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June 30, 2006

Sunni Factions React to Maliki Amnesty Initiative

Earlier in the week ThreatsWatch reported on the reconciliation plan of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki and initial reactions from Sunnis political leaders as well as armed factions which continue to fight coalition forces. As initially reported, the amnesty would cover all but terrorists and hardcore Saddamists. Maliki has further clarified that the amnesty will not include killers of American soldiers, but will include members of the Shia militias, subject to the condition that they have not intentionally killed civilians (Washington Post, Al-Hayat). Several Sunni groups have contacted the government and indicated willingness to discuss reconciliation (Reuters), although their size and significance has been questioned. Some Iraqi insurgents, including the Baath, the former ruling party, have rejected even considering it.

Among Sunnis committed to the political process, reactions ranged from qualified acceptance to criticism of the plan as being inadequate. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi, a member of the Shia faction SCIRI, along with second deputy prime minister Tariq Hashemi, the government’s highest-ranking Sunni Arab, described the plan as “inadequate” but nevertheless as being a “first step” in reconciliation. The Al-Hayat article linked above quotes briefly from an interview with Abd al-Mahdi in the French newspaper Liberation (“Adel Abdel-Mahdi, le vice-president irakien, tend la main aux insurges: ‘On ne poursuit pas les anciens baasistes, mai les criminels’”), in which he takes a different perspective from Maliki, emphasizing that being Baathist is not criminal itself, but that some individual Baathists would be ineligible. Abd al-Mahdi also endorsed a statement by Hashemi that the lack of a timeline for the withdrawal of American troops was a concern, but that this did not invalidate the initiative, as all factions in parliament had endorsed it. Abd al-Mahdi indicated that now the factions would set up committees representing all sides which would decide upon both the release of prisoners and eligibility for the amnesty plan.

Al-Hayat did include criticism from within Maliki’s ruling United Iraqi Alliance, from the Sadr faction. It quoted Buha al-Arji, a Sadr spokesman, as saying that “dialogue with the militants is in contradiction with the manner of its implementation because the government cannot distinguish between those implicated in crimes and those not, or between those who killed Iraqis and those who killed Americans.” Since Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been accused of killing Sunni civilians as well as Sunni terrorists, Sadr may be pressing for a more general amnesty.

The Iraqi newspaper Al-Rafidayn discusses the views of several Arab commentators on the issue. A couple suggested that new elections under a new census would be necessary, although that seems unlikely given the effort required for the formation of the current government. Legal analyst Tariq Harb suggested that the impact would not be great on the street since the groups didn’t have much popular basis, and may have only included 50-60 armed members in each faction. Others saw a greater turnaround more likely. Najar Samrani Fisher emphasized that the initiative only applied to Iraqis, not non-Iraqi Arabs fighting in the country. Given the government’s unwillingness at the present time to identify the specific groups seeking reconciliation, a certain degree of speculation is inherent in calculating the amnesty initiative’s likely effect.
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Sowell is an Arabic linguist, attorney and the author of The Arab World: An Illustrated History. You can read more about his book at his website, Arab World Analysis.

June 28, 2006

Anatomy of An Attack: The Palestinian Tunnel Raid

Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has an outstanding detailed description of the attack by Palestinians at Karem Shalom that resulted in two Israeli soldiers killed and one, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, kidnapped and spirited into the Rafah area of Gaza.

It was zero-dark-thirty on Sunday morning when Popular Resistance Committees and Hamas terrorists emerged from a tunnel that originated about 500 meters inside Gaza and extended 300 meters into the Israeli side of the security fence, behind the security tower, tank and armored personnel carrier targets of the attack. The tunnel was nearly a full kilometer in length and a major undertaking requiring planning, coordination and time. This is an important aspect that will come into play again.

shalitabductionattack.jpg

From the tunnel, the group of PRC and Hamas terrorists emerged, though this time attacking military targets rather than civilians. They split into three teams. One team used a shoulder-launched anti-tank missile that hit the IDF tank, killing two and injuring one. The other two teams targeted the armored personnel carrier (which was empty) and security tower, injuring the two men manning the tower. With Gilad Shalit in hand, the Hamas & PRC terrorists blew a hole in the security wall and escaped back into Gaza.

That the PRC/Hamas (Izzadin el-Kassam)/Saladdin Brigade/Army of Islam collaborators claimed that the attack was in response to the recent Israeli assassinations of PRC leader Jamal Abu Samhadana and fellow PRC terrorist Abu Yusuf Qoqa, was always curious. Tunnels do not appear in short order response, especially those nearly a full kilometer in length. The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center hits this point squarely.

The PRC, an organization directed by Hamas, announced that the attack had been carried out by joint PRC-Hamas-Army of Islam forces in retaliation for the deaths of two senior PRC terrorists, Jamal Abu Samhadana and Abu Yusuf Qoqa, and for the deaths of the members of the Ghalia family. (In our assessment, it would take a number of months to dig a tunnel that long and therefore it is not plausible that the attack was related to the events which took place during the past month.) [Emphasis added.]

Israel killed Samhadana only two weeks before the PRC tunnel attack, and had noted at that time the high amount of weapons smuggling going on in the Palestinian terrorist arms build-up. The head of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service noted that “11 tons of explosives, more than 3 million bullets, 430 rocket propelled grenades and 10 shoulder-fired missiles” were known to have made their way into Gaza in early June. The tank damaged in the attack was a Merkava, with one of the finest armor protection in the world. Clearly, the missile fired at it was newer technology smuggled into Gaza. Recall the Russian-built AT14 Kornet shoulder fired anti-tank missiles that penetrated the M1-A2 Abrams’ armor in Iraq.

This is likely part of the ‘new capabilities’ that Hamas promised recently. Abu Abdullah, Izzadin el-Kassam’s commander, recently warned of a “unique response” to Israel and went so far as to declare Hamas’ new capabilities, admitting this to be their principal objective during the recently abandoned informal cease-fire with Israel. Abdullah told Aaron Klein, “In the last 15 months, even though the fighters of Hamas kept the cease-fire, we did not stop making important advancements and professional training on the military level. In the future, after Hamas is obliged to stop the cease-fire, the world shall see our new military capabilities.” Now that Hamas has determined themselves “obliged to stop the cease-fire,” the tunnel system and the effective anti-tank missiles are certainly part the “new military capabilities” for a terrorist group once relegated to attacking the mighty Merkava tank with RPG’s and roadside bombs.

Israel holds Hamas’ Damascus -based and -protected leader Khaled Meshaal directly responsible for this attack and others and has, as a result, placed him squarely back on their hit list and declared him to be a target for assassination. Israel’s Mossad had attempted to assassinate Meshaal in 1997 when two Mossad agents were caught after injecting him with poison. Israel bartered the antidote for the dying Meshaal in exchange for the return of their two captured agents.

As part of Operation Summer Rain, one important mission is to scour the border area for more tunnels that lead under the security fence and destroy the network of underground attack routes likely constructed during the cease-fire and many surely after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

While the tunnel system will surely be largely destroyed before the IDF leaves Gaza, the anti-tank weapons will remain hidden throughout Gaza, along with any other new weapons capabilities Hamas has amassed.

Operation Summer Rain: IDF Enters Gaza

In what began with the Israeli Air Force knocking out three bridges to hamper egress routes and the destruction of a Gaza power plant likely principally to hinder communications, Israel launched Operation Summer Rain overnight in the southern sector of the Gaza Strip. With bulldozers clearing they way of mines and bombs, IDF armor rolled in, taking up positions at the non-functional Gaza International Airport in the extreme southeastern corner of Gaza, just a few miles from Rafah.

Operation Summer RainHamas leader Nizar Rayan said over Palestinian radio as the incursion began, “Fight your enemies, who came to their deaths. Grab your rifles and resist.” He may have been unaware the contrast presented as the IDF had warned Palestinian forces to abandon the Gaza International Airport, which is precisely what the majority of them did. Israeli tanks and APC’s rumbled in with relative ease, though there was reports of some fire exchange.

