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October 31, 2006

Pakistan Spinning Bajur Madrassa Strike

While at least one key al-Qaeda member identified at the scene was killed in yesterday’s madrassa airstrike in the Pakistani North West Frontier Province’s Bajur region, today the Pak Tribune reports Pakistani spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan now claims that there were no Taliban or al-Qaeda terrorists among the 80 reported dead at the site.

But an immediate interview on-scene through NBC News’ Mushtaq Yusufzai clearly indicates otherwise. Yusufzai reported that local al-Qaeda commander Faqir Mohammed was not in the building at the time of the strike, but his deputy, Maulana Liaquat Ali Hussain, was among the dead. He described the madrassa as commonly known and regarded locally as an intensely pro-Taliban center and that Faqir Mohammed had invited al-Qaeda #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri to what is considered an al-Qaeda-Taliban training center, not a simple unaffiliated school. It was Faqir Mohammed that had invited Zawahiri to a dinner that prompted the US airstrike in Damadola this past January.

The Counterterrorism Blog’s Andrew Cochran says that the strike on the Chingai, Pakistan madrassa has punctured the “Madrassa Myth,” asserting essentially that observers should know better than to believe that the madrassas run by Islamists – especially in the al-Qaeda/Taliban-dominated North West Frontier Province – are run without affiliation to terrorists.

Another Counterterrorism Blog contributing expert, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, cites a US intelligence source that confirms the strike was a US/NATO strike dealt by at least one armed Predator drone and helicopter gunships. There are reports that intelligence indicated that Ayman al-Zawahiri may have been in the building at the time of the strike, but Gartenstein-Ross reports his source as skeptical of such speculation. He notes that the strike comes days before Musharraf’s Pakistani government is due to sign accords with the terrorists in the Bajur region, ceding it to the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance in similar fashion as it recently agreed to in North Waziristan.

This perhaps explains Major General Sultan’s claims that there were only civilians killed in the strike on the al-Qaeda-run madrassa in Chingai, as it is necessary to maintain positive relations ahead of the accord signing that appears – at least for the moment - on hold. Indeed, thousands of Taliban supporters have staged protests in the Bajur town of Khar, as well as in the nearby city of Peshawar.

Hizballah Rearming and Rebuilding

As the senior UN envoy to Lebanon, Terje Roed-Larsen, informs the Security Council that members the Lebanese government have recently “stated publicly and also in conversations with us that there has been arms coming across the border into Lebanon,” the United States is voicing familiar concern that Syria and Iran are trying to destabilize Lebanon. US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said after a closed-door Security Council briefing that Lebanese members of government were providing some information, “But the government was afraid to be specific about these arms coming across the Syrian-Lebanese border because of fear of retaliation.”

The threat perceived by members of the Lebanese government is real and present. Following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a UN commission that has since stalled and faltered has only investigated Syria. In the time that lapsed after the Hariri murder, there were numerous assassinations and assassination attempts against anti-Syrian Lebanese figures in government and media. Lebanese citizens openly accused Syria of attempts to silence Lebanese opposition to Syrian control. (See: ThreatsWatch.Org Multimedia Presentation: Who is Next?)

Along the Lebanon-Israel border, few towns saw as much action and destruction during the Israel-Hizballah conflict this summer than Bint Jbail and the nearby Marjayoun Corridor. London’s Telegraph quoted a Bint Jbail resident who said that Hizballah has been rebuilding under the guise of civilian reconstruction. Like the Lebanese government figures, the individual chose to remain anonymous for safety concerns, but offered that “They are working extremely fast. Militants in Shia strongholds have interconnected tunnels and bunkers under their houses. These are being rebuilt under cover of the reconstruction work.”

Following the ceasefire, Iran was at the forefront offering massive amounts of reconstruction money. The likely principal purpose of that money was not to rebuild the Lebanese civilian infrastructure but, as the Bint Jbail resident indicates, to rebuild Hizballah’s damaged and destroyed positions in and under southern Lebanon.

The resident went on in the Telegraph article to describe the existing security net that Hizballah has deployed to stand watch over the efforts to retake and rebuild its southern Lebanon positions by peppering the areas of operation with watchful eyes with walkie-talkies and motorcycles.

After the ceasefire agreement, the Lebanese government agreed to allow Hizballah to keep their arms so long as they did not carry or display them publicly. The influx of additional UNIFIL forces that came into southern Lebanon to stand as a buffer between Hizballah and the IDF saw its leadership demonstrate no will to disarm Hizballah as called for by the UN Security Council resolution that served as the mandate that brought them to the region.

As a show of force and a likely reminder that IDF and IAF power lies just over the horizon, Israeli jets executed mock raids over Hizballah-dominated areas of south Beirut and the southern Lebanon Hizballah strongholds of Nabatiyeh and Tyre. The Lebanese army said that it had fired anti-aircraft artillery at the four-jet flight, though none were reported damaged. Israeli military officials refused comment.

These developments take place as Hizballah has said that it will now apply ‘all democratic and legitimate means’ to bring down the Siniora-led Lebanese government which enjoys Western support. In a move seen to be aimed at further alienating Lebanese Shi’a from the national government, Hizballah’s ultimate objective in Lebanon is to impose the rule of an Islamic state similar to that which governs its principle supporter, Iran. The Qods Force unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps founded the Lebanese Hizballah terrorist organization in the early 1980’s.

October 30, 2006

Iranian Duplicity Continues

As Iran’s nuclear program once again takes center stage within United Nations Security Council chambers, the Untied States is working hard to cut off terrorists’ cash flow into Iraq. Sunni groups continue to receive massive cash support from within Syria while Shi’a militias such as al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army receive millions of dollars from Iran via the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force.

Much of the funds used by Sunni insurgents goes to pay for individual attacks, including IED attacks. CentCom commander Gen. John Abizaid noted the importance that the flow of money plays in this aspect, saying, “The average IED is an attack form carried out by people that are really not ideologically committed. They get paid, and they’re getting paid because they don’t have any money and they’re getting paid because they’ve got people [who] are generally members of the old army that don’t have work.”

Yet Iranian hands are in the IED mix as well. They are the source of the most deadly IED’s currently in the Iraq theater. In August, Alireza Jafarzadeh , the man who revealed the accurate intelligence on the clandestine Iranian nuclear program four years ago, identified three Tehran military manufacturing sites responsible for making the molten copper shaped charges used in the most deadly explosives in Iraq. “Three industrial sections called Sattari, Sayad Shirazi and Shiroodi” in the military-controlled Lavizan area of Tehran were identified. But these are not ‘_Improvised_ Explosive Devices,’ but rather intently manufactured and milled specifically to penetrate US and British armor in Iraq.

Iran continues to claim to be ‘attentive to Iraq’s security and stability’. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said that “Iran makes use of its relations with the countries of the region to promote regional security and peace.” But its millions of dollars funding al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and continued flow of weapons used in roadside bombs illustrate quite the opposite.

In more fiery speeches in Tehran, the Iranian regime made renewed threats in response to any UN sanctions placed on Iran. While the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, warned Britain specifically against any support for sanctions, Ahmadinejad contradicted himself by saying that sanctions will have little effect on Iran’s nuclear quest.

After condemning Britain for being little more than tools for the American administration, Ahmadinejad said, “We do advise Britain not to squirm and not to do childish activities concerning the resolution. Iran’s nation has stood up and will not let you achieve anything except humiliation.”

Yet, with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization member-states in Tehran for a conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki said that negotiation is the preferred path rather than conflict or sanctions. He said, “Negotiations will be the best and the most feasible way of reaching an understanding.” With the SCO conference in Tehran this week, Mottaki was asked if Iran relies upon the support of China and Russia for protection of its nuclear program. The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Mottaki saying in response, “We only count on our nation but will nonetheless make our stance known to other states. We hope other countries will find our stance to be rational and possibly support it.”

Without Russian and Chinese protection, UN Security Council sanctions would likely have been enacted long ago. Both states have remained firmly opposed to sanctions against Iran, with the Russian Foreign Minster recently declaring the Russia will directly oppose and sanctions intended to punish the Iranian regime. It is now 60-days beyond the ignored UNSC deadline for an Iranian halt in enrichment activities.

October 26, 2006

Argentina Seeks Arrest of Rafsanjani for 1994 Bombing

In a bold move, Argentinean prosecutors have requested Argentine and international arrest warrants for former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani, former intelligence chief, Ali Fallahijan, and former Foreign Minister Ali Ar Velayati as well as several leaders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. All told, the arrest of eight current and former high-ranking Iranian officials are sought for trial by the Argentinean prosecutors currently charged with investigating the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed at least 85 and wounded hundreds.

The chief Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, made it perfectly clear that his team is convinced beyond doubt that the bombing was perpetrated by the terrorist group Hizballah at the direct guidance of the highest reaches of the Iranian government. Nisman said, “We deem it proven that the decision to carry out an attack (on) July 18, 1994, on the AMIA (Argentine Jewish Mutual Association) was made by the highest authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran which directed Hizbollah to carry out the attack.”

A report appearing in The Australian quotes a Hizballah source in reaction from Lebanon saying, “I have not yet heard that but it is not new. The Zionists want that.”

The Israel daily Haaretz reports a summary of Israeli intelligence on the bombing, including its possession of the transcript of the 1994 Hizballah suicide bomber’s farewell phone call home to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. It reports that it was a 1993 meeting headed by Ayatollah Khameini and included Rafsanjani, at the time Iran’s president, as well as the foreign minister, the intelligence minister and Khameini’s intel & security advisor, Muhamed Hijazi.

Iranian state-run television reported on the Argentinean calls for arrests, but stopped short of naming Rafsanjani, currently the head of the regime’s Expediency Council, or any of the others implicated in the investigation. The official Islamic Republic News Agency has yet to publish a report on these developments at the time of this writing, but did publish an article reporting Ayatollah Khameini praising Hizballah It quoted Iran’s Supreme Leader as saying, “Reliance on God Almighty, brave resistance and maximum use of all the existing potential have been the key to shocking victory of the Lebanese people and Hizbollah against the Zionist Regime.”

Argentina has South America’s largest Jewish population at over 300,000. Argentina has also enjoyed normal relations with the ‘Zionist regime’ that Khameini spoke of in his praise for Hizballah. Late last week, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leveled direct threats at European nations for supporting Israel and warned them to distance themselves from the ‘Zionist regime,’ adding, “This is an ultimatum. Don’t complain tomorrow.”

Russia Rejects Iran Sanctions Draft Proposal

Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that the EU/US draft proposal for sanctions on Iran were unacceptable and inconsistent with the Security Council Mandate regarding Iran. “I believe the proposed draft resolution does not meet the objectives set out by the Iran-6 [the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany],” Lavrov said. He added, “Our goal is to eliminate the risks of sensitive technologies getting into the hands of Iran until the IAEA clarifies issues of interest to it, while maintaining all possible channels of communication with Iran.” This implies that Russia does not believe constructing a nuclear plant constitutes risking “sensitive technologies getting into the hands of Iran.”

Eliminated from the language received from the EU by Russia and China was any restriction on the Russian construction of the Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran. The United States wanted such a restriction in place, though it fully expected it to eventually be stripped. American UN Ambassador John Bolton wanted the measure in place originally so as to serve as a bargaining chip. The New York Times quoted a European diplomat as saying, “The Americans say, ‘We have to make the text even stronger because we know the Russians will water it down.’” The diplomat disagreed with the approach as “not a productive way of thinking.”

