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December 31, 2006

Morale, Media and Inversion

With thanks to the Mudville Gazette, the following observation from Michael Yon is both encouraging and depressing.

This war is strange. I never hear soldiers worried about their own morale sagging. Contrary, the war-fighters here are more concerned to bolster the morale of the people at home. Here in Kuwait, where the dining facilities are bedecked in Christmas decorations, soldiers stream in from Iraq on convoys and stream back north along those bomb-laden roads. The service members here are not all rear-echelon people who never see fighting or blood. Yet their overall morale obviously is high. Few of them know I am a writer, and so they speak freely at the tables around me. In Qatar, from which I just departed, I spoke with troops taking four-day R&R passes, some having just returned from the most dangerous parts of Iraq, and others heading straight back, and their overall morale was also very high. The morale at war is higher than I have ever seen it at home; makes me wonder what they know that most Americans seem to be missing.

Michael's observation serves to expose once again the central and critical role the media - in all forms - plays in the conflict that has been thrust upon us.

December 28, 2006

A Special Operations Leadership Recommendation

Sage advice today comes from forward leaners as President Bush announces that his National Security team is 'making good progress toward coming up with a plan' to move forward in Iraq. Retired Major General Paul Vallely and national security analyst Fred Gedrich urge the President to appoint Special Operations officers to lead the global war and the Iraq theater, as was the design and intent of Secretary Rumsfeld's USSOCOM charter.

Unlike U.S.-led coalition troops, the adversaries in this war do not carry arms openly, wear uniforms or insignias and abide by other laws and customs of wars specified in Geneva Conventions and protocols. They instill fear in military opponents and local populations through use of suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices, kidnappings and beheadings. And they disguise themselves as civilians and hide among civilian populations with weapons stored and discharged from mosques, schools, hospitals, marketplaces, private residences and public roads.

To prevail, the United States has to transition from a conventional to an unconventional war footing and make the enemy pay a heavy price for its despicable tactics. In Iraq and elsewhere, traditional troops, weapons and tactics are less useful than tools of influence, covert operations and intelligence brought to the battlefield by special operators working harmoniously with indigenous forces and local populations. The prime objective is to create a climate of fear within enemy ranks that breaks its will to continue the armed insurrection against the freely elected Iraqi government...

...It's time to alter U.S. strategy by putting USSOCOM generals and admirals truly in command of the global war. And in Iraq, conventional forces could best serve by providing ground, air and sea support to USSOCOM and Iraqi security forces and sealing Iraq's porous borders with hostile and/or dubious neighbors in Iran, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to prevent foreign jihadists, arms and sophisticated munitions from entering the country.

An Ethiopian Lesson on Will

The reversal of fortunes against the Islamist offensive in Somalia that Ethiopia has provided is a welcome surprise. The surprise is not so much that driving back the ICU was possible following their roughshod over the majority of Somalia. It is rather that any nation mounted the resolve to do so with the determination necessary, sans apology. At hand is a lesson for the West in the invaluable nature of both will and principle in this conflict as well as an opportunity to evaluate the West’s own arrogant definition of peace.

Setting the stage, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Richard Miniter have collaborated to provide a well written report at Pajamas Media outlining precisely Why Ethiopia is Winning in Somalia.

The American intelligence officer who earlier predicted the transitional government’s defeat tells Pajamas Media that there are two major reasons why both he and the ICU underestimated the Ethiopian military.

First, Ethiopia’s air power was decisive. Over the weekend, Ethiopian jets attacked several airports used by the ICU, and struck recruiting centers and other strategic targets in ICU-run towns. Professor Ali reports that the ICU’s shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons are unable to hit Ethiopia’s aircraft at high altitudes. While the ICU may have some surface-to-air missiles, these devices would be quite old—and complex Soviet weaponry tends to degrade.

But even more important than the fighter jets, the intelligence officer said, is Ethiopia’s use of Mi-24 Hind helicopter gun ships that can target the ICU’s ground forces. While the ICU might use rocket-propelled grenades against helicopters, as we saw in the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident, thus far the ICU claims to have shot down a single Ethiopian helicopter.

Second, the military intelligence officer said that he underestimated Ethiopia’s willingness to commit to the fight against the ICU. “This campaign is far more far-sighted than we expected,” he said. “They didn’t just do this on the fly; they had to have been planning this for several weeks. This is a major commitment.”

Outlined are major reasons for both the current success and the likely future difficulties a beaten Islamic Courts Union al-Qaeda 'franchise' will have in mounting an insurgency on par with that in Iraq. It is Thursday's Global Conflict 'must-read.'

But the most important lesson that Western observers - Americans in particular - must clearly understand is that the decisive factor is no more complex than a matter of will.

For all the tactical and strategic military (and Somali social) elements that have contributed to the recent and continuing reversal of events, it is this steeled Ethiopian will that lies at the heart of each success as the days unfold.

Too often, the West cedes the battle of will to the Islamist enemy. Though rarely directly or openly, the tenor of Western discourse bears this truth self-evident. It is wholly unnecessary and a potentially fatal flaw that is not irreversible.

Perhaps the West is due the conscious acknowledgement once and for all that surrendering populations to the rule of fanatic Islamists who "threatened to behead citizens who failed to pray five times a day" is not a 'peaceful' resolution to the citizens in question. In instances such as this, non-violent and equally fruitless negotiation - such as that being called for now, even by the US State Department - is only 'peaceful' to those who display reluctance to engage their violent oppressors in the manner which the terrorist enemies engage the populations and governments they seek to dominate.

The absence of our engagement is a wholly arrogant and self-serving definition of peace and devoid of principle. Those who are guided by a fear of perceived American arrogance through her actions often arrive at the same result through their guidance toward inaction, comfortably removed from remaining conflict with clean and distant hands, eyes averted.

Take from the Ethiopian advance the lesson of will.

For to cede will firmly grounded in principle is to cede victory to the enemy and embrace defeat for ourselves, sentencing entire populations to violent defeat today in an emboldened enemy's march toward us tomorrow.