The primary mission is clearly to find and extract Galid Shalit, the captured IDF soldier, and the apparent orders are to begin conducting house-to-house searches in the area, most likely to commence in earnest at first light. According to a report from Canada’s CTV in Jerusalem, “They’re saying that their objective now is to go into the Gaza Strip and do house to house searches if they have to in order to find the captured soldier.”

A logical secondary mission is to scour the Gaza-Israel border in the area for more tunnel entrances like the one that was used in the Palestinian attack that resulted in Shalit’s capture.

While the Israeli forces have been met with little resistance thus far, an IDF spokesman said that the operation will continue until Shalit is released. Said a Jerusalem post source, “We will stay here as long as necessary until we return with the kidnapped IDF soldier.”

Wednesday’s daylight will certainly bring increased activity and a sure spike in resistance.

June 27, 2006

Israel Prepares Gaza for Incursion

What looks to be the early phases of an IDF incursion into the Gaza Strip appears underway, as an Israeli missile took out a bridge that links northern and southern Gaza. Vital Perspective notes that Haaretz is reporting the purpose behind the strike was to prevent or hinder the terrorists’ ability to transport Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier that was kidnapped from the Israeli side of the border near Rafah to the extreme southern part of the Gaza Strip.

Haaretz also reported that Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has approved a “limited operation” for southern Gaza, aimed at “terrorist infrastructure.” That the ‘infrastructure‘ lies in southern Gaza is no coincidence and likely preparation for an incursion to, at a minimum, extract Shalit.

Fox News Channel reported from the area that Israeli tanks has not yet crossed the border, but that IAF drones could be heard overhead, likely scouring the area where Israel believes Shalit to be held, acquiring target information and conducting force movement observation.

Interestingly, Egypt has also moved 2,500 additional troops along the southern Gaza border because of fears that the terrorist captors would attempt to move their IDF prisoner out of Gaza and into Egypt at or near the Rafah crossing. While Olmert may have been reported as authorizing a limited operation, what looks to be taking shape is a hammer & anvil operation, with the Egyptian military forces playing the role of a limited anvil, while the Israeli hammer swings in from the north and east, likely closing in on, sealing and squeezing the southern section of Gaza around Rafah.

If Israel manages to extract Galid Shalit alive, it will be interesting to observe how quickly they leave Gaza.

IDF Coiled on Gaza Border After Kidnapping

Israel has massed troops and armor along the Gaza borders with dirt mounds blocking roadways out of the Gaza Strip, poised for an iron-fisted offensive in response to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Hamas forces in a Palestinian raid on an IDF position. Late Monday night, the Popular Resistance Committees claimed a second Israeli kidnapping, this one an Israeli settler, reportedly near Nablus in the West Bank. The situation is clearly tense.

A ‘senior intelligence officer’ reportedly has informed the Israeli Knesset that they knows the area where Gilad Shalit is being held, but have yet to mount an extraction effort, likely because they do not know precisely where he is beyond a certain neighborhood and are surely working to develop more specific and actionable intelligence.

The reaction from Hamas, not unlike that of Iran on its nuclear stance, is fragmented and varied, displaying further the internal splintering within Hamas (as previously noted here, here, and here). While the Washington Post report distinguishes the notable rift between the Damascus leadership and the Gaza-based leadership, they do readers a disservice by characterizing Hamas’ Gaza leadership as the “more moderate leaders in Gaza” by comparison, leaving the impression that Hamas’ PA Prime Minister Haniyeh and his fellow ministers are reasonable. Some may be, but a more accurate description of reality is that the Gaza-based leadership is currently staring down the bores of Israeli tanks massing on the borders, a very real and present danger that the Khalid Meshaal’s Damascus-based Hamas leadership need not endure. The pause inspired by the threat of force should never be confused for a more reasonable nature. PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ call to Syrian President Bashar Assad is significant, highlighting the nature of the relationship between the Syrian regime and the Hamas terrorist leadership Syria protects in Damascus along with that of Hizballah and others. Influence over Middle Eastern terrorism largely begins and ends with Syrian and Iranian contact, as Abbas’ call clearly demonstrates.

Hamas’ military wing, Izzadin el-Kassam, as well as the Saladdin Brigade and the Army of Islam have claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and made the demand that all female and youth prisoners in Israeli prisons be released in order to secure the Israeli soldier’s freedom. The Saladdin Brigade and the Army of Islam are both new and reportedly offshoots of the Popular Resistance Committees and likely with significant Hamas (or former Hamas) membership within both.

One significant factor that should be carefully considered in the attack was that the two Israeli soldiers killed were inside an Israeli tank that was attacked with an anti-tank missile after the terrorists emerged from a tunnel dug from Gaza about 300 meters deep into Israeli territory. Israeli tanks are well armored and among the best in the world, and the Merkava MK4 is the best to many.

Iraqi PM Maliki Offers Amnesty Proposal for Sunni Insurgents

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki unveiled a proposal for amnesty toward Sunni insurgents, offering to release Sunni prisoners but explicitly excluding members of al-Qaeda or “the Saddamists” from consideration. Maliki set forth a structure through which the amnesty could be administered. The Washington Post discusses the reactions from various Iraqi factions, most but not all of which were positive. Maliki’s presentation was quickly met by certain Sunni insurgent groups asking for negotiations. A full text of the proposal has been published by Al-Hayat (in Arabic); an English translation is to follow.

As reported in Al-Hayat, Maliki set forth three tools for managing the reconciliation process; one, setting up high-level dialogue committees; two, branch councils to broaden the basis for reconciliation; and three, separate conferences for religious scholars, tribal leaders and other influential local actors. The article reports that the most important Sunni faction, the Iraqi Accord Front headed by Adnan Dulaimi, sought a broad amnesty on all prisoners, but leaders in the Shia United Iraqi Alliance, which Maliki represents, insisted that amnesty be selective and determined on a case by case basis. The article further notes that the Sunni demand for recognition of the “Iraqi resistance” was firmly rejected, but it did contain a renewed call for an end to the Shia militias and the monopolization of legitimate force by the state.

An interview with Dulaimi by the Iraqi newspaper Al-Rafideen contained more detailed comments which appear to represent moderate Sunni opinion:

…’it is upon the militias to look at this initiative in good faith taking in view the national interest, and this cannot be achieved unless they come clean with their intentions, something which would prepare the way for the good and the security of Iraq, especially if offers are made through this initiative which give security to the Sunnis in the country, most particularly in Baghdad because there is a broad campaign to inflict terror upon them undertaken by militias known by the government and by American forces.’ Responding to a question regarding some gaps which exist in the initiative which the Accord Front had already registered, Dulaimi said that ‘all matters in the life of man and his thinking will contain gaps, but these gaps can be closed through dialogue, counsel, transparency and good faith in dispersing the shadows…’ Dulaimi added that ‘the Accord Front will present an official working paper to Prime Minister Nuri Maliki, and to the parliament, putting forward a true starting point for turning a new page in the history of contemporary Iraq.’

The Al-Hayat article linked above reported, however, that while the most important Sunni political leaders welcomed the proposal, 11 significant armed Sunni factions rejected it out of hand, saying that they would not negotiate with Maliki until foreign forces had left Iraq and the ‘resistance’ had been recognized.

The urgency of reconciliation was pressed home by a series of explosions in the Sunni city of Baqubah and the Shia city of Hilla which killed at least 38. At the same time, Al-Rafideen reports, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Rafia Hiyad Aisawi told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Akhbar that a greater presence was needed from Arabs to supplement the presence of American, European and United Nations personnel. The article notes a preparatory meeting of the Iraqi National Accord Conference will be held on July 7 and be attended by all countries bordering Iraq plus Egypt and Bahrain. The meeting is to be held in Tehran.
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Sowell is an Arabic linguist, attorney and the author of The Arab World: An Illustrated History. You can read more about his book at his website, Arab World Analysis.

June 26, 2006

Iran's Terrorism Ignored In Nuclear Bartering

Iran’s signals remain consistently mixed regarding the nuclear crisis steered by the regime. The weekend’s developments revealed nothing new, while one spokesman called calmly for more talks and the accompanying allotment of time while another threatened again with Iran’s oil weapon should the West impose sanctions.

