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November 28, 2006

Russian-Built Reactor Erased From Iran Sanctions

Britain, France and Germany (the ‘EU3’) have submitted to China and Russia a reworked proposal for UN sanctions on Iran complete with revisions aimed primarily at satisfying Russia. To that end, all mention of the ongoing Russian construction of the nuclear facility in Bushehr is said to have been expunged from the language.

Yet, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said that the “general philosophy” has not changed and continues to “target the Iranian nuclear and ballistic program as well as the entities that run them and the individuals in charge of them.” With the effectiveness of the United Nations already questioned by critics – such as with reports of Hizballah’s re-arming beyond pre-war levels while UNIFIL stands mandated watch – “targeting” the Iranian nuclear program without including a nuclear reactor under construction appears another example of the ineffectiveness of a system requiring consensus of parties with both protagonist and antagonist interests.

An unnamed source familiar with the revised language said, “It’s not a matter of what the sanctions say but whether this is a Chapter 7 resolution,” alluding to the enforceability of mandatory compliance that Chapter 7 UN sanctions carry. With this incremental view, the language is not as important as the mandatory nature of Iran’s compliance with what is included, a compliance that would be expected to go unfulfilled. This, following the given logic, would in turn lead to stronger action later.

However, it would undoubtedly lead to more rounds of negotiating among Security Council members who would be expected to protect their interests with equal vigor, such as Russia’s estimated $1 Billion contract for the construction of the nuclear facility at Bushehr. The ‘first round’ of sanction haggling among members is still ongoing three months after the Security Council’s own deadline for Iran to halt enrichment activities. Iranian nuclear efforts continue unabated in the interim and would likely continue on through subsequent rounds of sanctions negotiations.

However, Russia’s Federal Nuclear Agency director, Sergei Kiriyenko, insisted that protecting Russia’s economic interests is not a priority with regard to its dogged defense of the Bushehr nuclear project and its impact on the language of Iran sanctions. He said, “It’s an interesting project, we have put a lot of work in that, but I can’t say it’s super-profitable.” But profitable or not, Russia has implied a certain veto if its project is threatened by sanctions.

Even the IAEA’s Mohamed ElBaradei appears frustrated, saying that Iran needs to go beyond its legal obligations under the NPT in order to explain the nature of its nuclear program, operational for two full decades before its 2003 exposure. Considering this, ElBaradei said to Iran that “you need to go out of your way” in explaining in order to achieve transparency. The IAEA director general added, “Much of that goes beyond the … Safeguards Agreement, so the solution is not going to be found by relying on one legal clause or another.”

It is important to note that Iran is not required under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to allow the IAEA to inspect facilities that Tehran has not declared to be conducting nuclear work. So long as Tehran does not declare a site, it is off the IAEA radar. The issue remains, based on past track record, of the likelihood that Iran has facilities that are as yet unknown conducting experiments and development.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini’s representative at Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Hassan Rowhani, said that referring Iran to the UN Security Council was a big mistake by the five permanent members and Germany (5+1 Group). He called the action “illogical and politically motivated.”

In Estonia, President Bush ruled out talks with Iran on Iraq amid the constant rumblings in Washington and elsewhere that the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group may advocate such a move. “Iran knows how to get to the table with us. And that is to do that which they said they would do, which is verifiably suspend their enrichment programs,” the president said.

By ceding to Iran Russia’s construction of another nuclear reactor, a troubling picture emerges within the context of the president’s words: That Iran’s nuclear program is already clearly negotiable while it’s export of terrorism – to Iraq, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and elsewhere – is simply a reality to be accepted and not confronted beyond the occasional ‘strongly worded statement.’ It is Iran’s international sponsorship and export of terrorism that makes their nuclear ambitions so perilous, not the other way around.

November 27, 2006

Israeli Restraint Holds Gaza Ceasefire

Israel accepted Saturday a Palestinian ceasefire offer, exchanging an end to the Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza into Israeli towns for a pullout of IDF troops from Gaza. Popular Resistance Committees spokesman Abu Mujahed said, “We have set 6 a.m. tomorrow [Sunday] morning to stop firing rockets toward Zionist towns in our occupied land in return for a mutual cessation of the aggression committed against our people.” Yet only four hours after the PRC mandated timeframe, the Kassams flew once again into Sderot from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorists.

Nonetheless, the deal was touted as a clear Palestinian victory on the streets of Gaza, including 23-year old Abdel-Majid Ash-Shanti who said, “Thanks to God the Israeli forces have quit our land in defeat. We feel like victors.” The ceasefire may well be widely interpreted as an Israeli retreat and perhaps even an Israeli initiative of necessity.

But at issue in the immediate is not the formation of a Palestinian state nor peace with Israel. The impetus for the ceasefire is the restoration of international aid to the Palestinian Authority, which remains completely dependent on outside aid. While the various Palestinian factions remain embroiled in a hot conflict with Israel, it will be virtually impossible to form any semblance of a unity government among them. And a unity government is believed by Hamas and Fatah to be the largest step necessary restore the international aid money receipts. While accepting the ceasefire may be interpreted as Israeli weakness on the streets, the ceasefire is in fact born of Palestinian necessity. Employing the principal tactic of raining rockets on Israeli civilians is not conducive to persuading European nations to restart critical aid funds.

The deal could not have been struck without the tacit approval of Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ Damascus-based leader who spoke of the agreement from Cairo, where the deal is believed to have been brokered. The defiant Meshaal earlier had set a six-month time limit to the ceasefire, but when asked of it on Egyptian television by Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath of rival Fatah, Meshaal seemed to backpedal from the stance saying, “I said six months, but do you want more than six months? Maybe we can take eight months or a year.”

While perhaps backpedaling from his own deadline, he was clearly not backpedaling from Fatah as he used his response to assure all parties that there will be no peace but through him and therefore his Syrian hosts and Iranian tenders. Meshaal threatened a renewed intifada uprising should the period not move talks closer to a Palestinian state in the timeframe he gave, a subjective measurement to be made by the leader of a terrorist group whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

As was executed in the Gaza Strip by Israel under Ariel Sharon, Meshaal’s terms include an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Hamas’ Izzadin al-Qassam unit spokesman Abu Obaidah said, “This is a temporary cease-fire and any Israeli assault on our people in the West Bank will be viewed as a violation of the agreement.” That temporary nature is what troubles analysts and IDF officials, many of whom believe that the ceasefire serves little more than a reprieve from Israeli fire that will be used by Palestinian terrorists to re-arm.

But, after the Qassam attacks in the early hours of the ceasefire agreement in Gaza, a hopeful Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ordered his commanders “to refrain from responding, to show restraint and to give this cease-fire a chance to go into full, practical and comprehensive effect.”

But in the West Bank, Israeli operations continued to round up known and suspected, including killing a Popular Resistance Committees commander south of Jenin. The action prompted an immediate threat from the PRC as Yaser Maza’al, described as a senior PRC official, said that Israel should “expect revenge in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” Whether that threat will pass muster with Khaled Meshaal and the Damascus headquarters and effectively end the ceasefire remains to be seen. But Meshaal’s dismissive response to Fatah’s Information Minister over Egyptian broadcast air indicates that Meshaal does not expect much to come of the ceasefire in any regards.

