As a new immigrant from Greece to Israel, I could not have been happier when the Greece-Israel relationship started warming up about a year ago. In the wake of the break-down of relations between Israel and Turkey, Greece and Israel started to see each other as natural allies in the Middle East. But the embrace of neo-Nazis into the political mainstream, a truly disturbing development in the Greek political arena, forced me to recognize the gap that still exists between the countries and their political cultures, the lack of Greek sensitivity to anti-Semitism, as well as the need to constantly assess the sincerity of those who claim to be our friends.
Until three weeks ago George Karatzaferis, leader of the nationalist party LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally) was part of the three party coalition government formed in November 2011. What is less well-known outside of Greece is that Karatzaferis is a politician infamous for his anti-Semitic outbursts and comments denying the Holocaust, someone who infamously proclaimed during Israel’s 2008 Cast Lead operation that "the Jew smells blood." Regarding the 9/11 attacks he has alleged that “4,000 Jews working in the Twin Towers did not go to work on the day of the attack," and he has referred to “all these tales of Auschwitz and Dachau" on live television.
Although Karatzaferis the demagogue is now out of government, two other LAOS MPs were invited to join the party of Antonis Samaras, the leader of the Nea Demokratia mainstream right-wing party and leader of the opposition, who is widely expected to become prime minister after the general elections due in late April 2012. One of these two MPs, Makis Voridis, resigned from the government when LAOS pulled out but the current Greek Prime Minister Papadimos himself opted not to accept Voridis' resignation and kept him on in his government.
As a Jew and an Israeli, I feel it is my duty and obligation to share with you Voridis’ background and political career. A former leading figure in Greece's neo-Nazi youth group, Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn), Voridis has a long history of Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, including physical threats to Jewish families and leading groups of thugs against immigrants and leftists. Over the last couple of weeks he has smoothed over his thuggish past by describing it as "right-wing activism". As a student at the elite Athens College high school, alma mater of current Prime Minister Papadimos, former Prime Minister Papandreou, Samaras and myself, Voridis formed the fascist student group “Free Students” that painted the walls with swastikas and saluted each other with using the Nazi-era greeting "Heil Hitler."
During school elections, Voridis would violently threaten not only the Jewish students who opposed his fascist group, but also their families. After graduation, Voridis formed a fascist group in the Law School of Athens and became active in neo-Nazi youth groups. In the 1990s, following the footsteps of his mentor, Jean Marie LePen, he formed the National Front, an anti-immigrant party. His party's motto was "Red card for immigrants." A few years ago, he joined LAOS and was elected to parliament. He soon became the darling of the Greek media, due to his extensive family connections, his debating skills and his charisma in front of the cameras.
Although less charismatic, the second of the two LAOS MPS, Adonis Georgiadis, also has a long history of anti-Semitism. This includes attacking Jews through his television show and being named as a prosecution witness against the leaders of the Greek Jewish community who are on trial for the defamation of Kostas Plevris, a self-proclaimed Nazi and anti-Semite whose book was described by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece as a "defamatory, anti-Semitic book in which Jews are called 'subhuman' and are directly threatened with annihilation." Plevris himself went on trial for incitement, but was acquitted, and then he sued the leaders of the Jewish community. Plevris is also the father of Thanassis Plevris, another LAOS member of the parliament.
Samaras legitimized a neo-Nazi and an anti-Semite of the worst kind when he invited Voridis to join his party. Letters of protest by Jewish organizations received a lukewarm response from Samaras. Israel has not publicly protested, probably in an attempt not to “rock the boat" of its newly-found friendship with Greece. Perhaps it has done so through private channels.
The co-option of far right-wingers into a Greek government or its opposition is a dangerous precedent. As Israelis and Jews, we need to protest against any kind of neo-Nazi participation in the governments of friendly nations, just as we did when Kurt Waldheim was elected President of Austria, and when the party of Jörg Haider, the long-time leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, joined the government.
Bearing in mind the storms battering the Greek state and economy, and an underlying current of anti-Semitism that has deep roots in the country, my fear is that a dangerous nationalism is on the rise in Greece. The desire of politicians to appeal to populist conspiracies and racism in the lead up to the general elections in a month’s time and afterward will lead to neo-Nazis holding a balance of power and by then, it will be too late to stop them. The time to stop them is now.
Sabby Mionis was born in Athens and moved to Israel in 2006. Founder of Capital Management Advisors and active in Greek business life, he is a former president of Keren Hayesod (the United Israel Appeal) in Athens and now serves as on the UIA Executive and is co-founder of the Israel Center for Better Childhood.
"We Have Done With Hope and Honor, We are lost to Love and Truth.
We are Dropping down the ladder rung by rung;
And the measurement of our torment is the measure of our youth.
God help us; for we knew the worst too young."
Over in the L.A. Times, Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman argues that a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities would violate both U.S. and international law. Relying principally on Article 51 of the U.N. Charter (which states that the Charter does not “impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs”), his analysis can be boiled down to one sentence: Iran hasn’t launched an “armed attack” against America, so no America cannot strike Iran.
But this argument ignores a fundamental reality of the American–Iranian and Israeli–Iranian conflicts. There has, in fact, been an “armed attack” against the United States. Iran has been waging a low-intensity war against America and Israel — both directly and by proxy — for more than two decades. Iran’s Quds Force has planned and directed attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and on Israelis in Israel and abroad. Iran has directly supplied our enemies with deadly weaponry in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is responsible for hundreds of American military deaths — including the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut and the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.
In other words, Iran attacked us long ago, and our forbearance to this point is neither required by international law nor does it bind us to continued forbearance. In fact, when a declared and hostile enemy escalates its military capabilities dramatically, that presents a direct challenge to American security and the security of our allies.
The Left is attempting to delegitimize the classical legal framework for the laws of war. In their view, military action is to be viewed as a set of discrete responses to discrete acts — more like law enforcement than warfare. In other words, Iran’s long history of terrorist acts don’t constitute casus belli (a justification for war), they merely represent just cause for, say, an attempt to capture the specific terrorists responsible. Yet international law has never required this level of national restraint, and such restraint is not required under the U.N. Charter.
Ackerman points back to Iraq, but he serves only to remind us that the emphasis on preemption doctrine in the run-up to the 2003 invasion obscured multiple additional grounds for directly striking Saddam Hussein’s regime, including his violations of the Gulf cease-fire accords and his continual armed attacks on American military personnel conducting operations under U.N. authority. Iraq was actively shooting at American pilots, and there are few better examples of an “armed attack” than, well, an actual armed attack.
Simply put, neither America nor Israel must wait for “imminent” nuclear attack before (finally) striking back at a nation that declared war on us more than two decades ago.
"We Have Done With Hope and Honor, We are lost to Love and Truth.
We are Dropping down the ladder rung by rung;
And the measurement of our torment is the measure of our youth.
God help us; for we knew the worst too young."
The recent refusal by Iran to have the state checked by the IAEA for the construction of nuclear weapons, has sparked much controversy in the West and Israel.
According to the Washington Post, the US defence secretary Leon Panetta "Believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June ... Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon -- and only the United States could then stop them militarily."
With the ever increasing possibility of military intervention in Iran, questions have arose regarding the sincerity of the motive for military intervention. Are The West and Israel waiting for an excuse to escalate upon Iran? Is war against Iran now inevitable?
We already know of the fragile relationship that exists between Iran and the West. We also know of the strength of the Zionist political lobby in the West and that this is the main cause of this poor relationship. Israel claims Iran is a major threat to its national security. According to Israel, there is evidence that Iran supports, or has supported, anti-Israeli and anti-western armed groups in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, providing financial and political backing, arms and training. It appears America and Israel are finding excuses to take military action against Iran.
The IAEA have expressed their concerns regarding the enrichment of Uranium in Iran. Israel is using this “concern” as an escape goat to advance into Iran. This is the same IAEA the West ignored when reports suggested Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. The West attacked Iraq regardless. Now, when it is convenient for them to do so, they are using the concerns of the IAEA as an excuse to advance into Iran.