From one side of the regime’s mouth, patience was urged by Hamid Reza Asefi, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Said Asefi, “The proposals contain legal, political and economic contents, all of them must be carefully examined, and we hope the Europeans understand that they can not sacrifice the accuracy for the sake of speed.”

With all the alacrity of a three-toed sloth, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had previously announced that Iran intends to respond to the current proposal from the UN Security Council’s ‘Permanent Five’ and Germany no sooner than mid-August. In Iran’s advanced quest for nuclear weapons, with ample start-up technology and equipment in hand, time is now the principal currency.

From the other side of the regime’s mouth, Iran renewed its pledge to use oil as a weapon through the Ahmadinejad-appointed Oil Minister, Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh. In a self-contradicting statement, Vaziri-Hamaneh offered that “Tehran would not use oil as a weapon, but if its interests come under attack, it will use all available means, including oil.” That, naturally, is using oil as a weapon. He went on to warn that the cost of a barrel of oil would rocket past US $100 if sanctions were placed on Iran, as Iran’s threats to block the Strait of Hormuz and loose the dogs of terror worldwide are not hollow chest-pounding.

Some may mince words and arrive at the conclusion that the Iranian oil minister was referring to a defensive measure. That would be a naïve observation. Iran’s oil weapon has already been fielded and wielded, as global oil prices are largely dictated by the perceived Iranian mood of the day. With each dollar increase, Western economies are hit hard and the Iranian cash windfall balloons even further. Crash courses on nuclear weapons development are not cheap, explaining at least in part the floundering Iranian economy despite the nearly five-fold increase in oil revenues in just the past few years.

But even the sustained windfall of hard currency into Iran’s coffers pales in comparison to the invaluable element of time. Just as in the manipulation of the oil markets through Ahmadinejad’s bellicosity, the chief tool employed in the ongoing barter for precious time is carefully and intently chosen language.

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, used a familiar and popular term once more yesterday in referring to the West’s conciliatory package now on the table: “ambiguities.” Keeping true to the Iranian practice of speaking from both sides of the mouth, while Asefi referred to the resumption of a moratorium on uranium enrichment as ‘a step back,’ Mottaki called the very package that calls for such a halt a ‘step forward’ but was quick to point out that ‘ambiguities’ plague it. For this reason, said Mottaki, “Iran has set up special working committees to look into the P5+1 package seriously and carefully.” Carefully indeed, as multiple teams of men will be diligently working well into August.

It is important to note the use of the term ‘ambiguities.’ It has been carefully chosen by the Iranian regime to describe another recent submission to Iran. It was used to describe the late-2005 so-called Russian Proposal that called for Iran to enrich uranium for nuclear power on Russian soil. The deal was, of course, dead on arrival, but ‘ambiguities’ within it warranted further talks and, of course, more time by design. Talks ensued in attempts not to strike a deal, but rather to forestall a UN Security Council reference.

Yesterday’s mixed signals of ‘ambiguities,’ steps forward and steps backward are not even unique in the current offer’s context, as they are precisely the same positions iterated three weeks ago when the EU’s Javier Solana delivered the official proposal to Iran’s head nuclear negotiator (and would-be president) Ali Larijani in Tehran. Larijani spoke of both “positive steps” and “ambiguities” in the same breath, while the oil weapon continued to dictate Iran’s fiscal fortunes.

Three weeks have passed since the ‘official proposal’ and the Iranian position remains consistently self-contradictory, serving the purpose of buying time.

The West continues to focus on the ‘ambiguities’ of the Iranian nuclear weapons program rather than their unambiguous role as world’s chief exporter of international terrorism.

Meanwhile, the United States and the West seem quite willing to not only sell them this time, but also build them more nuclear reactors, supply them the fuel, slide them imbalanced trade incentives and, inexplicably for the United States, end existing sanctions imposed specifically because of Iranian terrorism.

There can be no victory in the War on Terror without defeating the Iranian regime. Not many want to hear it or think it, but that is the simple reality. From the 1979 hostage crisis to the bombing of the US embassy in Beirut, from the 1983 bombing of the Marine Barracks to the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and from the current harboring of al-Qaeda members to the race for nuclear weapons, Iran’s role in international terrorism is quite clear.

American reaction to each has been little to nothing with eyes averted.

Now, America and her allies offer the terrorist regime nuclear reactors while the mullahs complain of ‘ambiguities’ while offering none through their bloody deeds.

Somewhere in there lies a strategy for prosecuting a War on Terror.

June 20, 2006

Denials in the Horn of Africa

After taking control of portions of Somalia in early June, the Islamic Courts Union has continued its efforts to solidify support in the nation while inciting increased tensions between Somalia and its neighbors. The ICU has instituted its variant of Islamic courts in Mogadishu, continued to spread its span of control, denied claims of ties to international terror organizations, rejected proposed peace-keeping forces and claimed foreign incursions into Somalia.

The ICU claims that Ethiopian soldiers crossed into Somalia over this past weekend. ICU representatives report that some 300 troops and 50 vehicles crossed into Somalia. Given the historic tensions between the nations and Ethiopia’s long border with Somalia many analysts believe the claim plausible. Ethiopia has denied the incursion.

In an attempt to derail further destabilization and to prevent further spread of the control, although less clearly stated as an objective – the Somali parliament has agreed to have African Union peacekeepers in Somalia. This is widely regarded as a high risk proposition both due to AU forces less than remarkable record elsewhere and due to strong public opposition to foreign peacekeepers in Somalia.

For the US, engaged in an effort to contain and eliminate terrorist in the region, the challenge is significant. The US backed the warlords of the Alliance for Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism (ARPC) and now finds a growing popularly supported movement that could bind both nationalist and religious sympathies to counter the government in Baidoa and US backed secular Ethiopia. The US is concerned that the ICU is harboring terrorists, a claim the ICU rejects. And two of the ICU’s most significant figures are members of al-Ittihaad al-Islami (AIAI), a group listed as a “concern” on the State Departments Country Reports on Terrorism 2005.

As a sign of US interest in the area – General Abizaid met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Zenawi today. Their talks were on “national and international issues, especially on efforts in fighting terrorism” reported the Ethiopian News Agency.

As Austin Bay notes at Strategy Page - this “chaotic battlefield” is far from over. That is the one thing few would deny.

June 15, 2006

Zarqawi Document Reveals Ba'athist - al-Qaeda 'Strategic Relationship'

The Iraqi government has released information regarding a letter from a leader of the Ba’athist insurgency to al-Zarqawi that was recovered from the blast area where al-Zarqawi was killed. The Kuwait News Agency was provided a copy of the text, which revealed the “strategic relationship” between the Ba’athist insurgency and al-Qaeda in Iraq.

There are a lot of items worthy of discussion, and certainly much will ensue in short order. One of the first points to catch our eyes, however, was the open recognition of the devastating impact of the formation, training and fielding of the Iraqi National Guard forces.

It admits that the “position of resistance in Iraq requires reconsideration of the acts and incidents in the country, with the aim of reaching the best means for realizing the best results, in particular following success of the National Guard forces in forming a massive shield and effective arm in the interest of the US forces and this ultimately scaled down to a large extent the scope of losses sustained by the US forces”.

It adds that the “time factor” has “negatively affected Al-Qaeda in Iraq due to many reasons including formation and enhancing the capabilities of the National Guards up to the level of launching attacks and carrying out mass arrests within the resistance controlled areas. This ended up in loss of many elements and launching an anti media resistance campaign … and sowing schism in its fold …” [Emphasis added.]

The “formation and enhancing the capabilities of the National Guards up to the level of launching attacks and carrying out mass arrests” has been the direct responsibility of the Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq.

Several times, we at ThreatsWatch have directed readers to an underappreciated publication called The Advisor from the good men and women of the Multi-National Security Transition Command - Iraq. They are the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines and international forces responsible for precisely that training which stood up the Iraqi National Guard, as well as the Iraqi police forces and other units. (View all Iraqi units MNSTC-I trains here.)