Russian Missiles For Iranian Nuke Plants

According to an unnamed Russian source, Moscow is currently in the process of delivering Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran for placement around its nuclear facilities. The Russian news service Interfax quoted the official as saying, “The deliveries of Tor M1 to Iran have begun. The first systems have been delivered to Iran.” The same official also said that the systems’ Iranian operators were trained in Russia before the systems were delivered.

The news of Tor-M1 sales and shipment should be seen as simply cementing an existing policy through a significant equipment upgrade. As recently as September, a diplomatic source was quoted saying that “Russia has already installed and manned SAM systems around Bushehr” as part of an Iranian strategic “defense umbrella.” Left unclear was whether the previous systems were at least initially manned by Iranians or by their Russian suppliers.

But on the day of the Interfax report of the system deliveries, a spokesman for Rosoboronexport, the Russian state-run company that holds a monopoly on military export, stopped short of denying Russia has supplied Iran with the Tor-M1 air defense system. The Russian spokesman in Iran said only that they “cannot confirm reports on the start of Tor M1 air defense system deliveries to Iran.” But within 24 hours the Russian position had firmed considerably, as another Rosoboronexport spokesman, Nikolai Dimidyuk, said from an arms show in Jakarta, Indonesia, “I can affirm with 100% certainty that nothing of the kind has happened.”

Curiously, Moscow has remained silent on the issue aside from Dimidyuk’s statement from Indonesia.

The Tor-M1 system, also known as the SA-15 Gauntlet (a variation), has the ability to track up to 48 targets simultaneously while actively engaging two at a time. The short range system can acquire and begin tracking within a range of 25km and engage at 12km. Its primary advantage is the reported ability to engage cruise missiles skimming at very low altitudes, a weapons system that would likely be a major part of any American strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Russia’s intent to sell added air defense systems, namely the Tor-M1 short range missile system, has been an open policy for some time as Russia remains the Islamic Republic’s principal arms supplier. Two months ago it was announced that Russia would be providing Iran with added anti-aircraft missile capabilities, including 29 of the Tor-M1 systems, principally to protect the Bushehr nuclear reactor - currently under Russian construction - from American and/or Israeli airstrikes. (For added context, see: InBrief: Russia Supports Iranian Program As US Flounders.)

In early August 2006, the US State Department imposed sanctions on Russia’s Rosoboronexport and Sukhoi, preventing US firms from doing business with them. Both have dealings with US companies for civilian equipment, but little to nothing on the military equipment side.

But the timing of word on Rosoboronexport’s supply of new anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran is curious – as well as the silence from the top tier officials in Moscow – as the news comes just days after the United States lifted the sanctions on Sukhoi, Russia’s top jet manufacturer.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the time that the lifting of sanctions against Rosoboronexport would surely soon follow “since it didn’t supply Iran with anything forbidden.” While the sale of the Tor-M1 system is not prohibited by international law or sanction, its sale with the explicit purpose of protecting Iran’s nuclear facilities indicate that Russia’s foreign policy objectives more often than not still run counter to those of the United States.

Though Washington would like to win Russia as a reliable ally, the interests of the two nations remain separated by a vast chasm. While the relationship between the two is often described as complex, there is undeniable clarity in the fact that Russia continues to supply arms – and a nuclear infrastructure - to a regime which inspires crowds to chant “Death to America” in its streets. The American relationship with Russia remains tenuous at best.

November 24, 2006

Reprisal: Sadr City Ripped by Sunni Blasts

The sectarian violence continued its crescendo as a series of car bombs ripped through Sadr City markets, killing over 200 and wounding nearly 300. The Baghdad Shi’a slums, home to Iranian-backed Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army, saw the deadliest coordinated attack since the conflict began with the 2003 US-led invasion, with three car bombs and mortars decimating civilians in the crowded streets.

The Thursday attack was almost certainly a Sunni reprisal for the kidnappings at a Sunni-run Baghdad university less than two weeks ago. That attack was carried out with the involvement of Shi’a members of Iraqi police and security forces. At least six Shi’a police and security officers in charge of security in the university’s district were arrested for their involvement.

In coordination with the blasts in Sadr City, over one hundred Sunni gunmen stormed the Iraqi Health Ministry building in Baghdad, long known to also be an operations center for al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. The attack was repelled by US ground forces and attack helicopters and follows an assassination attempt on Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamily on Monday and the kidnapping of another deputy minister, Ammar Assafar, on Sunday.

On Firday, one day after the Sadr City killings, a bomb in a parked car and a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt killed 22 in Tal Afar in northern Iraq while al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army carried out attacks on Sunni mosques – decried as no-fire zones for US troops pursuing terrorists – some filled with worshippers for Friday prayers. Shi’a attacks on the Sunni were widespread, including an attack on six who were doused with kerosene and burned alive. [Note: See Update below regarding this claim.]

Amid the Shi’a retaliation, Muqtada al-Sadr demanded that the chief Sunni cleric sheik Harith al-Dhari, head of Iraq’s Association of Muslim Scholars, to issue a fatwa denouncing the Sunni attacks on Sadr City.

Iraqi Prime Minister Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, due to meet with President Bush in Jordan next week, issued a televised call for calm. But al-Maliki is increasingly seen to be powerless to affect the growing Sunni-Shi’a sectarian violence. al-Sadr commands six cabinet seats in the Iraqi government along with 30 members of the parliament led by fellow-Shi’a Maliki. While the Sunni protest on suspicions of Maliki’s complicity with al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army, he is seen by many as a pragmatic leader who is likely operating under a standing death threat from Sadr’s band of Mahdi Army thugs should he take concrete steps to confront, disarm and disband the militia.

Whether al-Maliki is complicit as the Sunni claim or operating under persistent threat to himself and his family, the net effect is the same. Maliki and the Iraqi government are unable to halt or abate a religiously inspired blood feud that is nearly as old as Islam itself, exacerbated by strategic power plays from Sunni al-Qaeda and the Shi’a Iranian revolutionary theocracy.

Update: The account of six Shi’a being doused with kerosene and burned alive has been effectively called into question by Curt at Flopping Aces with an extensive investigation of the source: ‘Capt. Jamil Hussein’, reported as an Iraqi police spokesman. But his name appears neither familiar to American PAO’s nor on their list of spokesmen for Iraqi security forces. Referenced are several past news articles citing his quotes, including fabrications and exaggerations, all of which incidentally are statements regarding supposed Shi’a attacks on Sunni victims. As well, the number and scope of mosque attacks cited has also been refuted.

As Bruce Kesler of Democracy Project reminds, the issue of using stringers and blindly trusting their sources is a very important problem. He rightly stressed, “We must have transparency in reporting, by media explicitly listing what parts of reports come from stringers, and their qualifications, and journalistic controls in place.” Such poorly vetted information has a serious trickle-down effect, as can be seen by its impact within this posting from a writer normally quite vigilant. Many thanks to Curt for the heavy lifting and to Bruce Kesler, steady and reliable enough to calibrate equipment by.

November 22, 2006

Syrian Coup in Lebanon Nears Success

As Syria and their client Hizballah continue their march on a coup in Lebanon, the assassination of Lebanese Cabinet Member and Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel was not the only development yesterday.