We avert our eyes and distance our hands at our own peril - and theirs.

December 26, 2006

ThreatsWatch Operations Resuming, Interview

With the Holiday season drawing to a close and the Center for Threat Awareness Iraq report nearly completed, the publishing side of ThreatsWatch is in the process of resuming normal operations, including NewsBriefs, RapidRecon, InBrief reports as well as other efforts. One of the most difficult parts of resuming operations that cover such vast topical areas is deciding where to start. Much has transpired in the two weeks of limited publishing activity. To that end, two developing situations are currently being actively tracked for in-depth coverage, and other topics will be covered as time permits.

First, US forces detained Iranians in Iraq during raids in Baghdad last Thursday. This is troubling news on one hand, but wholly expected on the other. But as Michael Ledeen correctly notes, the troubling news is once again of an inward source rather than the Iranian development itself. An unnamed administration source in the article is quoted as saying, “It’s our position that the Iraqis have to seize this opportunity to sort out with the Iranians just what kind of behavior they are going to tolerate. They are going to have to confront the evidence that the Iranians are deeply involved in some of the acts of violence.” The question, more pointedly, is What is the United States going to do about it?

A second item that has raised concerns is a Middle East Newsline report (full text here) that the United States has effectively cut off arms and technology transfers to Israel. The reaction has been varied, much of it in grave concern that the United States is turning its back on Israel. This is most likely and overreaction based more on what would be a very valid concern (if the report is/were true and its tone accurate) rather than known facts.

Israpundit has republished a Cale Hahn article which opens, "It won’t be long now. There is a palpable, nauseating sense of inevitability in the air. President Bush’s well-intentioned, but foolishly naive vision of a new Middle East based on democracy is in flames." The MENL article hinged on a direct link between a Bush administration rift with Israel over the Hizballah campaign over the summer.

But much is unknown - including attribution to anonymous sources claiming such rifts as well as what specific weapons systems have been effectively ordered by Israel but remain unapproved and undelivered. Those who know the precise answer to the latter definitively know the nature of the situation, which most certainly has much more to do with Israeli defense transfers and trade with China than all other real, feared or imagined causes combined. Mentioned specifically in the MENL article were various new JDAM weapons. It is understandable that the United States does not want this technology wandering into Chinese hands.

A wholesale transformation on American policy towards Israel – which is what the wide reaction to the MENL story is based upon - is not likely to occur (relatively) overnight. (For instance, consider: Bush OKs Law Blocking Aid to Hamas Gov't.)

I will be speaking to this issue in more depth tonight in an interview on The Front Line with Kit Jarrell tonight on her 10PM EST show, also available later in podcast form. Other potential guests may tentatively include Cale Hahn (above article author) and a retired IDF major, among others.

December 25, 2006

Controversies Regarding Identity Cards and Programs Continue

On the one hand, experts would say that the development and roll out of the Transit Workers Identity Cards (T.W.I.C.) and the Common Access Credential (C.A.C.) are sailing along and show how our post-September 11th security is being strengthened. Yet, there continue to be publicized issues concerning the effectiveness of these programs, as well as the technologies deployed. Further, even if the federal identity credential programs are actually “on track,” questions about the implementation of the Real ID Act of 2005 on a state and local level remain (more detailed discussion below). Specifically, the estimated costs to the states to implement the Real ID Act of 2005 exceed $11 billion. A number of states are balking at this new pass along mandate. Beyond that, some people question the privacy of such steps. Add to that the on-going debate about the format that the RFID (Radio Frequency Identity Chip) should take in the new e-passports and you have quite a mixed picture. Is a National ID card in our future? If it is, whose version will win out?

What is all of the controversy over? To an extent, it probably all comes down to money. But this battle (or perhaps, better, a debate) is both a matter of National Security and a question of two separate technological approaches to providing secure identification cards for travelers and workers.

Of course, the stakes are quite high, not only from a security point-of-view, but also because of the massive amounts of money being spent,(past, current and projected into the future). According to an industry report from Morgan Keegan written in 2005, the estimated size of the market for tracking and identifying individuals was approximately $5.8 billion, projected to grow by approximately 22% annually and reaching $10.7 billion by 2007. The report projected the demand for ID documents to grow by more than 40% annually.

So, what are the questions about the TWIC? According to a recent article in Washington Technology, Error rates cause havoc for TWIC roll-out

Two problems are paramount. First, there are worries that TWIC smart cards, which use a personal identification number and must be inserted into a reader, won’t work properly in the harsh, salty air of marine environments. DHS officials, in response, withdrew the card readers from the initial TWIC deployment. They now are working with industry and port authority officials to develop standards for contactless TWIC readers to avoid the problems of corrosion from salt air and water. Second, serious concerns are surfacing about the 1 percent system error rate inherent in FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standards Publication) 201. That figure reflects a 1 in 100 false acceptance rate, and 1 in 100 false rejection rate. Those rates are published in the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Special Publication 800-76, incorporated in the FIPS 201 standard.

What does this mean? Compliance with the FIPS 201 standard (1% error rate) might have no appreciable impact when a single worker is attempting to access a building. However, that same error rate when applied to port facilities could lead to havoc and significant delays (consider a facility processing 300 trucks per hour therefore having to deal with three errors during that single timeframe). Reference should also be made to the related HSP 12 (Homeland Security Directive 12 – “Policy for a Common Identification Standard for Federal Employees and Contractors”).

"We've got vehicles backed up five to seven deep, so you'd have to pull someone out of line and let them through, because you cannot back out. And some of the ports have only one lane," said Lisa Himber, vice president for the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay. "We'd certainly be concerned about the potential for a lot of false reads, and one in 100 is a pretty large number."

Additionally, the Department of Defense is in the process of rolling out its Common Access Card (C.A.C.). Many people believe that the C.A.C. came about as a result of September 11th, and yet the original forms of the C.A.C. were released in early 2001. The existing C.A.C. covers all Department of Defense “populations and has a multiplicity of uses:

· As the identity card for all DoD personnel.