With far too little fanfare or apparent appreciation, MNSTC-I has offered regular updates on the training and progress of the Iraqi forces in their regular bi-weekly publication, The Advisor (pdf). (Subscribe to publication alerts here.) Perhaps it’s not as exciting to read or report on as an IED attack, a car bomb or a major operation in al-Anbar province, but as the words of the Ba’athist letter to Zarqawi indicate so clearly, the continued training and standing of the Iraqi Army has been and is every bit as important as any other aspect of the war.

Often, the MNSTC-I-trained Iraqi forces were belittled in reports, often denigrating them for not having enough troops, charged with too often simply ‘tagging along’ with Coalition Forces, not being active enough and, then, also oddly being too aggressive. Often the only time Iraqi forces were highlighted was when there were complaints that they were too Shi’ite-dominated, suspected of participating in sectarian violence or were infiltrated by members of al-Qaeda or the Ba’athist insurgency.

Leave it to that very Ba’athist insurgency of Hussein’s hangovers and the terrorists of al-Qaeda in Iraq to finally be the ones to recognize their proficiency, importance and devastation wrought upon both of them. Iraq surely is quite proud of their new veterans in new uniforms.

And we should all be proud of our men and women who have performed and still perform their duties exceptionally in training the Iraqi army, navy, air force, police and special units.

ThreatsWatch salutes the Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq team, who did the heavy lifting and hoisted the sun, making The Dawn of the Iraq Army possible.

June 14, 2006

Iran’s New Foreign Policy Approach

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that he will be executing a new foreign policy approach. In the first move establishing this new approach, he said that detailed reports have been prepared on the human rights issue in the US and many European countries and that the ‘reports’ will be “issued as books and pamphlets.”

Women ProtestThe coming lecture series is ironic, considering the recent international reportage of Iranian authorities beating female and male demonstrators at a women’s rights march in Tehran. In a demonstration demanding the humane treatment of Iranian women, including equal rights in divorce and custody cases and an end to polygamy, male police were dispatched to break up male demonstrators and Iran’s black chador-clad female police were dispatched to quash the females in the demonstration. The women were beaten with batons. One woman was hospitalized with head injuries.

The myriad rights abuses by the Iranian regime makes for an intriguing backdrop to this new foreign policy approach. A 2004 Human Rights Watch report stated that Iran’s human rights condition was worse in 2004 than it was in 1997. In 2005, Iran itself reported widespread torture within its prisons in a judiciary finding that included arrests without cause and other rights abuses. But, curiously, the report seemed to blame prison workers and police officers for not complying with a ‘legal ban’ on such activities rather than the governmental regime which gives the orders.

Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad sets off to meet with Russia and China as part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s sixth conference. It has been noted before here and elsewhere that it is odd that the SCO has embraced Iran, considering the organization’s stated stance against terrorism. Echoed here are the words of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the matter when he remarked, “It strikes me as passing strange that one would want to bring into an organization that says it is against terrorism one of the leading terrorist nations in the world: Iran.”

Seemingly, the United States’ and Europe’s human rights violations are on the negotiating table, but Iran’s uranium enrichment is certainly not, as iran refuses to budge on their right to enrich uranium, but rather will only negotiate on the forms of enrichment they will employ, exposure of the secret Zirzamin 27 enrichment program notwithstanding.

The West continues to be Shanghaied in Shanghai and Iran continues the practice of taqiyyah.

No Pause as Israel, Fatah & Hamas Triangulate

In pursuit of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell, the <a title= Jerusalem Post: IAF strike in Gaza hits Katyusha cell IDF launched an airstrike at around noon Tuesday on a van carrying three PIJ terrorists and a load of Katyusha rockets to be fired into Israel. The resultant explosions killed the two of the three PIJ members in the van - including known Gaza rocket maker, Hamoud Wadiya - and eight civilians nearby.

WadiyaStrike_20060613.jpgIsrael has kept true to their word when they warned that they will show less restraint in pursuit of terrorists attacking their villages from within the Gaza Strip. Late last week, pamphlets were dropped warning civilians to stay clear of terrorists and the areas from which they operate. As evidenced by their choice to launch Kassam rockets just a couple hundred meters from a public beach, the terrorists operate with far less concern for Palestinian civilian non-combatants than their vitriol displays when their actions result in their death or injury.

In major media coverage, virtually no responsibility is placed on the PIJ for operating with deadly explosives amidst civilians. It is simply an Israeli strike and the responsibility of the Palestinian civilians is placed squarely upon Israel as the terrorists crawl amongst them to execute their deeds. Consider the words from Gaza PIJ leader Kader Abib, who said, “What happened today is a brutal massacre committed against innocent civilians and fighters from our group.” That they were on their way to launch a volley of Katyushas - likely obtained from Iran-supported Hizballah - into the Israeli town of Sderot, full of civilians, is inconsequential. When Palestinians residents die, they are civilians. When Israeli residents die, they are occupiers in the Palestinian Territories or simply Israelis or just people in the international media.

While the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was carrying out attacks on Israel, Hamas and Fatah remained locked in their own head-to-head confrontations. Monday, a Hamas militia in Gaza attacked the offices of the Fatah-dominated Preventive Security forces and fired RPG’s in clashes in the southern Gaza Strip border town of Rafah. This prompted a reaction by Fatah forces in their own stronghold of the West Bank, as they rampaged the Ramallah parliamentary building, shooting out windows, destroying inside offices and papers before setting it ablaze. The scene was the same for the offices of Hamas’ PA Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh. Members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades abducted, beat and released a Hamas MP nabbed while walking down a street leaving the area.

On Tuesday, the same Ramallah streets were filled with Hamas protesters, vowing revenge on Fatah for attacking the parliament building, while in previously in Gaza, a Hamas funeral procession saw one of their members shot in the chest three times and killed after the crowd began to pelt the Fatah-dominated police forces building with stones. Fatah denied they had shot the man and Hamas declared that they had.

For the Palestinian Territories, the battle lines are drawn. For its part in the Fatah-Hamas power struggle, Israel has clearly chosen sides, having supplied Abbas’ guards with 375 rifles on Monday.

All the while, the incessant unguided rocket attacks into Israeli villages and on Israeli civilians near Gaza — 38 alone in a 24-hour period Tuesday — are eclipsed by media coverage of the Israeli responses that are an almost desperate attempt to stop them.

June 13, 2006

IDF Investigation: Land Mine Killed Family on Gaza Beach

The controversy surrounding the deaths of Palestinians on a Gaza beach Friday – including much immediate international condemnation of Israel – may be about to take another turn, as the IDF is expected this evening to deliver a formal report of their investigations findings. While some of the particulars remain in question, the report will provide some damning details indicating that the blast, according to the report, was most likely a Palestinian land mine recently planted to prevent IDF special forces landings.

Perhaps the best report on the IDF investigation is from Haaretz, which adequately summarizes the situation. Haaretz also carefully notes that it is an IDF investigation into the IDF, not an international or civilian investigation. That said, the information contained in the report, as informally provided to media, are rather compelling and deserve closer review.

The first inconsistency was in the timing of the shelling of the area and the actual blast that killed the family. Palestinian authorities reported the blast to have occurred at 16:40. But the IDF disputes that, saying that no blast had occurred on the beach before 16:58, and that they had stopped shelling the area at 16:51. It is at 16:58 that the IDF says the beach blast killing the family occurred.

The IDF has accounted for five of the six artillery shells fired into the area that afternoon. The one whose impact cannot be accounted for is actually the first shell. The rest of the shells impacted no closer than 250 meters from the Gaza beach blast in question. That the first shell is the missing shell may coincide with the Palestinian claims of timing, although the IDF says that the beach blast site is nearly 500 meters from its intended target, a Kassam rocket launch point. But again, Palestinian claims conflict with the IDF claims of a 16:58 blast. There is likely no way to determine without doubt the exact time of the blast beyond dispute.

There are, however, three other key details that the IDF probe has apparently reached a conclusion on: The shrapnel, the blast crater and the intelligence.

