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December 29, 2006

The Glasnost Ghost: Russia's Soviet Vision

Within the context of the emerging budding Russia-Iran alliance, where Moscow has placed its weight behind another rogue (and budding nuclear) threat to America and the West, Putin’s Kremlin openly seeks to deepen its ties and relationship with Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea, recently sanctioned for its nuclear weapons testing that was complete with Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders in attendance.

Russia’s newly appointed ambassador to North Korea Valery Sukhinin said, “Our goal is to develop and deepen these [Russian-North Korean] relations, despite the current situation.” Kim’s rogue communist regime, a former Soviet client state, maintained an outstanding debt of $8 billion to the now-defunct Soviet Union. To that effect, cash strapped Moscow is seeking remuneration of that debt to Russia, which views debts owed to the Soviet Union as now owed to the Russian state. “To develop our cooperation, we must settle debt for former loans,” Sukhinin said.

The sanctioned rogue regime in Pyongyang, heading the impoverished and underdeveloped but resource-rich state, continues to suffer the affects of massive investment into its nuclear weapons and long-range missile research and development that could have otherwise been used to further develop its own natural resource production industries. The regime has chosen instead to invest in illicit weapons trade and using its development as international extortion leverage to garner Western appeasement in the form of massive aid and relief, such as the agreement reached with the United States (and swiftly broken by North Korea) in the 1990’s, which included among other incentives increased fuel supplies and assistance, ironically, in developing its nuclear power program – which translated into furthering Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons development.

News of the Russian intent to solidify ties with the North Korean regime coincides with news of the North Korean sale of $28 million worth of domestically produced gold bullion, and the Russian mention of Pyongyang’s outstanding Soviet debt is surely not coincidental.

The North Korean gold bullion sales is seen as a loophole to the existing (and limited) UN sanctions on the already-closed state. If it can be sustained, the cash influx is believed to be enough to replace funds currently frozen in Asian banks as the result of US-initiated warnings over North Korean financial activities, including money laundering and the skilled counterfeiting of US currency. North Korea’s ability to sustain its gold trade in volume is questionable – though apparently not necessarily unlikely - considering the deteriorated state of its neglected mining operations, due in no small part to its priority investment in its weapons development programs instead.

Andrew Salmon warns in his Washington Times article that “if the amount earned from the Thai deal and the volumes sold in London in the 1980s and 1990s are any indication, Pyongyang should be able to comfortably generate sums equivalent to its frozen funds on a monthly basis.” Salmon notes the un-sanctioned foreign investment in North Korea’s mining industry, with investors seeking to develop profit from North Korea’s ample reserves of untapped gold ore. Such assistance also affords the regime a potentially increased cash flow that helps to negate international sanctions imposed for its dangerous behavior and threatening disposition.

For Russia’s part, Vladimir Putin is widely seen as attempting to reconstruct to former Soviet Union, in part by strong arming now-independent republics once part of the Soviet Union, such as through the pattern of sudden and punitive gas price hikes from Russia’s state-run Gazprom monopoly to the states during the bitter winter months, such as Georgia last year and now Belarus this year. Renewing and revitalizing its ties with North Korea – under the pretext of its $8 billion outstanding debt – can be seen as Russia’s attempt to also reconstruct the client nature of former Soviet communist satellite states.

Regardless of the degree to which Putin and the Russian state succeed in their gambit, from an American perspective, the concept of ‘Glasnost’ is an evaporated apparition. Considering its alignment with the anti-American Iranian regime – including the ongoing UN sanction-exempted construction of Iran’s nuclear facility in Bushehr - and current developments on the North Korean front, Russian leadership views itself as a direct competitor to the United States. Once seen as a potential ally in the global war on terror, Americans would do well to recognize this soberly and without reservation or delay.

December 28, 2006

Iran's Capitalism: Free Enterprise, Profit and Kassams

Rather than fuel their own population and economy with the productivity of competition, excellence and the resultant prosperity, the Iranian theocratic state has established Gaza as a Free Enterprise Zone for terrorists, utilizing Hizballah as a conduit for capitalism. Iran’s dominant hand in international terrorism is undeniable, both historically and in the present. Its supply of precision milled of armor-piercing explosives for roadside bombs in Iraq and the recent capture of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers evidence the mullah regime’s commitment to kill Americans in Iraq. Iran’s supply of Hizballah’s rocket and missile stores and other munitions for use against Israeli cities and civilians as well as the IDF remain undeniably evidenced over the summer.

And now, fresh Israeli intelligence indicates that Hizballah is paying Palestinian terrorists for Kassam attacks on Israel, with the per diem amount based in part on the number of Israeli civilians killed or wounded.
According to Israeli intelligence information, Hizbullah is smuggling cash into the Gaza Strip and paying “a number of unknown local splinter groups” for each attack.

Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) sources said the Islamist organization paid several thousand dollars for each attack, with the amount dependent on the number of Israelis killed or wounded.

“We know that Hizbullah is involved in funding terrorist activity in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank,” a security official said.

“Palestinian terrorists get thousands of dollars per attack. Sometimes they are paid before the attack and sometimes they submit a bill to Lebanon afterward and the money gets transferred a short while later.”
Shin Bet added that it has evidence Hizballah has been directly paying various splinter groups in Gaza for their deadly terrorist free enterprise endeavors - including the Popular Resistance Committees, responsible for the attack that netted the abduction of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit - while established terror groups such as Islamic Jihad are paid through their Damascus headquarters in Syria.

The Hizballah conduit for Iranian sponsorship of terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza is neither new nor secret. The young Jenin leader of Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorist group openly praised Iran’s assistance provided through Hizballah, adding that his West Bank terrorists and others coordinate their attacks with Hizballah and receive arms, funds and training from them. [English translation courtesy Vital Perspective.]

In the published remark that surely displeased his Iranian benefactors, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades’ youthful Jenin leader Zakariya Zubeidi proclaimed, “Without the help of our brothers in Hezbollah we could not have continued our struggle. They give us money and weapons. We coordinate our military operations.”

The recent Iran-sponsored Kassam rocket attacks from Gaza by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have been designed to provoke an Israeli military response, evidenced by the PIJ’s own public statements to that end. Embedded within the Gaza population and intently launching rocket attacks from their close proximity, the Palestinian Islmaic Jihad - and thus their Iranian sponsors - seek to sacrifice the lives of Palestinian civilians in order to provoke Israeli self defense that can be then manipulated into propaganda claiming Israeli war crimes on Palestinian civilians.

With yesterday’s resultant Israeli decision to allow the IDF to once again engage terrorists launching rocket attacks from Gaza, the various Palestinian terrorist groups and Iran are poised to reap their sinister reward, too often fueled by an international media that rarely dares look beyond the latest explosion.

Meanwhile, Hamas expands its terror Rolodex to include Pakistan’s al-Qaeda aligned Lashkar-e-Taiba and others while the terrorist group’s PA Prime Minister travels to Tehran successfully soliciting hundreds of millions in Iranian financing now cut off from Western donors.

While the world chooses to focus on the Iranian nuclear crisis, the West’s attention is misplaced without the proper context of the Iranian mullah regime’s relentless and pervasive sponsorship of international terrorism, from Iraq to Lebanon and from Gaza to Somalia and beyond. The list of victims is not limitted to the various terrorist target lists, but includes the citizens of Iran as well through a neglected economy that will not heal itself.

While still widely portrayed as an OPEC oil state in pursuit of nuclear technology, it must be recognized that terror is Iran’s chief export.

December 27, 2006

Reversal of Fortunes in Somalia: Mogadishu Siege

Ethiopia has emerged as the only nation willing to directly confront the al-Qaeda franchise Islamic Courts Union in Somalia, driving into the east African nation with tanks and pushing the Islamists and their fighters - including foreign terrorists poured in from around the Middle East - back to the eastern shores of Mogadishu.

After rolling though Somalia and driving the ICU out of Somali cities and towns along the way, Ethipian forces have pulled up and surrounded Mogadishu. A siege strategy like that once employed by the ICU on the last remaining Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) stronghold of Baidoa is being employed by Ethiopian forces. The stated intent is to avoid civilian losses.

But the Telegraph’s Mike Pflanz notes the likely futility of such a move “as Mogadishu sits on the Indian Ocean, allowing sympathetic foreign fighting forces to land on the beach to reinforce and re-arm” the Islamist forces via their al-Qaeda lifeline. An American-led naval blockade would greatly assist by sealing the fourth side of a three-sided Ethiopian siege effort.

But the United States is calling for a return to negotiations in Somalia, and it remains to be seen whether American naval forces will be ordered to assist the forward-leaning Ethiopian government and its unapologetic engagement of the Islamists seeking an al-Qaeda foothold on the Horn of Africa.

While noting American support of Ethiopian actions, State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos also signaled a less than forward-leaning American approach to action on the Horn by also saying, “We’ve instructed our ambassadors in the region to meet with governments to urge them to pressure Somalis to return to the negotiating table. We do not believe this can be resolved on the battlefield.” The African Union has demanded an outright withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia.

Speaking to the UN Security Council Tuesday, Kofi Annan’s special representative to Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, echoed such demands and calls. “Unless a political settlement is reached through negotiations, Somalia, I am afraid, will face a period of deepening conflict and heightened instability, which would be disastrous for the long-suffering people of Somalia, and could also have serious consequences for the entire region,’’ he said.