Haaretz reports that Ari Shavit said "If the US president wants to prevent a disaster, he must give Netanyahu iron-clad guarantees the US will stop Iran in any way necessary and at any price after the 2012 [US] elections. If Obama doesn't do this, he will obligate Netanyahu to act before the 2012 elections." A repeat of the bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 may be on the table. Israel took military action on Iraq without the permission of the White House, infuriating them. Is Binyamin ready to repeat history? It seems that whether America supports military intervention in Iran or not, Israel has its mind made up – it is going to attack Iran whether America supports it or not. Israel has finally found its window of opportunity to attack Iran and is going to use the suspicion of the construction of a nuclear bomb by Iran as grounds to do this.
"We Have Done With Hope and Honor, We are lost to Love and Truth.
We are Dropping down the ladder rung by rung;
And the measurement of our torment is the measure of our youth.
God help us; for we knew the worst too young."
An Israeli “intelligence” report that at least one of North Korea’s covert nuclear tests in 2010 was carried out on an Iranian radioactive bomb or nuclear warhead has been picked by two German publications, which say they have confirmed and qualified.
The report said that Western intelligence had known of the test for 11 months. According to the report, some of the facts of the affair are known. These include confirmations that North Korea carried out two covert underground nuclear explosions in mid-April and around May 11 of 2010 equivalent to 50 to 200 tonnes of TNT.
Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation monitoring stations in South Korea, Japan and Russia had detected two “highly lethal” heavy hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, typical of a nuclear fission explosion and producing long-term contamination of the atmosphere.
Intelligence agencies watching North Korea’s nuclear programme and its possible links with Iran and Syria were reportedly alerted by the presence of tritium in one of the tests into examining the possibility that Pyongyang had tested the internal mechanism of a nuclear warhead on Iran’s behalf.
“This strongly indicated to German and Japanese intelligence that Iran had already developed the nuclear warhead’s outer shell and attained its weaponisation,” said the report.
Experts also suspected that North Korea had tested an Iranian “dirty bomb,” which is described as a conventionally detonated device containing nuclear substances. Tritium would boost its range, force and lethality, say experts.
This conclusion was attributed to atmospheric scientist Larsk-Erik De Geer of the Swedish Defence Research Agency in Stockholm, who is said to have spent a year studying the data collected by various monitoring stations tracking the North Korean tests.
De Greer published some of his findings and conclusions in Nature Magazine in March and his research paper is scheduled to appear in the April/May issue of the Science and Global Security Journal.
Further evidence reportedly unearthed by German and Japanese intelligence include the visit to North Korea after the first explosion that could have been aimed at setting up the second test in May.
In late April, Iran is believed to have shipped to North Korea a large quantity of uranium enriched to 20+ per cent – apparently for use in the May test.
After the May test, the Central Bank of Iran transferred $55 million to the account of the North Korean Atomic Energy Commission.
“The size of the sum suggests that it covered the fee to North Korea not just of one but the two tests – the first a pilot and the second, a full-stage test,” said the report.
If accurate, the report indicates that Western intelligence has known about the North Korean tests for Iran for 11 months. Therefore, argues the Israeli “intelligence” report, it is too late for US President Barack Obama to try and persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that there is still time for diplomatic means and sanctions to work and dissuade Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Now the Israelis blame Obama for not only having failed to check Iran’s nuclear activities but also for remaining firm on his rejection of early military action against Iran.
That is why Netanyahu declared in public this week in the US that Israel alone will decide what action to take to fend off the Iranian “nuclear threat.”
Contrary to reports, Netanyahu did not assure Obama that Israel has not yet decided to attack Iran’s nuclear sites – thus offering the US time for diplomacy and sanctions to work – and told the president that Israel is “operating on a shorter timeline than the United States,” according to another source quoted in a debka.com report.
“While publicly reiterating that there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution of the issue, Obama admitted privately to Netanyahu that the Fordow underground uranium enrichment plant (near Qom) can no longer be destroyed by bombs and missiles; American commanders say all that can be done is to block the vents of this underground facility and slowly stifle the personnel inside. Time and several strikes would be needed to accomplish this.”
Netanyahu responded: “Iran is building not one Fordow but ten. We can’t wait much longer.
In other words, the talk of open windows and more time is moot.”
When Obama pointed out that “there is no intelligence that Iran has made a final decision to pursue a nuclear weapon,” the Israeli premier responded: “Time is growing short.”
The absence of a joint communique after the Obama-Netanyahu meeting was interpreted as an “agreement to disagree.”
In a speech on Monday at the annual conference of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee, Netanyahu declared that Israel could not afford to “wait much longer” and praised Obama for affirming Israel was entitled to “defend itself, by itself.”
Netanyahu produced two papers of 1944 to support his argument that the Jews could not depend on others to protect them and rejected the argument that military action against Iran would cause disastrous consequences for the region and the world.
One paper was a request by the World Jewish Congress (WJC) to the US to bomb the Auschwitz concentration camp and other was a rejection of the appeal. The US explained that diverting large-scale air power from America’s primary front would bring forth “even more vindictive action from the Germans.”
The reported North Korean nuclear test allegedly on behalf of Iran raises another question: if Pyongyang could accept Iranian money for conducting the test, what prevents it from “selling” a whole nuclear weapon to Iran?
Another question is: How “much longer” is Israel is willing to “wait” before military action against Iran?
Some suggest that it would not come before the US presidential elections in November, but others say, given the alleged Iranian-North Korean link, it could come much earlier. Well, the ground appears to be being built for it.
"We Have Done With Hope and Honor, We are lost to Love and Truth.
We are Dropping down the ladder rung by rung;
And the measurement of our torment is the measure of our youth.
God help us; for we knew the worst too young."
Israel took out Iraqi and Syrian nuclear sites, both of which denied having such a program so making a huge fuss about taking them out would only draw official proof to any examination of the remains, that they existed in the first place. If Iran claims it doesn't have such a site and Israel surgically removes said site, I think Iran will find itself in the same position as did Iraq and Syria. That being the case, I do think in the present environment of open hostilities towards Israel, it could stir others, under the influence of Syria and Iran, to attack Israel. A Psalms 83 and then an Isaiah 17, and much of the world will breathe easier. All of the trouble makers will have been subdued for a time, at least in that region.
Israel will not have a need for walls. There will probably be some kind of trade or economic or political fallout that stirs up Russia to make a move, along with other disenchanted nations who have had some intervention work that wasn't appreciated. Then comes Ezekiel 38. Israel will clean up from that, and rebuild their temple. That's not going to set well with most countries in the ME. Rather than stir up another war, someone will suggest a treaty between them and the countries upset by their rise to power.
Then comes the first half of Daniel's 70th week, some witnessing, some major earth events, some world power house rises, and a breaking of that treaty midway. Then all hell breaks loose on earth, literally. I think about then, Christians will be removed and a remnant of Israel will be protected.
I could be wrong, but it sure looks like the opening acts will start any day.
* Gathering in east Libya says will run own affairs
* East is home to Libya's biggest oil fields
* People in region complain of neglect by Tripoli
* NTC leader says autonomy bid could wreck Libya (Updates with protest in Benghazi)
By Issam Fetouri
BENGHAZI, Libya, March 6 (Reuters) - Delegates announced plans for greater autonomy on Tuesday in the Libyan city of Benghazi, prompting an immediate warning from the central government of a foreign-inspired plot to break up the country.
About 3,000 delegates in the eastern city announced they were setting up a council to run Cyrenaica, the province which is home to Libya's biggest oil fields, in defiance of the government in Tripoli.
The declaration tapped into longstanding unhappiness in the east of Libya at what it regards as neglect and marginalisation by the rulers in the capital, more than 1,000 km (620 miles) to the west.
It deepened the troubles of the National Transitional Council (NTC), the body internationally recognised as Libya's leadership after last year's rebellion ousted Muammar Gaddafi. The NTC is already struggling to assert its authority over militias and towns which pay little heed to Tripoli.
"I regret to say that these (foreign) countries have financed and supported this plot that has arisen in the east," NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil told reporters.
"I call on my brothers, the Libyan people, to be aware and alert to the conspiracies that are being plotted against them and to be aware that some people are dragging the country back down into a deep pit."