Another anti-Syrian Lebanese Cabinet member, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Michel Pharaon, was the target of a second assassination attempt yesterday. Though the attempt failed, it represents an undeniable pattern of a renewed bid to eliminate anti-Syrian members from positions of Lebanese power. Minister Pharaon’s offices released a statement saying “The office of the state minister for parliamentary affairs, Michel Pharaon, in the Ashrafieh neighborhood was the target of gunshots today from gunmen in a white Suzuki car.” The gunmen riddled the offices with gunfire and sped off. Pharaon is a Greek-Catholic Christian MP in the cabinet.

The Syrian/Hizballah alliance needs the resignation or assassination of just two more members of Lebanon’s cabinet to force the dissolution of the government under Lebanese constitution, which requires that the cabinet contain at least two-thirds of its members to function. Should the coup bid succeed, Hizballah will seek to seize enough seats to wield a majority vote in the cabinet or at least enough for veto power. This would then coincide with the power of the pro-Syrian president Emil Lahoud and pro-Syrian Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in order to blunt the anti-Syrian majority in the full parliament.

Anti-Syrian Lebanese reject the idea of a Hizballah-controlled government as both the invitation of renewed Syrian occupation and a government at the mercy of a terrorist organization willing to instigate war with the powerful Israelis as demonstrated over the summer. Such views were echoed by Mario Loyola, who said in a column today, “Elections cannot lend legitimacy to a party that claims the right to place its own law above the law of the land — much less to a party willing to destroy the country in the furtherance of its goals.” It’s goals are a Lebanese state in the model of Iran’s theocratic Islamic Republic and, ultimately, the destruction of Lebanon’s Israeli neighbor.

With the assassination of Gemayel and the attempt on Pharaon in one day revealing accelerated Syrian movement in the coup bid, anti-Syrian leader Walid Jumblatt openly questioned whether Speaker Nabih Berri would convene the Lebanese parliament to approve the International Tribunal proceedings that would try suspects in the February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The principal Syrian motive beyond the restoration of its grip on Lebanon is the avoidance of any Hariri tribunal, a proceeding that would openly try members of the Syrian regime for suspected roles in the 2005 assassination. “They can do anything, because his only fear, Bashar’s, is not to be indicted somewhere by the tribunal,” Jumblatt said.

With only two cabinet members needed to be eliminated by any means, the anti-Syrian Lebanese ministers move with extreme caution as the whole of Lebanon steels itself amidst the persistent tension of looming conflict and fears of a renewed civil war.

November 21, 2006

Lebanese Cabinet Member Assassinated

A Christian member of the Lebanese Cabinet, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, was assassinated today in Beirut, Lebanon. Driving to his home, two cars cut him off and a man ran up to Gemayel’s car window and fired his machinegun, riddling Gemayel with bullets. Though the anti-Syrian member of the Lebanese cabinet is reported to have survived the immediate attack, he died of his wounds as he arrived at a hospital.

The reaction from both within Lebanon and its neighbors was as swift as the nature of the responses was predictable. The Syrian government officially condemned the anti-Syrian’s murder, saying that it was “a crime aimed at destabilizing Lebanon. Syria is careful about preserving Lebanon’s security, unity and civil peace.” But reaction from the anti-Syrian March 14 group within Lebanon’s government dismissed such statements out of hand.

As one of the March 14 groups principal leaders and the son of assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minster Rafik Hariri, Saad Hariri blasted Syria as the primary suspect in yet another anti-Syrian liquidation. Hariri said, “Today one of our main people, main believers in a free, democratic Lebanon, has been killed. And we believe that the hands of Syria are all over the place because today, in a few days it will have been the second vote on the international tribunal that Syria has always been trying to avoid.”

Before the first vote last Monday on the international tribunals intended to try suspects - most of which are Syrian, including high-ranking government officials - in Rafik Hariri’s assassination, Syrian-sponsored Hizballah resigned their positions among the Lebanese cabinet in an attempt to de-legitimize the inevitable vote to hold the tribunals. Saad Hariri and his Cedar Revolution allies view the assassination of a Christian cabinet member as an extension of the same and a Syrian continuation of the strategy of intimidation through assassination employed since Rafik Hariri’s February 2005 murder by a suicide truck bomber.

The slain Prime Minister’s son said today that Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime is “trying to kill every free person” in Lebanon, adding that after a brief pause in anti-Syrian assassinations, “The cycle (of killings) has resumed.”

For ongoing updates on the situation and reporting from Lebanon, readers are encouraged to monitor the Lebanese media sources of Ya Libnan, the Lebanese newspaper an-Nahar’s Naharnet News Desk (whose anti-Syrian owner and publisher, Gibran Tueni, was assassinated less than one year ago), and Beirut’s popular The Daily Star newspaper. ThreatsWatch will provide ongoing analysis of developments as well as their context and repercussions as the situation unfolds.

Hamas Attack Hits Near UN Commissioner

In the Negev Desert town of Sderot, Israel, Qassam rockets struck just a few hundred yards from the UN’s chief human rights representative during her visit. Having just arrived from a visit to Beit Hanun in Gaza, where she loudly and roundly condemned Israeli attacks, her car was met by angry Israelis as it made its way to the nearby site of the rocket strikes. In the Qassam attack, one Israeli was critically injured with shrapnel wounds to the head and a second rocket started a fire at a factory. The evacuated workers were outside as the UN representative’s motorcade pulled up to observe.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Canadian Louise Arbour, had earlier visited Beit Hanun in Gaza and condemned ‘massive’ violations of human rights there by Israel. “The violation of human rights I think in this territory is massive,” Arbour said in Gaza. She added, “The call for protection has to be answered. We cannot continue to see civilians, who are not the authors of their own misfortune, suffer to the extent of what I see.”

Angered by what many Israelis deem a pervasive anti-Semitic UN approach, as Arbour made her way to Sderot, she was met with a less than warm reception by local residents of what is increasingly becoming described as a ghost town. Residents of Sderot have been relocating elsewhere due to the onslaught of Palestinian Qassam rockets. More than 25 rockets are reported to have been launched from Gaza into Israel in the Monday overnight alone.

But, when the rockets landed during her visit, the ‘less than warm reception’ turned to visible anger, as some Israelis began to pelt her car with stones and chant slogans. The rockets were fired by Hamas’ Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, who said that they did not know Arbour would be in Sderot at the time. Certainly had they known, Hamas would not have fired within eyeshot of their recently departed perceived defender.

Though not directly from her, Arbour’s accompanying UN spokesman, Christopher Gunness, said that Arbour had pressed the Palestinian Authority sternly in meetings with Mahmoud Abbas regarding the launching of the Qassam rockets on Israeli towns. He said also that “The position of the High Commissioner is that Qassam rockets are illegal under international law” because of their inaccuracy.

Shortly after the Qassam attack on the civilians of Sderot, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights did not condemn the attack with the conviction displayed in Beit Hanun. Instead, Arbour expressed sympathy for the family of the critically wounded Israeli saying, “I want to … say how much I share their sense of hopelessness and vulnerability and frustration at being so exposed.” But the reaction of the Israelis in Sderot indicates that they are not interested in sympathy or being anointed by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights as victims.