But the long-suffering people of Somalia face even greater long-term perils – as does the rest of the region and the world – through resumed inaction that would allow the Islamic Courts Union and its al-Qaeda ‘management’ to continue its progress, allowing an al-Qaeda terrorist foothold and Taliban-style Islamist rule over the whole of Somalia.

It must be recognized by Western leaders – most notably the United States – that the coveted ‘negotiation process’ is what permitted the ICU to harvest Somali territory for al-Qaeda in the first place. Negotiation must take place after the Islamists will has been broken in Somalia by force alone, not beforehand. For force is the language they speak with and the only language they have an ear for.

Israel Struggles With Attacks and Peace Overtures

Israel continues to hold back regarding Gaza operations as yet another rocket attack was launched from Gaza, the latest by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which injured two Israeli teenagers in Sderot. The PIJ claimed responsibility for the attack, claiming that it was in response for IDF actions in the West Bank.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to meet with his cabinet regarding the current state of the Gaza cease fire as Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz called for a reconsideration of Israel’s Gaza policy. Under current rules of engagement, IDF forces are not permitted to fire upon suspected rocket-launching terrorists seemingly in greater fear of Palestinian civilian collateral damage (and the global outcry that follows) than of the risk of injury or death to Israeli citizens. Israel’s military intelligence warned once again that Hamas is using the Gaza cease-fire to beef up military forces, saying that they are nearing semi-military capability. Haaretz reported that, according to IDF Brigadier General Sami Turjeman, there has “recently been a significant improvement in the terror groups’ capabilities regarding sniping, defense, launching anti-tank missiles, and other areas.”

The Hindustan Times reported that, according to a report in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Hamas has reached an agreement with Pakistani terror groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in a meeting between the two groups and a Hamas official in Pakistan over the summer.

The paper alleged that an agreement was reached, based on three points. One that Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and LeT will have the possibility of going to West Asia (Syria and Lebanon) to learn new terror techniques from Arab Mujahideens; second, Palestinian “elements” will seek refuge in the centres managed by the Pakistani outfits in the Waziristan area and third, there could be exchange of information relating to the use of explosives and the methods to smuggle them.

A recent pledge made by Olmert to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for dismantling 27 of the 400 IDF checkpoints has come under fire from the IDF forces charged with running them. Seeking to provide concession to Abbas in the greater effort to weaken Hamas within the PA government, the intent was to allow Palestinians greater freedom of movement. But this freedom of movement is precisely what the IDF seeks to avoid. The commanding general of the IDF’s Central Command, Major General Yair Naveh, protested saying, “You are asking me to remove a roadblock, and that damages my ability to thwart a terror attack. The roadblocks assist in thwarting and preventing the movement of wanted men in the West Bank.”

Responding to President Bush’s pledge to help create a Palestinian state within his term, the official Hamas English-language website published Hamas’ Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh’s outright dismissal of the concept, which was predicated around temporary borders until a settlement could be reached. HAMAS site statement disregarded the notion by declaring that “Washington should recognize the Palestinian people’s legitimate rights including establishment of a fully-sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, release of all prisoners and return of refugees.”

Washington has problems of its own regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict with US Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) meeting directly with Syria’s Bashar Assad in another congressional visit disregarding the president’s policy of no direct dialogue with the state sponsor of terror. Specter emerged declaring that Syria wants to sue for peace with Israel, repeating Assad’s overtures to the same. But Israeli intelligence – among others – is highly suspicious of the sudden reversal from the Syrian regime. While it is generally accepted that Syria seeks to regain the Golan Heights currently occupied by Israel, most Israeli observers dismiss as wishful thinking the premise that Syria’s Bashar Assad is seeking to distance himself from the Iranians and endear himself to the United States and Israel.

The Syrian dictator has ordered the wide-scale arrest of military officers and civilians. This is a move of self-preservation, and Assad has more to fear from an Iran capable of inspiring and launching an insurgency on his Allawite regime far more effectively and readily than the prospects of an IDF-led ground invasion.

December 11, 2006

Budding Alliance: Iran-Russia Cooperation Deepens

While the United States, Britain and France are said to begin a push to finally bring a sanctions vote on Iran before the United Nations Security Council, Russia and Iran today announced the deepening nature of their nuclear partnership. In meetings between the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Golam Reza Agazade, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Kiriyenko, the two increasingly close countries discussed ways to move forward and solidify their existing nuclear bond.

Iran’s Agazade said afterward that “Our cooperation has broad possibilities, and we are therefore determined to expand peaceful uses of nuclear energy.” Kiriyenko agreed, calling the discussions “successful,” and stressed that “The core element of our work is cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. So our meeting today is of special importance.”