Regarding the blast itself, three Palestinians were evacuated to Israeli hospitals for emergency care. The shrapnel taken from their bodies is not consistent with artillery shells and has reportedly been determined to have not been made in Israel.

Regarding the crater left by the blast, the IDF claims that the disturbance in the sand is not consistent with artillery, but rather of a sub-surface explosion. Artillery shells are engineered for an above-ground blast for maximum area effect, contrary to the perception most non-military people have of an ‘impact.’ The sand disturbance, the IDF says, is more consistent with that of a mine and not a 155mm artillery shell air-burst.

Thirdly, IDF intelligence claims that, since an Israeli special forces beach landing that took out a Kassam team during their launch preparations, Hamas began mining the beaches to prevent another IDF landing.

The timing of the blast may not be settled, remaining one group’s word against the other. But the shrapnel from a blast other than Israeli artillery, if confirmed, may make the timing a moot point.

June 12, 2006

IAEA Suspects Secret Iranian Enrichment Program

The headline in Russia’s daily, Kommersant, today reads “Iran Nearly Yields to Vienna Proposals”. But have they? While Iran’s Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said on Satruday that Iran will make a counteroffer to the West, what that counteroffer may look like is currently a wild guessing game.

But one thing is for certain, as stated by Iranian spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham Elham, uranium enrichment is off the table. Just as it has been since this process began. Said Elham, “Our country will not negotiate over its obvious rights. This is a non-negotiable issue.”

Aside from observance of and adherance to the NPT treaty, which Iran has always claimed to do, the only matter of substance on the table is the Iranian enrichment program. If that is once more proclaimed non-negotiable, then what is the West negotiating? What, in three years, has changed?

The only thing that has changed in the three years of this process has been a temporary halt to enrichment activities, which Iran resumed as soon as it was referred to the UN Security Council.

But did Iran ever really halt their uranium enrichment program?

IAEA suspects that Iran has been hiding a secret nuclear weapons site. This is not the US or British intelligence services, nor is it the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the dissident group who first exposed Iran’s nuclear program in 2003. It is the IAEA itself and much more difficult for Iran to discredit.

The project is known by name to the IAEA, Zirzamin 27, but not located according to the Telegraph report, and is connected to the Lavizan site that Iran bulldozed and cleaned before IAEA inspectors could visit (and after Iran granted them permission). The IAEA had attained samples of highly enriched uranium from the location.

Zirzamin in Farsi means ‘basement’ (underground facilities) and 27 represents the number of years since the 1979 Islamic revolution. This means that the program has been started within the current Iranian calendar year or its name changes each year (highly unlikely). This is a brand new program.

One of the proper criticisms against a military strike of Iran’s nuclear facilities has been that it would likely never be known whether all of the sites had been destroyed since the West does not know where all of the facilities are. That is very correct. Combine that logic with the latest IAEA suspicions about new secret enrichment program, Zirzamin 27, and serious questions must be openly asked.

Did Iran ever really cease uranium enrichment when it said it had? Were they doing the same thing before? Can they be trusted to accept a deal — which would include American technology sharing and nuclear reactors – on their word (should they ever offer it) that they have ceased enrichment?

Has anything chaged?

Caveat emptor.

Referendum Is On, Fatah-Hamas Unity Is Off

Following the Gaza beach incident where several civilians were reportedly killed by Israeli fire, the 48 hours that ensued contained significant twists in the backdrop of the conflict.

The amount of delay, if any, in Mahmoud Abbas’ scheduling of the referendum vote on negotiating a two-state solution with Israel would be telling. Abbas did not delay the vote significantly, opting for a July 26 date, a delay of less than 4 weeks. Following his harsh words regarding the Gaza beach incident – branding it as a ‘bloody massacre’ by Israel in a ‘war of extermination’ – and their parallel with Hamas’ condemnation, Abbas might have significantly delayed the vote. He clearly did not. On the same day Abbas declared the July 26 referendum, 25 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel.

His decision, along with the street fighting that continued between Hamas and Fatah the day after the incident, clearly indicate that the unifying power of the Gaza beach incident was not as strong as may have been initially perceived. Gun battles between Hamas and Fatah persisted, with an apparent botched Hamas kidnapping attempt resulted in a killed Fatah PA police officer. Another shootout erupted during his funeral procession as, clearly, any unity the Friday incident offered the two factions was both fleeting and superficial.

The July 26 referendum has found difficulty over the weekend, a vote which centers on the ‘Barghouti Peace Plan,’ a document signed by terrorist leaders from the major Palestinian terror groups currently in Israeli prisons.

Previous signatories from both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad imprisoned leaders have withdrawn their support for the “Prisoners’ Document” and nullified their signatures. Immediately, Hamas leaders in Gaza were touting this as the end of the referendum and breathing a sigh of relief, as polls indicated 77% of Palestinians would have voted ‘Yes’ to Abbas’ initiative and effectively ‘No’ to Hamas.

Two things should be considered immediately. First, it is highly unlikely that the imprisoned Hamas leader who initially signed the agreement, Abdel Khaleq al-Natsheh, withdrew his support without significant pressure from governing Hamas leaders. The Gaza beach incident may have played a role more than minor, but the incident likely also came with a significant amount of pressure from outside the prison as a means to kill the referendum.

Second, for Abbas’ part, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad withdrawal of their support for the prison document does not suddenly mean now that the 77% of the Palestinian people who supported negotiations with and recognition of Israel now suddenly no longer subscribe to the concept. The Abbas referendum, with or without the support of Hamas and PIJ, would likely still pass. Hamas has publicly derided the idea from a position of political leadership and yet the public supported Abbas’ stance toward Israeli negotiations. Two prisoners does not a mandate make. Abbas should proceed.

Additionally, even amid the public condemnation from around the world against Israel for the Gaza beach incident, the past 48 hours has also seen analysis and criticism of the video in question, and its authenticity brought into question. Bloggers have been combing through the video and raising questions, such as the lack of blood on the ‘victims’ filmed, among other things. While the bloggers raise questions that demand answers, at the end of the day, their conclusions mostly indicate a re-enactment rather than dispelling that the attack occurred.

Regarding the attack itself, Arutz Sheva quotes an analyst who notes inconsistencies in the time of the blast reported as well as the absence of a large crater that would certainly be present after a 155mm artillery shell explosion. On the notable absence, he says, “The IDF fires 155mm artillery shells towards open areas in order to thwart the Kassam launchers, and often warns the locals not to be there. In the present case, it is very doubtful as to whether the family was hit by a 155mm shell. I carefully reviewed the video clips disseminated by the PA television, and the documentation of [Channel Two], and I did not find the large hole that a 155mm shell [would have made].”

The absence of a crater is at least puzzling as well as the absence of blood on the victims shown in the footage so harshly reacted to around the world. Regardless of whether the story is itself a hoax, Hamas’ termination of the cease-fire is real. The situation remains ever more volatile, both for Palestinians and for Israelis, and the idea of the Gaza beach incident serving as a unifying factor for Fatah and Hamas has proven to be unfounded.

June 9, 2006

Persistence Pays Off For Iran

Leading Friday prayers in Tehran, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati declared that Iran should never compromise its nuclear right but, nonetheless, is ready for talks. Jannati said to worshippers, “The Iranian nation and officials and Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Khamenei) and all those who have hands in administration of the country’s affairs, will not accept Iran’s withdrawal from its inalienable rights.” He then added, “History showed we have achieved success whenever we resisted. Resistance against conspiracies has been successful.”

Ayatollah Janatti speaks the truth, as Iran is not withdrawing from any of its activities and, in their resistance, are successfully enriching more uranium according to both their claims and a new IAEA report. Feeding more uranium into their centrifuge cascades is thought to be a message of defiance to the West amid calls for Iran to abandon its nuclear enrichment program.

Iran’s unwavering stance is bearing real fruits, as the West is clearly wearing down and watering down its demands. In all appearances, what were once demands appear to be reduced to polite requests accompanied by a long list of tributes to the steadfast mullah regime.