Arbour suggested that Israel was committing war crimes when she said, “Well, it (Israel) has a responsibility to defend its citizens, but can only do so by legal means. It has to do so in line with international law, including international humanitarian law, but it has a primary responsibility to protect its citizens and the people under its authority.”

Israelis are frustrated and angry that they are forced to accept building reinforced student dormitories in Sderot in defense from the relentless Qassam attacks. This growing and increasingly vocal anger and frustration contributed to the recent decision to send the IDF into Beit Hanun in attempts to quell the attacks. It is also the source of the angry reception the UN’s High Commissioner on Human Rights received in Sderot as she loudly condemned Israeli action as “massive violations” of human rights, while seemingly left to a spokesman to define the Qassam rockets as illegal weapons, saying nothing of the actions taken by terrorists intentionally targeting civilians with them.

November 15, 2006

China Prods India After Pak Free Trade Deal

While China is looking to sign free trade agreements with both Pakistan and India, the Chinese have wrapped up negotiations with Pakistan and the formal agreement is expected to be signed when President Hu visits Islamabad on November 24. Such an arrangement with India, however, seems much farther away.

The China Daily report quoted Hu Shisheng, ‘an expert with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations,’ as saying that “It is too early for the two countries to clinch such a deal because India still has some worries about certain Chinese industrial sectors, such as manufacturing.” But other Chinese actions likely have much influence on the tenseness of the talks between the communist state and the Indian leadership.

Accompanying the announcement of China’s free trade agreement with its growing partner Pakistan, China also renewed its claim to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh on the northwest edge of India along the Chinese border and part of the Jammu-Kashmir territories that India and Pakistan continue to war over. This was not well received by India, as the Chinese ambassador, Sun Yuxi, said that “the whole of what you call the state of Arunachal Pradesh is the Chinese territory. … We are claiming the whole of that.”

The Indian response was immediate and strong. Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said flatly that “Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India,” and chastised the Chinese ambassador for attempting to negotiate through the media. In response, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said that the issue “can be resolved through friendly consultation.”

The sudden and very public move from China renewing a claim to already disputed territory between rivals Pakistan and India does not appear to be a move associated with a nation working to establish a free trade agreement with India. The Indian interpretation is likely and understandably one of confirmed fears of a growing partnership between China and Pakistan and a conscious choice made by Chinese leadership.

The growing economies of both India and China have served to foster improved trade relationships and at the same time increased competitive tensions between the world’s two most populated states. Whether the Chinese move on Arunachal Pradesh in the disputed Jammu-Kashmir region is an attempt to leverage future trade talks with India or a concrete indication of a forming Chinese alignment with Pakistan, which it has already invested heavily in, remains to be seen.

But the degree to which the Chinese press the issue may have a reciprocal impact of driving India even closer to the United States, which is also in a precarious relationship with Indian rival Pakistan within the context of the War on Terror. Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported that Pakistan received US$1.1 billion in aid during 2006 in return for its cooperation in combating terrorism.

November 14, 2006

Broken Resolve Boosts Ahmadinejad's Confidence

Before a backdrop of the continuing stalemate at the UN regarding sanctions over Iran’s clandestine nuclear program and the fallout following the US elections that include a new US Secretary of Defense who has recommended direct talks with Iran in the past (See: Iran: Time for a New Approach), Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the mechanisms for a complete Iranian nuclear fuel cycle will be fully operational by February. Ahmadinejad said in a Tuesday news conference closed to foreign reporters that he hopes to be able to celebrate this accomplishment in the early February ‘Ten-Day Dawn’ celebrations commemorating the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran.

It is likely in no small part due to this existing backdrop that Ahmadinejad demonstrated his confidence in the West’s broken resolve when he added, “Today, they have finally agreed to live with a nuclear Iran, with an Iran possessing the whole nuclear fuel cycle.” Assured of the West’s inability and/or insufficient will to stop the Iranian program, Ahmadinejad announced plans for enrichment facilities of 60,000 centrifuges.

Ahmadinejad suggested that Iran would open talks with the United States on the precondition that it “correct its behavior.” Said Ahmadinejad, “We won’t talk to the Zionist regime because it is a usurper and an illegitimate entity. But we will talk to the U.S. government under certain conditions. Should it correct its behavior, we will talk to them.”

But with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Washington for talks, President Bush re-stated that a nuclear Iran will not be tolerated. The president said to reporters in a news conference, “If the Iranians want to have a dialogue with us, we have shown them a way forward, and that is for them to verifiably suspend their enrichment activities.” Iran has repeatedly rejected both enrichment cessation and any preconditions to talks, though it made one itself today. President Bush’s comments also come following British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s suggestion that Iran and Syria could play a role in a peaceful Iraq under “a new partnership.”

Much in the foreground, the Iranian president told Iranian government ministers on Monday that “Israel is destined for destruction and it will disappear soon,” adding that since Israel was “a contradiction to nature, we foresee its rapid disappearance and destruction.”

Has America and the West “finally agreed to live with a nuclear Iran,” as Ahmadinejad states with confidence? The Iranian nuclear program certainly continues apace, unobstructed and virtually unchallenged.

In April, Ahmadinejad defiantly said, “Our answer to those who are angry about Iran obtaining the full nuclear cycle is one phrase — we say: Be angry and die of this anger.” While the United States and others may not immediately “die of this anger,” the Iranian president has cause to be confident that the West is ill-prepared to do anything about it.

Dozens Kidnapped From Baghdad University

The violence of a relatively small number of actors in Iraq continues without relief for the average Iraqi citizen today, as an estimated 80 gunmen wearing Iraqi Interior Ministry uniforms in an estimated 20 vehicles encroached on a Baghdad University and took captive dozens of Iraqi men. The number of people actually abducted is unclear, but some have put the figure as high as 150. Iraqi officials doubt the high-end estimates based on the fact that the number of vehicles used could not have carried away the eighty attackers and the claimed number of abducted university employees and visitors.

In a swift internal response, the Interior Ministry has arrested 5 senior police officers who were responsible for security in the area where the kidnapping operations took place. Potentially condemning the officers and possibly linking their involvement was a curious statement attributed to a police officer that was near the scene. The New York Times quoted an eyewitness on the scene who reported that “a police officer from a nearby checkpoint told bystanders to leave, but said he and his colleagues were powerless to stop the raid.” The witness quoted the police officer as saying, “Maybe the order came from a higher level.” If true, it indicates that Iraqi security in the area may have been ordered to stand down by superiors.

Some eyewitness accounts say that all those abducted were Sunnis, but an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said it was a mix of both Sunni and Shi’a based on family requests the Ministry has received. According to one eyewitness account, the gunmen were checking the identification of the men and then “picked only the Sunni employees. They even took the man who was just delivering tea.” The man present at the scene, identified as a Sunni known by the Reuters reporter, then said, “They gathered them all in the pick-ups. At the same time I saw two police patrols watching, doing nothing.”

Death squads and other terrorists are known to have donned purchased uniforms of both the Iraqi police and military in the past. While the cars could possibly have been that of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, headed by Shi’a leadership and troubled with past association of some of its members with Shi’a militias and death squads, they may have been intentionally made to appear as such, just as actual Iraqi security personnel may not have been wearing the uniforms.