In the face of looming sanctions, the “special importance” of the growing bonds between Iran and Russia goes beyond their own relationships and have increasing impact on long-term security concerns for the Middle East. Those security concerns transcend nuclear cooperation. Various weapons of Russian design and/or origin are employed by terrorist and insurgent forces throughout the region, from Russian anti-aircraft missiles used to shoot down a British Lynx helicopter in Basra to the Katyusha rockets used by Hizballah to bombard Israel’s civilian population.

Both Hamas and Hizballah have employed advanced Russian Kornet anti-tank rockets in attacks on Israeli Merkava tanks and in Iraq against American M1 Abrams tanks. With Hamas and Hizballah, some of the anti-tank rockets are believed to be Syrian rockets purchased from Russia and some are known to have been manufactured in Iran.

However, the growing Russian partnership with the world’s chief state sponsor of international terrorism goes largely unnoted unless it pertains to the Iranian nuclear program. Russia’s bond with Iran and its veto power and influence within the Security Council manifests itself in the revisions made to the already-sensitive original text of the sanctions proposals expected to be put forth to the UNSC for vote.

It was reported that all reference to the Russian construction of Iran’s nuclear facilities at Bushehr had been expunged from the initial sanctions proposal’s language. The revelations made by an anonymous source are now confirmed, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has now said that the Iran sanctions will not affect the $1 billion Russian nuclear project on Iran’s Persian Gulf coast. Lavrov stated that “As far as Bushehr is concerned, Bushehr has no relation to the current resolution.”

An emboldened Iran – buttressed by their seemingly unwavering Russian support – continues to bound forward in its nuclear pursuits and has announced that it intends to create a 100,000-centrifuge cascade for enriching uranium, up significantly from its previous claims of wanting a 60,000 centrifuge cascade. Ahmadinejad also announced that Iran is currently installing a 3,000 centrifuge cascade as a step in that direction. This is a significant claimed upgrade from its current 164-centrifuge cascade that is said to be plagued with setbacks not unlike other countries who have developed nuclear weapons capabilities.

But as far as overall Middle Eastern security issues are concerned, Lavrov’s words should serve as an indirect clarion, warning of an increasing closeness between an returning American nemesis and the world’s foremost state sponsor of international terrorism. The budding Russia-Iran alliance has direct relation to not only Iran’s ability to bound towards the capability to produce nuclear weapons but also a direct relation to Iran’s ability to arm terrorists throughout the region, Shi’a and Sunni alike.

Iraqi Leaders Respond to Baker-Hamilton Report

While the Baker-Hamilton Commission report continues to be debated within the United States, recent days have seen almost universal rejection of the report’s recommendations from Iraqi leaders. Kurdish and Shi’a leaders have been especially critical, and even Shi’a figures with ties to Iran have stated that the report’s recommendation of direct U.S.-Iranian dialogue on Iraq should be postponed.

Perhaps the strongest and most particularized rejection of the Baker-Hamilton report was given by Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish autonomous region. As reported in the Iraqi newspaper Al-Rafidayn, Barzani issued a point by point rebuttal of the report’s recommendations. Noting that none of the members of the Commission had even visited the Kurdish areas of Iraq, Barzani’s chief criticisms included the recommendation that the Iraqi constitution be amended and Iran and Syria be allowed a direct role in shaping Iraq. Barzani’s administration has cordial relations with Iran, but is often at odds with Tehran over the treatment of Iranian Kurds and Iran’s current informal role in Iraq.

Barzani’s fellow Kurd, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, also strongly rejected the report’s recommendations in comments to the Associated Press (New York Sun/AP). Criticizing several aspects of the report, Talabani called it “an insult to the people of Iraq.” Among other things, he, like Shi’a leaders, called for Iraqi security forces to take more responsibility for security.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hushari Zubari, who is also Kurdish, spoke to Al-Hayat about the report on the sidelines of an investor conference he was attending in Morocco (see: Zubari Worries About Interference of Syria and Iran in Iraqi Affairs). Describing the report as “rather superficial,” and “not dealing with the full picture in Iraq,” Zubari said that he agreed with the acceleration of the training of Iraqi forces (apparently interpreting it differently than Talabani in this regard), but worried about recommendations dealing with Syria and Iran. Saying that U.S. relations with these countries was “America’s business,” he feared that they would exact a “price” for their cooperation in Iraq that Iraqis would have to pay.

Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of Iraq’s largest political faction, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIIRI), visited Washington when the report was being released. Hakim presented his views in detail in a speech before the U.S. Institute of Peace on December 4 (full text in English, full text in Arabic). Hakim argued that a winning strategy in Iraq required more forceful attacks against Sunni terrorists, saying that up until now coalition and Iraqi Security Forces operations against al-Qaeda and other Sunni terrorists were too weak, allowing them to continue to strike at Iraqis. Hakim has consistently supported the U.S. presence in Iraq but often criticized the U.S. for what he views as excessive restrictions on the role of Iraqi forces.