· As the Geneva convention card for Active Duty military and other OCONUS personnel.

· As the benefits and privileges card for Uniformed Services and DoD Civilian personnel.

· As an ePurse for cashless transactions, which was evidenced in a recent pilot between DMDC, the U.S. Treasury, and the Marine Corps.

· For logical access to DoD networks, websites, applications, and computers. Also, the CAC will enable logical access to other Federal resources that are interoperable with FIPS 201.

· For physical access to DoD facilities and bases worldwide. Also, the CAC will facilitate physical access to other Federal installations that are interoperable with FIPS 201.

· For non-repudiation to promote data and information sharing.

· To digitally sign e-mail and other electronic forms for paperless office transactions.

· To encrypt e-mail and other documents for security and privacy purposes.

· To authenticate to multiple data sources through backend transactions, which is the real power of the CAC. The use of the credential plus multi-factor authentication promotes more efficient information sharing and more secure collaboration.

· To protects the release of private information. Personal information cannot be accessed on the chip without the cardholder providing his/her PIN.

Before going on to the discussion of contact versus contactless identity credentials, one additional piece of information should be known:

The next generation CAC, which will roll out by Oct. 27, will be a dual interface card containing both contact and contactless technologies. Contactless pilots are in place in different parts of the country with different areas of the armed services testing the technology in CAC environments.

The card will contain two fingerprints, a photograph, and the cardholder unique identifier (CHUID), she said. It will also allow for electronic signature verification.

But not everyone will be credentialed immediately. It will take three years–the card's specified lifespan–before everyone enjoys the benefits of the dual interface CAC, says Ms. Prince. "We have a legacy system and we're not going to flip to the new one right away. As your card expires you'll get a new card."

"We see the contactless technology revolutionizing the physical access component of the card, while the contact side will continue to be used for logical access," she said. "What we'll see is a flattening of physical access options. They will become more standard. The key is interoperability, utilizing the CHUID."

This means that the combination of the contact and contactless technologies would enable the use of the same credential at one facility where different levels of identity authentication was warranted. At the front gate, it might be possible to simply “wave” the card in front of a reader (contactless) while further into the facility, it might be required for the credential holder to either enter a PIN code, or slide the card through a reader (contact) (or both).

Now, onto the controversy: between Contactless and Vicinity (Contact) Read Cards. While this discussion relates to the planned passport, the parallels are direct. Recently, the SmartCard Alliance responded to the Department of State Federal Register Notice, “Card Format Passport; Changes to Passport Fee Schedule”

The Department of State published a Federal Register notice on October 17, 2006, announcing the technology chosen for the proposed new passport card that is planned to be issued as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. This notice states that the proposed passport card would use “vicinity read” radio frequency identification (RFID) technology that conforms to ISO/IEC 18000-6, Type C, “Radio frequency identification for item management–Part 6,” rather than the ISO/IEC 14443-based “proximity read” secure contactless smart card technology that is being used for the new electronic passports (ePassports).

We believe that vicinity read RFID technology is inappropriate for implementing a secure identification card that is used to verify a citizen’s identity. Our concerns are that the passport card decision to use vicinity read RFID technology does not consider the following issues:

1. Lack of Security Safeguards.
2. Potential for Tracking and Citizen Distrust.
3. Expansion in the Number of Unique Identity Documents and Required Border Infrastructure.
4. Reliance on Real-Time Access to Central Databases and Networks.
5. Questionable Throughput Expectations for Proposed Operational Scenario.
6. Operational Issues with Vicinity Read RFID Tags in Vehicles.
7. Inadequate Open Discussion of Implementation Approach.

Details and a complete download of the response from the SmartCard Alliance can be found here

Other related articles on this subject can be found here:

Smart Card Alliance Criticizes Passport Card Plans
Contactless technology seen as safer, more private than RFID

Alliance Criticizes RFID Passport Card Plans
Contactless technology seen as safer, more private than RFID

Industry group asks gov to reconsider RFID as Pass Card technology

This overview of the issues relating to these identity card programs can conclude with a discussion of the controversies surrounding the implementation of the Real ID Act of 2005. What is it (if you didn’t read the Wikipedia article on the subject? In one big nutshell, the Real ID Act 2005, one of the responses to the attacks of September 11th is an overt step toward a National Identification Card in the United States. This is a pretty decent overview of the Act, FAQ: How Real ID will affect you from CNET News and written about a year-and-a-half ago.

Once (and if) you overcome the angst of whether the United States should have a National ID Card, which could end up being a uniformly configured drivers’ license, the issue today is the costs of implementing the Act, which will be borne by the individual states. That is where the estimated $11 billion comes in, and it could be more. To start the confusion, you can look at this summary exhibit from the National Conference of State Legislatures

On May 11, 2005, President Bush signed into law the “REAL ID Act of 2005,” which was attached to the “Emergency Supplemental Appropriation for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005” (H.R. 1268, P.L. 109-13). Title II of REAL ID—“Improved Security for Driver’s License’ and Personal Identification Cards”—repeals the provisions of a December 2004 law that established a cooperative state-federal process to create federal standards for driver’s licenses and instead directly imposes prescriptive federal driver’s license standards.

Senators Threaten To Repeal Real ID Act Unless Changes Are Made

The lawmakers are likely to take the issue up again during the 110th Congress. Sen. Daniel Akaka, a Hawaii Democrat, and Sen. John Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican, are pushing for individual privacy protections and lower costs for state governments. If the Department of Homeland Security will not agree to changes that reduce the burden on state governments and increase privacy protections for citizens, Akaka said he would try to have the national ID law repealed.

He pointed to a study by the National Governors' Association that concluded states would have to spend $1.42 billion to meet the act's requirement that state governments electronically verify all documents people use when obtaining drivers licenses. A re-enrollment requirement would cost about $8 billion in five years, he said. The whole program would cost $11 billion, according to the governors' association.