But the Russians have rejected the proposal even without such stipulations. In the draft, the Russian construction at Bushehr is not prohibited, though there are unspecified measures regarding the supply of fuel to Iran once construction is complete.

The State Department’s Nicholas Burns assured that the Bushehr nuclear plant would not be a “major stumbling point.” That its Russian construction is left unaddressed in the initial draft speaks to that loudly.

The text of the draft proposal is unavailable, but it is reported that aside from the Bushehr issue, it addresses prohibition of sales of items that could be used for the Iranian nuclear and missile programs, travel restrictions on Iranians involved in the nuclear and missile development programs, and the freezing of assets of individuals involved in the nuclear and missile development programs.

It remains unclear how far up the Iranian leadership chain these travel and financial sanctions would apply. The question remains: Would these sanctions apply to the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and other Iranian leadership figures responsible for oversight and approval of various aspects?

Also reportedly included in the language of the sanctions draft proposal are restrictions on Iranian students abroad, prohibiting them from studying nuclear physics in universities outside Iran. The New York Times calls the educational prohibition an “extraordinary step.” While it may be technically out of the ordinary, it is in line with logic regarding prohibiting a state’s acquisition of technological capabilities.

The United Nations ambassadors from the P5+1 (United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China + Germany) a due to meet today regarding the sanctions draft proposal.

October 25, 2006

Iran Decries US Gulf Proliferation Exercises

In April 2006, Iran conducted a very public show of force with their much publicized ‘Great Prophet Exercises’ in the Persian Gulf which included press conferences on their latest proclaimed advances, such as stealth aircraft and MIRV warheads. Six months later in the waters of the Persian Gulf, as the United Nations Security Council expects to meet and debate potential Iran sanctions, the United States and Persian Gulf Arab states are quietly conducting training exercises related to maritime non-proliferation cargo inspections. The exercises are part of the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). The counter-proliferation exercises by American, Bahraini and Kuwaiti forces are planned to begin Sunday, October 29.

Iran yesterday denounced the coming PSI exercises as “dangerous and suspicious,” and warned regional Arab states against taking part in “any initiative which could help the Zionists and the United States.”

The harsh Iranian criticism - and veiled threats to cooperating regional Arab states - come as the United States seeks to enact sanctions on Iran similar to those imposed on North Korea. Even still, the draft proposal of sanctions for eventual UNSC consideration is said to have been watered down in order to entice Russia and China to support some form of sanctions against the Islamic Republic for its clandestine nuclear program.

The draft proposal in its current form seeks to ban the sale of nuclear and missile technology to Iran, deny foreign travel of Iranian officials involved in their nuclear and missile programs, and deny the nuclear assistance currently provided by the IAEA. One of the diplomats familiar with the proposal “described all three measures as moderate and narrowly focused in an attempt to win Russian and Chinese backing to punish Iran’s refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.”

As the IAEA has presided over the emergence of nuclear arms in Pakistan, India and North Korea, it has been criticized as being ineffectual in its non-proliferation efforts. It was an extra-UN cooperation organization, the Proliferation Security Initiative, that brought down the world’s chief nuclear technology proliferation network, that of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. It is this organization of concerned states, operating free of the weighty bureaucratic oversight of the United Nations, that has been given the green light to conduct counter-proliferation cargo inspections on North Korean cargo by the UN Security Council, though not without reservations.

As the Security Council barters amongst its members in preparations for formal debate on sanctions, Iran’s second centrifuge cascade is ready to be fed with uranium gas for enrichment and Russia’s construction of Iran’s Bushehr light water nuclear reactor continues, though Russia said that the Bushehr plant’s launch will be delayed for technical reasons. Russia now expects the plant to come online in September 2007. The United States objects to the Russian construction while Iran’s nuclear program is under Security Council scrutiny and, potentially, sanctions.

October 24, 2006

Iran Advances as West Argues Over Bushehr

Even though the Islamic Republic remains in defiant violation of the United Nations Security Council’s demand that it cease enrichment operations by August 31, Iran’s ambassador to Russia, Gholamreza Ansari, said that Tehran is anxious to restart nuclear talks regarding its nuclear program. Said the ambassador, “I am certain that Iran is ready for talks to begin as soon as possible, all issues can be discussed during these negotiations.” But the United States believes that Iran’s claims of being willing to discuss ‘all issues’ is little more than a stalling tactic, designed to buy the regime more time, month by month, for furthering its nuclear weapons program.

The United States likely does not view it coincidental that Iran’s re-stated desires for more talks, a call that is made by Iran on almost a daily basis, is accompanied today with news that a second Iranian 164-centrifuge cascade is in place and will soon be ready for operation. This according to IAEA head Mohammed ElBaredei, who said yesterday that “based on our most recent inspections, the second centrifuge cascade is in place and ready to go.” ElBaredei remains unconvinced that Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons, adding, “The jury is still out on whether they are developing a nuclear weapon.”

Also today, even as Russia recently earlier vowed to oppose and punishment of Iran through UN sanctions, implying a veto vote, reports today suggest that the United States and European diplomats are arguing over the Russian construction of Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor. It had been reported earlier that the two sides had come to agreement that a waiver would be included in the sanctions language that would permit Russia to complete the construction of the Bushehr nuclear facility, worth an estimated US$800 million to cash-strapped Moscow. This idea came under immediate criticism as being contrary to the principle of nuclear sanctions against Iran.

As Iran’s Russia ambassador renews the regime’s calls for talks, the Iranian President yesterday said that Iran’s nuclear capabilities have increased ten-fold before a supportive Tehran crowd, just days after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered his Jihad ultimatum to Europe.

His political rival, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the current Chairman of Iran’s Expediency Council, was reported in Iran’s state-controlled Islamic Republic News Agency as affirming once again that Iran “renounces nuclear arms in light of the ethical principles enshrined by Islam.” In a reference to World War II, he attempted to buttress this by saying, “The US which has brought Iranian nuclear program to the spotlight is the first country in the world that used nuclear weapon bringing eternal disgrace for itself. So, no other country would do so, because of subsequent disgrace.”

With the UN Security Council expected to take up consideration of Iran sanctions this week, all eyes will be on Russia following their pledge to oppose any punishment of Iran through sanctions. If the US and Europe cannot come to agreement on the issue of Russia’s construction of the plant at Bushehr, the Malaysia Star report cited a European diplomat who suggested that Europe may forgo the United States and circulate the document directly to Russia and China without American approval. This week could be a contentious week of diplomatic conflict for all involved as the issue of Iran sanctions nears the floor of the Security Council chambers.

October 23, 2006

Hamas And Fatah Nearing Armed Showdown

As Fatah members of the Palestinian police and security forces staged more protests against Hamas in Gaza City over wage non-payment since Hamas won control of the Palestinian parliament, battle lines between Fatah and Hamas are being ever more clearly drawn.

The primary reason for the lack of funds to pay the Palestinian police and other government employees is that the international community has sharply curtailed aid monies since Hamas took office. The conditions for reinstatement remain the recognition of Israel and the renouncement of violence (principally terrorist tactics). Hamas has refused to budge from its charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel. The foreign aid money thus remains beyond reach of the Palestinian Authority and the payrolls go unpaid.

Hamas’ PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar virtually assured the continued monetary disconnect on Friday as he declared in no uncertain terms that Hamas will never recognize Israel, regardless of previous offers of a long-term hudna (ceasefire). “Israel is a growth on our land. It has no historical, religious, or cultural justification, and we will never establish relations with this ‘cancer,’” Zahar proclaimed. He sealed the door shut saying, “We will never recognize Israel - this is a final, non-negotiable decision.”

In another account of his words Friday, regarding the kidnapping of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, Zahar threatened that Hamas “will abduct more soldiers if Israel does not release [Palestinian] prisoners.”

While Gaza is considered Hamas’ stronghold and the West Bank Fatah’s, Hamas appears to be gearing up for direct conflict with Fatah inside the West Bank. In parallel with Zahar’s threats and declarations Friday, Hamas held a rally in Qalqilya in Fatah’s West Bank back yard. Hamas was reported as parading hundreds of new recruits, freshly armed, in the streets of Qalqilya, a traditionally Fatah-dominated West Bank town on the Israeli border.

It has also been reported that this development is what caused Mahmoud Abbas to rehire Ismail Jaber as the West Bank’s security commander. Abbas had fired Jaber in April 2005 over a shooting incident inside his presidential headquarters. But Jaber is highly respected by Fatah veterans, and the Palestinian president needs an effective commander as Fatah faces a growing openly armed threat from Hamas within the West Bank. Hamas has already amassed a 6,000-man ‘executive force’ in Gaza, and has stated plans to field an armed force of 1,500 men in the West Bank. The new recruits paraded in Qalqilya Friday are thought to be a manifestation of that plan.

While Israeli ministers discuss a major potential Gaza operation in the coming weeks in order to, among other things, retake control of the Philadelphi route used for arms smuggling between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, the Palestinians themselves may beat the Israelis to the operational punch as a Palestinian civil war looms as ominously as ever before.

October 22, 2006

Russia Will Oppose Any 'Punishing' Iran Sanctions

As a draft proposal for Iran sanctions is expected to be delivered to the UN Security Council for consideration this week, Iran’s Russian protectors dismissed the notion of any sanctions for punishment after the Iranian regime ignored the Security Council’s deadline for ending enrichment activity. Instead, Russian Foreign Minister said that Russia “will oppose any attempts to use the Security Council to punish Iran or use Iran’s program in order to promote the ideas of regime change there.”

The veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council has essentially assured that, while the UN body will be taking up the Iranian crisis this week, little if any tangible consequences will be dealt out to the bellicose Islamic Republic. Even after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a clear war ultimatum to Europe, threatening it with the spread of Jihad to its soil for supporting Israel, Moscow continues to fervently protect its key trading partner.

Russia is currently under contract for US$800 million to complete construction of the light water nuclear reactor at Bushehr. In attempts to minimize Russian losses and thus bring them into agreement on other aspects of the proposed Iranian sanctions, it was agreed by the US and Europe that Russia would be permitted to complete the construction regardless of the nuclear nature of the Iranian threat. This attempted acquiescence has apparently failed and the Russian defense of Iran continues in earnest.

Though the past three years of talks between various parties and Iran have netted no results, Sergey Lavrov insisted that “Any measures of influence should encourage creating conditions for talks.” The Iranian condition for talks has consistently been that it will not halt enrichment during any talks while the European and American position has been to demand that talks must follow enrichment cessation.

But Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki rejected this position once more, saying, “We don’t see any logic to suspending uranium enrichment. Enrichment of uranium by Iran is a legal action derived from its membership rights in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” Critics dismiss the Iranian defense under NPT rights, as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty they cite was admittedly broken in their acquisition of centrifuges, various other nuclear equipment and scientific expertise from the AQ Khan international proliferation network.

But as Mottaki continued on to invite talks, France’s Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie indicated that his veto-wielding country would be willing to shelve the push for sanctions as well if Iran showed “steps forward.” The French minister said, “If Iran does display good will, France and France’s partners are ready to suspend the procedure in front of the security council. The only condition is that there are indeed steps forward.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mottaki continued to remark about talks. “Dialogue is the best way to reach an understanding,” Mottaki said. But the ‘understanding’ he speaks of is not one of enrichment cessation or finding an alternative compromise. “We are ready to hold talks about the reason for enrichment.” Talks on the issue with Iran are seen by the United States as a fruitless and seemingly endless endeavor by Iranian design, which is why the US insists on cessation before entering into any talks.