According to a Dec. 6 article in Al-Hayat, Hakim brought with him a letter from Tehran regarding its role in Iraq, saying that he could be a mediator between the U.S. and Iran, although the article contained no further information on the contents of the letter. The Washington Post has also published excerpts of an interview it held with Hakim. The Post quotes Hakim as saying that some elements of the report are the same or close to the Iraqi government, some are inaccurate, underplaying the political progress which Iraqis have made.

A Dec. 9 article from Al-Hayat (“SCIRI Emphasizes Stengthening Maliki Government Before Any U.S.-Iran Dialogue”) surveyed remarks given in mosques by a large number of Shi’a clerics, including both SCIRI representatives and grand ayatollahs who stand above the political fray. The general tenor was one of strong rejection of the Baker-Hamilton report, emphasizing the need for a “national solution” and not a “foreign imported one.” It quoted Shaikh Mahmud al-Sumaid’i of the Mother of Villages Mosque in Baghdad as remarking that it sought “‘to solve the American crisis in Iraq without regard to Iraq itself,’” putting forward nothing but ‘half solutions’” to problems. SCIRI leaders emphasized that any U.S.-Iranian dialogue over Iraq should wait until the Iraqi government was strengthened.

Shaikh Sadr al-Din al-Qabnaji of Najaf criticized the report’s impatience, saying that Iraqis stood firm because the shedding of innocent blood was not new, but continued from the days of Saddam, yet “we had no voice and no one talked about us then.” A representative of the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who supports the Maliki government, said that the revered cleric did not approve of the government’s current handling of the differences between the political factions, but that he also did not support a solution from outside.

Prime Minister Maliki himself emphasized that the only solution to Iraq’s problems was through the strengthening of Iraq’s current government, not its amendment or its replacement by a authoritarian “national salvation government,” as advocated by some Sunnis (Karbala News Agency).

Some comments by Iraqi officials indicate that they are working toward some of the goals of the Baker-Hamilton Commission through their own means, as Iraqi leaders may be nearing an agreement on oil resource management. While Kurdish leaders have forcefully rejected the Commission’s recommendations on the centralization of power over Iraq’s oil resources, the New York Times reports that Iraqi officials have reached the outlines of an agreement on a draft law allowing for oil revenue to be distributed to the provinces according to population rather than location, since most of Iraq’s oil reserves are located in the Shi’a south and Kurdish north. The article indicates that Kurdish leaders are insisting, however, that the provinces have final say over the approval of oil contracts and that the draft has not been given final approval.

Al-Rafidayn is also reporting that Foreign Minister Zubari has announced that in four months time Baghdad will host a regional conference assuming all sides can agree to it. This might be seen as an attempt by Baghdad to take the initiative and give itself the ability to set the parameters of any discussion with Syria and Iran over the future of Iraq, rather than allowing Washington to do so.

December 8, 2006

Iran Fueling Hamas And Hizballah Toward Conflict

As the United Nations makes an about-face, launching “the third-largest fundraising campaign in the world” in order to provide aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government, Hamas’ PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is in Tehran meeting with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The recognition of Israel’s right to exist has been the principle demand of international donors - presumably including the United Nations - who have cut off funds since the terrorist group was freely elected into power.

Just as Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas appears ready to plan for early elections in order to oust the Hamas terrorist organization from power through a Palestinian vote, the effect of the United Nations’ massive fund-raising effort may prove to be the economic relief that assures Hamas’ continued grip on power in the Palestinian territories.

From Iran, which has provided Hamas with a reported $120 million since their January election into power, Hamas’ Haniyeh vowed before an approving audience to continue its violent jihad and maintain its steadfast refusal to recognize “the Zionist entity.” After reiterating that the United States and Israel demand the renunciation of terrorism and the recognition of Israel, the Hamas leader said, “I’m insisting from this podium that these issues won’t materialize. We will never recognize the usurper Zionist government and will continue our jihad-like movement until the liberation of Jerusalem.”

Iran has exerted increasing influence in the Palestinian territories, principally in Gaza through Hamas, with the acquiescence gained by ignoring international calls and becoming the principal source of funds for the Hamas-led government. Iran has also aided in arming the Hamas terrorists with tons of explosives, small arms, millions of rounds of ammunition and advanced anti-tank rockets, such as those used in the Popular Resistance Committees’ raid that resulted in the abduction of still-captive IDF corporal Gilad Shalit.

Iran has also spent hundreds of millions arming (and re-arming) Hizballah terrorists and building their infrastructure in Lebanon. Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah vowed to continue the terrorist group’s street protests in Beirut, which seeks to collapse the current Lebanese government in order to reform it under a Syria-friendly Hizballah banner. Of the protest still ongoing since last week, Nasrallah said, “We will not be dragged into any kind of strife even if you kill a thousand of us. We will not raise weapons in the face of anyone.” But many Lebanese dismiss the peaceful façade presented by Nasrallah and Hizballah, fearing that what the group seeks is to incite attacks and a civil war in which Hizballah – the strongest military/terrorist force in Lebanon - would have a decided upper hand.