The Iraqi Higher Education Minister Abd Dhiab, a member of a Sunni Arab party in government, said of the incident, “As far as we know this area is full of police and Defense Ministry checkpoints and we know police vehicles followed the kidnappers to a specific area and after that we don’t know what happened.”

Dhaib also said that 13 of those abducted had already been released and that the cars were reported as heading eastward, toward Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shi’a stronghold of the Sadr City section of Baghdad. The Iraqi Interior Ministry reported that last night prior to the kidnappings, US forces had killed six and wounded fifteen in combat with al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in northwestern Baghdad.

The New York Times reported that some of the abductees “were employees of the research and engineering departments.” Though perhaps coincidental, Abu Ayyeb al-Masri, the new leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, made a call for scientists in September, seeking those trained in “chemistry, physics, electronics, media and all other sciences — especially nuclear scientists and explosives experts.”

November 13, 2006

New PA Prime Minister After US Veto At UN

After the United States vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution that condemned the Israel artillery incident that killed 19 Palestinians in the northern Gaza city of Beit Hanun, ruling groups Fatah and Hamas have announced an agreed upon successor to Ismail Haniyeh as the Palestinian Prime Minister. After months of stalled negotiations on the formation of a unity government, it has been agreed to that Muhammad Shbeir, the former head of the Islamic University in the Gaza Strip, will take over soon as the PA Prime Minister. Shbeir, “who is close to Hamas but says he is not a member,” is expected to head the PA government in the next few weeks.

While Fatah and Hamas have agreed to a non-Hamas prime minister, yet to be resolved is the more important issue of whether any Unity government with Hamas participation will recognize Israel’s right to exist and denounce terrorism, keys to the restoration of Western aid crucial to Palestinian society. It is also a precondition to Israel sitting down to formal negotiations regarding the creation of a Palestinian state and demarcation of borders.

But while the absence of huge amounts of aid money from Europe and the United States has been devastating to a Palestinian economy incapable of sustaining itself, following the US veto of the condemnation of Israel, the Arab League has decided to no longer cut off aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, a boycott enacted after the terrorist group Hamas was swept into power in the January 2006 Palestinian elections.

US Ambassador John Bolton said of the American decision to veto the UN Security Council condemnation, “We are disturbed that there is not a single reference to terrorism in the proposed resolution, nor any condemnation of the Hamas leadership statement that Palestinians should resume terror attacks on a broad scale.” The veto was received harshly in the Middle East.

“This sends a message that causes us great sorrow and anger. The message was well received, and it tells us that the peace process is completely dead,” said the Arab League’s secretary-general Amr Mussa. The Arab League released a statement calling for an emergency meeting concerning the situation in Gaza. In announcing the decision, Mussa said of restarting monetary support for the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, “There will be no compliance with any restriction imposed… . The Arab banks have to transfer money [to the Palestinians].” The Arab League, however, has been criticized both within the Middle East and elsewhere for regularly pledging to support various groups and causes but routinely failing to live up to its stated monetary expectations, with member-states often reneging on open pledges made at the highly publicized meetings.

Hamas, and to a degree the Palestinian Authority, have not been devoid of all support, however. Iran has pledged and lived up to its commitment to support the Hamas-led government in the absence of Western aid. However, little of the support provided by Iran has been seen by the PA-proper, which might enable it to pay salaries neglected since January. Rather, in lieu of monetary assistance, the Iranian support has been principally in the form of weapons smuggled into Gaza through an intricate system of tunnels beneath its border with Egypt, fueling a massive arms buildup in Gaza.

With the principal source of internal friction between Hamas and Fatah remaining the Hamas-led government’s inability to pay salaries, Iran’s decision to provide arms rather than cash illustrates Iran’s commitment to war with Israel through proxies, not any stated commitment the ‘Palestinian cause’ or the Palestinian people that falls outside the scope of war with the Jews.

Hizballah Doubles Pre-War Missile Count in Lebanon

Under the watchful eyes of UNIFIL forces tasked with carrying out UN Resolution 1701 which (again) calls for the disarmament of Hizballah, the Iranian-propped terrorists have successfully re-armed in Lebanon. An Israeli intelligence officer said, “We assume they now have about 20,000 rockets of all ranges — a bit more than they had before July 12.”

In the event observers would be inclined to dismiss the Israeli intelligence position as either exaggerated or alarmist, Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah boasts of even more weapons, saying that Hizballah now has over 30,000 missiles in stock, or nearly twice the number that it had before the start of the Israel-Hizballah conflict that ended just three months ago.

Hizballah has also resumed control over its original posts, both above and under ground, in Southern Lebanon. Israeli military observers say that the Hizballah terrorists now simply wear civilian clothes and show no more than AK-47 rifles publicly. Israel is “in a race” to determine precisely where the re-supplied longer-range ZelZal missiles are hidden. One of Israel’s most important accomplishments during the 34-day summer conflict was the immediate destruction of Hizballah’s larger and harder to conceal Iranian ZelZal missiles. Said one observer, “We believe Hezbollah have learnt their lesson and it will be much harder to locate them next time.”

Israeli defense officials have stated that they expect the conflict with Hizballah to resume by this coming spring. The IDF is currently in preparations for that eventuality, with careful studies of ‘lessons learned’ from the 34-day conflict, delaying a planned reduction in military service obligations from 36 to 24 months, and up-armoring their Merkava tanks that were vulnerable to the advanced Russian Kornet anti-tank rockets now in the hands of Hizballah in Lebanon and, not coincidentally, Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

While much attention was paid to Hizballah’s July/August use of the advanced anti-tank rockets obtained through Iran and Syria, the Kornet was first used by Hamas and that Popular Resistance Committees in their June tunnel raid attack from Gaza into Israel that led to the capture of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, still held captive by Hamas and the PRC.

Israeli intelligence has been warning for months that Hamas has been engaged in massive arms stockpiling in Gaza for a coming war with Israel, with the majority of the arms paid for or supplied by Iran, often via Hizballah. Israeli intelligence also revealed that Hamas terrorists have used the extensive (and expanding) tunnel systems into Egypt not only to transport weapons into Gaza, but also to enable Hamas and other groups’ terrorists to travel from Egypt to Iran and the Hizballah-controlled Bekaa Valley in Lebanon in order to obtain explosives and tactics training, likely including training on the advanced weapons systems new the Hamas, such as the Russian Kornet anti-tank rockets. Israel says that Hamas (among others) has undertaken the ‘Hizballazation’ of Gaza modeled after Iran’s proxy terrorists, specifically their tunneling tactics and advanced weapons.

What other missile systems Hamas has acquired via Hizballah is unknown, which Hamas has yet to use if they have them. The Palestinian terrorist group is, however, continuing to build and consume Qassam rockets for ground-to-ground attacks into Israeli towns.

Israeli forces raided and broke up an Israeli Arab arms network that was selling arms and ammunition from within Israel to Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank. While this problem from within adds to Israel’s current security troubles, it is not the first time such a network has been broken up in Israel.

It comes as no surprise then that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again warned of Israel’s impending destruction. “As this regime goes against the path of life, we will soon see its disappearance and its destruction,” he proclaimed. Under Iranian auspices and supply, Hizballah has nearly doubled its pre-war rocket and missile stocks. Also through Iranian aid and supply, Hamas has increased its weapons stocks in both raw numbers and lethality.