Moves towards greater autonomy for Cyrenaica -- the birth-place of the anti-Gaddafi revolt -- may worry international oil companies operating in Libya because it raises the prospect of them having to re-negotiate their contracts with a new entity.
A member of staff who answered the phone at Benghazi-based Arabian Gulf Oil Company (Agoco), Libya's biggest state-owned oil firm, said the 3,000 employees had been deliberating about whether or not to back the autonomy declaration.
"Some people are in favour and some people are against but there is no official stance yet," the Agoco employee said.
Several hundred people gathered in Benghazi on Tuesday night to protest against the push for autonomy. They carried placards saying: "No to federalism."
The congress in Benghazi named Ahmed al-Senussi, a relative of Libya's former king and a political prisoner under Gaddafi, as leader of the self-declared Cyrenaica Transitional Council.
An eight-point declaration said the "Cyrenaica Provincial Council is hereby established ... to administer the affairs of the province and protect the rights of its people".
It said, though, that it accepted the NTC as "the country's symbol of unity and its legitimate representative in international arenas."
The declaration in Benghazi does not carry legal force. It was not clear if the Cyrenaica council would operate within the framework of the NTC, or as a rival to it.
One analyst said the congress in Benghazi would change little on the ground.
"Today's statement from Benghazi was more a declaration by a group in favour of a high degree of autonomy, rather than a declaration of that autonomy itself," said Alex Warren, a director of Frontier, a Middle East and North Africa consultancy.
"In reality, Libya is now effectively composed of many de facto self-governing towns and cities, overseen by a weak central authority," he said.
"The process of integrating these into a new political and economic structure will be volatile ... but I don't necessarily see it as the spark for any major civil conflict."
Cyrenaica stretches westwards from the Egyptian border to the Sirte, half-way along Libya's Mediterranean coastline.
The province enjoyed prestige and power under King Idris, Libya's post-independence ruler, because the royal family's powerbase was in the east.
But when the king was toppled by Gaddafi in a military coup in 1969, eastern Libya was sidelined for the next four decades. Residents complain that they have been denied a fair share of the country's oil wealth.
The rebellion last year which overthrew Gaddafi gave new impetus to calls for local self-determination in the east. These became even more vocal as frustration grew with the slow pace at which the new leadership in Tripoli was restoring order and public services after the revolt.
Some Libyans have dismissed the moves for autonomy in eastern Libya as a ploy by a coterie of wealthy families who had prospered under the old monarchy. (Additional reporting by Ali Shuaib, Christian Lowe and Hisham El Dani in Tripoli; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Michael Roddy)
* Eastern Libya defies Tripoli to create autonomous council
* UPDATE 2-In eastern Libya, a push for more autonomy from Tripoli
Mon, Mar 5 2012
* Prisoner of Zintan: Gaddafi son in Libyan limbo
Fri, Feb 24 2012
* Libya PM promises families cash to quell discontent
Sat, Feb 18 2012
* Flags and hope on Libya's uneasy anniversary
Fri, Feb 17 2012
Analysis & Opinion
* Three good books on muniland
* Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood sets up political party to contest June polls
Africa’s Dirty Wars
March 8, 2012
Warfare in Independent Africa
by William Reno
Cambridge University Press, 271 pp., $27.99 (paper)
Richard Mosse/Jack Shainman Gallery
Young rebels from the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo—whose fighters, according to UNHCR, are told to spray themselves with ‘magic water to protect themselves from bullets’—Lukweti, Masisi Territory, North Kivu, 2011. The photograph is titled Vintage Violence and appears in Infra, Richard Mosse’s book of infrared images of eastern Congo. The book includes an essay by Adam Hochschild and has just been published by Aperture and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
In December 2009, the Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal African rebel group guided by a wig-wearing commander named Joseph Kony, massacred more than three hundred people in a remote corner of northeastern Congo. Most of the victims were clubbed to death, some were killed with machetes, a few were shot, and a few more were strangled. The LRA, as it is widely known—in Congo it’s simply called tonga-tonga, which means something like “those who attack silently”—had just kidnapped hundreds of people and was moving quickly through the bush. Anyone who couldn’t keep up was killed. Most often the other conscripts, many of them children, were forced to do the killing.
Because that corner of Congo is so isolated and sparsely populated, it took weeks for news of the massacre to filter out, unusual in today’s hyperconnected world. I had to charter a plane to reach the massacre area, because there were no functioning roads close to it. I flew into a little town called Niangara, an old trading post at the confluence of two rivers. During Belgian rule, Niangara was a boom town for cotton and coffee, though you would never know that now. The roofless old Belgian houses are sinking into the elephant grass and the once-paved roads are gluey mud. There was no evidence of war or distress when I landed, not even fresh-faced foreign aid workers in their white vests. When I stepped out of the plane, onto the red dirt landing strip, all I saw were huge leafy trees, their branches dripping with mangoes, and a group of skinny men on bicycles.
This is the story of conflict in Africa these days. What we are seeing is the decline of the classic wars by freedom fighters and the proliferation of something else—something wilder, messier, more predatory, and harder to define. The style of warfare has shifted dramatically since the liberation wars of the 1960s and 1970s (Zimbabwe, Guinea-Bissau), the cold-war wars of the 1980s (Angola, Mozambique), and the large-scale killings of the 1990s (Somalia, Congo, Rwanda, Liberia). Today the continent is plagued by countless nasty little wars, which in many ways aren’t really wars at all. There are no front lines, no battlefields, no clear conflict zones, and no distinctions between combatants and civilians, which is why the kind of massacre that happened near Niangara is sadly common.
There’s often very little effort by rebel leaders to develop a persuasive ideology and win converts and new recruits. About the only people, then, who these types of rebels can get to fight for them are children, whom they kidnap and turn into four-foot-tall killing machines. Children are the perfect weapon—tough, easily manipulated, intensely loyal, fearless, and, most important—especially in Africa—in endless supply. A reliance on child soldiers often means a reliance on magic and superstition. Children are told to rub themselves with palm kernel oil as a shield against bullets.
Today, we see dozens of small-scale, dirty wars in Congo, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Burundi, Sudan, South Sudan, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria, from east to west, from some of Africa’s mightiest nations to its smallest and least significant. The specific situation in each of Africa’s fifty-five different countries varies widely. But it is safe to say that many of the rebels are simply thugs.
A few decades ago, Africa produced some very cunning and ultimately successful rebel leaders, committed to fighting colonialism, tyranny, and apartheid. Some were skillful enough to run countries, among them Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, and Eritrea’s Isaias Afewerki. None was committed to democracy. All are still clinging to power by means of brute force, but each was well educated and each had a vision of how he and his country might survive.
Afewerki, for instance, spent decades reconstructing Eritrean society from the bottom up in a labyrinth of underground bunkers and trenches while Soviet-supplied warplanes carpet-bombed the Eritrean countryside in an attempt to crush his liberation movement for independence from Ethiopia, which had ruled Eritrea since the British withdrawal in 1952. Living in the dark, men and women, Christians and Muslims, farmers and doctors, were thrown together and fought together, making their own medicines, shoes, even sanitary napkins. When Eritrea finally won its independence from Ethiopia, in 1993, it was celebrated as one of the most egalitarian societies on the planet. Nineteen years later, the promised elections have never been held.
What happened? William Reno, a political scientist at Northwestern University who has spent years studying African rebel movements, has written a thoughtful answer to this question in Warfare in Independent Africa. He tells a clear story about the ways that dramatic political change in Africa has been expressed through rebellion.
Reno divides rebels into five categories, from “anti-colonial” rebels such as Frelimo, who fought the Portuguese in Mozambique in the 1960s, to “parochial rebels” like the MEND—Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta—criminals in the Niger Delta, who today can be found in the jungle pumping iron and kidnapping the occasional foreign oil worker while claiming they want Nigerian oil to benefit the local population. He has a simple premise: “From the early 1960s the majority of wars in Africa have involved armed groups that are not part of national armies, or what in this book are called rebels.”