When these latest developments are placed in context with the lack of unity against a North Korean regime openly declaring nuclear weapons, testing them and threatening their use, there is little reason to question the Iranian regime’s swagger. The Iranian confidence continues to build and the likelihood of meaningful sanctions against the regime ever more remote.

Rice: No Sign of Kim Jong-Il's 'Regret'

While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice applauded China’s newly active role in reining in the Kim Jong Il regime, primarily economically by freezing the North’s bank accounts, she expressed doubts about reports of North Korea stepping back from the brink of crisis. While reports circulated and were widely repeated Friday that Kim had apologized to Tang Jiaxuan, China’s former foreign minister, and promised not to carry out further tests, the Secretary of State said that Tang told her of no such development in their meetings.

“Tang did not tell me that Kim Jong-Il either apologized for the test or said that he would not ever test again,” Ms. Rice said. She continued, “The Chinese did not, in a fairly thorough briefing to me, say anything about an apology. The North Koreans, I think, would like to see an escalation of the tension.”

While she left China without many tangible commitments from either Beijing or Seoul on strict enforcement of the UN Security Council sanctions, she maintained that North Korea is no less belligerent today than in the days immediately following their failed nuclear test.

With Moscow her last stop in her Asian tour that included China, South Korea and Japan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov harshly criticized the United States’ response to the North Korean nuclear test as “extreme” and “uncompromising.” The American Secretary of State seemed to reply in kind, offering criticism of Russia’s shrinking freedom of the press as she met with the son of slain Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya as well as with the editors and journalists of the newspaper she wrote for, Novaya Gazeta. Russia remains consistently contentious toward American policy as relations between the Cold War foes continue to sour.

October 20, 2006

Ahmadinejad Delivers Jihad Ultimatum To Europe

“This is an ultimatum. Don’t complain tomorrow.” These are the words of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Europe today.

Nearly 60 days after the Security Council’s deadline for Iran to halt enrichment passed, Britain’s U.N. Ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, said today that a draft proposal for Iran sanctions should be delivered to the Security Council early next week. The United States, Britain, France and Germany had been in consultations regarding the text of the proposal this week and it had yet to be seen or considered by Russia or China. But American UN Ambassador John Bolton said that “within a day or two we’ll have something to circulate more broadly in the council.”

AhmadinejadAs the Security Council session to determine the sanctioned fate of the Islamic Republic looms, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the occasion of al-Qods Day (Jerusalem Day) to rally the Muslim world and openly threaten Europe. Rather than directly condemn European nations such as Britain, France and Germany for supporting sanctions over the Iranian nuclear program, Ahmadinejad instead used the al-Qods Day event to condemn them before a broader Muslim audience for their support of the state of Israel. He openly threatened European states, saying that their continued support of Israel would soon hurt them.

Argued Ahmadinejad, “You should believe that this regime (Israel) cannot last and has no more benefit to you. What benefit have you got in supporting this regime, except the hatred of the nations?” He went on to send Europe an unveiled threat, saying, “We have advised the Europeans that the Americans are far away, but you are the neighbors of the nations in this region. We inform you that the nations are like an ocean that is welling up, and if a storm begins, the dimensions will not stay limited to Palestine, and you may get hurt.” It was in a speech on al-Qods Day last year that Ahmadinejad declared that Israel should be “wiped from the map.”

But the nature of Ahmadinejad’s open threat today cannot be fully understood without citing Ahmadinejad’s words that directly preceded the above threat. Unlike the BBC, most media accounts thus far are not including Ahmadinejad’s direct and literal ultimatum. He declared to Europe,

“You imposed a group of terrorists [Israel]… on the region. It is in your own interest to distance yourself from these criminals… This is an ultimatum. Don’t complain tomorrow.”

With the above statement, there is no mistaking Ahmadinejad’s words as a state’s threat of war to be principally waged through the terrorism of jihad. Iran is the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, and no words from any of its leaders have ever made it more abundantly clear.

Precisely when ‘tomorrow’ may be is unclear, but when the United Nations had set an earlier deadline for Iran on July 12, that was precisely the date that the Iranian-founded and –supported terrorist group Hizballah launched an attack into Israel which sparked the summer’s Israel-Hizballah war in Lebanon.

Arms, explosives and ammunition continue to pour into Gaza, the epicenter of Ahmadinejad’s foretold widespread violence and Jihad. Today, Egyptian police interdicted a 200-crate shipment of arms and ammunition bound for terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Tunnels are reportedly being dug as Hamas intends to emulate the Iranian-trained Hizballah tactics used in Lebanon over the summer.

As thousands protest the existence of Israel on al-Qods Day, in Pakistan and elsewhere, Ahmadinejad’s ultimatum should be taken with the grave sincerity and literal terms in which it was delivered.

North Korea Backing Away From The Brink

Signals from North Korea have taken a decidedly different tone after Hu Jintao sent Tang Jiaxuan to Pyongyang to speak with Kim Jong Il. South Korea’s Yonhap reports that the North Korean dictator told Tang that the communist state “has no plan to conduct additional nuclear tests” after he arrived in Pyongyang to “hand down a personal message” from China’s Hu to Kim. China possibly appears to have successfully talked the North Koreans down from the ledge of confrontation. What combination of carrots and/or sticks China employed is yet to be seen. Upon his return, Tang had told Condoleezza Rice, in Beijing for talks on North Korea, that his trip to Pyongyang “not been in vain.”

In another example of an immediate change in tone, North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan told ABC News that “Kim Jong Il has been saying all along in his words that there’s no reason North Korea should remain an enemy of the United States.” When asked directly about any further nuclear tests, the foreign minister offered an indirect, “I think you can closely watch what happens.”

This welcomed development of North Korean tone moderation is tempered by the continuing differences between the Untied States and China with regard to desired outcomes for North Korea . Under no military threat from North Korea, China does not want the collapse of Kim Jong Il’s regime, at least in part for fear of an unmanageable wave of fleeing immigrants seeking a better life and opportunity in China. The United States and Japan are the constant recipients of North Korean threats and the primary targets of its missile arsenal. Within this context, the US seeks an end to the Kim regime.

These widely divergent desired outcomes are at the heart of the difficulties the United States is experiencing in her efforts to achieve a more unified implementation of the UN Security Council sanctions handed down last week. Even neighboring South Korea has balked on aspects of implementation, exemplifying that the conflict is between North Korea and the United States and clearly not with their South Korean neighbors.

Yet at the same time, the Bangkok Post reported that China has expanded its economic penalization of the NoKor regime, quoting the China Daily as saying that “Major Chinese banks stopped payments to the DPRK last week.” This suspended cash flow has put an immediate dent into the lifestyle of Kim Jong Il, and its prolonged suspension holds dire consequences on a higher level for the communist state as a whole. Potentially disastrous food and fuel shortages as a result have already been contemplated.

It is likely that the Chinese economic pressure on North Korea had much more to do with today’s sudden change of tone from the regime than any other action, UN sanctions-based or otherwise.

South Korea: More NK Nuke Tests 'Certain'

As US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice lands in Beijing to hold talks on North Korea, its nuclear program and enforcing the UN sanctions imposed on it, a top Chinese delegation is set for return from Pyongyang. China’s mission in Pyongyang was to convince the North Korean regime to stand down its nuclear threats and exhibitions, either by threatening their food and fuel supplies heading into another typically harsh North Korean winter or by enticing them back to the six-party talks or even bi-lateral talks directly with the United States.

While the success of China’s attempts remain unknown, South Korean Parliament intelligence committee member Chung Hyung-keun said that intelligence from multiple countries indicated that “it is certain the North will conduct three or four additional nuclear tests in the future.” He gave no timeframe.

In an interview with ABC News, a North Korean general said that war with the United States “will be inevitable” if the US does not tone down its threats against the communist regime. He said that President Bush expects North Korea to “kneel” and that the North Koreans will sooner go to war.

Quickly, White House spokesman Tony Snow said that this is not at all the case. Said Snow, “Let me make clear to the people of North Korea and the entire world — not only do we not want North Korea to kneel down, … what we are trying to do is offer them a better deal.”

But one thing the United States is certainly trying to do is get nations – including signatory nations – to actively enforce the UN Security Council resolutions imposed on the Kim Jong Il regime, with acute attention to the prevention of proliferation through authorized cargo inspections. The reluctance of Russia and China in particular have been troubling enough. But news out of Seoul is that South Korea will continue economic cooperation with the North Korean regime, including the continued joint construction of a tourist resort in the North.

This decision is indicative of the nature of the conflict: One that is clearly between North Korea and the United States, and not China, Russia or even their South Korean neighbors. There were talks earlier in the week to convince the South Koreans to enforce the counter-proliferation cargo inspections near its own shores.

Even as a United Nations report Thursday indicated a North Korean practice of rounding up the disabled and placing them in segregated camps far from Kim’s capital city, reluctance is abound regardless. North Korean defectors detailed how certain disabilities are kept together in common space, described in the report as ‘inhumane,’ and not allowed to have children.

America is finding it hard to enforce the agreed-to sanctions without the participation of North Korea’s closest geographic neighbors.

October 19, 2006

Israel Steps Up Gaza Operations

In the IDF’s operations Thrusday, a Hamas terrorist involved in kidnapping Gilad Shalit was killed by Israeli forces in Gaza. A Hamas spokesman said that the field commander for Hamas’ Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, Ashraf al-Muasher, was one of the two killed in an IDF operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah in which the IDF took control of the border crossing into Egypt. In the West Bank, Hamas leader Ammar Al-Thaher was killed by unidentified gunmen Wednesday night. Fatah publicly condemned the killing and denied involvement as Hamas members organized a protest rally in Nablus and blamed a local Fatah strongman, Mohammed Dahlan, shouting “Dahlan, you traitor!”

As Israel continues its expanded push into Gaza, five more smuggling tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egypt border were discovered. Israel has been executing a series of focused sweep operations aimed at curtailing the arms smuggling into Gaza that has been allowing Hamas to amass stores of ammunition and weapons for a confrontation with the IDF. Israeli intelligence estimates that millions of rounds of AK-47 ammunition have been amassed, as well as thousands of pounds of explosives for bomb making and advanced Russian anti-tank weapons, such as the Kornet.

Israeli tanks are reported to have taken control of the Rafah Crossing and also cut of the primary North-South road that leads to the Rafah link to Egypt. When Israel carries out operations in the southern area of Gaza, historically Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups have fired Qassam rockets into Israeli towns from the northern edge of Gaza. To minimize this likelihood, the IDF has troops operating on the ground on the northern end of Gaza as well.

These shoulder-fired advanced armor-piercing anti-tank munitions are the type that were used in the operation that resulting in the capture and kidnapping of Gilad Shalit near the Gaza border. They were also supplied to Hizballah by Iran and Syria and used effectively as their most effective weapon against the IDF and its Merkava tanks.