The two terrorist groups serving as Iranian proxies can be expected to attack in concert when Iran deems the time is right. The question is only whether Israel will cede the initiative.

Hariri's Shadow: Hizballah Quits Government

Talks aimed at creating a unity government in polarized Lebanon have come to a sudden halt with internal trouble looming ahead for the first Arab democracy. On Saturday, two elected members of the terrorist group Hizballah have resigned from the 24-member Lebanese cabinet along with three members of the Shi’a Amal movement, a Hizballah ally, in an effort to force the dissolution of the current government. Last week, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah demanded a full third of the 24 cabinet seats under threat of street protests.

Though Hizballah and their allies deny it, the timing of the sudden disruption is widely viewed to be tied directly to the fact that the Lebanese government is set to begin discussions Monday on a proposal for setting up a tribunal to try suspects believed involved with the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Syrian regime of Bashar Assad was heavily implicated by the UN investigation that followed, though Syria has successfully dodged consequence thus far, even through a wave of assassinations of anti-Syrian Lebanese figures in the wake of the investigations. (See - ThreatsWatch.org: Multimedia: ‘Who Is Next?’)

Hizballah’s weekend move is believed to be driven by their Syrian sponsors seeking to evade further any prosecutions and likely resulting sanctions. The situation is being placed within the context of a greater ‘cold war’ over influence in the Middle East, principally between the United States and an Iranian-Syrian cabal.

But Hizballah’s quiting the cabinet does not automatically dissolve the government based on their non-participation and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora rejected the Hizballah resignations. In the United States, the White House issued a statement that criticized the move and condemned Iran and Hizballah, stating that “Hezbollah and Iran remain a dangerous, global nexus of terrorism.”

Hizballah deputy chief Naim Kassem siad that the resignations were but the first step in a Hizballah strategy to assume power within the Lebanese government. “There will be other steps that we will discuss in detail with our allies and which we will announce gradually,” he said.

The complaint over representation stems from the Lebanese government’s sectarian electoral representation being based on a severely outdated 1932 census in which the Shi’a were a very small minority but have after 75 years now become the majority. But the Lebanese who had only recently manage to wrest free of Syrian occupation refuse to submit to the same via an Iranian- and Syrian-supported Hizballah, which dominates Lebanese Shi’a politics and permit a terrorist organization intent on war with Israel to hold difficult sway over their government.

November 10, 2006

Israel Braces For Beit Hanun Reprisals

The Israeli Defense Forces said that the artillery strike that struck a Gaza home was a technical error and not intentional. Seven shells landed and killed 19 Palestinians, and the IDF says it is still trying to figure out exactly why they were 500 meters off target. They were fired at the tail end of an intelligence-driven barrage intended to prevent terrorists from soon setting up and firing Qassam rockets nearby.

40 Qassam rockets were fired from Gaza during the preceding six days of the IDF’s Operation Autumn Clouds on the streets of northern Gaza. And while the United States rejected a Qatari call to “investigate the massacre that took place in Beit Hanun,” at least 14 Qassam rockets were launched into Israel Thursday in the absence of both Israeli troops and suppressing artillery fire.

While IDF officials have apologized for the deaths, offered assistance and halted artillery fire into Gaza pending review, Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said that Israel is not ‘morally responsible’ for the deaths, placing blame instead upon Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad for squandering the Israeli withdrawal and turnover of Gaza to Palestinian control.

Sneh said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post, “We left [the area] entirely, not leaving behind one soldier, and they turned Gaza, especially Beit Hanun, into a launching pad for rockets on our civilians, cynically using their civilian population as a human shield for their terrorist activity. This is a responsibility they cannot evade.” He added, “It’s most probably our mistake and I am sincerely sad about it. We are genuinely trying to do something to help the victims.”

Following Hamas’ vow to exact revenge on Israel with a wave of suicide bombers, Israeli security forces inside Israel are now put on high alert, Level 6, Israel’s highest. Hizballah’s Sheik Hassan Nasrallah challenged Arab states that he criticized for their silence, and called for the arming of the Palestinians. Nasrallah said, “Where are the Arabs? Where are the Arab rulers? … Where is the scream of anger in the face of the butchers to repel them and make them feel that continuing to kill will bring them to their end?” He went on to say that “money, arms and medicines must reach” the Palestinians in order to wage war with Israel.

But while the Israeli artillery may be on hold, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) continues operations. An IAF strike killed two Hamas terrorists traveling in a car south of Gaza City, targeting and killing the head of Hamas’ rocket-making operation, Ahmed Awad. Awad was the son-in-law of Hamas’ Palestinian Authority foreign minister, Mahmoud a-Zahar.

Aside from Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the umbrella Popular Resistance Committees, the small Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is involved in Gaza action as well.

In the West Bank, a Nablus raid was launched against local leaders of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. The two al-Aqsa terrorists were engaged while in the streets at around 2:00am. They escaped and ran into a nearby olive grove, where apparently more IDF troops lay waiting for them and shot the two dead among the trees. A local civilian was reported killed by Israeli fire in the gun battle. But considering he reportedly climbed to his rooftop to view the fighting, he was likely thought to be a sniper by IDF troops during the nighttime operation.

An explosion leveled the Gaza home of the PFLP leader, Talal Abu Safiyah. Initial blame was placed on Israel. However, the home was brought to the ground when explosives inside detonated. No deaths were being reported, but two were said to be pulled from the rubble alive.

Israel’s Level-6 security alert amid over 80 known specific threats of attacks, the Arab-Israeli war seems be heating up, with numerous groups apparently cooperating and likely coordinating attacks.

November 8, 2006

Bomber Kills Dozens of Pakistani Troops

A suicide bomber killed 42 Pakistani soldiers in Dargai, 85 miles northwest of Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad. The attack was immediately believed to be a reprisal against the Pakistani government for its presumed role in the recent airstrike on the madrassa in Bajur, suspected of being an al-Qaeda/Taliban suicide bomber training facility, where over 80 were killed. Bajur-area al-Qaeda leader Faqir Mohammad had vowed to strike back at the Pakistani government and army with suicide bombers after the madrassa strike.

Dargai is considered to be where the al-Qaeda affiliated Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law) terrorist organization is centered.

The UK’s Guardian reports that a second suicide bomber managed to escape on a motorcycle after his own device failed to detonate. The Pakistanis are attempting to search for him.

But Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf defended the Bajur strike in a statement Wednesday addressing military commanders on the issue of security in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan, where a significant number of troops are still deployed and engaged in a counter-insurgency fight. Musharraf stood by the Bajur strike, insisting that “we had evidence that militants were being trained. There were also intelligence reports about active involvement of these militant leaders in terrorist activities.”

Some of his officers are aligned with those attacked in Bajur and elsewhere.

Pakistani Air Force officers have been arrested in the wake of the recent assassination attempt on Musharraf. It is of grave concern that of the approximately 50 individuals arrested for involvement in the attack, “many are understood to be young officers serving in the Pakistani Air Force, some of whom have access to high-security zones of the presidential offices, parliament and the intelligence service.”