In other words, Reno quite persuasively sees African wars as largely civil wars. Most of the violence has raged within borders, not across them. The political map has changed surprisingly little since the late nineteenth century, when the imperial powers carved the continent up. When colonialism faded in the 1960s, most of the newly independent states simply retained the boundaries of their former masters. They realized that the lines that the imperial powers had drawn were often totally arbitrary, slicing through rivers, mountains, and ethnic groups. But one of the first things the Organization of African Unity did when it was formed in 1963 was to declare these borders sacrosanct. Without saying so, the founding fathers of independent Africa agreed that once you started tinkering with the borders, you might not be able to stop.
Few African governments have invaded other countries. Waging such war is expensive, and it takes more complex organization than most African countries possess. As Paul Collier, an economist at Oxford, explains in his Wars, Guns, and Votes (2009), a society mainly concerned with waging war or defending itself from war will need to impose high taxes, which in turn may engender a more responsive, representative government. Most of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa can’t impose heavy taxes—or don’t want to, wary of revolt. Most still lack representative government, and even a sense of themselves as unified nations.
Africa also had the bad luck of gaining its independence as the cold war was at its height and the United States and Soviet Union were trying to recruit proxies; the East–West rivalry therefore shaped much of Africa’s internal politics and many of its rebellions. The superpowers propped up brutal, thoroughly hated tyrants purely because they supported one side or another, and likewise co-opted rebel groups and plied them with money and guns to fight for or against communism.
When the cold war abruptly ended in 1990, the superpowers’ sudden disengagement from the African continent left a number of tyrants exposed and ripe for overthrow. Africa exploded. Ethiopia’s dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam, supported for years by the Soviet Union, and Somalia’s despot, Mohamed Siad Barre, backed for years by the United States, were both ousted in 1991. Both countries had been viewed as strategically important cold-war battlegrounds and were awash with weapons. A few years later, Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko, probably the most corrupt man on the most corrupt continent and a major American ally until he became obsolete after the cold war, was deposed in a brutal war that continues to this day, and has become one of the most violent conflicts of modern times, in which several million Africans have died.
The end of the Soviet Union had another disastrous effect on Africa. Eastern bloc countries that cranked out Kalashnikovs for the Soviet army had to find new markets. Africa, with its unpatrolled skies and endless shorelines, its gold mines and diamond mines and free-flowing cash economies, became a new market. Guns suddenly became very cheap and very accessible. Viktor Bout, a former Soviet military officer recently convicted in the US for arms trafficking, single-handedly sustained several African mini-wars at the same time, including in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, and Congo. Now just about anyone could get in on the rebel game.
Without superpower dominance, African rebel groups began to fragment. During the cold war, the Americans and Soviets had pushed rebel leaders to unify their ranks because when they decided to back a rebellion, they wanted to deal with one rebel leader, not twenty-three.
Today, the failed peace conferences to end wars in Darfur or Somalia or Congo show what happens when this pressure to stay unified is absent. In 2003, when the Darfur conflict began in western Sudan, there were two main rebel groups fighting the central government. Today there are countless factions. Many of the current African rebel movements have continued dividing and subdividing to the point that some groups have become tiny and ideologically indistinguishable from one another, without power to cause serious changes in government. Reno writes that “it is as if the politics of rebellion has reached a cul-de-sac in the worst-off parts of the continent, with a surplus of armed conflict and a dearth of political transformation.”
The rebel barrier to entry used to be much higher. In the cold war, as Reno observes, guerrillas had to be much craftier because they were fighting not just the army of a poor dictatorship but also the superpower behind it. For example, if you were an Angolan rebel, you faced Cuban soldiers in the field and Soviet aircraft in the skies and you had to be clever and skilled, like Jonas Savimbi, the leader of UNITA—a political party that engaged in a civil war with its Soviet-aligned rival, the MPLA, after the two parties won Angolan independence from Portugal in 1975. Savimbi spoke seven languages and had backing from the US and China, as well as the white South African regime, whose special forces were well equipped and well trained. He eventually lost and died in 2002.
As the superpowers disengaged from Africa and many of the African nations grew weaker, rebel groups found that they could operate more freely. More territory became lawless, whether in the rural Congo, rural Sudan, most of the Central African Republic (almost entirely rural), or in the vast, unpatrolled desert regions of the Sahara, where rebels, thugs, and bandits predominate. But Hobbesian spaces are sometimes found even in the middle of the capital, like the seething slums of Nairobi or Kinshasa, where public services are entirely absent and people have set up their own security forces, their own illegal ways to get electricity, their own tax systems—in short, their own ways to survive. Many of the armed groups that operate in this atmosphere of near-complete breakdown of state power are driven by raw greed and brutality, without any pretense of an ideological excuse for their violence. They have no cause, and no plans to build a political organization of any sort.
“There might have been a little rhetoric at the beginning,” Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone and author of the best-selling A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (2007), told me. “But very quickly the ideology gets lost. And then it just becomes a bloodbath, a way for the commanders to plunder, a war of madness.”
We now have a better sense than ever about such violence because of the new communication devices that allow just about anybody, anywhere, to put out his message. A dozen years ago, rebel leaders fought in obscurity for years before they would get an opportunity to meet a United Nations official or to give an interview on the Internet or to Al Jazeera. That process has been short-circuited. Any rebel leader with a “media office” (i.e., a friend with a satellite phone) can quickly acquire a public identity. The problem is that many of the recently publicized “leaders” aren’t really leaders—they don’t have much of a following and they haven’t had the time to formulate a clear political position or inclination. When they get to the negotiating table, they often don’t know what it is that they want.
I saw how hollow such leadership can be when I attended an expensive Darfur peace conference in Sirte, Libya, in 2007. What fascinated and attracted the rebels was not the plenary sessions or the one-on-one meetings with United Nations officials. It was the all-you-can-eat hotel buffet where turbaned figures laughed as they heaped mountains of rice and meat onto their plates and drank gallons of Pepsi. None of the Darfurian rebels I talked to at that conference could tell me what he was fighting for. In fact, although I had spent much time in the region they came from, it was hard to know if any of these men were fighting at all. The leaders I had met in the field were not there.
In eastern Congo, the internationally backed peace talks have given the rebels a perverse incentive to promote themselves through brutality. In July 2010, several dozen armed men swept into a village near Walikale and gang-raped more than three hundred women, some as old as eighty. It later emerged that their leader, a young upstart named Sheka, wanted public attention before talks with the government began. His logic may have gone something like this: mass rape was clearly something that would get international attention, so attacking a village and raping three hundred women was an effective way to make himself more menacing and increase his chances of getting a higher position in the government army. When that didn’t work, Sheka turned to politics. He recently campaigned openly for a seat in Congo’s parliament. He lost, but remains active in the eastern part of the country.
As Reno observes, there are still some ideological rebels in Africa, but not many. The Ogaden National Liberation Front, the guerrillas fighting in Ethiopia’s Ogaden desert, are ethnically Somali and Muslim and are fighting for more autonomy from Ethiopia’s Christian-led government. These young men seemed disciplined and motivated—during my desert trek with them, I observed that several were keeping notebooks, and there were education classes under the acacia trees. They appeared to have the support of the people they claim to be fighting for, the destitute Somali nomads who are often brutalized by the Ethiopian army.
But the equivalent of the cold war today is the campaign against extremist Islam, in which the United States compromises its democratic principles to back dictators willing to assist in fighting terrorists. In the Horn of Africa, which is a hotbed of Islamist extremism, America’s new best friend is Ethiopia. The United States gives the Ethiopian army millions of dollars in assistance every year and even shares classified intelligence; the government is ruthless in punishing even mildly dissenting Ethiopians and the Ogaden rebels have little chance of ever winning.
Some of the most organized, disciplined, and ideologically sophisticated rebels today are the Islamist extremists. Somalia’s Shabab and Nigeria’s Boko Haram are serious threats not just within their countries but outside them as well. The Shabab and Boko Haram have teamed up with al-Qaeda and have killed hundreds of civilians with sophisticated explosives. Beyond that, they are successfully using their jihadist philosophy to attract recruits from around the world, including from the United States. This is of much concern to the Obama administration’s counterterrorism officials, who talk of young, angry Somali-Americans going off to fight with the Shabab and eventually returning to the States, more radicalized and fluent in the arts of terror. Some al-Qaeda offshoots have shown considerable ingenuity. The Shabab recently opened a Twitter account and have been wildly tweeting, bragging about their attacks and criticizing their enemies with elaborate rhetoric. Here we have a militant group best known for sawing off hands and stoning women, in the cause of establishing a seventh-century-style Islamic caliphate, that is also adept at using twenty-first-century networking devices.