According to a UPI report, Israeli intelligence is concerned that among the weapons that have been smuggled into Gaza - as terrorists dig tunnels in emulation of Hizballah – are shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. In September, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter remarked, “Terror organizations in the Gaza Strip have shoulder-held missiles that to our knowledge have not yet been used. This will make the (military’s) mission much more complex.” As Hamas’ use of the Kornet anti-tank weapon in the capture of Gila Shalit – and Hizballah’s effective use of the same – took some by surprise, the Israeli intelligence services are intent on eliminating surprise with regard to terrorists’ eventual use of anti-aircraft weapons as well as locating and destroying them before they are fired on IAF aircraft.

Coming Iran Sanctions Weakened

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated the Russian position that any UN sanctions on Iran must be ‘proportionate.’ “It is necessary to act on Iran but that action should be in direct proportion to what is really happening. And what is really happening is what the IAEA reports to us. And the IAEA is not reporting to us about the presence there of a threat to peace and security.”

But what is really happening is that cash-strapped Russia continues to be the beneficiary of an Iranian contract to complete the construction of the Bushehr nuclear plant on the edge of the Persian Gulf for upwards of US$800 million. And sanctions on Iran must therefore be proportionate to Russian economic interests rather than proportionate to any Iranian nuclear threat.

And so Europe and the United States have agreed that the language of a draft proposal of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program to be submitted to the United Nations Security Council for consideration will include a waiver permitting Russia to build Iran’s nuclear facility in order “get the Russians to go along.”

In exchange also, Russia apparently will withdraw its demand that the US lift sanctions that have been placed on the Russian state-controlled arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, and aircraft manufacturer Sukoi. The two were slapped with US sanctions for providing prohibited (by US law) equipment and technology to Iran. Rosoboronexport is the world’s largest producer of titanium.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was in Moscow attempting to persuade Russia to act against Iran. But Olmert was unable to make headway with the former head of the KGB, as the VOA story made quite clear. “Mr. Olmert said he is confident that Mr. Putin understands Israel’s concerns. But in a joint news conference Wednesday, Mr. Putin said nothing about Iran’s nuclear program.”

For the Iranian people, it remains business as usual as the regime the regime put a 128k cap on internet access speeds in attempt to hinder information flow to the Iranian citizenry from the West as elections near. As candidates begin to register for Iran’s elections coming December 15th, they are all vetted by the Guardian Council, the same body that eliminated liberal reformist candidates from the ballots when Ahmadinejad was elected in June 2005. The same is expected this year.

North Korea Warned On Proliferation Amid Doubts

President Bush warned North Korea against selling nuclear materials, naming Iran and al-Qaeda as possible recipients of Kim Jong Il’s wares. The president said, “If we get intelligence that they’re about to transfer a nuclear weapon, we would stop the transfer, and we would deal with the ships that were taking the — or the airplane that was dealing with taking the material to somebody.” He was then asked if that meant strikes against the communist regime as well, to which he responded, “I’d just say it’s a grave consequence.”

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cast open doubt about the ability to stop North Korean proliferation abroad regardless of inspection efforts, calling the goal “practically impossible.” Bringing the discussion into the context of continued Chinese and Russian objections to tangible counter-proliferation efforts through inspection, Rumsfeld said, “We have not seen that kind of cooperation that would have a high probability of being able to prevent a continued proliferation.”

And as satellite intelligence suggests that preparations for a second nuclear bomb test may well be underway, Jane’s Defence Weekly’s Joseph Bermudez says that a second test is only logical considering the first test’s failure. “If you look at what Pakistan did in 1998, the initial explosion had failed. It didn’t get to full yield—it didn’t have full explosive power—so they … carried on a series of follow-up tests validating their design.”

But Assistant US Secretary of State Christopher Hill seemed to pour water on the idea that a second North Korean detonation attempt is in the near-term cards. “We have always felt that the North Koreans could conduct a test when [they] wanted to but we do not have any indication that it’s going to happen imminently,” Hill said. While the likelihood of any coming nuclear test is debated in the West, putting an end to the days of Kim Jong-Il remains a hot debate topic in Chinese circles.

The Christian Science Monitor turned to the UN’s World Food Program to hear that, for the communist dictatorship’s citizens, North Korea potentially heads toward hunger once more as a result of sanctions in the face of the coming winter. The WFP’s(World Food Program) regional director for Asia told the newspaper that “There is relatively little humanitarian assistance going in now. The willingness of donors to meet those needs has not been very strong.” Kim Jong-Il effectively holds the North Korean people hostage, sacrificed for and punished by his nuclear arms ambitions.

And as Japan looks on having imposed its own sanctions on North Korea well ahead of the eventual UN Security Council consensus, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought to calm regional fears of Japan potentially seeking its own nuclear defenses. After meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, she assured Japan and the region “that the United States has the will and the capability to meet the full range and I underscore the full range of its deterrent and security commitments to Japan.”

October 17, 2006

US: Possible Second Nuclear Test Afoot

South Korea’s Yonhap News reports of a possible second North Korean nuclear test after information became available that United States satellites had once again detected suspicious movement of trucks and people in the area very near where the North Koreans detonated their first nuclear test. The same ‘suspicious movement’ was detected and reported ahead of that test as well. South Korea was cautious to arrive at the conclusion of an impending second nuclear test while Japan acknowledged that they had information but would not elaborate.

The first test was confirmed to be a nuclear blast earlier today in a news release from the Director of National Intelligence which read, “Analysis of air samples collected on October 11, 2006 detected radioactive debris which confirms that North Korea conducted an underground nuclear explosion in the vicinity of P’unggye on October 9, 2006. The explosion yield was less than a kiloton.”

The Chinese response continues to be somewhat self-conflicting, as it was widely reported Monday that China had begun inpections of cargo from North Korea. Yet Xu Guangyu of Beijing’s government-sponsored China Arms Control and Disarmament Association said that the Chinese inspections are “more a symbolic step than a real sanction measure. China just doesn’t engage in that sort of trade with North Korea, so there’s not much practical that needs to be done. It lets North Korea know our feelings.”

China is not hailed globally for its effective stance on arms control, but it could be said to be a remarkably bold move for North Korea to attempt to smuggle illicit weapons items through China without China’s nod. At the same time, even if China “just doesn’t engage in that sort of trade with North Korea,” smuggling is defined as “secretly importing [or exporting] prohibited goods,” which would be outside normal legal trade practices that Xu references by definition. That said, it is widely accepted that the greatest proliferation-policing challenge remains off the North Korean coastline and in the air, not along the Chinese land border.

While the level and intensity of Chinese cargo inspections may be viewed as debatable, South Korea’s Yonhap News has published another report of a development that has received little attention and may be a fair indicator of China’s displeasure with the Kim Jong Il regime. While at least one Chinese state-owned bank has frozen all North Korean accounts, China allowed three North Korean defectors to fly directly to the United States seeking political asylum. It marks the first time China has allowed defectors transit directly to the United States, cutting against a standing formal agreement with North Korea to repatriate defectors back to Pyongyang.

While China’s cargo inspection regime may be justifiably questioned by some quarters, with word of a potential second nuclear test that may be forthcoming, China’s permission to the three North Korean defectors to fly directly to America is an unsubtle message delivered at the doorstep of Kim Jong Il at his Pyongyang address.

October 14, 2006

No Enforcement In Approved North Korea Sanctions

With a vote that nonetheless eventually happened today, China and Russia again delayed UN Security Council action against North Korea, as more objections were raised Saturday after initial objections were successfully addressed Friday. Objections were raised concerning the potential of US ships interdicting and inspecting North Korea-bound shipping close to Chinese and Russian borders.

But in the end, the UN Security Council ultimately voted today to impose sanctions on North Korea. As presented by the BBC, those sanctions reportedly include:

  • Demands North Korea eliminate all its nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.
  • Requires all countries to prevent the sale or transfer of materials related to Pyongyang’s unconventional weapons programs, as well as large-sized military items such as tanks, missiles and helicopters.
  • Demands nations freeze funds overseas of people or businesses connected with North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
  • Allows nations to inspect cargo moving in and out of North Korea in pursuit of non-conventional weapons.
  • Is not backed up by the threat of military force.
  • Calls on Pyongyang to return “without precondition” to stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear program.

This seemingly opens the door for the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) member-states to interdict shipments to and from North Korea. The original eleven members of the Proliferation Security Initiative included Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and England. The membership has grown by dozens since 2003 and includes Russia but not China.

According to earlier reports shortly before the vote, the language of the proposed sanctions “now says local authorities will cooperate in the inspection process.” What is meant by “local authorities” is unclear, but could mean Russian and Chinese lead in any inspection effort.

If so, this could be a potentially troubling development, as China – while voicing displeasure over the nuclear test - is North Korea’s largest ally and, PSI membership notwithstanding, Russian actions surrounding the North Korean nuclear test raise more questions than comfort under scrutiny, especially the unsupported and since-disproven Russian claim of a nuclear blast 20 to 30 times greater than all other estimates. Not even the Russian seismic data supported the estimates publicly put forth by Moscow, which has brought the motivation behind such a claim into question.

Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Ivanov, warned the United States that sanctions against North Korea must not contain threat of force saying, “These sanctions mustn’t contain even a hint at use of force and mustn’t be directed against the North Korean people.” Meanwhile, the overt North Korean threats against Japan and the United States amidst missile and nuclear warhead testing continue to crescendo. The provision referencing the use of force as a last-resort enforcement mechanism was ultimately stricken from the sanctions language.

Even more troubling is the specter of Iranian involvement in the North Korean nuclear test, just as it was involved in North Korea’s July 4th multiple-missile test launchings. It was confirmed that leading members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were present at the North Korean launches. John Batchelor did a bit of reporting in a New York Sun Tuesday opinion piece, Persian Hands, that “It is logical, and now confirmed, that Iranian agents were present at the test site…” The well-connected author also suggested that the Iranians bought and paid for both the July missile tests and last week’s nuclear warhead test.

While the Iranians have been keenly observing the Security Council reaction to the North Korean nuclear test and accompanying bellicosity, the North Koreans were also observing the Security Council’s silent and motionless reaction to Iran’s defiance of their demands of halting uranium enrichment, which continues unabated to this day.

With no provision for the use of force as an enforcement mechanism, many observers believe North Korea can be expected to ignore the UN Security Council demands that it “eliminate all its nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles,” as this is a tall order to place without the backing of force.

October 13, 2006

PSI Proliferation Inspections Struck From UN Sanctions

Following yesterday’s sudden resistance to North Korea sanctions from China, Russia and South Korea, the three regional actors have come to terms with an amended sanctions package as presented by the United States. At issue for the North Korean neighbors was language regarding the potential use of force and North Korean cargo inspections.

The Los Angeles Times article appearing in the Seattle Times describes National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones indicating that, while China agreed that “strong measures” against the North Korean regime were necessary, “it [China] wanted only sanctions related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” Yet at the heart of the disagreement over the original US sanctions proposal is the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), considered more effective at combating proliferation than the IAEA because it includes an enforcement mechanism consisting of willing states. The PSI enforced inspection of incoming and outgoing North Korean cargo for elicit or dual-use materials was the most effective non-proliferation measure against North Korea that was proposed.

Yesterday, South Korea said explicitly that it opposed the inspection of North Korean cargo and the South Korean governing party went so far as to question any limited role that South Korea currently plays within the Proliferation Security Initiative. Since 2005, South Korea has maintained non-participating “observer’s status” within the PSI.