With Iran’s consistent refusal to budge and the West’s inability to maintain a stern message, Ahmadinejad is now ready for nuclear talks. And why wouldn’t he be? An editorial in The Boston Globe called Secretary of State Rice’s announcement of talks with Iran the result of “sage advice from allies and former secretaries of state such as Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright.” This, of course, is the same sage advice that netted US nuclear power reactors for North Korea, now believed to be a nuclear weapons power as a direct result.

So, too, with Iran today. Gone are the demands for complete cessation of nuclear enrichment in exchange for simply pausing during negotiations. Iran’s persistence has paid off and the West has heeded Iran’s call as reported by the Iranian Fars News Agency that “any kind of pre-conditions for talks makes the situation more difficult.”

Making an appearance at the table, however, are guarantees of US nuclear reactors, nuclear technology sharing, and incredibly favorable EU trade agreements awaiting signature. Also included in the West’s acquiescence is the removal of sanctions on aircraft parts put in place years ago by the US not for disputes over any nuclear crisis, but rather, for Iran’s role in international terrorism.

Some wonder if this is a Western collapse or a gambit to expose Iran’s true intentions. Initially, on the word of US talks with Iran, we openly supported the move as an attempt to expose Iranian intentions. This was before word of the lifting of sanctions in lieu of the threat of sanctions along with the offer of American reactors and nuclear technology. Including those aspects in context, it seems illogical that this is an attempt to expose Iranian intentions. For if Iran accepts the offer, which they should, they will have an open pathway to nuclear weapons identical to North Korea.

Victor Davis Hansen calls it “Iran’s Nuclear Scorpion.” Perhaps it is no less correct to call it “America’s Diplomatic Kitten.”

Iran is winning. More accurately, the West is losing. By choice.

The Palestinian Buildup For War

While the United States and Iraq liquidated a terrorist leader in Iraq, Israel killed the founder of the Popular Resistance Committees with their own airstrike in Gaza. Jamal Abu Samhadana founded the Popular Resistance Committees in late 2000 and, after openly supporting Hamas with the rest of his PRC in the 2006 elections, was appointed the ‘general supervisor’ of the Hamas-run PA Interior Ministry. The PRC founder was tasked with creating a Hamas army, the early incarnation of which took the streets of Gaza as a force of 3,000. They are still on Gaza streets, vigilant for confrontations with rival Fatah security forces and police. Samhadana has long been thought to be the orchestrator behind the 2003 roadside bomb attack in Gaza that killed three Americans.

SamhadanaKassams.jpgThe PRC, along with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, were the principal attacking organization in the rash of Kassam rocket attacks from northern Gaza into the Israeli areas of Sderot and Ashkelon. The PRC has long been thought of as a surrogate attack arm for Hamas, enabling it to attack Israel without the inconvenience of dirty hands. With the increase in attacks recently and frustrated by their inability to stop them through artillery strikes at launch points - always after the fact - the Israelis felt compelled to launch two stern warnings.

The first warning was directly to Hamas, informing them that attacks on Hamas leaders deemed involved in Kassam attacks, a clear and direct threat to Samhadana without using his name. Israel made good on that threat today.

The second warning was far more grave, as Israel warned the Palestinian Authority that they were being held directly responsible< for the Kassam attacks. The IDF statement read in part, “The PA is fully responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip. It is not doing anything to prevent the terror attacks against Israeli citizens and therefore the military is forced to step up its offensive actions.”

As that offensive began to step up, the IDF attacked eight approach routes to the Northern Gaza Kassam launch points and also dropped leaflets into the area warning Palestinians about the coming harsh reaction to them and to steer clear of terrorists launching missiles and areas of Israeli attacks. The leaflets read, “If these actions continue, our reactions may be hardened. For you, as well as your family’s safety, we warn you stay away from areas that come under attack.”

Samhadanagear.jpgWith pressure from Israel in the form of militrary strikes beginning to crescendo, so to is the internal tension between Fatah and Hamas. The friction between the two has been feeding a Palestinian arms race, where, according to the Washington Post, in addition to both sides fielding new militias in Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas has been buying as many rounds for their rifles as they can get their hands on, paying $1 per bullet in Gaza, “a steep price in areas where up to half the people live on less than $2 per day.” A simple M-16 now brings in $13,000 in the West Bank.

Earlier in the week, Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin reported that arms smuggling in Gaza is incredibly high since the Israeli pullback. He said that “11 tons of explosives, more than 3 million bullets, 430 rocket propelled grenades and 10 shoulder-fired missiles” are known to have made their way into Gaza, primarily through the Gaza-Egyptian border crossing no longer manned by the IDF.

The power struggle between Abbas’ Fatah and Hamas - complete with a looming July 31 referendum - is so high, that not even increased attacks from Israel remains a unifying factor. While many fear another Intifada, the conflict that looms on the horizon will resemble mayhem and chaos more than an Intifada. Hamas will find itself fighting on two fronts: Against Fatah for control of Palestinian governance and, unimaginably, Israel, which will be not only attacking Hamas to end the attacks on its civilians, but also in ironic defensive moves to assist the Fatah forces if and when needed. Which and how many Fatah forces will choose to battle the Israelis rather than Hamas will be an important factor going forward.

And then there’s the Northern Border.

June 8, 2006

al-Zarqawi Meets Fate: Killed in Airstrike

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been killed in an air strike along with seven other al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders as they met in a safe house just outside Baquba, Iraq. Proof of his death can be seen in his lifeless photo, likely the diligent work of the special operators of Task Force 145 with local intelligence assistance on the ground from the Jordanian Mukhabarat and its network of local Iraqi contacts.

Security Watchtower provides an excellent summary of events with various links to assorted coverage. There, the question is raised of who will step up to claim the leadership role of al-Qaeda in Iraq? This was the first thought here upon waking to the news of Zarqawi’s fate. While al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda globally have suffered a devastating blow, it is far from a death knell for the organization. It is, however, a great relief and certain confidence booster to ordinary Iraqis, amongst whom this monster and his minions prowled.

President Bush said of the death of this monster, “Now, Zarqawi has met his end, and this violent man will never murder again.”

In an e-mail, Stephen Hayes made an excellent point saying, “The administration should release the documents confirming Zarqawi’s medical treatment in Baghdad before the war.” He is absolutely correct. If even for its own self-defense, the administration should release this information, showing another part of Iraq’s support for terrorism and terrorists denied energetically by those opposed to the Iraq invasion.

How capably al-Zarqawi’s fellow travelers will be able to carry on the tradition of car bombings, kidnappings, sectarian instigation and civilian murder is yet to be seen. But the undeniability of the defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq has just been accelerated. Perhaps the ongoing expansion into Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories has just been accelerated as an after effect.

Newsweek wasted no time in reporting to the world that al-Zarqawi’s relatives view him as a martyr for Islam. Immediately quoted is al-Zarqawi’s uncle who said, “This is a tragedy. We are all sad here.” This is a view surely not held by Iraqi families whose husbands, wives and children have been ripped from their lives by this maniacal madman.

In one early radio report in New York City, a WABC commentator – in an attempt to illustrate how violent this man was - was quick to point out that even Ayman al-Zawahiri had chastised Zarqawi for his violent killing of civilians and grotesque videotaped beheadings. The manner in which the commentator delivered the statement clearly suggested that Zarqawi was too violent for even al-Qaeda, which was not the case. What the commentator failed to include for context was that the al-Qaeda leadership did not admonish al-Zarqawi because the murder of civilians or beheadings of infidels was against their ethical guidelines. Recall, rather, that it was simply because it was turning Iraqi public opinion against not only al-Zarqawi, but against the al-Qaeda organization as a whole. There is a profound difference between moral stance and public relations management.

Zarqawi’s death is good news indeed, not only for American and Coalition forces, but especially for Iraqi’s living under his black cloud. There is, however, no rest for the weary, as intelligence professionals must remain especially vigilant, watching for reaction and indications of the next in line. In the War on Terror, regardless of theater, target acquisition never stops.