But while Nasrallah continues to foment unrest and rally Shi’a protesters in Beirut, reportedly from a command center inside the Iranian embassy, Hizballah’s original secretary general now rejected by Hizballah leadership, Sheik Sobhi Tufeili, lashed out at Hizballah’s role as a subservient pawn to Iranian desires. While saying that the Shi’a of Lebanon, Afghanistan and elsewhere are looked down upon by Tehran and used as their pawns, Tufeili said, “The relationship of Hezbollah with Iran is [one of] complete, loyal submission,” and added that non-Iranian Shi’a – including most of all his former group, Lebanon’s Hizballah – are expendable to their Iranian masters “if they need 1,000 Shiites to be killed here, or 1,000 Shiites to be killed there.”

Tufeili was expelled from Hizballah for his strong objections to its entering the Lebanese political process and the group’s increased drift toward the Iranian mullahs and Syria – which he saw as too moderate. But while Hizballah’s first secretary general is even more radical than the current leadership and wanted by both Lebanon and the United States, his observations of the state of Hizballah are accurate and important.

The radical Shi’a sheikh said, “They [Iran] use the Shiites all over the world for their purposes, just as the USSR used to do with communist parties all over the world. Today, Iran sacrifices these Islamic parties for their benefit.” In the interview which produced these quotes, Sheikh Tufeili defended the Siniora government and was described by Amal Saad Ghorayeb of the Carnegie Middle East Center as “a March 14 man now,” referring to the pro-democracy Cedar Revolution movement that Hizballah seeks to topple with its current protests.

Tufeili concluded, “I beg [Iran] to leave us. Don’t take us into civil war. If you can’t leave us, don’t harm us. We’re fed up with wars and destruction.” His are words falling on deaf Persian ears.

December 7, 2006

Bush Rejects ISG Call For Iran Talks

In a press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bush rejected the Iraq Study Group’s call of direct talks with Iran without preconditions. Stating that there is a way for Iran to begin engaging the United States diplomatically, the President reaffirmed “that if they would like to engage the United States, that they’ve got to verifiably suspend their enrichment program.” Iran is currently engaging the United States and Britain militarily through its Iraqi proxies, Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades.

The Iraq Study Group Report recommended that “the United States should engage directly with Iran and Syria in order to try to obtain their commitment to constructive policies toward Iraq and other regional issues.” It suggested various incentives, including admission of Iran into the WTO, which presumes other WTO members would agree. Of the six incentives suggested, three of them were termed as “prospects,” including the “prospect of a U.S. policy that emphasizes political and economic reforms instead of advocating regime change,” the “prospects for enhanced diplomatic relations with the United States,” and the “prospects for a real, complete, and secure peace to be negotiated between Israel and Syria, with U.S. involvement.”

Hinting at preconditions beyond the nuclear issue, President Bush said plainly, “If they want to sit down at the table with the United States, it’s easy. Just make some decisions that’ll lead to peace, not to conflict.” The US administration’s position was summed up concisely adding, “And if people are not committed, if Syria and Iran is not committed to that concept, then they shouldn’t bother to show up.”

A group of British Parliament ministers also spoke against talks with Iran. Lord Corbett, the chairman of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom, employed an even greater economy of words. Regarding the called-for Iran talks, he said, “The golden rule is… don’t talk to terrorists.”

But Co-Chairman of the Iraq Study Group James Baker said today that President Bush authorized him to approach the Iranians to evaluate their interest in talks with the United States. He said, “And they, in effect, said, ‘we would not be inclined to help you this time around.’” Senator Joe Lieberman said that he was skeptical of Iran’s desire to actually help America in Iraq, saying, “They are, after all, supporting Hizballah, which gathers people in the square in Beirut to shout ‘Death to America.’” Senator John McCain added, “I don’t believe that a peace conference with people who are dedicated to your extinction has much short-term gain.”

Perhaps the most salient observation regarding the productive prospects of negotiating with Iran comes from the Iraq Study Group Report itself, which quotes (pg. 25) an Iraqi politician telling them, “Iran is negotiating with the United States in the streets of Baghdad.”

December 4, 2006

Hizballah Protests As Missiles Trucked In

As Hizballah has pitched tent in Beirut, ensuring that the massive protests continue to disrupt the Lebanese political process and institutions. A one Hizballah protester was killed after gunfire erupted when the Shi’a demonstrators took their discontent down the streets of a Sunni neighborhood in Beirut.