Should Musharraf fall, there are likely no Pakistani generals who would survive a coup that would stand between Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and the Islamist-dominated and al-Qaeda entangled Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). India has long held that the South Asian arm of al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, is both responsible for the deadliest terrorist attacks in India and directly supported by Pakistan’s ISI. The fall of Musharraf would mean likely ISI access to control over Pakistani nuclear weapons.

India grows increasingly nervous as the days race by with little or no good news for Musharraf within Pakistan.

November 6, 2006

Nigeria: Flying Under The Radar

While the main focus of the war on terror has remained focused on hotbeds like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the events taking place in Nigeria may turn out to warrant increased attention. For the better part of this year, the Nigerian government and its lucrative oil economy have come under increased attacks by local terrorist organizations that are bent on expelling foreign oil companies out of the region. Now, it appears that the United States is finally starting to get the picture that the current situation in Nigeria is fragile.

The Houston Chronicle has reported that the United States consulate in Lagos, Nigeria issued a warning to all American citizens to be aware of the possibility of terrorist attacks within the country.

Militants in Nigeria are planning a major new wave of attacks and kidnappings in the next few days that could include up to 20 bombings across the country’s oil-rich delta region, U.S. diplomats warned Friday. “The U.S. government has learned that as of late October 2006, a militant Niger Delta group may have finalized its plans for a unified attack against oil facilities in the Niger Delta region,” the statement said. “The attacks allegedly will be carried out sometime during the first week of November and will include 10 to 20 simultaneous bombings of land-based targets and a series of separate attacks on oil installations in which expatriate workers will be taken hostage.”

While the warning did not specify who would be behind the attacks, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has emerged as the foremost terrorist threat in Nigeria and will most likely be the culprit of these attacks. According to a backgrounder on the group, MEND’s ultimate goal is to expel foreign oil companies and non-indigenous Nigerians from the Delta region, which is primarily made up of members of the Ijaw tribe. Their main grievance is that the local population continues to live in poverty while the government and foreign oil companies seize all the wealth from the region.

There are two main implications that arise from this threat of increased violence on Nigeria’s oil facilities. First and foremost, US oil interests are at stake. Nigeria is the fifth largest provider of crude oil to the United States and is the world’s eighth largest oil exporter. However, the MEND has been responsible for successfully cutting Nigeria’s oil exports by at least 20 percent this year alone. If MEND increases its attacks, it may very well setback Nigeria’s oil exports even further; no doubt taking a toll on gas prices in the United States.

One other possibility stemming from this increased threat of violence is the potential for a goal-oriented alignment between MEND and Islamic terrorist groups abroad. This is not to say that radical Muslim groups will recruit members from MEND or vice versa. Instead, MEND may provide inspiration to radical Islamic groups who are witnessing their successes. Damaging America’s economy via targeting the oil industry has long been one of al-Qaeda’s missions. If MEND continues to be successful in targeting and hurting Nigeria’s oil economy, it is entirely possible that future successful attacks may give rise to other plots perpetrated by terrorist organizations across the globe.

If these threats of increased violence in Nigeria are undertaken, this week could turn out to be a sobering wake-up call for the United States. In trying to protect our interests abroad, specifically our economic interests, the United States may be compelled to turn more attention to Nigeria. In reality though, regardless of whether these attacks are perpetrated, it is important that the United States recognize the emerging threat posed by MEND.

IDF Operation Autumn Clouds In Gaza To Continue

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert said that Operation Autumn Clouds will continue in northern Gaza “until our goals have been achieved,” namely reducing the number of Qassam rocket attacks from the Beit Hanoun area into Israeli towns. But an Israeli Army Radio broadcast suggested that operations may only last a few more days.

With 48 Palestinians and one IDF soldier killed in the 4-day operation thus far, Olmert said that Israel has no intention of re-occupying the Gaza Strip, “[b]ut we do intend to put a halt to terrorism from Gaza.” Terrorist groups in Gaza have other plans. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committees groups on Sunday threatened a renewed wave of suicide bombings in 48 hours if Israel did not withdraw from Gaza. A spokesman for the PRC, also the group that claimed responsibility for the attack that netted the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, said that the IDF operation would jeopardize negotiations for his release. The negotiations for his release have been reportedly ongoing for months to no avail thus far. An Israeli government official dismissed the PRC and PIJ threats, saying “We do not accept ultimatums.”

As the Israeli Prime Minister stood firm regarding the purpose of the operations, Israel fielded criticism from around the world once more. Turkey called for a halt to the Israeli operation, which it said do not serve anything but damage basis of peace and deepen problems of the Palestinian people.” United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan also called for an Israeli withdrawal because operations in populated areas inevitably result in civilian casualties “including women and at least one Palestinian child.” At least two of the women killed were acting as human shields when they were shot.

Pope Benedict condemned the violence on both sides and expressed “closeness to the civilian populations who are suffering the consequences of acts of violence.” The Arab Parliament in Damascus, Syria, called an emergency meeting Monday in order to condemn Israel as a group. The European Union released a statement that it ‘deplores’ the civilian losses in Gaza and added, “The right of all states to defend themselves does not justify disproportionate use of violence or actions which are contrary to international humanitarian law.”

Meanwhile, Hamas has said that a unity Hamas-Fatah government is now possible, with Hamas reserving the right to choose the Prime Minister post. While the new government would not include any recognition of Israel’s right to exist on the part of Hamas, the group’s Ahmed Yousef said that Hamas has “gotten hints from the U.S. and Europeans that the creation of this (new government) will at least result in lifting the embargo.”

But regardless of the round international condemnation or potential new Palestinian unity government, larger troubles loom for Israel. As Hizballah continues to retake and rebuild its positions and arms in southern Lebanon and the Hamas weapons buildup and tunnel system development continues in southern Gaza, Syria has now begun talking about armed resistance against Israel in the Golan Heights.

November 3, 2006

War Imminent in Somalia

With the collapse of the third round of talks in Khartoum between the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Somalia now rests on the brink of an all-out-conflict that has the potential to spread beyond its borders. Reports are now indicating that Somali Islamists have test fired rockets in preparation for war against the Ethiopian-backed TFG. Residents in the town of Burhakaba noted that hundreds of Islamists soldiers were deployed overnight and began firing heavy munitions Friday morning.

Both forces are now within 30 km of each other, and with these rocket tests, it is entirely possible that hostilities could begin soon. Recently, hundreds of ex-Somali soldiers joined the ranks of the ICU. Lieutenant Colonel Abdi Guled, presenting 692 former Somali soldiers to the ICU, 44 of which are officers, indicated that “we are ready to take part in defending our country and we will be part of the Islamic Courts.” Moreover, the Islamist leadership appears ready and willing to initiate the fighting. Maalim Hashi Ahmed, a senior Islamist leader, indicated that “the onus is on us to start the fighting. We will be the first to strike. If someone takes your shirt, it is upon you to repossess it. That is what we plan to do.”