June 7, 2006

Israel Blames Hamas for Gaza Rocket Attacks

Israel believes Hamas is behind the rash of Kassam rocket attacks and has vowed to strike Hamas members responsible. This is a dramatic turn of events that will ratchet up tensions as Hamas and Fatah continue to fight their own battles amongst themselves simultaneously. Hamas has, for the most part, observed an informal ceasefire agreement with Israel for over a year. But their involvement in terror attacks has not necessarily diminished as much as their visible direct participation in them.

The group directly responsible for many of the rocket attacks on the western Negev desert towns in Israel, including Sderot and Ashkelon, is the Popular Resistance Committees, made up in large part by Hamas terrorists but also including terrorists from Fatah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad as well. (For more, see here and here.)

Many observers have long suspected that the Popular Resistance Committees have provided Hamas a terror channel for operations without having direct fingerprints on attacks. This has allowed Hamas to publicly continue the claim of observing the ceasefire, assisting their international political image, while still engaging their Israeli enemy. The Haaretz report cites an anonymous Israeli official indicating that the IDF will not refrain from engaging Hamas terrorists as they are seen, tracked and linked to attacks, but “will refrain from targeting the group’s leaders because they are not issuing orders to fire rockets.”

The IDF did launch an airstrike on what it called a PRC rocket factory in response to the recent Kassam rocket attacks. Reuters reported a PRC source stating that it was a training facility.

Hamas and Fatah are engaged in their own internal struggle for how to deal with Israel, Fatah wanting to negotiate a two-state settlement and Hamas adamantly refusing to recognize Israel, adhering to the ‘From the River to the Sea’ vision of a Palestinian state. Abbas had given Hamas a deadline of midnight Sunday night to come to an agreement or face a public referendum on the issue. Abbas has decided to give Hamas an extension until midnight Thrusday night to reach the same agreement before resorting to a public referendum.

The head of Israel’s Shin Bet (internal security), Yuval Diskin, testified to the Israeli Knesset that arms smuggling has been on the rise in Gaza since the Israeli withdrawal and that there is evidence of a ‘Global Jihad Movement’ within Israel’s own borders. The movement is in its early stages of formation, and Diskin said, “We have intercepted plans to carry out attacks, but those plans were not operational.”

On Hamas, Diskin said, “The Hamas is using the relative calm and freedom from the Israeli military presence to build up its power by developing its militias.” To that end, Aaron Klein reports that Hamas has been stockpiling weapons while operating under the ceasefire agreement with Israel “so its members will be ready to launch attacks immediately should its leadership decide to end a long-term truce with Israel.”

In the West Bank, the IDF is considering a large clearing operation ahead of executing Olmert’s pullout plan. The operation’s intent will be to destroy as much of the terrorist infrastructure as possible before Israeli boots abandon the West Bank, leaving it to become a hornets’ nest. In current operations in the West Bank, the IDF arrested 12 Palestinians in Nablus and Jenin in pursuit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

June 6, 2006

Iran Sees 'Positive Signs' as Military Option is Ceded

Iran has good reason to see “positive signs” in the atomic proposal delivered by the EU’s Javier Solana. Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said, “The proposals had some positive steps in them and some ambiguities which should be removed.”

The outright removal of military strikes as a potential consequence for Iran’s continued belligerence is without doubt chief among the ‘positive steps’ from the Iranian perspective. Reportedly, the deal not only rules out military action, but also seeks to terminate some existing sanctions - including the resumption of pare parts supplies for Iran’s military air fleet - in place for sponsoring global terrorism, not nuclear belligerence. Coupled with Russian and Chinese continued opposition to any new UN sanctions as a potential penalty for Iran, there is not much leverage left for the West to negotiate with. The West has negotiated itself into a state of unthinkably inert weakness with regard to applying pressure on the regime to cease their nuclear weapons program.

Larijani added that, after reviewing the documents in detail, Iran hopes to “have another round of talks and negotiations to achieve a balanced and logical conclusion.” There is already an imbalance from a Western perspective, as any teeth in the proposal have been effectively and voluntarily removed. Even still, the Iranians look for little more than a new round of talks, which translate into more time. Time is Iran’s most precious commodity, and they have managed it well.

Even though Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may have ‘demanded’ that Iran respond to the deal in “weeks, not months”, that too will readily fall by the wayside under international pressure if Iran gives the outward appearance of talking, discussing and ‘working’ toward an agreement.

Meanwhile, true to form, the price of oil dropped by a third of a dollar immediately on Larijani’s favorable response to the surreal package offered Iran, just as it spikes immediately on belligerent threats from the mullah regime. Iran uses its Oil Weapon to better fund their nuclear weapons drive. Iran also uses the West’s desire for conflict avoidance to string out talks, ensuring a constant supply of time free of measurable consequence.

The Iranians are certainlynot in a mode of conflict avoidance. Ahmadinejad himself, a messianic president seeking to ‘pave the way for the return of the 12th Imam’, openly acknowledges the conflict as a “historic war between the oppressor and the world of Islam,” while the West continues to attempt to impart on the same that it has not declared a ‘war on Islam.’ The two are not mutually exclusive.

In a war that has been declared upon the West by the most violent Islamists – from al-Qaeda to the Iranian regime – the West continually cedes ground to their enemy in efforts to be seen by the rest of the world as reasonable.

In the face of an enemy – again, from Iran to al-Qaeda - that openly declares hatred for and war upon Jews and Crusaders (Christians), the West refuses to reciprocate with an equally racist/religious declaration of war upon all of Islam. This is the difference between the West and Islamists. Maintaining the possible consequence of military action is decidedly not a declaration of war upon Islam. However, ceding ground to the Iranian terror masters through the removal of the military option is clear appeasement in a war we did not declare.

June 5, 2006

Hamas and Fatah Inch Closer to Civil War

In a move that displayed just about the only thing the two groups have been able to agree upon in recent weeks, armed groups from both Hamas and Fatah threatened the Palestinian banks on Sunday, causing the banks to acquiesce and begin paying PA government employees’ salaries. PA government salaries have been unpaid for the three months since the Hamas electoral victory.

Haaretz reports that 40,000 of the 165,000 PA employees are to begin receiving interest-free loans for the equivalent of one month’s salary. A Reuters report offers more detail, stating that the Bank of Palestine began paying the 10,300 lowest-earning employees, while other Palestinian banks will begin paying the next 30,000 employees Monday.

Curiously, the BBC chose a headline that read “Hamas to pay salaries on Monday”. Clearly, it is not the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority that is paying the salaries, however. The banks are paying the salaries under threat of Hamas (and Fatah) gunmen via loans against expected PA remittances.

The total breakdown of the Palestinian system may be at hand, as armed groups take time out from fighting each other in wars of words and bullets long enough to squeeze banks to replace government funds to compensate unpaid workers. It is a dire situation by all accounts. But the pause in what is rapidly escalating towards an all-out civil war is just that, a pause.

With tensions high, a new 2,500-man Fatah militia was deployed in Jenin in the West Bank. Known as the “Special Protection Unit”, it is another countering force to the PRC-led force deployed by Hamas in Gaza as the battle lines seem to be increasingly drawn.

As this new force was deployed, Hamas and Fatah meetings over recognition of and negotiation with Israel broke with anger, resentment and mistrust higher than ever. Hamas accused Abbas of attempting a “bloodless coup” in threatening a referendum vote if Hamas did not agree to recognize Israel and begin negotiations, as agreed to by various imprisoned terrorist leaders in the Barghouti peace plan.

Abbas had given Hamas a 10-day window to come to agreement or the referendum would be put in motion. That window is due to expire Monday night, and Abbas is said to be determined to see it through “at any price.”

Hamas knows that the referendum would be precisely the “bloodless coup” they refer to it as because the Palestinian people, many of them unpaid since Hamas has taken their elected offices and all of them experiencing increased hardship and violence, would likely overwhelmingly support it. This would erode Hamas’ political capital and bring the Hamas-led government to a crashing halt.