That's because states would have to adopt new electronic systems for verifying documents like birth certificates and would have to link those systems to other states to meet requirements for residents born elsewhere. The act would hinder or entirely stop online and mail order renewals, creating backups at motor vehicle departments, Akaka said.

"In addition to the cost imposed on states, Real ID imposes an unrealistic timeframe," he said. "Under the law, states must have Real ID compliant systems in place by May 2008. Yet implementing regulations have not been issued."

Passing the costs of the Real ID Act along to the states is a problem. Even if the ultimate solution is to use the drivers’ licenses as a uniform identification card, the costs of compliance with the Act will be borne by the states. Many people do not realize that drivers’ licenses are not a profit center for the states, no matter how much we pay for renewals. Take a look at how much more you are already paying for your next renewal compared to your last. Chances are that it might have even doubled. That is the cost of better security (not necessarily foolproof or forge proof security). The other pressing issue connected to the Real ID Act is privacy (what information is being collected, how is it treated, where and how is it stored). As could be expected, the Department of Homeland Security’s position is that the Act protects privacy.

From the same article:

"Despite these obvious threats to Americans' privacy, the Real ID Act fails to mandate privacy protections for individuals' information nor does it provide states with the means to implement data security and anti-hacking protections that will be required to safeguard the new databases mandated by the Act," Akaka said.

The equation consists of security and privacy and costs. Those are the issues. How much security do you want (or do we need) and is there a trade-off with privacy? Is it worth it? These are personal value judgments. Pragmatically, the question is who will pay for it? At this point, from top to bottom, from federal to state level, there still seem to remain an awful lot of questions.

December 19, 2006

Al-Qaeda Escort Arrested in Afghanistan

The Afghan government has announced the arrest of a Pakistani intelligence agent who also served as an al-Qaeda escort. Sayed Akbar allegedly worked for the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), Pakistan’s equivalent to the CIA. However, it appears that he was also employed by al-Qaeda. The BBC reports:

[A]ccording to the Afghan authorities, Mr Akbar was in charge of relations between the ISI and al-Qaeda leaders… Officials say he has confessed to his "illegal activities" in Afghanistan. These are said to include escorting Osama Bin Laden last year from Nuristan to Chitral.

This arrest is a major step in halting al-Qaeda’s support network and will likely yield some answers as to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. However, it also reveals a disturbing picture for the Pakistani leadership. Not only does the Taliban and al-Qaeda enjoy the security of its ‘emirate’ in Waziristan, it appears that they've also recruited some of Pakistan’s intelligence agents. This cannot bode well for President Musharraf, who has survived a number of assassination attempts; the most recent occuring this past October. If the ISI is in fact aiding al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the future looks quite bleak for Musharraf's government.

December 18, 2006

A ThreatsWatch Update

There are obviously many events occuring at this time that warrant our coverage. For the last week, we've been working to complete a review of the potential strategic directions the United States may take with regard to Iraq. This, along with the typical challenge of keeping up with events throughout the world, has left ThreatsWatch without significant updates. Our apologies and regrets for that.

We believe that when completed and published, you will find our efforts to have been worth the lack of updates at ThreatsWatch. Thanks for standing by.

December 14, 2006

Ahmadinejad's European Outreach

There is little shortage of coverage on Ahmadinejad's Tehran Holocaust denial conference, complete with a handshake with former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard invitee David Duke. But for our European readers, this is worth noting:

The meeting included no attempt to come to terms with the nature of the well-documented Nazi slaughter, offering only a platform to those pursuing the fantasy that it never happened. In addition, the organizers of the conference, a small circle around the president, have been building ties with neo-Nazi groups in Europe.

At the event, Ahmadinejad had said to the invitees, "Iran is your home and is the home of all freedom seekers of the world...here you can express your views and exchange opinions in a friendly, brotherly and free atmosphere."

Peter Brookes' reaction is both spot on and, thankfully, not unique.
Pretty hypocritical, don't you think, coming from the leader of a country which human rights groups have repeatedly identified as politically and socially repressive?

Not to mention one of the world's worst violators of free speech...

Too bad Ahmadinejad didn't apply the Iranian "free speech" rule to the brave Iranian student protesters who were arrested when they spoke up during his address at a local university earlier this week.

December 13, 2006

US Senator Meets Assad In Damascus

Apparently, the President of the United States' cooperation is not necessary in implementing the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group's report, as Senator Bill Nelson has taken it upon himself to chart US foreign policy and open direct dialogue with Syria. From the Washington Post:
Political sources told Reuters other members of Congress would visit Damascus before the end of the year, naming Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Arlen Specter.

Syrian officials say Damascus is encouraged by the report by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which urged President George W. Bush to abandon his policy of trying to isolate Syria and Iran and resume attempts to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Nelson and Assad discussed instability in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories, the official news agency SANA said.

"There was mutual interest to activate dialogue and putting in place mechanisms for cooperation," the agency said.
That the president has chosen a different national policy and criticized Syria for its support of the terrorist group Hizballah is clearly of little congressional consequence.

Getting The Government An Electorate Deserves

When an electorate selects its governmental representatives and leaders, that electorate - without fail - gets the government it deserves. Elections matter.

When the new House Majority Leader nominated for the Chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee a representative who was previously impeached by a Democrat-controlled Congress as a federal judge for corruption (bribery), so much discontent was voiced from both sides of the political aisle that the nomination had to be withdrawn. But in his place is a nominee who fares little better in perhaps today's most important leadership position within the House of Representatives. Former Marine and Green Beret turned journalist Jack Kelly explains.
If Sun Tzu had met Silvestre Reyes, he'd have understood at once why the United States is faltering in Iraq.

Rep. Reyes, D-Tex, has been chosen by incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He granted an interview last week to Jeff Stein, national security editor for Congressional Quarterly magazine.

Toward the end of a 40 minute interview, Mr. Stein asked Rep. Reyes whether al Qaeda was comprised chiefly of Sunni Muslims, or Shiites. "Predominantly -- probably Shiite," he responded.