As China and Russia oppose any PSI activity in efforts to stop the proliferation of missile and weapons of mass destruction technology by North Korea, critics question the sincerity of their stated concern regarding this proliferation. It is not lost on them that both Russia and China have had an active technological role in the nuclear program in Iran – itself built around equipment and technology largely gained through illicit proliferation through the AQ Khan international proliferation network - while the North Koreans have fed the Islamist regime long-range missile technology.

While a senior analyst with Seoul’s Korea Institute for Defense Analyses warns that nuclear-tipped missiles are North Korea’s next goal, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev has been ordered to Pyongyang for direct talks with the regime.

Many believe that once again the United Nations has disappointed, as while the list of sanctions that looks to be approved by the UN Security Council will likely seek to prevent shipments of expensive suits, gold watches, and high-end perfumes, it will not contain any provisions for further preventing the import or export of nuclear weapons technology or related equipment and weapons, including through cargo inspections.

October 12, 2006

Russia, China Stymie North Korea Sanctions Vote

As the United States presented a draft proposal to the UN Security Council for sanctions, China balked on calls for punitive measures against North Korea, just as with Iran. Even though China’s immediate response to the North Korean claims of a nuclear bomb test was forceful, in which it termed North Korean actions as “brazen” and verbalized “resolute opposition,” Kim Jong Il’s sole ally sided with Russian calls to slow the UN process down.

Citing that, while there is common ground among nations, there is also disagreement, China’s U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said, “I think that of course people are talking about a possible vote tomorrow, but I’m not sure.” Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that he also doubts that there will be any vote tomorrow, as called for by Washington.

As part of the United States’ sanctions proposal, South Korea’s governing Uri Party announced that they also oppose a blockade of North Korean ships and other forms of international transport. The United States led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), often considered the only effective non-proliferation arm in existence, was called “dangerous” by the leader of the South Korean Uri Party, Rep. Kim Geun-tae. North Korea has called the PSI’s actions a “fuse” that could light “a fire cloud of war.” The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), an international coalition of states seeking to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, was largely responsible for the downfall of the A.Q. Khan network that supplied both Iran and North Korea with nuclear and missile technological assistance.

While the dissention in the ranks among those in opposition to North Korea’s nuclear activities begins in earnest, the banter emanating from Pyongyang crescendos. The Japan based ‘unofficial spokesman’ for Kim Jong Il, Kim Myong-chol, made wild claims and threats against both Japan and the United States. In an MBC Radio interview, the director of the Center for Korean-American Peace warned that North Korea will next test a thermonuclear hydrogen bomb in further efforts to prove to the Americans that the regime is indeed a nuclear power.

Laying blame for events squarely at America’s feet, Kim then said, “If the Bush administration makes more provocations, both New York City and Tokyo will be blazed.” He went on the declare that the “destiny of the Korean Peninsula will be decided within a week” and warned South Korea to remain neutral, as the conflict is between North Korea and the United States. He suggested to the South Korean government, “Seoul should request that Washington not mobilize U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) even if a war breaks out.”

Mr. Kim’s threats are not taken seriously, as North Korea has no known ICBM capability to deliver a weapon to New York City and their summer missile tests were a failure on public display. However, the heated banter continues to crescendo from a number of sources, both inside and outside North Korean territory, and is demonstrative of the North Korean aims: To intimidate the United States into beneficial concessions at a negotiating table.

As the Chinese and Russians demonstrated today, unlike the United States and much of the West, they do not deem the North Korean behavior, activities or potential for proliferation cause enough for immediate action. Any agreement on North Korean sanctions that includes Chinese and Russian approval appears to be as close to materializing as the same for Iran, also delayed this week, with opposition again led by China and Iran.

Islamic Courts Union Stirs Kenya

The Islamic Courts Union (ICU) has seemingly made their first strategic misstep in Somalia. This blunder, in turn, could provide the Transitional Federal Government (TGF) with additional support and it could also provide the United States an opportunity to help counter the ICU’s advance.

The recent escalation of provocative activities in Somalia has seen the ICU steadily advance towards the Kenyan border. Last Thursday, the ICU pressed to the border village of Liboi with 15 technicals (small pickup trucks with mounted weapons) before retreating back to their base in Afmadow. According to Abu Zeynab, a spokesman for the ICU, their advance was to “check the security in the area.” In response, Kenyan military helicopters flew over their side of the border, which caused the Islamists to retreat back to Afmadow.

This most recent provocation may be the first strategic miscalculation that the ICU has made. It might not seem like a miscalculation to the ICU, who may have an interest in spreading to northeastern Kenya. Many of the refugees who have fled to Kenya still have clan or family ties in Somalia. However, Kenya’s defense minister, Njenga Karume, declared that “anybody who might touch Kenya will face the full force of our military.”

For the past few months, the ICU has been extremely strategic in the way that they have advanced. They have seemingly made it a point to not threaten their neighbors while systematically surrounding the TGF in Baidoa. Additionally, they have generally been able to put on a good face for the international media, though the journalists and other media in the region reporting on a regular basis should be able to see through the facade. Nonetheless, the Islamic Courts Union has been very insistent that their advance forward has been peaceful. This most recent advance seems provocative enough to call the ICU’s “peaceful expansion” into question.

In addition, the Islamists appear to be reneging on their reputation of being peaceful. The BBC reported that the Islamists have vowed a “holy war” on Ethiopia.

Among other things, one reality was revealed in this most recent ICU advance and retreat: the ICU doesn’t stand a chance against a state military, and they know it. These recent advances have caused Kenya to toy with the idea of re-establishing its support for the Transitional Federal Government in Baidoa. If the ICU continues to provoke Kenya, it will likely result in Kenya’s entrance into this conflict.

Herein lay the opportunity. As of now, the US has already given Kenya six speed boats to help patrol its coastline. US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger indicated that “this is timely in view of the heightened concerns by Kenya about the potential exploitation of the Kenyan coast by criminal groups and terrorists.” Although the boats are ostensibly to be used to patrol the Kenyan coast, they may also be strategic in the event of an ICU invasion of north-eastern Kenya.

In addition, it is reported that Kenyan troops are now being deployed on the border of Somalia, near the El-Wakh village. Clearly, Kenya has become much more of an interested player in this crisis. With aid coming from both Ethiopia and Kenya, the TFG has now bolstered its defenses.

The United States is in a very unique position to help counter the ICU’s advance. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi recently called on the international community to provide strong support for the TFG. The United States should heed this call. If the US continues to provide support for them via its neighbors, it is very possible that the TFG could gain the support it needs to re-take Somalia.

Hamas Fires Rockets After IDF Raids in Gaza

Israeli operations in both Gaza and the West Bank have increased as the number of attacks against Israel have increased as well. Two Gaza raids are distinctly notable for their significance. In southern Gaza Strip along the Egyptian border, IDF ground forces supported by airpower conducted a pre-dawn raid in an area known to be home to the Gaza-side of numerous cross-border tunnels into Egypt. The tunnels are believed to be primarily used for arms smuggling. After one of the houses was cleared of its inhabitants, the residents, now outside the home, apparently opened fire on the Israeli troops. Supporting gunships responded by firing into the crowd, protecting the IDF soldiers in and around the house. Six Palestinians were reported killed, all from the same family, including a fourteen year old. Four of the six were confirmed members of Hamas. Hamas responded by firing Qassam rockets into Israel from the northern Gaza coast. No damage was reported in Israel from those reprisals.

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) carried out an airstrike Wednesday that destroyed a weapons storage facility in Gaza City that had been closely monitored by Israeli intelligence. Symbolic of the divide between Hamas and Israel, the weapons depot was also the home of elected Hamas Minister of Parliament Mariam Farhat. Farhat is better known in Gaza as Umm Nidal (mother of Nidal). Farhat is highly regarded in Gaza for having three ‘martyred’ sons. She has appeared in a video helping one of her sons, Muhammad Farhat, embark on his mission in which he carried out an attack that killed five Israeli civilians before being shot and killed by Israeli forces in March 2002.

In the West Bank, 19 suspected terrorists were arrested by IDF troops overnight from Ramallah to Jenin. Attacks against Israeli civilians – particularly Molotov cocktail attacks on drivers – have become frequent recently, in large part prompting increased sweeps in the West Bank. Additionally, Arutz Sheva reports that two more shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets were used in Gaza attacks on the IDF, resulting in a damaged armored personnel carrier but no injuries.

While the conflict continues, Syria rejected an Israeli invitation to President Assad to visit Jerusalem for talks. In a Syrian newspaper, the ruling Ba’ath Party wrote that former Prime Minister Shimon Peres’ offer was “proof of the Israeli government’s weakness and failure to face recent changes stemming from the victory of the Lebanese resistance.”

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be meeting with the leaders of Israel’s various security services to discuss the potential Iranian threat and its nuclear development efforts in particular. This after the P-5+1 group (US, Russia, China, France, and Britain + Germany) failed once again to come to any form of consensus regarding sanctions on Iran for ignoring the UNSC’s demands that it halt its enrichment activities. The group has sent the Iran dossier back to the UN Security Council which is headed up by five of the six in the P5+1 Group. Believing that such delays are working in Iran’s favor, Israel’s concern is that similar indecision will be found at the UNSC.

October 11, 2006

North Korea Warns: Bigger Tests, Missile Launch

As a North Korean diplomat from their Beijing embassy said that the communist dictatorship could set off a bigger test as well as take “additional measures,” China’s United Nations ambassador said, “I think that there has to be some punitive actions. We need to have a firm, constructive, appropriate but prudent response.” Ambassador Wang Guangya did not elaborate on the American sanctions proposals delivered to the UN Security Council earlier in the day, which included a ban on all trade involving dual-use technology and cargo inspections on all shipments to and from North Korea – effectively an air and naval blockade.

But the North Korean intransigence continued apace, with the war of words targeting the United States, whose sanctions it wants to end and whose aid it seeks to coerce. To that end, the North Korean embassy official in Beijing said to a South Korean newspaper, “We hope the situation will be settled before an unhappy incident of us firing a nuclear missile occurs. It all depends on how the United States reacts.”

Dismissing such attempts to intimidate a favorable outcome, American ambassador to the UN John Bolton said, “This is the way North Korea typically negotiates, by threat and intimidation. It has worked for them before. It won’t work for them now.” With China, North Korea’s only ally, taking such a hard-line position against them on the issue, a nuclear missile launch may be the only way to change the dynamic, a change that would decidedly not be advantageous for Pyongyang. While the extent China is willing to support “some punitive actions” remains to be seen, that it cancelled leave for its troops on the North Korean border may be a sign of resolution.

In a sign of regional jitters, a Japanese broadcast mistook an earthquake off the Tokyo shore as a 2nd nuclear test. But there has yet to be a definitive analysis of the first test’s material effect. The unknowns have left speculation that has ranged from a fake test using military high explosive to a failed device that did not reach nuclear fission. Also considered has been the most unlikely of scenarios in which the test was of a miniaturized plutonium device, such as a ‘suitcase nuke.’ But considering the technology required for a miniaturized warhead within the context of no previous nuclear bomb tests, it is a highly unlikely scenario.

Curiously, Russia’s estimation of the blast level is far outside the scope of all other analyses, with an estimate of a 5-15 kiloton blast compared to most other estimates that peak at about 1.5 kilotons. The United States estimates the Monday test at between 0.5 and 1 kiloton and questions whether it was nuclear in nature.