After learning of the collapsed talks in Khartoum, the United States Embassy issued an advisory to all American citizens living in Kenya and Ethiopia warning them of possible suicide bombings in the area. The embassy asked that Americans be vigilant and exercise caution because prominent landmarks within Kenya and Ethiopia are likely the targets of these attacks. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross notes that the advisory was potentially issued due to the belief that the ICU, in mounting this final assault on Baidoa, is planning to take extra territorial action against members of the TFG residing in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Aside from that, the upcoming war could have serious positive implications for the global jihadist movement. If the ICU is able to overtake Baidoa and establish its authority, the entire portion of southern Somalia could become another safe haven for al-Qaeda and other terrorists groups. Just recently, an eight-member terrorist cell, including 3-4 Australians, with ties to al-Qaeda was arrested in Yemen for planning to smuggle arms across the Gulf of Aden into Somalia. Allegedly, two of the Australian men are the sons of Abdul Rahim Ayub, who set up a Jemmah Islamiyya cell in Australia and whose twin brother fought alongside Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Rohan Gunaratna, director of terrorism studies at the Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore observed that “Somalia is an emerging training ground for jihadis… After they suffered the loss of Afghanistan, they want to control a state and it’s likely that Somalia will be the next venue.”

The recent acquisition of the Waziristan region in Pakistan was a tremendous victory for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. They now control the entire region and have begun planning operations against the Musharraf government. Pending the outcome of the conflict in Somalia, the global jihadist movement may yet obtain another base from which to plan and coordinate attacks. This possibility has significant consequences and should finally raise eyebrows in the United States, as many have thus far taken scant interest in these important developments.

Hamas Summons Human Shields, 2 Women Killed

Hamas terrorists being pursued by the IDF sought refuge in a mosque in an ongoing operation in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. When the IDF surrounded the mosque, Hamas broadcasted a call over the radio for women and children to surround the mosque as human shields in order to hinder the IDF soldiers who reportedly stood a few hundred yards away. About 100 women responded to the call and crowded at the entrance to the mosque.

In the end, two women were killed as IDF soldiers took aim at the terrorists making their escape among the Palestinian women serving as their human shields. The escape among the crowd of human shields was successful as the IDF reported no one was in the mosque when they entered it after the crowd cleared.

Palestinian sources said that the IDF took aim at the women as they approached the mosque, but the IDF said that they fired only at terrorists once they were in their midst. While a Rueters headline reads “Gunfire leaves veiled woman dead on a Gaza street” and an International Herald Tribune headline labels it a “Hamas protest in besieged Gaza town,” what is clear by all accounts thus far is that the women were intending to put themselves between IDF fire and the Hamas terrorists they sought to free in a human shield operation, not a protest march.

In other northern Gaza action part of the continuing IDF operation, five members of Hamas’ Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on the vehicle they were riding in. Chief among them was Omar Mushtaha, a local brigade commander wanted by Israel.

In Ramallah, the West Bank home of the Palestinian Authority government, Israeli forces arrested Abdel Rahman Zeidan, Hamas’ PA Minister of Public Works.

November 1, 2006

Iran Announces Parallel Exercise in Persian Gulf

With sanctions on Iran over the present nuclear crisis under consideration by the members of the UN Security Council, the six-nation Exercise Leading Edge counter-proliferation preparedness drills in the Persian Gulf have prompted Iran to hold impromptu military exercises as a show of force. With Exercise Leading Edge underway and under the Iranian regime’s skin, it has announced that the unplanned Grand Prophet 2 exercise will begin Thursday in ten Iranian provinces spanning nine days.

The US-organized operation is considered a dry run for potential cargo inspections by the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) members should sanctions call for such measures. The recent UN Sanctions on North Korea provided for PSI-led cargo inspections.

Iran’s exercise will kick off with the launch of multiple Shahab-3 medium range missiles. The Shahab-3 has the range to target Israel. While the only US ship involved in the current counter-proliferation exercise is a US Coast Guard cutter, the Iranians had announced that it distrusted the operation calling it “US adventurism” and adding that “Countries of the region can provide security better than any other party.” Regional Arab states, however, are increasingly wary of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and a perceived quest for regional dominance.

Ban Ki-moon, the South Korean recently elected UN Secretary General, urged Iran to halt its uranium enrichment operations saying, “At the moment, Iran should stop its uranium enrichment and accept the proposals of the [Iran] six.”

Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov said yesterday that Russia does not believe there has been evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Said Ivanov, “We believe that the possibilities for continuing political discussion around this problem have not been exhausted.” Though Russia has called for more talks with Iran, the permanent member of the Security Council has said that it will directly oppose any ‘punishing sanctions’ proposed against its Iranian nuclear trading partner.

Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, blasted the draft resolution proposal prepared by the EU and the United States that called for sanctions against Iran. Lavrov said today, “We cannot support measures that in essence are aimed at isolating Iran from the outside world, including isolating people who are called upon to conduct negotiations on the nuclear program.” He went on to say that the draft proposal goes far beyond the scope of agreements between members of the Security Council which, Russia maintains, are based on objectives as presented to the Security Council by the IAEA.

While the Iranian ‘Grand Prophet 2’ exercises are a show of force, the Russian statements can be seen as a show of solidarity, as Russia remains the buffer between the Iranian regime and sanctions against it.

Israel Will Not Expand Gaza Operations

Israel’s security cabinet decided that the IDF will not expand Gaza operations into a fall version of Operation Summer Rains, but will instead continue intelligence-based targeted operations against weapons smuggling capabilities along and under the Gaza-Egypt border and against Kassam rocket manufacturing and attacks in northern Gaza strip.

The announcement was made as one IDF soldier was reported killed in an operation in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. The nighttime operation combating terrorists carrying out Kassam launches reportedly killed 10 Palestinians and wounded 60 more.

As the Kassam launches continue relentlessly into Israeli towns near the northern Gaza border, Israeli defense minister Amir Peretz said that “No one can put an absolute stop to Kassam fire … but that doesn’t mean we have to remain helpless. We won’t let these [terrorist organizations] grow stronger.” The limited Beit Hanoun operation is an example of how Israel has and will continue to seek to ‘hamper’ Kassam attack capabilities.

In reaction, both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’ PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh referred to the Gaza operation as a ‘massacre’ and called for an end to the IDF’s operations throughout Gaza. Neither of them have demonstrated a sincere willingness or ability to bring an end to the Kassam attacks internally, however, which are at the root of the IDF operations.

President Abbas is looking to bring the pro-Fatah Jordanian-based Badr Brigades militia into Gaza. This may have an indirect impact on Kassam attacks from Gaza, as most are either Hamas operations or carried out with Hamas’ knowledge and approval by groups such as the Shi’a Palestinian Islamic Jihad. But the primary purpose of the insertion of the Jordanian Badr Brigades would be to counter Hamas for internal purposes, not for enhancing Israeli security and countering Kassam attacks.

Talk continues of American training and support for Abbas’ security forces as the internal conflict with Hamas is perceived as approaching widespread direct armed conflict. Haaretz reports that Fatah’s Force 17 has had 400 men in training in Jericho since August and that the United States wants Abbas to expand this force from 3,500 to about 6,000, so as to better be able to engage a growing Hamas.

While these developments unfold, talk of an Egyptian-negotiated prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas for the release of captured soldier Galid Shalit continues as it has for some months. And in Lebanon, UN-mediated talks between Hizballah and Israel are underway to negotiate yet another mass prisoner swap for the two IDF soldiers the Iran-founded terrorist group abducted in July.

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