The opposite, of course, is true. Al Qaeda is comprised of Sunni extremists who regard Shiite Muslims as heretics who deserve to be killed. Al Qaeda attacks on Shia civilians is what triggered the civil strife in Iraq.

Mr. Reyes has, alas, much company in his abysmal ignorance. Two GOP members of the Intelligence committee, Reps. Jo Ann Davis of Virginia and Terry Everett of Alabama, flunked Mr. Stein's little quiz last summer.

The pressing business of Congressmen (raising money for their re-election campaigns and stuffing earmarks into appropriations bills) takes up a lot of time. But is it too much to ask that members of the intelligence committee -- especially the chairman of the intelligence committee -- know the basic facts about the enemy who attacked us on 9/11?

As Jack notes, this inexcusable ignorance among our elected leaders exists on both sides of the aisle.

We, the American people, must first demand more of ourselves in understanding the situation that history will surely reflect was the conflict that defined at least one entire generation. Only then will the American public demand more of its elected leaders.

Until then, we will not deserve better. We as a nation will continue to get the government we deserve, for better or for worse.

December 12, 2006

Ahmadinejad's Ruse: Right of Return

In an interesting twist to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's insistence that Israel is the cause of all the world's troubles, he told his hosted Holocaust deniers at the Tehran conference that Israel will be 'wiped out' like the Soviet Union was.

“The Zionist regime will be wiped out soon the same way the Soviet Union was, and humanity will achieve freedom,” Ahmadinejad said during Tuesday’s meeting in his offices, according to the official IRNA news agency.

Perhaps Ahmadinejad has not noticed his principal nuclear supporter, Russia's Vladimir Putin, is working tirelessly to piece the Soviet Union back together once again. It is more likely that Ahmadinejad, who for all of his wildly reckless banter is extremely intelligent, is attempting to cloak his calls for Israel's destruction by alluding to the manner of the internal collapse of the Soviet Union.

Ahmadinejad went on:

He called for elections among “Jews, Christians and Muslims so the population of Palestine can select their government and destiny for themselves in a democratic manner.”

Perhaps one day Iranians may be able to do the same without the Mullah regime disqualifying opposition candidates from national and local candidate lists prior to elections.

It is also telling that Ahmadinjad's spiritual mentor, Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, declared that democracy and Islam are incompatible. According to Yazdi, authority comes from God's will as interpreted by the clerics, not from elections. So what of the championing of "Jews, Christians and Muslims" democratically determining their own destiny? It's a ruse.

This is reference to the Palestinian right of return into Israel. It is one way to achieve a fall from within for Israel, and is precisely what Ahmadinejad is speaking of: Flooding Israel with Palestinians to unseat the 'Zionist' government by pure electoral numbers. What happens after that would surely be decidedly less democratic, once they would presumably have "chosen their own destiny." It is disturbing that the Baker-Hamilton Group called for the 'right of return' issue to be immediatley negotiated between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and regional Arab states.

This will never happen, fancy it as Ahmadinejad and many others may. And this is precisely why when he says that Iran seeks to "wipe Israel from the map," he speaks of open warfare and physical destruction.

He is intelligent enough to recognize that war will be the only way to destroy Israel while simultaneously "paving the way for the return of the Mahdi (12th Imam)."

Thankfully, the latest analysis on the Iranian elections this month indicate that while Ahmadinejad's fiercely messianic circle may possibly net gains, it will not be enough to control the Assembly of Experts for the Leadership and thus unseat Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini and replace him with Ahmadinejad's mystic mentor, Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi. Khameini, after all, controls the candidate list for the Assembly of Experts for the Leadership elections.

A Supreme Leader Ayatollah Yazdi would mean an Iranian regime whose near-immediate regime change through force should be a foregone conclusion.

December 8, 2006

Baker Group Over-Reaches With Israel

In forming its recommendations for Israeli foreign policy, the Iraq Study Group has over-reached its mandate in the eyes of Israel, among others. Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected the Baker Group's calls for Israel and Syria to enter into peace talks. VOA News quoted Olmert as he dismissed the report's many calls for Israeli concessions.

"In many parts of the region you see conflict, you see conflict, struggle and instability. But the idea that the reason there are problems in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon is because of Israel is an assumption that I believe is a bit far-fetched."

What would make Prime Minister Olmert believe the Baker-Hamilton Commission sees Israel as the root cause of the region's problems? Perhaps the litany of unilateral Israeli concessions it deems necessary to bring about peace in the Middle East. The Iraq Study Group Report went beyond calling for peace talks between Israel and Syria.

The ISG Report called for Israel to turn over the Golan Heights to Syria, just as Syria has demanded for years.

The ISG Report called for Israel to adhere to "the principle of land for peace, which are the only bases for achieving peace," just as Palestinian terrorists have demanded (Gaza handover notwithstanding).

The ISG Report called for Israel to "consolidate the cease-fire reached between the Palestinians and the Israelis in November 2006." "Consolidate" means to extend it beyond the Gaza Strip to include ending all policing actions in the West Bank, just as Hamas has demanded since the ceasefire took effect.

The ISG Report called for Israel to "address" the Palestinian "right of return," just as virtually the whole of the Arab world has demanded.

For the Syrians, the ISG envisioned a somehow negotiated peace in which Bashar Assad's Syria would voluntarily subject its leadership to international trials surrounding the Rafik Hariri assassination and fully implement UN Resolution 1701 "providing the framework for Lebanon to regain sovereign control over its territory."

Syria would also cease arming Hizballah with Iranian weapons, which would coincide swimmingly with the Israeli concessions, as - according to the ISG Report - "This step would do much to solve Israel’s problem with Hezbollah."

After Israel "consolidates" the ceasefire to include the whole of the West Bank as Hamas wishes, Syria would apparently naturally employ its influence over the Damascus-headquartered Hamas terrorists to "help obtain from Hamas an acknowledgment of Israel’s right to exist."