America’s one remaining WC-135 Constant Phoenix atmospheric collection aircraft has been deployed to take particle samples in search of atomic evidence. While acknowledging that there has been no atomic detection to date since the blast, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that Moscow was absolutely certain of the blast’s nuclear nature and size but offered no details as to how this conclusion was reached. “We have our secret methods, but I will not discuss them,” Ivanov said without elaboration.

October 10, 2006

North Korea Sidelines Iranian Nuclear Crisis

Security Council Holds Emergency Meeting, Iran Agenda Pushed

North Korea’s claims of a nuclear bomb test have prompted immediate world reaction and condemnation and pushed the Iranian nuclear crisis from the top of the atomic agenda as the United Nations plans emergency meetings to consider possible sanctions against the Kim Jong-Il regime. As Iran watches the world reaction carefully – particularly Security Council measures – world leaders struggle to find a common course acceptable in the face of the North Korean recalcitrant threat.

Effectively pushing Iran to second-tier crisis level, an emergency meeting for the Security Council will take place today to consider measures to be potentially imposed against the already sanctioned regime. Reuters reported a summary of key sanction proposals proffered by the United States to the Security Council as follows:

• Authorize international inspections of all cargo going in and out of North Korea for weapons of mass destruction and other related materials.

• Suspend all activities related to ballistic missile programs.

• A ban on trade in materials with direct or dual use application for weapons of mass destruction.

• A ban on all North Korean financial transactions that support missile activities.

• A ban on all trade in military goods and services.

• A ban on trade in luxury goods.

• A freeze on all assets and transaction associated with weapons of mass destruction.

• A requirement that nations prevent the abuse of international financial systems, a reference to claims that North Korea has counterfeited U.S. dollars.

• A review of North Korea’s response within 30 days.

Many states have already expressed the will to impose their own unilateral sanctions against North Korea regardless of a UN tack. Australia announced that it will curtail visas in addition to any UN sanctions; Japan is considering ratcheting up existing harsh economic sanctions against North Korea; and the United States can be expected to pass some form of measure through Congress similar to the Iran Freedom Support Act recently passed and signed by President Bush, which calls for unilateral US sanctions against Iran for its nuclear pursuits.

But, while China initially had the harshest response for the North Koreans, calling their defiant tests “brazen,” Chinese President Hu Jintao indicated that China may not offer full support for extensive sanctions in the Security Council as he said that China has always sought a “peaceful settlement of the Korean nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiation.” South Korea, mindful of the ominous threat of North Korean conventional missile, rocket and artillery to Seoul, reiterated that it did not support any military reaction to the North Korean provocation.

In spite of recent revelations that the father of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, had secretly written in 1988 that Iran must pursue a nuclear weapon while the regime publicly declared them against the tenets of Islam, a spokesman for the Iranian regime again condemned nuclear weapons and blamed the United States for the North Korean nuclear ambitions and test. Even in light of the Khomeini letter which effectively discredits the mullahs public claims against nuclear weapons, the state-run Fars News Agency quotes Iranian government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham as saying, “Iran’s opposition to the nuclear weapons rises from the Iranian nation’s beliefs and ideology.” He also added, “Iran is against the use and production of nuclear weapons. No country is competent to use nuclear weapons.”

With the furor generated by the North Korean nuclear tests, the Iranian nuclear crisis has been relegated to a lesser urgency at the Security Council and Iran will be monitoring both world reaction and United Nations action against the Kim Jong-Il regime, possibly sizing up consequential reaction should they openly perform their own nuclear test in the future.

October 9, 2006

North Korea Nuke Test Stirs Region

At 10:36 AM local time, North Korea detonated its first nuclear bomb in an underground test near Kilju (also known as P’unggye-yok). South Korea soon after released information that their services had detected a 3.6 magnitude tremor at the time of North Korea’s claimed nuclear test. Early on, the US Geological Survey reported that they had no information on a seismic event, but later confirmed that a 4.2 magnitude event had been recorded (Google Map).

The coordinates given for the blast are of the same facility that US satellite imagery reports of preparations being made for the test on August 17, two weeks before Iran’s deadline for ceasing enrichment activities as dictated by the UN Security Council (see ThreatsWatch report: Synchronicity?). The apparent North Korean nuclear bomb test comes just as the members of the UN Security Council are set to convene meetings regarding sanctioning Iran for disregarding the deadline and refusing to halt enrichment.

North Korea’s announcement of the nuclear test says that “It will contribute to defending the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the area around it.”

kim-albright-sm.pngBut the nuclear test has stirred international angst rather than promote peace. Among the most important reactions will be that of Japan under their new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. Prime Minister Abe is in Seoul, South Korea, to meet with that country’s president and prime minister on the North Korean nuclear crisis and said of the North Korean test, “We have to collect and analyze information by keeping contact with the United States and China.” Abe has been expected to end the provision in Japan’s constitution that limits it to a self-defense force and the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons is likely to propel Japan to seek its own nuclear deterrent.

Nuclear Threat Initiative reports that as of 2001, Japan had 30 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored in French and British reprocessing facilities and 5 to 6 metric tons on Japanese soil. Japan has intended to eventually bring the spent fuel back to convert it into plutonium with its controversial plutonium enrichment program. If Japan feels threatened by North Korean nuclear weapons, the plutonium can be used for weapons rather than fuel for power plants.

A South Korean presidential statement reacted harshly to the North Korean test, saying “Our Government will sternly deal with this in accordance with the principle that it will not tolerate North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons.”

But perhaps the most terse response from any nation thus far has been the clear rebuke from China, condemning the test as “brazen.” The Chinese statement read, “On October 9, the DPRK (North Korea), ignoring the general opposition of the international community, brazenly undertook a nuclear test. The Chinese government expresses its resolute opposition. China strongly demands the DPRK side to undertake its commitments to the non-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and stop all actions that can lead to the deterioration of the situation.”

Such uncustomarily strong language from the Chinese communist government may indicate that UN Security Council action may be swift and stern. The White House was expected to release a statement shortly.

Iran Answers: Enrichment Halt 'Completely Unacceptable'

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said that Iran has rejected UN calls for enrichment suspension, saying that enrichment suspension “has no place in Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.” Any hopes that Iran may agree to terms through the EU’s Javier Solana are effectively dashed, as Hosseini declared “The suspension is completely unacceptable and we have rejected it.”

Less than two weeks ago, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran would negotiate but would not compromise on enrichment, bringing into question the usefulness of Javier Solana’s efforts in talks with Iranian nuclear chief Ali Larijani. The response offered by the Iranian Foreign Ministry through Hosseini is consistent with Iranian claims over the past several years that nuclear enrichment is their right and is effectively non-negotiable.

But while Iran is unwilling to negotiate halting uranium enrichment, the government released through the state-controlled Fars News Agency that if only the threat of sanctions would be removed over a nuclear program that will not abate, Iran is willing to negotiate aviation spare parts agreements with three US companies: General Electric, Pratt & Whitney and Boeing. Iranian state-run radio also claimed last week that the International Civil Aviation Organization in Canada promised to resolve US sanctions that have forbid American companies from supplying Iran with equipment, expertise or parts.

Unilateral American sanctions, however, remain firmly in place. In fact, President Bush signed the Iran Sanctions Bill one week ago in order to “codify U.S. sanctions on Iran.” While President Bush also said that one of the reasons for the bill was to provide “flexibility to tailor those sanctions in appropriate circumstances,” it is believed unlikely that part of that flexibility would be to curtail sanctions on Iran’s aviation sector which have been in place for many years.

While Hosseini also referred to the threat of sanctions as a ‘rusty and derelict weapon’, Iran is clearly asserting much energy in ending those that already exist.

October 6, 2006

Iranian Allies On The Ground In Lebanon

Russia has airlifted an entire Engineer Battalion into southern Lebanon to function in conjunction with UNIFIL’s mission there under Security Council Resolution 1701. China has 182 PLA soldiers under UNIFIL inside southern Lebanon and has pledged that over 1,000 troops will arrive soon. The two members of the Iranian protectorate in the ongoing Iranian nuclear crisis are uniquely involved in the international efforts in southern Lebanon following the conflict between Israel and the Iranian-sponsored terrorist group Hizballah.

Both China and Russia are actively seeking more active roles in Middle Eastern affairs and are tangibly invested in the Iranian regime; cash-starved Russia principally through the building of the Iranian nuclear facilities and military equipment sales, and energy-hungry China increasingly as an oil-trading partner.

The news of the Russian troops arrival in Lebanon comes as word breaks that Hizballah received intelligence on the IDF from listening posts jointly manned by Russian and Syrian signals crews during the conflict with Israel. Further complicating the Russian position is that much of the damage inflicted on Israeli forces during operations was at the hands of Russian-made advanced Kornet anti-tank missiles, potentially tactically deployed with the signals intelligence gathered by the Russian-Syrian manned listening posts.

The Russian sharing of signals intelligence and listening posts with Hizballah-supporter Syria is not unique to them, as Iran is reported to have entered into a similar intelligence sharing agreement earlier this year at Damascus meetings that included Ahmadinejad, Syria’s Bashar Assad, Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah (as well as Imad Mugniyah, it is believed), and Hamas’ Khaled Meshaal, among others (see: Hezbollah Operation Leader with Ahmadinejad in Damascus?). Following that meeting, characterized here as the organizing of a terrorist “Coalition of the Willing,” Haaretz and Jane’s Defence report that two new joint Syrian-Iranian signals intelligence listening posts were constructed before the July 12 Hizballah operation into Israel which sparked the month-long conflict this summer. Through such assistance, Hizballah is believed to have listened in on IDF beepers and cell phones. These posts were among many armed and equipped with various arrays of gear and weapons, many of which had Russian and/or Chinese manufacture or design origin.

As the IAF flies over Hizballah’s Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon and the UN Security Council sanctions loom for Iran for ignoring the UNSC deadline for ending uranium enrichment, analysts are considering whether an Iran-ordered Hizballah attack on the United States is a likely response. Should that event occur, the persistent defense of Iran by both China and Russia will be called into question.

NATO: Pakistani Intelligence Aiding Taliban, al-Qaeda

The pressure mounts on Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf and the precarious situation slowly but persistently erodes the stability of the Pakistani leadership as two rockets were found aimed at the Pakistani parliament in Islamabad in what is widely interpreted as a terse message from the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance. Adding to Musharraf’s closing walls is a scathing Operation Medusa after-action report written by furious NATO commanders that openly cites evidence that Pakistani intelligence (ISI) is directly supporting the Taliban with arms, logistics and training from within Pakistan for attacks on coalition troops inside Afghanistan.

After a bomb was detonated in a park near President Musharraf’s presidential home the previous night, which was hastily dismissed as unrelated to Musharraf before identifying the source, a construction worker discovered two rockets aimed at the Pakistani parliament building with the launchers rigged with a cell phone triggering device for remote control. While the rockets were safely transported away, the two together appear a clear message from the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance. An AdnKronos International report by Syed Saleem Shahzad cited ‘pro-Taliban militants’ who indicated precisely that message was the intent as they claimed to be warning the Pakistani government to honor its commitments made in the North Waziristan peace agreement. They complained that the Musharraf government still had Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners unreleased and had even arrested some since the agreement.

But the same North Waziristan Taliban sources also told Shahzad that the “unfinished agenda in the tribal area was the real reason behind the recent warning signals,” a direct reference to the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance’s immediate goal of wresting the entire North West Frontier Province from the Pakistani government. The province includes terrorism hotbed Peshawar, just 100 miles from the Pakistani capital.