Both Abbas and Hamas knew the muscle Abbas was flexing when he first threatened the referendum. Its execution will be a potentially unrecoverable blow to Hamas as a political entity in its current form and its violent resistance to it is nearly inevitable. The fielding of the new “Special Protection Unit” in Jenin likely had this squarely in mind.

June 3, 2006

Canada Raid Breaks Cell: 3 Tons of Explosives Found

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police conducted a counterterrorism raid in the Greater Toronto Area involving over 400 personnel and broke a Canadian terrorist cell planning to bomb Canadian targets. Twelve adult Muslim jihadists and five juveniles were arrested, some of them second-generation Canadian citizens and some of them recent immigrants. They ranged in ages from in their 20’s to teens. They arrested group was described as “Muslims, but not Arabs” and unconnected to the UK raid yesterday in attempts to break up a British chemical attack plot.

According to RCMP Assistant Commissioner Mike McDonell, the group had ordered and received into their possession over three tons of ammonium nitrate, the fertilizer component used in making an explosive slurry. Clearly a massive amount, probably intended to make several huge bombs, this is three times the amount of ammonium nitrate used in the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Their intended targets are known to Canadian authorities, but they have not identified them publicly. Police knowledge of targets lead to assurances that the Toronto Transit Commission systems were not targeted. With three tons of explosives, buildings are a more logical conclusion without the knowledge known by the RCMP.

The authorities learned of the targets from captured documents and videos made the Jihadists. At least some of the arrested attended a “training camp” north of Toronto, where they acquired and trained with weapons, made videos and planned attacks, including a list of intended targets. The Toronto Star reported that the group had been under surveillance by Canadian intelligence since 2004.

It was in 2004 that Internet monitoring sparked a CSIS investigation into the group, a Canadian program not unlike the American NSA program currently under fire. The Canadian surveillance found members of the group on Jihadist sites “vowing to attack at home, in the name of oppressed Muslims here and abroad.” Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban military commander thought to be captured recently, directly threatened Canada as Canadian troops have been operating in Afghanistan since 2001. American critics of the NSA surveillance program should take note of the magnitude of the attacks the Canadian program has apparently prevented.

The Counterterrorism Blog’s Jeffrey Imm notes the significance of Canada’s growing Islamist threat. The threat of homegrown terrorism is nothing new to Canada. But, as former Royal Canadian Mounted Police jihadism expert Tom Quiggin notes, neither is Canadian denial. “A clear sense of denial exists in Canada about the degree to which terrorism activity occurs,” he said in a Canadian National Post interview. “Political correctness is wielded as a weapon against anyone who dares to speak out. Yet some of the world’s most infamous terrorists have operated in Canada almost unhindered for years. Even direct threats against Canada and attacks against Canadians with multiple deaths have not broken this denial. As a result of the highly suppressed political discourse in Canada, the domestic response to this growing problem has been limited.”

One of the first local public reactions to the arrests was the organization of a public meeting to bring various aspects of the community together, specifically inviting Jewish and Muslim Canadians. Canada’s News Talk Radio 580 CFRA reports, “Mayor Chiarelli says as more details come out, there’s a risk of blaming and finger-pointing. He hopes to address that quickly.”

Jeffrey Imm also notes this Canadian INSAC Report (PDF) on Islamists’ desire to use Muslim converts in attacks, valuing their ability to fly beneath the radar. It is likely that at least some of the 17 arrested in Canada are recent converts. All are believed to be first- or second-generation immigrants, however.

June 2, 2006

Londonistan: UK Raids Weapons Factory, Seek Chemical Suicide Vest

What began as a story of a man shot by British authorities in a raid has developed into a far more troubling situation as new details become available. It is now known that UK police acted on specific intelligence and raided a suspected chemical weapons factory, shooting one man in the raid. Now, the police and MI5 counterterrorism division are on a “desperate hunt” for a chemical suicide vest that was reported by an informant but not found at the site.

Police fear that the strike, using a home-made chemical device, was imminent after an informant told MI5 that he had seen the lethal garment at the home of two young men. Last night detectives were at the hospital bedside of a 23-year-old postal worker shot during a raid on his parents’ home, while his younger brother, aged 20, was being questioned at Paddington Green high security police station….

Armed officers who led the assault on the terraced house in Forest Gate, East London, wore oxygen masks and protective chemical gear after a tip-off from MI5 that the device had already been assembled.

However, security chiefs are deeply concerned that there was no sign of the vest inside what they believe is a chemical bomb factory.

The BBC reports that detained are Abdul Kahar 23, who was shot in the shoulder or upper chest but without life-threatening injuries, and Abdul Koyar, 20. Both men are of Bangladeshi origin. MI5 had been tracking Bangladeshi youths for weeks, monitoring communications and movements on suspicion of terrorist activity.

Authorities fear that closed areas such as the London subway or bars full of World Cup fans may have been potential intended targets of the chemical attack. The one known vest in question remains unaccounted for and there is also no reported indication of whether this may have been part of a larger operation with more facilities and devices. For a small chemical device, small closed areas with functioning controlled ventilation systems are more conducive to lethal dispersal than outside open elements.

Describing the MI5 informant who tipped authorities to the impending chemical attack as “nervous”, London’s Times Online said that the information and details that he had shared “were so precise and so terrifying that intelligence agents had to drop some of their other investigations” in order to provide enough attention and resources to preempt the assault.

While surely more alert and aware of individuals now, the MI5 has had a rocky history with informants since the 7/7 London bombings, fearing that they had allowed themselves to be infiltrated by Islamists posing as informants in the rush that followed. The Times Online also reported that authorities have said that some of the details the informant provided them “bordered on the incredible”, but that “they dared not ignore this alert.”

This is a significant development, indicating a potential shift from explosives attacks to chemical attacks among Britain’s unassimilated Muslim population. As noted before, Londonistan remains a simmering problem, a product of decades of troubled British immigration policies. The Londonistan problem was not created overnight, nor will it be resolved overnight.

Hamas Isolated Against Israel Recognition

The day after an IDF special forces unit infiltrated Gaza and killed a four-man team as they set up a Qassam rocket attack Tuesday, Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists launched another rocket attack that struck the home of Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz’s neighbor. A PIJ member said, “We will continue to bombard Zionist settlements established in the land of Palestine.”

Yet, within the following 24-hour period, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad announced that they would accept the recently drafted Barghouti peace plan, written and signed by key Palestinian terrorist leaders currently in Israeli prisons. The Barghouti Peace Plan (officially called the National Reconciliation Document) calls for the formation of a Palestinian state alongside a recognized Israel.

Meeting in China with other Arab leaders, Hamas’ PA Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Zahar, rejected all calls for the recognition of Israel and establishment of a two-state solution supported by many Arab governments. He paid lip service to the Arab supporters whom Hamas also relies upon for financial support, saying “We are discussing that because we are responding to the will of Arab leaders.” Mincing few words however, Zahar reiterated that there is no sense of urgency on the part of Hamas. Calling the plan “impractical,” he added, “It’s not an urgent issue. What is Israel going to offer Palestine - that’s more urgent.”

Many of those same Arab leaders take issue with that stance, fearing an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank that would create an unobstructed Islamist terrorist haven on their own doorsteps. On the same day Zahar made these statements before the Arab leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert effectively killed any idea of a multi-stage West Bank withdrawal, preferring instead a rapid single-stage withdrawal in order to avoid drawn out internal conflict with Jewish settlers.

For the Arab leaders growing frustrated with Hamas’ adamancy, there is indeed a sense of urgency. Pressure on Hamas – in the form of a drying regional financial well - may find it’s way to the Palestinian Authority rather soon. Israel has given Hamas until the end of the year. Arab leaders may not wait until the last minute to act in their own best interest.

With in-fighting between Hamas and Fatah now including Fatah-dominated police’s violent protest over Hamas’ lack of salary payment, the financial burden on Hamas is becoming exacerbated and with bloody consequences internally.

Perhaps it may become become increasingly difficult for sympathetic Arab leaders to remain quiet while, ironically, their public support for Hamas privately wanes just as the West’s public financial cut-off of the elected terrorist group semi-privately seeks ways to actually fund them. O, what a tangled web we weave.

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