Israel cannot possibly "adhere" enough to "the principle of land for peace," as the land desired is not limited to Gaza and the West Bank, but rather "From the river to the sea." And it's not just Hamas who thinks this.

Consider a revealing interview from the Swiss Die Weltwoche with Al-Jazeera Editor-in-Chief Ahmed Sheikh in Doha, Qatar. (Courtesy of a translation from German to English by John Rosenthal.)

Who is responsible for the situation?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer. The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems. The West should finally come to understand this. Everything would be much calmer if the Palestinians were given their rights. [Emphasis added.]

Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public clinics in Jordan would function better?

I think so.

Can you please explain to me what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with these problems?

The Palestinian cause is central for Arab thinking.

In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?

Exactly. It's because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this.

The Baker Group clearly does not understand this.

Granting the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians, not to mention the Golan Heights to Syria, will not resolve the situation nor bring about peace. Remember, "The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems." The day it hands over the West Bank and the Golan Heights will not resolve the basis for the Arabs' problems, for Israel will still exist.

Yet, the recommendations for massive Israeli concessions are from the newly-crowned champions of the 'realists' in a report that is finding little traction beyond the Washington Press Corps.

December 7, 2006

Iraqi Ambassador Rises To Iranian Challenge

On a day when most Americans were busy arguing internally over the merits (or lack thereof) contained within the much-heralded Iraq Study Group recommendations, it was an Iraqi challenging Iran. It was a rare exchange, direct and blunt, and one worth noting.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki blamed the presence of US troops for Iraq's current instability and for creating a security problem for Iran and the entire region. That's when the Iraqi Ambassador to the Netherlands rose and challenged his "hypocrisy" and reminded him that the removal of Saddam Hussein "has been, I think, a great advance for you." From the Houston Chronicle:

"The U.S. administration so often refers to Iran's nuclear capability as a threat against regional and international peace," Mottaki said. But "it is the U.S. that ... invaded without any endorsement of the U.N. Security Council, another member of the United Nations, namely Iraq, and so has set off the most dangerous security challenge in the Middle East."

Mottaki said the endless cycle of violence in Iraq is being fueled by the continued U.S. troop presence in the country.

"The terrorist group in Iraq says, 'Because of the continuation of the occupation of this country, we are fighting,'" he said. "The American says, 'Because of terrorist groups, we continue our staying in Iraq.'"

Iraqi Ambassador Siamand Banaa then rose to contradict him, saying that Iran had benefited from the war in Iraq.

"It would strengthen your case and give it much more depth if you tried to avoid cynicism and hypocrisy," Banaa said. "The removal of the worst enemy of the Iraqi people and the Iranian people, Saddam Hussein, who caused the death and destruction of hundreds of thousands and almost the bankruptcy of your country, has been, I think, a great advance for you."

Banaa said Mottaki's analysis was wrong, and that without American troops in his country, "it would be a free-for-all, and in fact real civil war."

He urged Mottaki to get off "the 'America always wrong' brigade."

Note: ThreatsWatch has provided an online copy of the Iraq Study Group Report. Further ThreatsWatch analysis will be published soon. But in the interim, the report's Assessment section appears for the most part reasonably accurate with some detail-oriented discrepancies. The wheels fly off the wagon, however, when the recommendations begin. ...Not the least of which is the rather arrogant determination for the state of Israel that it will hand over the Golan Heights to Syria.

December 5, 2006

Hizballah: Human Shields and Information Warfare

On the heels of an Israeli report of Hizballah's use of human shields, the Hizballah coup d'etat continues in Beirut. Lebanese army commander General Michel Suleiman warned that the violence could escalate and adversely affect the army's ability to hold itself together as a mixture of Shi'a, Sunni, Druze and Christian Lebanese soldiers. Gen. Suleiman said, "The absence of political solutions, along with the recurring security incidents, particularly those with a sectarian tinge, drain the army's resources and weaken its neutrality. This weakness will make the army unable to control the situation in all areas of Lebanon." This, of course, is surely one of Hizballah's objectives should it eventually pursue a strategy of escalation as expected. The areas the Lebanese army would not be able to control would be the Hizballah-controlled territory south of the Litani River and the Bekaa Valley on the eastern border with Syria.

Hizballah's current tactic utilizes the Shi'a civilian population in confrontation just as it did over the summer in its war with Israel.

Israel's Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center will be releasing a study into Hizballah's use of Lebanese civilians as human shields and Israeli civilians as targets, plainly titled Hezbollah's Use of Lebanese Civilians as Human Shields.

There was no shortage of footage and news coverage of damaged Lebanese towns and cities following Israeli bombing and artillery strikes or rolling tallies of Lebanese civilian casualties updated seemingly by the minute - often by Hizballah-supplied numbers. The vast majority of the coverage was exclusively after the incident, lacking the context (and seemingly concern) of the deeply-embedded nature of Hizballah's rocket batteries within the civilian population centers.

This is precisely what the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center seeks to reveal and explain with its report, and it begins by explaining Hizballah's three "main deployments" during the summer war, which can also be expected in the fast approaching re-engagement.

Offensive : Before the outbreak of the second Lebanon war, Hezbollah stockpiled an arsenal of more than 20,000 rockets of various ranges, including long-range rockets capable of reaching both the north and center of Israel . They were primarily concentrated in south Lebanon and for the most part kept in designated storehouses located in civilian structures (private residences and public institutions) in many towns and villages. That enabled Hezbollah to wage a long-term campaign against Israel and to inflict extensive damage on its civilian population. Hezbollah aspired to create a balance of deterrence with Israel and exploit it to carry out attacks and encourage terrorism in the Palestinian Authority-administered territories, and at the same time to continue building up its military power in Lebanon .

