds in Northern Iraq, Balochs in southern Iran and western Pakistan and/or internal and exiled Iranian dissident groups. The end game is regime change in Iran. While Larijani may have over-stepped in his statement, his fears are likely well founded.

There has been talk, especially since the Iraqi claims of Iranian incursions against Kurdish groups in Northern Iraq, of concerted efforts to destabilize the Iranian regime. Some see the Kurdish attacks on Iran as the prelude to a wider non-American assault aimed at destabilizing or even dethroning the Iranian regime. In those circles, the wider effort is thought to be orchestrated and/or facilitated by American intelligence.

With this in mind, Regime Change Iran brings to the forefront the claim by the overthrown Shah’s son, Reza Pahlavi, that his group is planning an overthrow of the Iranian regime within months in order to establish democracy and discard theocracy. Just one of several groups of dissidents in opposition to the mullah regime, while there would certainly be a power struggle amongst them for control, the institutions of democracy, unlike Iraq in 2003, are firmly in place in Iran – albeit dominated by theocratic Islamist rulers.

Determining the extent of support that Reza Pahlavi (or other groups) may have internally in Iran and from the United States is far from an exact science. However, considering the alternative is a nuclear armed state sponsor of terror or an American military intervention or, conceivably, both, it’s time to start lending support to those who intend to do from within what we cannot from without.

A good layman’s look at the various Iranian opposition groups can be found here.

May 2, 2006

US, EU Confident on Iran Sanctions

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said today that he is confident that a Chapter 7 resolution from the UNSC on Iran will emerge within the next few days. Chapter 7 resolutions are binding and compliance is mandatory, which opens the door for later implementation of sanctions on Iran, currently opposed energetically by both Russia and China.

But sensing support from Britain, France and Germany in such a measure, Burns said, “I think the process would be a Chapter 7 resolution that would ask the Iranians to suspend their nuclear program. If Iran does not comply with that then I think it is inevitable that you’ll see an effort for a sanctions resolution to follow probably in a month or so.”

Interestingly, while Iran has long maintained the UN sanctions would not hurt Iran as much as advertised and have no effect on its nuclear aspirations, Manouchehr Mottaki saw fit to remind all involved that Russia and China will not back sanctions. Even more curious, however, and proof that Iranian bravado and bluster in the face of real sanctions is precisely that, Iran’s deputy nuclear chief, Mohammed Saeedi, revealed Iranian fears of sanctions when he gestured that Iran would cooperate if only the toothless IAEA once again maintained their UN dossier. Saeedi said, “If the issue is returned to the International Atomic Energy Agency, we will be ready to allow intrusive inspections.” Needless to say, the time for this cooperation has long since passed. As well, Iran has never made good on such offers in the past, making them in tight spots to seemingly further the shell game and buy precious time.

Beyond sanctions, the nature and likelihood of a US attack on Iranian facilities has dominated discussions from Washington to New York and from Tehran to Moscow. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards commander, Rear Admiral Mohammad-Ebrahim Dehqani pulled a page from the Saddam Hussein Gulf War strategy guide by threatening strikes on Israel in retaliation to any American attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities. Said Dehqani, “We have announced that wherever America does something evil, the first place that we target will be Israel.”

This entirely believable posturing seems to buttresses the argument that what Iran seeks in any conflict is to embroil the whole of the Middle East in war, attracting regional allies currently quiet from the fertile grounds of common cause, uniting around hatred for Israel, all of them reaping the benefit of triple-digit crude oil prices.

Egypt: Which Side in the Clash of Civilizations?

As noted in the analysis piece “Global Jihad Ongoing,” the clash of civilizations is underway, subtly in the minds of some and overwhelming in the minds of others. One player in this controversy has received positive press in the West, but maybe that positive view is the product of good public relations from the Egyptian government, while the real Egyptian agenda is obscured from the West.

Despite his bonhomie, however, a television series produced by the government-owned and controlled Egyptian Radio and Television Union and shown on the PMW website tells a very different tale of how Egypt really sees its role in history and world politics, and that of the U.S.

As Arafat’s messages in English differed greatly from his messages to his own people in Arabic, the Egyptians are telling different tales, depending on who is listening. Egypt received over $1.3 Billion dollars in aid from the U.S. last year. What did the U.S. get for its money? Here’s an example of what happened when the U.S. tried to aid an Egyptian group pushing for democratic change in Egypt.

But two U.S. senators pushed the administration, in October 2003, to become more active in trying to seed democratic change in Egypt. Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky proposed giving $2 million to Egypt’s Ibn Khaldun Center, founded by sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who holds U.S. citizenship. The Mubarak government had ransacked the center in 2000 and arrested its founder. He then spent nearly three years in jail on charges of defaming the state and taking money illegally from European donors, before being acquitted.

Although this is one limited example and without further research into this Ibn Khaldun center, it is impossible to say whether “pro-democracy” is a euphemism or is real. The State Department compromised on the language in the grants to Egypt, back in 2003.

The State Department took Egypt’s side and sought to dilute offending language in the bill, according to Senate staff aides. After weeks of squabbling, Congress and the administration reached a compromise: The U.S. would give about $1 million to pro-democracy Egyptian groups, including the Ibn Khaldun Center, but only a small portion would come from the preexisting aid program.

And from the Palestinian Media Watch, another excerpt from the Egyptian TV program.

“Do not forget that when the crusades came to the region we resisted for 200 years,” the father reminds his son. “For 200 years there were wars. We too have the ability to resist for many years. We will not become like the Indians, put in cages for the world to watch, as they are doing now in Guantanamo with the remaining al-Qaeda.”

Although this is one TV show, it is important to note that media in Egypt is not completely free to publish any content it desires. There is some government oversight and moreso, repression following the publication of “undesirable” articles. Since this TV program is in its second season, it must have met with Egyptian government approval.

The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood has achieved some legitimate status through recent elections, the Muslim Brotherhood is not the answer for democratic change in Egypt - the exact opposite is the case.

Judith Klinghofer makes this observation regarding an Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1967.

I know history rarely repeats itself but I cannot but notice the similarities between Gamal Abd’l Nasser and Ahmadinejad, between May 1967 and April 2006. The military swagger, the mobilization of the populations, and the threats to annihilate Israel are all reminiscent of Gamal Abdul-Nasser’s Egypt. Then, as now, the real target was the US and the real goal the leadership of the greater Middle East. Then as now, the US was mired in a lengthy unpopular counter insurgency and the Israeli leadership seemed weak. Then as now, the West appeared divided and paralyzed and the UN appeasing.

Does this apply only to Iran? Or as the Global Jihad analysis demonstrates, to other countries in the Islamic world? Who has declared war on whom? Who are the players? Who are the interested parties? Who are the disinterested and the disengaged? The answers lie in the actions - not the words of a country. For Egypt, the actions speak loudly. How could Al Qaeda get access to Gaza without complicity from Egypt? The Al Qaeda terrorists were reportedly waiting in Egypt for the Israelis to withdraw from the border crossing following Sharon’s disengagement. After Israeli security departed, the terrorists moved in.

As in 1967, the enemy is the United States and the battleground is Israel. Egypt is strategically positioned for any attacks on Israel. The apparent Islamist propaganda campaign is building a society of hatred for the Jews and the United States. It appears that Egypt has taken a side in the clash of civilizations, and it appears to be the wrong side, funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars.

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