With the mass protest outside his offices demanding his resignation, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora has vowed to remain in office throughout the protests. Lebanon’s prime minister criticized the Hizballah protests saying, “A solution to any problem does not come through the street because this means might trigger a counter-means and therefore, we will not reach any result.”

Abu Kais provides translation of a report in the pro-government Al-Mustaqbal newspaper that a man who had shouted insulting comments about Hizballah leader Hassan Nassrallah, prompting a chase through the streets by 300 Hizballah supporters, was captured by the Lebanese army and found to be “a Syrian citizen by the name of Hamzah Mohamad Sadeq Ismail.” The paper reported that the incident was an attempt by Syrian intelligence to create violent clashes between the Shi’a Hizballah and Beirut Sunnis.

It is not beyond comprehension or logic to suspect Syrian instigation in Beirut, such as unconfirmed reports that three Syrians were arrested for throwing rocks onto Hizballah and Amal protesters from the roof of a Beirut building. But Syria is also preparing Hizballah for a larger engagement with Israel. The Jerusalem Post reports that Syria continues smuggling long-range missiles as well as short and medium range rockets to Hizballah in the unguarded dark of night. Such activities are invited and to be expected when UNIFIL troops do not conduct night operations. Along with new stores of small arms, explosives and fresh Russian-made anti-tank rocket stores, Iran and Syria are renewing Hizballah’s capabilities to engage Israel.

Though it appears unlikely that the current street protests will net Hizballah a coup by themselves, Hizballah – by Iranian and Syrian direction – may once again resort to the unifying effect of an Israeli conflict to further its political ambition within Lebanon. The affects of the Hizballah protests are quite localized to certain parts of Beirut, and much to the chagrin of the Islamist terrorist group, a marathon was run in the streets of Beirut over the weekend, protest or none. But there will be no marathons during a Hizballah war with Israel.

Across the sectarian religious spectrum in Lebanon, Israel is seen as the biggest threat to Lebanon (82%), with the United States closely behind (60%), according to a Brookings Institute poll taken in Lebanon in mid-November. While Christian and Druze respondents named Syria as the #2 threat, they followed the Lebanese Shi’a and Sunni in also naming Israel as the top threat.

With Israel serving as such a unifying factor among Lebanese, if the Hizballah stores are as replenished as has been reported (above the levels before the summer war with Israel) and the street protests stall, Hizballah may provoke an Israeli strike again in order to capitalize on the angst toward Jewish state. Many view recent events and conclude that Hizballah and Hamas are preparing for a coordinated two-front attack on Israel, an attack that may come sooner rather than later.

Gaza Cease-Fire Crumbling

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas threatened to end the weeklong Gaza Strip cease-fire Sunday, during which Qassam rocket fire into Israel has continued, though at a much lower rate. Virtually all of the Palestinian factions have demanded that the Gaza cease-fire be expanded to include the West Bank. Israel has steadfastly refused to end policing operations there and has been met with increased resistance.

Hamas called off all talks with Fatah centered on forming a new unity Palestinian government, saying that the ceasefire has been observed to the detriment of the Palestinians, claiming violations by Israel. Arutz Sheva reports that Hamas distributed a flier to Palestinians to make the statement.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) warned of renewing its attacks on Israel ‘in the coming hours’, also citing Israeli violations, and called on other Palestinian factions to renew their attacks on Israel as well. PIJ spokesman Abu Ahmed said, “The calm is on the edge of collapse due to the continued Zionist violations and the attacks against our Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza. Nobody should blame [Islamic Jihad] for any reaction its brigades take in the coming hours in response to the violations by the Zionist occupation.” The PIJ has fired several Qassams into Israel since the cease-fire.

Stating that Israel was “strong enough to allow the restraint to continue,” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has chosen to continue observing the Gaza cease-fire regardless of the Palestinian developments and calls for renewed attacks. His decision is embodied by Israeli Defense Minister Peretz’s changes to the rules of engagement for IDF troops, who made effective a change that allows the IDf soldiers to fire upon only terrorists that are preparing to launch Qassam rockets or pose a direct threat to IDF troops.

In the Cabinet meeting, Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni argued for the restraint on the basis of considering international public opinion. She said that Israel should “tell our friends in Europe that the cease-fire is broken on a continuous basis by the Palestinians, and that is something we are emphasizing. But it is equally important, because of our responsibility for the lives of Israelis, to take the right decisions with an eye on the future.” The European Union is consistently critical of Israeli operations.

But others were opposed to both the new rules of engagement and the continued ‘turn the other cheek’ observation of the cease-fire. Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter argued that the continued lack of response to Qassam attacks betray the “very definition of self-defense.” Defense minister Amir Peretz offered also that Israel could not be expected to continue its restraint for “much longer” in the face of continuing attacks.