Defensive : Hezbollah's defensive deployment is based on its military infrastructure south of the Litani River and in the hills around Nabatiya. Its objective was to enable Hezbollah to conduct guerilla attacks against the IDF with advanced anti-tank missiles, engineering forces and well-trained and well-equipped infantry. Its defensive infrastructure is based on a broad deployment within the Shi'ite towns and villages south of the Litani River and the intention to wage determined urban warfare (a concept well-illustrated by operational plans captured by the IDF during the war). To complement its military infrastructure within populated areas, Hezbollah also constructed such an infrastructure in non-populated areas, but its function is secondary in its overall defensive strategy.

Logistic : Hezbollah's logistic deployment consists of numerous storehouses of weapons scattered throughout Lebanon , particularly south Lebanon , which enable Hezbollah to engage in protracted warfare against Israel . To that end Hezbollah instituted a broad logistic system in south Lebanon based on hundreds of private residences and public institutions (including mosques ). It also makes extensive use of Lebanon 's road system to transport weapons from Syria to its forces in south Lebanon (as happened during the war), and of Lebanon 's communications and mass media capabilities, among them its own media.

The ITIC, close to the IDF with offices in the Defense Ministry, will be publicly releasing the four-part Hizballah report on its website in stages. The four parts are:
Part One : Introduction. The establishment of Hezbollah's military infrastructure within the civilian population of Lebanon .

Part Two : Documentation. Proof of the location of Hezbollah's military infrastructure and operational activities carried out from within the civilian population

Part Three : Population centers in Israel as targets for Hezbollah rocket fire.

Part Four : Text and visual appendices on CD.
As is customary for ITIC, the video, photographic and captured document information within Part Four will likely be interspersed throughout a three-part web release.

As incredibly important as the report is, it is a disappointment that it comes so late and so long after the engagement. While the ITIC explains that there was not enough time during the engagement to focus on getting the information and context to the public in this manner, it should be made an absolute priority - by organizations such as this as well as the governments confronted and engaged by terrorists globally - to ensure that work such as this can be produced near real-time and within the given news cycle.

Terrorist organizations like Hizballah and al-Qaeda and their state sponsors such as Iran and Syria make information warfare a top priority. They are increasingly effective at often employing the Western media apparatus as their tools of dissemination.

That the ITIC report Hezbollah's Use of Lebanese Civilians as Human Shields is being completed and released four months after the ceasefire in Lebanon was enacted is through no fault of their own. It is our own failure for not individually supporting such efforts and not demanding the same effective and timely engagement from our governments.

As with all aspects of this broad and truly global war, it is simply a matter of will.

Ceding the information initiative to the terrorist enemy in a long, generational war is profoundly dangerous, wholly inexcusable and easily rectified. Governments and their respective citizenries should muster the determination to ensure that enough support and resources are provided to achieve this.

December 4, 2006

Iranian and Syrian Hands In Beirut Coup Efforts

Dr. Walid Phares continues to provide original sources and excellent coverage of the events swirling through Beirut as Hizballah maintains its coup attempt, seeking to stir clashes between Shi'a and Sunni Lebanese in attempts at inciting chaos. To their credit, the Sunni and Christian Lebanese thus far have not taken the bait.

HizbAllah's Offensive in Lebanon: Day Three

On the third day of HizbAllah’s campaign to takeover the Lebanese Government, more sectors from civil society began to rise. But they weren’t rising with the pro-Iranian militia in as much as they were rising to oppose its move. However on the other hand, it was further noticed that a number of Western media increased their support to Nasrallah’s organization.

From Saturday late night into the early hours of the morning, more incursions by HizbAllah’s elements were signaled inside the traditional Sunni West Beirut. A battle with rocks took place in many streets leaving a number of wounded and one HizbAllah militiaman dead. The Iranian-backed militants staged their “thrusts” into Sunni areas from their launching pad in the “protest” areas in downtown, commonly described by the opponents as the “coup d’Etat” basis. According to sources in the Lebanese Army, the gradual “coup” is taking place with a minute preparation coordinated by the Iranian embassy in Beirut. A “War room,” including HizbAllah, Syrian intelligence, President Lahoud’s secret services, Baath Party, Syrian National-Socialists and representatives from General Michel Aoun’s group, is directing the campaign. [Emphasis added.]

Observers will readily recall similar reports during the summer Hizballah-Israeli conflict that said that there was a 'War Room' running in the basement of the Iranian embassy in Beirut.

Also of keen interest:

On another front, next steps by HizbAllah may include the introduction of Syrian intelligence in the covert operations battle against the Government. Sources in the Lebanese army told Cedars Revolution leaders that “hundreds of armed elements have been crossing the international borders between Syria and Lebanon with sophisticated individual weapons.” Lebanese and Arab newspapers said over the week end that dozens of trucks have crossed the borders and headed to HizbAllah’s bases in southern Beirut and the Bekaa valley.

As noted in an earlier InBrief, there are reports of Syrians instigating conflict with the Hizballah protesters in order to stir up violent conflict between Hizballah protesters and the Sunni Lebanese communities in Beirut. One report appearing in the Arabic-language al-Mustaqbal newspaper said that the Lebanese army had arrested a Syrian who had posed as a Lebanese Sunni and shouted Nasrallah insults at the Hizballah crowd, prompting the response of a 300-person stampede in attempts to catch him. It was described as a Syrian intelligence operation. Another report claimed three Syrians were arrested on a rooftop throwing stones at Shi’a protesters in attempts to start another riot.

Abu Kais provides more detail at From Beirut to the Beltway, excellent companion reading to Dr. Phares' report today.

December 1, 2006

UN: What Hizballah Rockets?

A United Nations commission to investigate "flagrant violations" of Human rights by Israel has determined and recommended that Israel should be forced to compensate for damage inflicted in Lebanon during the month-long summer campaign instigated by a Hizballah attack into Israel.

While making no mention of the over 4,000 Hizballah rockets and missiles fired intentionally into Israeli towns to kill Israeli civilians, the commission was mandated to investigate what the UN Human Rights Commission termed the Israelis' "systematic targeting and killing" of Lebanese civilians.