Some of these groups escape definition, like the Lord’s Resistance Army, which seems to be fighting for absolutely nothing. It started in the 1980s as an ethnically based militia fighting for the rights of Uganda’s oppressed Acholi people, led by Kony, a former Catholic altar boy who became possessed by spirits, including one named Who Are You? He said his movement was guided by the Ten Commandments, but soon it was breaking every one of them.
These days Kony and his forces move to the parts of Africa where government is weakest. Having been run out of Uganda, he and his band of child brides (he’s said to have about fifty) and child soldiers have drifted up to the borderlands of three of the worst-off countries in the world—Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. There they continue to murder and maim with impunity. The Obama administration recently sent one hundred military advisers to help fight his forces.
Just this past December, The Economist published a cover story entitled “Africa Rising,” which was the title of a 2009 book by Vijay Mahajan, a business school professor at the University of Texas. Not long ago, The Wall Street Journal ran a series on African economic growth also called “Africa Rising.” Some parts of Africa are indeed rising. Impressive new buildings are appearing in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, where I live. Countless new members of Africa’s middle class drive around in shiny little Toyotas and Nissans, causing huge traffic jams in just about every capital across the continent. The African Development Bank says the number of middle-class Africans has tripled over the last thirty years to 313 million people, or more than 34 percent of the continent’s population. Many African countries, like Madagascar, Zambia, Burkina Faso, and Niger, have dramatically boosted the number of children in school. Others, like Rwanda, have vastly improved public health.
McKinsey recently commissioned a thick report on “African Lions,’’ trumpeting the continent’s business potential and predicting that by 2020, Africa’s GDP will grow to $2.6 trillion, about a sixth of the size of the American economy today. The reasons? Relentless demand for Africa’s commodities, like oil, gold and copper, and, in some places, better government policies. Angola and Ghana, which both pump oil, are now among the fastest-growing economies in the world. But at the same time, many parts of Africa are clearly sinking deeper into violence, chaos, and obscurity.
I was called back to Niangara, in northeastern Congo, a few months after the massacre in which three hundred people were killed. The LRA had struck again, hacking and clobbering to death another one hundred villagers. This time a fresh-faced aid worker in a white vest was there when our plane landed on the red dirt airstrip. One victim had survived, I was told, and was convalescing in a field clinic.
“Want to see her?” the aid worker asked me.
I walked under the mango trees and into an old house, the field clinic. A young woman sat on an iron cot. She had been fetching water when she was attacked, apparently for no reason. The rebels had pinned her down in the dirt and sliced off her lips. She was twenty-three. Now her mouth will forever be open, like a scream.
March 6, 2012 Assessing China's Strategy
By George Friedman
Simply put, China has three core strategic interests.
Paramount among them is the maintenance of domestic security. Historically, when China involves itself in global trade, as it did in the 19th and early 20th century, the coastal region prospers, while the interior of China -- which begins about 100 miles from the coast and runs about 1,000 miles to the west -- languishes. Roughly 80 percent of all Chinese citizens currently have household incomes lower than the average household income in Bolivia. Most of China's poor are located west of the richer coastal region; this disparity of wealth time and again has exposed tensions between the interests of the coast and those of the interior. After a failed rising in Shanghai in 1927, Mao Zedong exploited these tensions by undertaking the Long March into the interior, raising a peasant army and ultimately conquering the coastal region. He shut China off from the international trading system, leaving China more united and equal, but extremely poor.
The current government has sought a more wealth-friendly means of achieving stability: buying popular loyalty with mass employment. Plans for industrial expansion are implemented with little thought to markets or margins; instead, maximum employment is the driving goal. Private savings are harnessed to finance the industrial effort, leaving little domestic capital to purchase the output. China must export accordingly.
China's second strategic concern derives from the first. China's industrial base by design produces more than its domestic economy can consume, so China must export goods to the rest of the world while importing raw materials. The Chinese therefore must do everything possible to ensure international demand for their exports. This includes a range of activities, from investing money in the economies of consumer countries to establishing unfettered access to global sea-lanes.
The third strategic interest is in maintaining control over buffer states. The population of the historic Han Chinese heartland is clustered in the eastern third of the country, where ample precipitation distinguishes it from the much more dry and arid central and western thirds. China's physical security therefore depends on controlling the four non-Han Chinese buffer states that surround it: Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet. Securing these regions means China can insulate itself from Russia to the north, any attack from the western steppes, and any attack from India or Southeast Asia.
Controlling the buffer states provides China geographical barriers -- jungles, mountains, steppes and the Siberian wasteland -- that are difficult to surmount and creates a defense in depth that puts any attacker at a grave disadvantage.
Today, China faces challenges on all three of these interests.
The economic downturn in Europe and the United States -- China's two main customers -- has exposed Chinese exports to increased competition and decreased appetite. Meanwhile, China has been unable to appropriately increase domestic demand and guarantee access to global sea-lanes independent of what the U.S. Navy is willing to allow.
Those same economic stresses also challenge China domestically. The wealthier coast depends on trade that is now faltering, and the impoverished interior requires subsidies that are difficult to provide when economic growth is slowing substantially.
In addition, two of China's buffer regions are in flux. Elements within Tibet and Xinjiang adamantly resist Han Chinese occupation. China understands that the loss of these regions could pose severe threats to China's security -- particularly if such losses would draw India north of the Himalayas or create a radical Islamic regime in Xinjiang.
The situation in Tibet is potentially the most troubling. Outright war between India and China -- anything beyond minor skirmishes -- is impossible so long as both are separated by the Himalayas. Neither side could logistically sustain large-scale multi-divisional warfare in that terrain. But China and India could threaten one another if they were to cross the Himalayas and establish a military presence on the either side of the mountain chain. For India, the threat would emerge if Chinese forces entered Pakistan in large numbers. For China, the threat would occur if large numbers of Indian troops entered Tibet.
China therefore constantly postures as if it were going to send large numbers of forces into Pakistan, but in the end, the Pakistanis have no interest in de facto Chinese occupation -- even if the occupation were directed against India. The Chinese likewise are not interested in undertaking security operations in Pakistan. The Indians have little interest in sending forces into Tibet in the event of a Tibetan revolution. For India, an independent Tibet without Chinese forces would be interesting, but a Tibet where the Indians would have to commit significant forces would not be. As much as the Tibetans represent a problem for China, the problem is manageable. Tibetan insurgents might receive some minimal encouragement and support from India, but not to a degree that would threaten Chinese control.
So long as the internal problems in Han China are manageable, so is Chinese domination of the buffer states, albeit with some effort and some damage to China's reputation abroad.
The key for China is maintaining interior stability. If this portion of Han China destabilizes, control of the buffers becomes impossible. Maintaining interior stability requires the transfer of resources, which in turn requires continued robust growth of the Chinese coastal economy to generate the capital to transfer inland. Should exports stop flowing out and raw materials in, incomes in the interior would quickly fall to politically explosive levels. (China today is far from revolution, but social tensions are increasing, and China must use its security apparatus and the People's Liberation Army to control these tensions.)
Maintaining those flows is a considerable challenge. The very model of employment and market share over profitability misallocates scores of resources and breaks the normally self-regulating link between supply and demand. One of the more disruptive results is inflation, which alternatively raises the costs of subsidizing the interior while eroding China's competitiveness with other low-cost global exporters.
For the Chinese, this represents a strategic challenge, a challenge that can only be countered by increasing the profitability on Chinese economic activity. This is nearly impossible for low value-added producers. The solution is to begin manufacturing higher value-added products (fewer shoes, more cars), but this necessitates a different sort of work force, one with years more education and training than the average Chinese coastal inhabitant, much less someone from the interior. It also requires direct competition with the well-established economies of Japan, Germany and the United States. This is the strategic battleground that China must attack if it is to maintain its stability.