But according to the Operation Medusa after-action report from NATO commanders, the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance is not operating in a vacuum against a monolithic Pakistani government. The report notes that 160 interrogated Taliban prisoners taken during the operation “described in detail the ISI’s support to the Taliban,” including massive amounts of arms. During the operation, where the report also says 1,100 Taliban fighters were killed, over 400,000 rounds of ammunition were fired by the Taliban, as well as 2,000 RPG’s(Rocket Propelled Grenades) and over 1,000 mortar rounds. With Pakistani ISI supply and logistical support, the Taliban had set up a one-million-round ammunition dump, assault and suicide bombing training camps and a full field surgical hospital in Panjwai, just 20 miles west of their objective, Kandahar. Said one angry NATO commander, “It is time for an ‘either you are with us or against us’ delivered bluntly to Musharraf at the highest political level.”

Musharraf’s troubles do not end there, as there is additional internal pressure building from terrorist groups angry about a perceived conciliatory stance toward India regarding the long-embattled Kashmir region. Jamaat-e-Islami leader Syed Ali Geelani accused Musharraf of carrying out a US plan for “accomplishing the Indian agenda” in Kashmir. Geelani said that “it is only Pakistan that is unilaterally forwarding proposals for a solution,” a joint Pakistani-Indian control solution that Jamaat-e-Islami and other terrorist groups want no part of.

Only adding to Musharraf’s troubles, the Indian police claim that the Pakistani ISI planned the Mumbai train bombings that were carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba, killing 186 people.

Even as Kashmiri terrorist groups grow more vocal in their own discontent, the North Waziristan peace deal with the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance has clearly not quelled the threat to Islamabad. The Taliban and al-Qaeda’s shared hunger for territory is not satisfied and their operational ability is clearly capable of reaching the halls of power in the Pakistani capital. With the unrelenting pressure only added to by angry NATO commanders in Afghanistan and convinced counterterrorism officials in India, the stability of the government of a nuclear-armed state is increasingly in question, right in the heartland of Islamic terrorists.

October 5, 2006

Sadrist Denounces National Unity Government

We reported on Monday the surprising arrest of a guard close to Sunni parliamentary powerbroker Adnan al-Dulaimi on charges of al-Qaeda ties, and the dramatic all day curfew on Saturday in response to a foiled attack on the Green Zone. Political fallout has threatened to break apart Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s national unity government, but so far the primary result has been to heighten tensions between the faction of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sunnis on the one hand and Sadr’s coalition partners within the Shi’a United Iraqi Alliance on the other.

Dulaimi is head of the Iraqi Accord Front, the largest Sunni party in parliament, and based on statements by senior Shi’a officials so far, it appears that they are willing to take him at his word that he is not working with al-Qaeda. While Iraq’s national security advisor stated that he thought Sunni tribes were committed to fighting al-Qaeda, a leading Sadrist lawmaker launched a blistering attack on Maliki’s government and the entire basis for his political agenda. Meanwhile, interior ministry personnel have come under further scrutiny for involvement in death squads and the torture of prisoners, confirming Sunni criticisms, yet now some prominent Shi’a have criticized the interior minister for appointing prominent former Baathists Sunnis.

With concerns about Sunni figures having al-Qaeda ties as the backdrop, Baha al-Arji, an outspoken member of the Sadr faction in parliament, launched one of the strongest criticisms of the Maliki government by the Sadrists since its formation. As reported in Al-Hayat (“Sadr Faction Demands Government Change and Accuses Accord Front of Protecting Takfiris”), Arji not only accused Sunni political figures of ties to al-Qaeda, he also charged that the government faced a “crisis of trust,” saying that even between Prime Minister Maliki and his Sunni deputy there was a deep conflict. The Iraqi newspaper Al-Rafidayn quoted Arji (in a separate statement) as accusing Sunnis of plotting a coup against the Maliki government.

Attacking the Sadrists’ putative Shi’a allies in the ruling UIA, Arji went on to charge (quoting from Al-Hayat) that “occupation forces have worked through various means, beginning with democracy, which allowed terrorists and takfiris to kill Iraqis, then through the national unity government and more recently through the reconciliation initiative.” (For another English source on this issue, see the Washington Post).

Members of the Sadr faction in parliament often blame U.S. forces for the violence in Iraq, and despite being part of the government they have criticized Maliki’s leadership in the past (see our July 26 report, Sadr Faction Threatens to Turn on Maliki Government). Yet this is a frontal assault on the prime minister’s entire political program; expansion of the democratic process, the inclusion of Sunnis willing to commit to a democratic Iraq, and the amnesty and reconciliation initiative aimed at persuading Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms. The growing hostility between anti-American Sunni insurgents and the Sadrists has been growing for some time (see our August 5 report, Sadr’s Ties with Sunni Militants Go Sour), and the gap separating them is now wider than ever.

Iraqi National Security Advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubae’i, who is also Shi’a, struck a different tone, as quoted in the same article. While confirming that a Dulaimi guard had been tied to al-Qaeda, he defended Sunnis who had embraced the political process, saying that Ayyub al-Masri and other al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders were beginning to feel the “noose around their necks” as Sunni tribes in the Anbar Province continued to be united against them (we covered this in a recent report, Anbar Sunnis Turn on al-Qaeda). Rubae’i also showed a video which he said was captured from members of al-Qaeda which showed someone fitting Masri’s appearance overseeing the training of suicide bombers. Rubae’i emphasized the conflict between the Sunni tribes and al-Qaeda by noting that the latter had called for the killing of Sunni tribal leaders, and had succeeded in killing tribal leader Shaikh Usama al-Jad’an. He added that “the tribes are one family, be they Dulaim, or Shamar or Rabi’a” and that they would doom al-Qaeda in Iraq.

In related but seperate news, the Interior Ministry, headed by Jawad al-Bolani, an independent Shi’a, has been at the center of recent criticism. Sunnis have claimed that the first elected government, that of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, allowed Shi’a death squads to work out of the ministry, and these allegations have continued. Some have predicted that Bolani himself might be replaced, despite the fact that he has been praised for taking some actions to remove personnel with ties to illegal groups. The main criticism is that while he may have done some good, he has not done enough, and his lack of ties to the Shi’a parties - considered a plus at first - may have weakened his leverage. The pressure is also increasing from the U.S., as American officials warn that continued evidence of torture by interior ministry personnel could lead the cutting off of aid (New York Times).

Yet now a charge of a completely different kind has been leveled at Bolani by Ali Lamy, the executive director of the government’s National Debaathification Committee - that he has allowed too many Baathists to occupy important posts. As reported in Al-Hayat, Lamy is quoted as saying that seven of the eight highest-ranking positions in the ministry have now been given to former Baath members. This may actually be a positive, if it means that Bolani has brought in more Sunnis who while former members of the Baath were not true believers, although the article specifically quotes Shi’a lawmakers as alleging that they were leaders in the Baath Party. Lamy is also quoted as criticizing Bolani over the restoration of some Baathist members in the city of Kut who had been removed by the Debaathification Committee. The Debaathification process has been very controversial in Iraq, with some Shi’a arguing that no former Baathists should be able to hold office, while the Sunnis and some Shi’a argue that only hardcore Baathists should be barred, since many belonged to it in the Saddam Hussein era only formally.

US Says Time For Iran Sanctions

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Iran is simply employing another “stalling technique” with its latest offer for a French consortium overseeing Iranian uranium enrichment and that Iran is clearly not going to halt enrichment in any case. Dr. Rice said that it is therefore time for the Security Council to take up Chapter Seven sanctions against Iran. Addressing the issue during her Middle East tour, Rice said, “I think we have come to a time when the Iranians have to make their choice, and the international system has to act accordingly.” It has been over one month since the Security Council’s August 31 enrichment cessation deadline has passed.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remained ever defiant to such calls, as the United States has demanded a concrete decision from Iran by week’s end. Taking a swipe at the female American Secretary of State, Ahmadinejad told a crowd of supporters outside Teheran, “You are mistaken if you assume that the Iranian nation will stop for even a moment from the path toward using nuclear energy, due to your nagging.” While this has been Iran’s consistent answer to calls and demands for it to halt its uranium enrichment, one that the West has been reluctant to accept in search of a non-confrontational solution, it has also consistently followed up such bellicosity with requests for talks and negotiations. Wednesday was no different, as Ahmadinejad followed his terse remarks by saying “We are for talks. We can talk with each other and remove ambiguities. We have logic. We want talks to continue.”

But if Condoleezza Rice’s words are to be taken at face value – coupled with the French rejection of Iran’s bid for French oversight (through a company the Iranian regime owns shares in) and Javier Solana’s remarks that Iran is running out of time – then the West may finally be coming to the point where they do not “want talks to continue,” ultimately frustrated by the seemingly fruitless endeavor.

The United States and Europe appear closer to forcing the issue at the UN through the Security Council, where the Russian and Chinese ambassadors endorsed the August 31 deadline that has since been ignored. But the US and Europe harbor doubts about the resolve of the Russian and Chinese governments, be they signatories to the defied UNSC Resolution 1696 or not. This doubt was reinforced by Igor Ivanov, the head of the Russian government’s Security Council, when he stated that Russia believes the Iranian nuclear crisis should be resolved through talks. “Russia’s premise is that all issues related to the Iranian nuclear problem should be resolved at the negotiating table,” Ivanov said after meeting with Iranian nuclear chief, Ali Larijani. This position is clearly increasingly at odds with the United States and, increasingly, Europe as well.

The Russians have a vested interest in the Iranian nuclear program, as the cash-strapped country is contracted to complete the Bushehr nuclear facility on Iran’s southern Persian Gulf Coast for over US$1 billion. Not only is Russia building Iranian nuclear plants, they have also recently agreed to sell Iran missile systems to form a comprehensive ‘umbrella defense’ to protect their nuclear facilities – in addition to the Russian anti-aircraft missile systems already in place at Bushehr.

As the EU’s Javier Solana said yesterday of his talks with Iran’s Ali Larijani, “This dialogue I am maintaining cannot last forever, and it is up to Iranians now to decide whether its time has come to end.” With Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns stating that another ambiguous answer from Tehran will be interpreted as a ‘No,’ it appears it is also time for Russia to decide as well, with the US and Europe seemingly prepared to force a vote at the Security Council.

October 4, 2006

The Calm Before The Storm

All signs have been pointing to a potential clash between the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TGF) entrenched in Baidoa. The most recent advances made by the ICU, and the subsequent responses made by the TFG and its allies, have only amplified this possibility. It appears now that Somalia has reached the point of no return and now rests on the brink of a conflict that could have significant international ramifications.

On September 25th, the ICU surrounded and captured the southern port city of Kismayo located 260 miles south of Mogadishu. Kismayo is the third largest city in Somalia and is considered to be one of the key strategic cities that the ICU has taken over. The Islamist militias entered Kismayo the day after former Jubaa Valley Alliance leader and Defense Minister for the TFG, Baare Hiirale, fled. After initial demonstrations protested the ICU’s takeover, the city now seems to be in line with the Islamists.

Since the fall of Kismayo, the towns of Afmadow, Bu’alle, and Sakow have also fallen under the Islamists’ control. The seizure of these towns has not only allowed the ICU to effectively encircle Baidoa even more, it has also placed their militias closer to the Kenyan border. This is significant because Kenya has been flooded recently with Somali refugees seeking to flee from the ICU’s control. It may not have done much good since the potential for the ICU’s expansion into north-east Kenya is now not out of the realm of possibility. To prepare for this, Kenyan officials have undergone and completed anti-insurgency and anti-terrorist training.