Commission member Stelios Perrakis attempted to dismiss criticism that the inquiry and resultant report produced was completely one-sided by saying, "Of course it (the report) was not one-sided, it was within the limits imposed by the mandate." But any report on civilian attacks during the summer war that does not include 4,000 terrorist rockets slamming civilians by design cannot be taken seriously.

But this is the track to be expected of a UN Human Rights Commission has formally condemned and/or made findings against Israel no less than 5 times in 2006, while the whole of the world's other human rights concerns have netted 0. A nation surrounded by terrorists who incessantly attack it gets the UNHRC's undivided attention. Somewhere, there are mullahs and brutal dictators of various stripes smiling.

If there were a UN Human Rights Commission scorecard, for 2006 it would look something like the following:

2006 UNHRC Official Scorecard

5 Evil Zionists
0 Sudan
0 Iran
0 China
0 Zimbabwe
0 Remainder, Planet Earth

Note: While the mullahs are somewhere smiling at the UN and laughing at America, they are applauding Europe. John Rosenthal discusses the Eurpean war crimes lawsuit filed against Donald Rumsfeld in Germany in Germany Judges the World: 'Universal Jurisdiction,' War Crimes and German Law.

All the more reason to enter into negotiations with Iran and Syria, of course. ...Or not?

Iranian IEDs: The MVP of Global Jihad?

Bubbling to the surface is increased open discussion of Iranian arming, training and funding of Shi'a militias in Iraq, namely al-Sadr's Mahdi Army band of thugs and the Badr Brigades that are more dominant in and around the Basra area of southern Iraq. The latest evidence being cited are weapons with Iranian manufacturer labels with 2006 date-stamps. Included are anti-tank rockets and precision-milled and shaped IED’s. But the IED moniker is a misnomer in this instance, because the armor-piercing shaped copper explosives are designed specifically to defeat the armor on M1 Abrams tanks and retrofitted HMMV’s. There’s nothing ‘improvised’ about these explosive devices. And they are Iranian-made, Iranian-delivered and designed to kill American and British troops in their armored vehicles.

Iranian IEDThe existence of evidence is not new, though the specific evidence of Iranian manufacturing labels on anti-tank rockets may well be. Iran has been suspected of shipping the milled molten-copper explosives since at least October 2005. In fact, entire shipments of the Iranian bombs have been captured near the Iran-Iraq border earlier this year and reported on as early as March. The new evidence also reportedly includes information regarding Iraqi Shi'a militia being trained both in Iran and by Iran's Hizballah terrorists in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. But the evidence on the Iranian bombs being shipped into Iraq has been acknowledged without consequence since at least spring of this year.

"I think the evidence is strong that the Iranian government is making these IEDs, and the Iranian government is sending them across the border and they are killing U.S. troops once they get there," says Richard Clarke, former White House counterterrorism chief and an ABC News consultant. "I think it's very hard to escape the conclusion that, in all probability, the Iranian government is knowingly killing U.S. troops."

There’s also the Russian-made, Iranian-supplied SA-18 that was used to shoot down a British Lynx helicopter in Basra in May, 2006. The casings were found in an adjacent building to where the helicopter was shot while landing. With the Iranian complicity, it was thought at the time to be 'a shot that changed the rules' and brought the clear Iranian involvement to a head. The only thing that changed were the flight patterns of British helicopters in southern Iraq. Perhaps out of fear of upsetting diplomatic efforts on an unrealized nuclear threat, the existing Iranian terrorist threat seemed to be tolerable in retrospect.

As Iran fears US military action less and less with each passing debate-filled American day, both their words and deeds become justifiably bolder. While Ahmadinejad’s verbal tirades on Iran’s nuclear rights, a “world without Zionists” and “wiping Israel off the map” stirs verbal response, the mullah regime is killing American sons and daughters with less than a full degree of separation. Thus far, their violent engagement of American and British military forces in Iraq has been met with barely broken silence.

We have known for some time that Iran has fed terrorists and militias in Iraq with the weapons used to kill coalition troops as well as Iraqi civilians. More importantly, Iran has known of our knowledge and witnessed our silent response, growing bolder and less fearful of consequence as a result.

Witness their cooperation in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. Some will argue that it is because they opposed the Sunni Taliban. A fool’s game. It was because they feared us. Not our military force. The feared Us. We. The angry American people who were not going to sit back and take murder by terrorism any longer. They feared the angry American people would send their might northwest from Kabul hunting mullahs. That fear has evaporated. Iran’s actions reflect.

In the American living room, her leaders argue with themselves incessantly over their own presence in Iraq yet will grumble in unified protest when their shins bump the Iranian nuclear coffee table. All the while, the participants stand in the shadow of the chuckling Persian elephant in the room, directing terrorist traffic undisturbed, lest we have to deal with him if we acknowledge his presence. “This way for Muqtada’s weapons, that way for Nassrallah’s!” Mahdi Army fighters sent to Hizballah’s Bekaa Valley for training and planes and freighters full of weapons delivered to al-Qaeda’s Islamic Courts Union in their Somali quest.

And why not? There’s been no consequence beyond strongly worded press conferences. And with that, more “IDEs” get shipped in to Muqtada, not fewer. For the bloodier they make it, the more preoccupied with themselves the silly Americans get in their internal Iraq debate. The mullahs must be rolling in laughter. They kill 3 US Marines with their milled IED’s on one day and the next the Americans are punching each other in the face over whose fault it is.

Watching all of this, why on earth would al-Qaeda (et al) ever launch a strike on the United States mainland in the near future when we are doing a fairly round job of beating ourselves to death without outside assistance?

Perhaps if those seeking to cede Anbar to al-Qaeda just as Musharraf did in Waziristan would step outside themselves to notice, they will realize that an Iranian “IED” in Baghdad has been made more valuable to jihadists of every stripe than another American Airlines suicide mission in New York. Perhaps more would then understand why Iraq must be won and not abandoned.

Leaving Iraq empowers and emboldens Iran, and there will be no victory in the War on Terror while the Iranian regime remains standing, feeding jihad worldwide.

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