A Military Component
Besides the issues with its economic model, China also faces a primarily military problem. China depends on the high seas to survive. The configuration of the South China Sea and the East China Sea render China relatively easy to blockade. The East China Sea is enclosed on a line from Korea to Japan to Taiwan, with a string of islands between Japan and Taiwan. The South China Sea is even more enclosed on a line from Taiwan to the Philippines, and from Indonesia to Singapore. Beijing's single greatest strategic concern is that the United States would impose a blockade on China, not by positioning its 7th Fleet inside the two island barriers but outside them. From there, the United States could compel China to send its naval forces far away from the mainland to force an opening -- and encounter U.S. warships -- and still be able to close off China's exits.
That China does not have a navy capable of challenging the United States compounds the problem. China is still in the process of completing its first aircraft carrier; indeed, its navy is insufficient in size and quality to challenge the United States. But naval hardware is not China's greatest challenge. The United States commissioned its first aircraft carrier in 1922 and has been refining both carrier aviation and battle group tactics ever since. Developing admirals and staffs capable of commanding carrier battle groups takes generations. Since the Chinese have never had a carrier battle group in the first place, they have never had an admiral commanding a carrier battle group.
China understands this problem and has chosen a different strategy to deter a U.S. naval blockade: anti-ship missiles capable of engaging and perhaps penetrating U.S. carrier defensive systems, along with a substantial submarine presence. The United States has no desire to engage the Chinese at all, but were this to change, the Chinese response would be fraught with difficulty.
While China has a robust land-based missile system, a land-based missile system is inherently vulnerable to strikes by cruise missiles, aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles currently in development and other types of attack. China's ability to fight a sustained battle is limited. Moreover, a missile strategy works only with an effective reconnaissance capability. You can't destroy a ship if you don't know where it is. This in turn necessitates space-based systems able to identify U.S. ships and a tightly integrated fire-control system. That raises the question of whether the United States has an anti-satellite capability. We would assume that it does, and if the United States used it, it would leave China blind.
China is therefore supplementing this strategy by acquiring port access in countries in the Indian Ocean and outside the South China Sea box. Beijing has plans to build ports in Myanmar, which is flirting with ending its international isolation, and Pakistan. Beijing already has financed and developed port access to Gwadar in Pakistan, Colombo and Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Chittagong in Bangladesh, and it has hopes for a deepwater port at Sittwe, Myanmar. In order for this strategy to work, China needs transportation infrastructure linking China to the ports. This means extensive rail and road systems. The difficulty of building this in Myanmar, for example, should not be underestimated.
But more important, China needs to maintain political relationships that will allow it to access the ports. Pakistan and Myanmar, for example, have a degree of instability, and China cannot assume that cooperative governments will always be in place in such countries. In Myanmar's case, recent political openings could result in Naypyidaw's falling out of China's sphere of influence. Building a port and roads and finding that a coup or an election has created an anti-Chinese government is a possibility. Given that this is one of China's fundamental strategic interests, Beijing cannot simply assume that building a port will give it unrestricted access to the port. Add to this that roads and rail lines are easily sabotaged by guerrilla forces or destroyed by air or missile attacks.
In order for the ports on the Indian Ocean to prove useful, Beijing must be confident in its ability to control the political situation in the host country for a long time. That sort of extended control can only be guaranteed by having overwhelming power available to force access to the ports and the transportation system. It is important to bear in mind that since the Communists took power, China has undertaken offensive military operations infrequently -- and to undesirable results. Its invasion of Tibet was successful, but it was met with minimal effective resistance. Its intervention in Korea did achieve a stalemate but at horrendous cost to the Chinese, who endured the losses but became very cautious in the future. In 1979 China attacked Vietnam, but suffered a significant defeat. China has managed to project an image of itself as a competent military force, but in reality it has had little experience in force projection, and that experience has not been pleasant.
Internal Security vs. Power Projection
The reason for this inexperience stems from internal security. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is primarily configured as a domestic security force -- a necessity because of China's history of internal tensions. It is not a question of whether China is currently experiencing such tensions; it is a question of possibility. Prudent strategic planning requires building forces to deal with worst-case situations. Having been designed for internal security, the PLA is doctrinally and logistically disinclined toward offensive operations. Using a force trained for security as a force for offensive operations leads either to defeat or very painful stalemates. And given the size of China's potential internal issues and the challenge of occupying a country like Myanmar, let alone Pakistan, building a secondary force of sufficient capability might not outstrip China's available manpower but would certainly outstrip its command and logistical capabilities. The PLA was built to control China, not to project power outward, and strategies built around the potential need for power projection are risky at best.
It should be noted that since the 1980s the Chinese have been attempting to transfer internal security responsibilities to the People's Armed Police, the border forces and other internal security forces that have been expanded and trained to deal with social instability. But despite this restructuring, there remain enormous limitations on China's ability to project military power on a scale sufficient to challenge the United States directly.
There is a disjuncture between the perception of China as a regional power and the reality. China can control its interior, but its ability to control its neighbors through military force is limited. Indeed, the fear of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is unfounded. It cannot mount an amphibious assault at that distance, let alone sustain extended combat logistically. One option China does have is surrogate guerrilla warfare in places like the Philippines or Indonesia. The problem with such warfare is that China needs to open sea-lanes, and guerrillas -- even guerrillas armed with anti-ship missiles or mines -- can at best close them.
China therefore faces a significant strategic problem. China must base its national security strategy on what the United States is capable of doing, not on what Beijing seems to want at the moment. China cannot counter the United States at sea, and its strategy of building ports in the Indian Ocean suffers from the fact that its costs are huge and the political conditions for access uncertain. The demands of creating a force capable of guaranteeing access runs counter to the security requirements inside China itself.
As long as the United States is the world's dominant naval power, China's strategy must be the political neutralization of the United States. But Beijing must make certain that Washington does not feel so pressured that it chooses blockade as an option. Therefore China must present itself as an essential part of U.S. economic life. But the United States does not necessarily see China's economic activity as beneficial, and it is unclear whether China can maintain its unique position with the United States indefinitely. Other, cheaper alternatives are available. China's official rhetoric and hard-line stances -- designed to generate nationalist support inside the country -- might be useful politically, but strain relations with the United States. It doesn't strain relations to the point of risking military conflict, but given China's weakness, any strain is dangerous. The Chinese feel they know how to walk the line between rhetoric and real danger with the United States. It is still a delicate balance.
There is a perception that China is a rising regional and even global power. It may be rising but it is still far from solving its fundamental strategic problems and further yet from challenging the United States. The tensions within China's strategy are certainly debilitating, if not fatal. All of its options have serious weaknesses. China's real strategy must be to avoid having to make risky strategic choices. China has been fortunate for the past 30 years being able to avoid such decisions, but Beijing utterly lacks the tools required to reshape that environment. Considering how much of China's world is in play right now -- Sudanese energy disputes and Myanmar's political experimentation leap to mind -- this is essentially a policy of blind hope.
Tehran's Last Chance Israel, Iran and the Battle for the Bomb
Israel has been doing everything in its power to stop Iran's atomic program, from targeted killings to computer worms. Now, a bombing raid on Iran's nuclear facilities may be just months away. But an Israeli attack could have the effect of strengthening the regime -- and make it more determined than ever to build the bomb. By SPIEGEL Staff.
Twelve hours is an agonizingly long time for endurance athletes as they punish their bodies, pushing themselves to the ultimate limit in events like triathlons or mountain bike races.
Twelve hours is also an agonizingly long time for politicians, acting under the pressure of an ultimatum, to prevent a war that would mean the inevitable deaths of large numbers of people.
In 1914, the German Reich gave the Russians 12 hours to stop mobilizing their troops. In 1956, the French and the British gave then-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser the same amount of time to withdraw his troops from the Suez Canal, which he had just nationalized, and allow Israel to use the waterway again. A war ensued in both cases, partly because those who had threatened to use military force knew that it would hardly be possible to comply with their demands so quickly. In other words, they wanted the situation to escalate.
An Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would apparently also involve a 12-hour lead time. According to intelligence sources in Tel Aviv, Israeli politicians told Martin Dempsey, the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the Israeli leadership intends to give the White House only half a day's notice once it has decided to proceed with a military strike. In other words, Israel wants to be sure of two things: on the one hand, that US President Barack Obama is not taken completely by surprise by a possible attack, and on the other that he is not in a position to seriously question his ally's decision and undermine it with diplomatic efforts.
Is this how a country should treat its most important ally? Is this the way it should pressure the very power on whose goodwill it depends?
The dispute over whether Iran can be deterred from its shadowy nuclear ambitions through diplomacy and sanctions or solely through a military strike will be the dominant issue in Washington this week.
Already in Turmoil
The hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with Barack Obama, the world's most powerful man and a man who Netanyahu has often humiliated in the past with his pigheadedness. These two unequal leaders, who clearly dislike each other, plan to talk about war and peace, and about a region that is already in turmoil.
Of course the meeting, which is already being described as historic before it has even taken place, is about Iran. Most of all, however, it will be a tug of war between Israel and the United States, which are deeply divided in the debate over the possibility of Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons.
Obama doesn't want Iran to get the bomb, but he also doesn't want war. Netanyahu, on the other hand, is prepared to do anything to put Tehran in its place. He will ask the US president to take a tougher stance on Iran. Obama's insistence that "all options are on the table" is no longer enough for Jerusalem. Netanyahu wants Obama to put his cards on the table. He wants Obama to clearly identify the "red line" that Iran would have to cross for Washington to participate in a military strike or at least support a strike by Israel -- or to let him know if Israel would ultimately be on its own if it decides to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities.
In interviews leading up to the meeting, Obama has already affirmed that he will support Israel and instruct the US military to destroy Iran's nuclear program if need be. "I don't bluff," he warned.
There is still no absolute proof -- the famous "smoking gun" -- that Tehran is actually developing a bomb. Even the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), hasn't been able to furnish such evidence. There are indications on which the IAEA bases its assumptions, including a large number of observations by IAEA inspectors, as well as reports provided to the agency by individual intelligence agencies. Based on this information, the IAEA concludes that it cannot rule out that the Iranian nuclear program has a "military dimension."
The Same Trap
Do these indications justify a war, one that could take an already unstable region to the brink of disaster? The experiences from the Iraq war suggest that caution is advisable. The campaign against former Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein was conducted on the basis of false evidence. The weapons of mass destruction he had allegedly produced and stockpiled never existed. Obama doesn't want to walk into the same trap.
In reality, it would seem as though the war between Israel and Iran over the Iranian nuclear program has been underway for some time. It is an undeclared war, a shadow war, which Jerusalem is thought to have begun four years ago. Israeli hit squads are thought to have killed Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran using magnetic bombs, Israeli agents have attacked and leveled Iranian Revolutionary Guard bases and computer viruses were used to cripple Iranian nuclear technology.
Now the Iranians are trying to strike back. Three weeks ago, car bombs targeting Israeli diplomats exploded in India and Georgia, and Iranians were arrested in Bangkok and Malaysia after the bombs they had intended to use exploded early, while they were still in hiding.
Events have been happening fast in the smoldering Israel-Iranian conflict. A new parliament was elected in Iran last Friday. Whether the supporters of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prevail could determine Tehran's further handling of the nuclear conflict.
Behind closed doors at IAEA headquarters in Vienna this week, officials will debate the most recent report for the board of governors, which SPIEGEL has obtained. In the report, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano stresses his "serious and growing concerns" over Iran's nuclear ambitions. He writes that he is dismayed over how massively Tehran has expanded its uranium enrichment capabilities.
It now seems likely that there will be an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, perhaps on the uranium enrichment facilities near the cities of Natanz and Qom, the conversion plant near Isfahan, the heavy water reactor under construction in Arak or the Bushehr nuclear power plant. According to off-the-record conversations with high-level politicians, military officials and experts from the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, it will happen this year, probably between the summer and the fall. Officials in Washington, on the other hand, anticipate a military strike as early as May, an assumption that Berlin also feels is absolutely realistic.
Rattling the Sabers
The Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, who is very well connected among senior Israeli politicians, believes that Israel's prime minister and defense minister have already reached an agreement on the need for military action.
Hardliner Netanyahu is unusually determined. Few things motivate the premier as much as the fear of what he calls a second Auschwitz. He has never believed Holocaust denier Ahmadinejad's claim that Iran's nuclear program is purely for civilian purposes, and he feels vindicated by the most recent IAEA reports. Netanyahu doesn't take Ahmadinejad's repeated threats against the existence of Israel as tactical rhetoric, but instead believes that the Iranian president is deadly serious. He draws parallels between Europe's appeasement of Adolf Hitler and the current situation, and has said: "It's 1938, and Iran is Germany." This time, however, says Netanyahu, the Jews will not allow themselves to be the "sacrificial lamb" being led to the slaughter.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak is generally not among the ranks of those who seriously believe in a suicidal attack by Ahmadinejad on Israel. But he is also seen as someone who, like Netanyahu, categorically wants an attack. A nuclear-armed Iran is also unacceptable to Barak, and he too believes that doing nothing is ultimately more dangerous than attacking. "The moment Iran goes nuclear, other countries in the region will feel compelled to do the same," he said. What happens, he asks, if Iran stretches a nuclear protective shield across Hezbollah in Lebanon, and what if terrorist groups get their hands on the bomb? "From our point of view, a nuclear state offers an entirely different kind of protection to its proxies. (…) The bottom line is that we must deal with the problem now." Barak also claims that Iran could enter an "immunity zone" within the next nine months, which would mean that an Israeli attack would no longer be effective at that point.
Military exercises have been underway for some time. In November, elite pilots with the 117th squadron of the Israeli Air Force took off in 16 fighter bombers from an air base near Haifa for exercises over the Mediterranean, which included aerial refueling, low-altitude flight in formation and the simulated dropping of so-called "bunker buster" bombs. The Israeli military leadership also tested a technologically improved version of the Jericho III ballistic missile, which has a range of 6,500 kilometers (4,000 miles) and the capacity to carry a nuclear warhead.
Surrounded by Adversaries
In return, the Iranians threatened to retaliate against a possible attack with everything in their arsenal. At first, there was talk of a possible attack on Israel's nuclear reactor near Dimona, in southern Israel. Tehran is issuing such warnings because the balance of power in the region has shifted in the last few months, and because Iran suddenly sees itself surrounded by adversaries.
Only a year ago, Iran was seen as the true beneficiary of the US engagement in the Middle East. US troops had eliminated two of the Iranian regime's worst enemies, the al-Qaida terrorist network in Afghanistan, which had enjoyed the protection of the Taliban, and dictator Saddam Hussein in Iraq, who had despised the mullahs.
Today, however, the Taliban in Afghanistan are just waiting for the Americans to finally withdraw, and the revolutions that have erupted in the Arab world present a double threat to the regime in Tehran. First, they are a constant reminder to the Iranian opposition that its own revolt following the rigged 2009 election was a failure. Second, now that popular uprisings have brought about regime change in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Iran's most important ally is also being shaken by unrest: the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The loss of Syria would be a triple calamity for Iran. Tehran would not only lose the Assad regime itself, but also its influence over the radical Islamic group Hamas, whose leadership has just withdrawn from Syria. It would also lose its supply route for Hezbollah, the strongest political force in Lebanon.
The winners of this shift are Iran's adversaries in the south, the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.
'Cut Off the Head'
Netanyahu and Barak can depend on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates granting flyover rights to Israeli fighter jets. The Arab states in the Persian Gulf fear Iranian dominance of the region, backed by nuclear weapons, almost as much as the Israelis. Secret talks on the issue are believed to have already taken place. According to a diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks, Saudi Arabian King Abdullah told the US ambassador in Riyadh four years ago that it was time to "cut off the head of the (Iranian) snake."
So do all signs point to war? Aren't there other ways to convince the Iranian leaders to back down, or is every form of military and economic pressure on Tehran counterproductive? In fact, shouldn't the West learn to live with the possibility of an Iranian bomb, just as it once learned to live with the Soviet bomb?