It is feared that the cease-fire is being used by Gaza terrorists of all stripes to focus on re-arming through smuggled weapons that have found their way into Gaza via tunnels beneath the Gaza/Egypt border. It is feared and speculated that the next round of the conflict will include a much better armed and prepared Hamas-led Palestinian front from Gaza and the West Bank simultaneous with a northern front with a resumption of the war with Hizballah.

December 1, 2006

Hizballah Mobilizes Masses Into Beirut

Hizballah supporters reportedly numbering in the hundreds of thousands have hit the streets of Beirut in the latest move by Hizballah to unseat the anti-Syrian-majority government of Lebanon. The ultimate goal for Hizballah inside Lebanon is to replace the current democracy with a Shi’a theocracy in the mold of their creators, the Iranian mullah regime. The destruction of Israel is another goal of Hizballah.

The Hizballah Program, originally released in its full form in 1985, states openly that “[T]he Zionist entity is aggressive from its inception, and built on lands wrested from their owners, at the expense of the rights of the Muslim people. Therefore our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated.” Hizballah is an Iranian creation, formed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force, the unit primarily responsible for ‘exporting the revolution’ and maintaining Iran’s international terrorism infrastructure.

Hizballah continues to operate nearly exclusively at the behest of Iranian purse stings, either directly or through Syrian interlocutors. Since the summer war with Israel left Hizballah’s missile and rocket stores largely consumed or destroyed in place, intelligence reports have indicated that, in just the matter of a few short months, Iran and Syria have restored the Lebanese terrorist group’s rocket and missile stocks to levels beyond what they were even before the war began. This is largely believed to be in preparation for resumed conflict within months and has taken place in large part because UNIFIL forces remain indifferent and, by their own admission, do not conduct operations at night. Combined with the Lebanese Army’s refusal to disarm the stronger and emboldened Hizballah terrorist force, the result is little to no internal deterrence and Hizballah indifference toward verbal protests beyond Lebanon’s borders.

At this point, however, Hizballah is not yet ready for open internal confrontation inside Lebanon. Hizballah “disciplinary members” formed a human chain to prevent violent clashes as they stood between the protesting throngs and Lebanese security forces protecting key buildings. Hizballah’s weeks-long public calls for street protests have attracted a wave of predominantly Shi’a protesters into Beirut. As Hizballah provided buses and free gas cards, observers in Beirut say that most of the protesters drove in from the Bekaa Valley along the eastern border with Syria and from southern Lebanon.

The intent is clear: To bring down the current Lebanese government through the intimidation of street protests. “We’re here to bring down the government. We, the resistance, don’t want any influence from the United States,” on street protester declared.

Another Hizballah protester said, “We’re protesting so that the government knows that nobody wants Siniora.” But to that end, there are even some Lebanese Shi’a who want Hizballah even less. Abu Kais, for example, speaks plainly and openly of his fears for Lebanon saying “My emotions are clearly running high. All I see in front me, as a Lebanese Shia, is Nasrallah’s face as he kidnaps my child into the servitude of his dark lords.” Kais has little confidence in the ability of Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora and the “March 14” coalition Anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians to stem the Hizballah tide. But he calls for a like response from the grassroots anti-Syrian & anti-Hizballah citizen base of the Cedar Revolution to form, once again as in 2005, mass citizen protests to match Hizballah, “tit-for-tat.” He is not alone, and the common destination offered is Baabda, the presidential palace of Syrian puppet and Lebanese President, Emil Lahoud.

“March 14, mobilize the masses to Baabda. Resume the Cedar Revolution,” Kais pleads, hoping that relatively peaceful mass counter-marches can avert an all out civil war by demonstrating to Hizballah that they will not go unchallenged.

Hizballah, with three decades of Iranian and Syrian investment and sponsorship, is clearly the most dominant fighting force in Lebanon – and many say the most effective and motivated Arab fighting force in the whole of the Middle East, including the standing armies of regional Arab states. But they have not gone completely unchallenged, as regional Sunni states and Western countries have been funneling support into Lebanon for oppositional forces. The United States, France and various Arab states have contributed money, equipment and weapons to many Lebanese sources, including the Lebanese government’s Internal Security Forces. The Los Angeles Times reports that Lebanon has added over 11,000 troops to its security forces through this support, nearly doubling its size from only three months ago.

Whether the Hizballah protests remain peaceful is an unknown. However, regardless of the support for Lebanese government forces, there is little deterrence preventing Hizballah from sparking the chaos of a civil war that tilts decisively in their violent and well-armed favor should mere protests fail to bring about the fall of the government they have vowed to topple and supplant. They Israeli reaction to an emerging Iranian-client Islamist state in Lebanon (beyond what is accepted currently as ‘Hizballistan’ south of the Litani River) would likely be swift and lack the timidity and/or caution displayed in the summer war in southern Lebanon.

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