As if this situation wasn’t enough of a concern, the ICU is now preparing to establish an Upper Islamic Council which according to Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys will “eventually rule the whole country, [but] for now… will unify the Islamic courts which control 27 local authorities in Somalia.” Ostensibly, the Upper Islamic Council will serve as a foil to the weak Transitional Federal Government by consolidating all of the ICU’s areas, and their militias, into one unified entity. This could spell trouble for the TFG, whose grip on power, for intents and purposes, has been dismantled.

All is not lost though. The TFG has recently received reinforcements from Ethiopia. At least 30 vehicles were seen passing through Baidoa to set up in the Daynunay military barracks outside the city. Since being there, they have set up road blocks on all the streets leading in and out of Baidoa. Additionally, Somalia’s military officers are reportedly receiving munitions from Ethiopia. Finally, although Kenya was reconsidering its support of the TFG, the recent ICU advances towards its border may cause it to maintain whatever relationship it has with the TFG . With the aid of both Ethiopia and Kenya, the TFG has seemingly been given a considerable boost.

Thus, the stage seems to be set and both sides appear to be readying their plans. This escalation may prove to be simply that, an escalation. However, senior Islamic official Mohammad Wali Sheikh Ahmed recently proclaimed that “the time of ambiguity and hypocrisy has ended. By God, we will wage a holy war against our enemies.” If this declaration says anything, it says that war is most likely on the horizon.

Palestinian Chaos: Unity Hopes Vanish

As violence between Fatah and Hamas continues and tensions steadily rise in the Palestinian territories, Palestinian Authority government offices remain shut and hopes of a unity government formation increasingly appear obscure. Since the Saturday and Sunday riots between Fatah security forces demonstrating non-payment of salaries and Hamas members seeking to protect the status of the Haniyeh-led government, little has changed in the atmosphere. In attempts to restore the Palestinian fiscal life blood of foreign aid disrupted since the election of the terrorist organization Hamas into government leadership, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently dissolved the existing cabinet in hopes of forming one more acceptable to international donors. But Hamas reiterated its refusal to recognize Israel or renounce violence, the two stipulations required by the Western nations for restoration of aid.

In a stark escalation today, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed terrorist wing of Abbas’ Fatah movement, distributed fliers in its West Bank stronghold threatening to assassinate Hamas’ Syria-based political head, Khaled Meshaal, its Gaza terror commander, Youssef Zahar, and Hamas’ Interior Minister, Said Siyam.

In Qalqiliya in the northern part of the West Bank, a local Hamas leader, Muhammad Odeh, was shot dead as unknown masked gunmen riddled his car with AK-47 gunfire as he left his home. No group has yet taken responsibility for the assassination, though local speculation was that it was a ‘settling of scores’ between Fatah and Hamas.

While the violent internal conflict foments, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is touring the region speaking with Arab leaders just as Mahmoud Abbas has announced that talks with Hamas have completely broken down and that the process is back to square one. He added, “There are many bloody events now, and we need to end this crisis as soon as possible, reach a solution and form a new Cabinet.” Abbas has the constitutional authority to either form a new cabinet by appointment or to call new elections. Hamas is opposed to new elections as their public support is lower than it was when initially elected into the parliament.

As Israel renewed its pledge to dismantle some unauthorized Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Rice pledged that the United States would “redouble our efforts to improve the conditions for the Palestinian people” without elaborating on specifics. The Financial Times reported that one measure Rice plans to introduce is the deployment of international observers to the main cargo crossing point between Gaza and Israel to maintain the flow of basic supplies to the Palestinians.

October 3, 2006

Iranian Counter-Proposal Conflict of Interest

The continuing talks between the EU’s Javier Solana and Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Ari Larijani have yet to yield any tangible results. Critics argue that the net effect is another successful stall by the Iranians as they seek to master the nuclear fuel cycle in parallel. The Iranian delegation has put forth a counter-proposal to Solana in response to the European proposal that offered various incentives in exchange for a halt to Iranian enrichment.

The Iranian counter-proposal to the original European incentive-laden proposal reportedly calls for a French-led consortium to monitor Iranian uranium enrichment to take place within the Islamic Republic of Iran. The deputy chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Saeedi, offered that “In this way France, through its companies Eurodif and Areva, would have a tangible way of checking our activities.”

Such a proposal offers a clear conflict of interest, as the Iranian regime “owns shares of Eurodif, through the French-Iranian company SOFIDIF.” This French uranium enrichment technology company (Eurodif) is owned by a larger French nuclear technology firm, Areva. The parent company is described as “the world’s leading atomic technology firm.” This is a dubious scenario of tangled interests and influence, especially considering even the IAEA’s own lead nuclear inspector for the Iranian dossier was reportedly fired at Iran’s request.

But France rejected Iran’s ‘partnership proposal’ not long after Javier Solana remarked at a meeting with European defense ministers that the Iranian proposal “is something we have to analyze in greater detail.”

Curiously, the French rejection did not address the conflict of interest issue, but rather rejected it on the grounds that Iran must first cease uranium enrichment operations before negotiating a consortium. That Solana’s EU-sponsored Iranian negotiations have already continued without any cessation perplexes critics.

For his part, Solana did impart yesterday to the gathering of European defense ministers that time is not unlimited for Iran saying, “We don’t have an infinite length of time in front of us.” Within the same conversation, Solana also touted “progress on some elements” while the issue of enrichment cessation “has not been finally agreed.” Iran has repeatedly insisted that enrichment is their non-negotiable right.

The United States wants an Iranian answer this week on the enrichment cessation as called for by the UN Security Council, and is prepared to interpret another ambiguous answer as a ‘No’.

October 2, 2006

40 Abducted in Two Baghdad Terrorist Operations

Monday has seen yet another mass kidnapping in Iraq, seemingly al-Qaeda in Iraq making good on al-Masri’s recent calls for an increase in abductions in order to facilitate prisoner swaps to free al-Qaeda captives captured by the United States and coalition partners. On Sunday, about 20 gunmen stormed a Baghdad meat processing plant and abducted 26 prisoners. Today, 14 were taken captive from computer stores near Baghdad’s Technology University as reportedly seven vehicles swept through as the terrorists grabbed their victims.

The abductions Sunday and Monday are the continuation of a threat that boiled to the surface Friday as, for the second time in seven months, al-Qaeda has attempted to hoist its black banner of jihad within Baghdad’s Green Zone by infiltrating security forces. The whole of Baghdad was in a state of lockdown Saturday on intelligence that a multiple car bomb attack on the Iraqi parliament and civilians was immanent. While the lockdown was expected to remain in place until 6:00am local time Sunday morning, the Iraqi parliament has since extended martial law for the entire month through November 1. A bodyguard - suspected to be a member of al-Qaeda in Iraq - of top Sunni Iraqi parliament member Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the National Concord Front, was arrested on Friday.

Dulaimi’s arrested bodyguard, Khudhir Farhan, is thought to have been leading seven other al-Qaeda terrorists in a coordinated car bomb attack which may also have also involved suicide vests. Farhan would have had direct access to the Iraqi parliament building. Answering initial questions to reporters, Dulaimi said that Farhan had been signed on to his team one month prior, and added, “[T]herefore I haven’t got complete data about his background.”

Though while the US military stressed at the time that the Friday raid “in no way implies Dr al-Dulaimi was associated with any illegal activity,” Iraqi Shi’a politicians were not so quick to dismiss potential ties between the top Sunni political leader and the insurgency, demanding changes within the government.

During the citywide lockdown over the weekend, searches were conducted in attempts to find the other cell members and their bombs before an attack can be carried out. While in this instance it appears an infiltration by al-Qaeda in Iraq at the parliamentarians’ staff level, in March 2006 over 400 suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists and insurgents were “one bureaucrat’s signature away from acceptance into an Iraqi army battalion” which was directly responsible for perimeter security around the Green Zone in Baghdad.

While the level of success of the searches is unknown, there has been no string of car bombings as yet in Baghdad. But the kidnappings demonstrate the presence of cells that are carrying out parallel operational direction. The abductions Sunday and Monday are in line with al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri’s recorded statement last week calling for the abduction of high value targets in order to secure the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdel Rahman from an American prison, among other al-Qaeda prisoners. This is notably in line with Ayman al-Zawahiri’s message from al-Qaeda proper - also delivered last week - in which he declared after repeated references to Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and others, “Be aware that the liberation of our captives is a debt on our shoulders, which we must fulfill, with God’s help and power.

Fatah v. Hamas: Demonstrations Turn Bloody

Saturday saw Fatah police and security members demonstrating violently in the streets from Gaza City to Rafah, as they jammed intersections, pal-gunman.pngmarched in the streets firing their weapons in the air and forced some shops to close under threat. They were protesting wages that have gone unpaid since February, after Hamas won the majority control in the Palestinian parliament. Only one incident occurred between Fatah and Hamas members Saturday when a presumed Hamas member threw a hand grenade into a crowd of Fatah protesters blocking his way, injuring five in the blast.

That which motivated the violently vocal actions of the unpaid Fatah police and security is the same which motivated Hamas to not match violence with equal or greater violence within their stronghold Gaza: To do so would be to damage Hamas’ fragile perceived standing within the government. Fatah holds Hamas responsible for the evaporation of foreign assistance which once paid their salaries, a condition which is only exacerbated by Hamas’ recent open steadfast refusal once again to recognize Israel while a nascent ‘unity government’ was being drafted and negotiated (see previous).

fatah-v-hamas-gaza-sm.pngThe measured Hamas response would end Sunday, as all bets were off and Hamas gunmen stormed crowds of protesting Fatah members. Said Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad, “The protest today was beyond acceptable legal norms and turned truly into lawlessness.” The Hamas armed response touched off pitched bloody street battles that included machinegun and rocket blasts as well as hand-to-hand fighting. As a result, riots ensued in Gaza and spilled quickly into the West Bank, with buildings and cars set ablaze amidst pockets of continued fighting. In retaliation for the Hamas attacks on the Fatah demonstrators, Fatah members stormed the Palestinian parliament building in the West Bank’s Ramallah. They ransacked it and set the second floor on fire.

This follows a similar event on June 12 when Fatah gunmen stormed the Hamas Cabinet Building and set the second and fourth floors afire in response to a Hamas attack on Fatah in Gaza. At the time, a Fatah member remarked, “Every time they touch one of ours in Gaza, we will get 10 of theirs in the West Bank.” Fatah holds majority support in the West Bank while Hamas holds the same within its Gaza Strip stronghold.

Between six and eight are reported killed in the clashes, with estimates of over 100 wounded. Hamas has withdrawn its forces from taken positions in Gaza at the order of both Fatah’s PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’ PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

wb-parliament-carfire.pngOne Palestinian civilian expressed frustration at the situation when he remarked to an Associated Press journalist, “It’s a shame on Hamas, who call themselves real Muslims, and a shame of Fatah as well. Why are they fighting and over what? We are victims because of both of them.”

All the while, calls from within Israel are increasing as Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Dan Halutz says that perhaps the only way to stop the continuing Qassam rocket attacks on Israel from within Gaza is a “military means” through a “deeper, more ongoing ground offensive.”

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