No other problem, except perhaps the euro crisis, will affect international politics in 2012 as much as Iran and its presumed military nuclear program. Future decisions over war and peace will depend on Tehran's next steps, but even more so on whether Israeli Premier Netanyahu and US President Obama can come to an agreement.
By now, Obama is no longer fully in control over how Washington should deal with Iran. Even if he is personally opposed to an attack, he can hardly afford a public veto and the resulting severe damage it would do to relations with Israel, because several of the Republican presidential candidates advocate a much tougher stance on Iran.
With the tightening of sanctions against Iran starting in July, the Iranian oil embargo and Tehran's threat to block the Strait of Hormuz with mines, yet another escalation seems inevitable. European leaders discussed the possible consequences at last Thursday's EU summit. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the other 26 heads of state and government "against geopolitical stress" should the Iranians block the Strait of Hormuz. It could significantly drive up the price of oil and stoke inflation in Europe, Draghi said, with incalculable consequences for economic development in Europe. Germany, France and a few other European countries have already begun filling up their strategic oil reserves.
Monolithic Realm of Evil
The West paints a grim scenario of a nightmarish country that, proud of its history and self-confident to the point of arrogance, ignores international norms -- a combination of high-tech weapons and a religion that fosters 1,300-year-old martyr legends that emphasize suffering. A country that, with the exception of its ties to Iraq and Syria, has largely isolated itself internationally. A wounded civilization whose leaders have declared war on the depraved West, and who fund radical groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. A monolithic realm of evil. This is how the hawks in the West view Iran.
Or are the others right, the ones who describe Iran as a place with several centers of power, and the leadership in Tehran as cool and rational rather than unpredictable and trigger-happy?
Iran is a regional power, more than four times as large as Germany and with almost as many people. It has the world's fourth-largest oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Canada, and it is also considered the fourth-largest oil exporter. Tehran derives more than $50 billion (€37 billion) in annual revenues from the sale of natural resources, although the money is distributed very unevenly. According to United Nations estimates, at least half of Iranians live below the poverty line.
Iran is a country of staggering contradictions. Formally, it has the institutions of a parliamentary democracy, and yet the "revolutionary leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who succeeded the country's founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, ultimately controls all elected bodies.
Ali Khamenei is worshipped and treated as virtually infallible by his supporters, of which there are still many. But by no means does this translate into absolute power in everyday politics. Khamenei is constantly forced to consult with councils consisting of clerics, representatives of the people and military leaders, and now he also faces a serious challenge from the extremely self-confident President Ahmadinejad.
Iran's Collective Inferiority Complex
Particularly in his second term, which he owes to a decree by the revolutionary leader following the widespread protests over his reelection in 2009, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly refused to take Khamenei's suggestions into account when filling government posts.
The power struggle between the revolutionary leader and the president is now being fought openly, but its outcome remains uncertain. Ahmadinejad's current term officially ends in the summer of 2013. At this point, no one knows which side the majority of the newly elected parliament will take. The representatives of the people could topple or support the president.
It is also possible that the current parliament is already looking for a way to intervene in the conflict.
In addition to an exaggerated self-confidence based on the country's earlier history as a major power, the Persian soul is burdened by a sort of collective inferiority complex stemming from the proud nation's inability to regain its former greatness.
This feeling is also fueled by Shia, the denomination of Islam to which almost all Iranians adhere. Of the 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide, no more than 15 percent are followers of Shiat Ali, the party of Imam Ali, who the Shiites recognize as the only true successor of the Prophet Mohammed. It is a faith that has been marked by betrayal and martyrdom ever since Imam Ali was assassinated in 661 A.D. and, a short time later, his son, the third imam Hussein, was killed in a battle near Karbala in present-day Iraq.
Shia Islam is also shaped by an immense expectation of salvation centered on the return of the 12th imam. The Shiites believe that this Mahdi, or guided one, will rid the world of all evil. No small number of believers are deeply convinced that his return is imminent, and that chaos and decline will only accelerate salvation by the Mahdi. The Iranian president, of all people, is an especially enthusiastic supporter of the Mahdi cult. The clerical establishment is sharply critical of many of his supporters, which it sees as sectarians.
Thirst for Worldly Power
Within the first years following Khomeini's seizure of power in 1979, it was already clear how dangerous it was to underestimate the mullahs' thirst for worldly power. Iran fanatically defended what has been the only attack to date on the country's borders in the history of the Islamic Republic. Believing he could easily annex an oil-rich province, Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein attacked the theocracy in September 1980. Although the West, most of all the United States, armed the Iraqi dictator for his war against the hated mullahs, Saddam failed to subjugate the Iranians. After eight years of war and the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, the two sides agreed to a ceasefire.
During that war, two organizations established their legendary reputation as the pillars of the Iranian regime, organizations that even today would be willing to make great sacrifices in defending Iran against attacks: the voluntary militia of the Basij, or "Mobilization of the Oppressed," and the units of the Pasdaran, or "Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution." These two groups demonstrated just how much they support the leadership in 2009, during the so-called Green Revolution. When millions of Iranians, led by cleric Mahdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, who had led the country as prime minister through the turmoil of the Iraq war, took to the streets to protest Ahmadinejad's manipulated reelection, they were brutally attacked by Basij and Pasdaran troops. The reform movement hasn't recovered from the wave of repression to this day.
But while the Basij deteriorated into a group of thugs long ago, the Pasdaran are still widely respected. And even though the Revolutionary Guards, with 125,000 men, make up only about a third of the Iranian armed forces, they are the backbone of the leadership -- in every respect. Their commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, 54, is considered one of the most powerful men in the country. In addition to the Pasdaran, he commands 300,000 reservists and the Basij, which has an estimated troop strength of at least 100,000 men. In times of crisis, the Basij can mobilize up to a million activists.
Some even believe that Jafari is more influential than the president. Both Khamenei and Ahmadinejad need the Guards and, for this reason, court their favor. Khamenei's advantage is that he is entitled to appoint the Pasdaran commander, and he chose Jafari for the position in 2007. Ahmadinejad, who once served in the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, notorious for its foreign missions, also does everything in his power to secure the support of the Revolutionary Guard commander.
Jafari embodies a rare blend of the aesthete, revolutionary and businessman, steeled in the resistance against the former shah. As a young architecture student, he demonstrated against the ailing monarchy in 1978. He was arrested several times and tortured by the Shah's secret police, the SAVAK. After the shah was overthrown, Jafari was one of the students who stormed the US Embassy in Tehran. Because of the courage he exhibited during the Iraq war and his logistical abilities, he quickly advanced to the rank of commander.
The Pasdaran is also the economic core of the regime, with Jafari controlling an enormous business empire. The Revolutionary Guards have been as relentless in taking control of their country's economy as they were in striking back at Iraqi troops during the war.
About one in three delegates to the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, is aligned with the Pasdaran. The current speaker of the parliament, Ali Larijani, Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator, was also a senior officer in the Revolutionary Guards, as was his successor as nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. It makes sense that both men come from the Pasdaran, because Iran's nuclear projects are an important focus for the organization.
Companies owned by the Pasdaran build the hidden tunnels, such as those for the planned Fordo enrichment facility near Qom, the stronghold of Shiite religious scholarship. The Pasdaran's scientists are involved in enriching uranium, their elite troops protect the nuclear facilities and their leaders sharply warn the United States and its ally, Israel, against attempting to attack. "If their fighter jets manage to evade the Iranian air defense system," the head of the Pasdaran air force, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, recently said, commenting on the threat of an Israeli attack, "our surface-to-surface missiles will destroy their bases before they land." Naturally, the head of the alleged secret nuclear program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, is also a senior officer in the Revolutionary Guards.
But not all possible targets whose coordinates the Israeli strategists have on their radar are remote bunker systems like the Fordo enrichment plant. The birthplace of the Iranian nuclear program is in the middle of the capital.
The Tehran research reactor is located in the northern section of the city of 13 million, where the Alborz Mountains seem almost close enough to touch and the air is relatively clean compared to the smog in the valley below. The nuclear complex, which the United States built in the 1960s, is surrounded by tall apartment buildings, shopping centers, restaurants and kindergartens. There are no signs to indicate that this is where the Iranian nuclear authority is headquartered. Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, presides over this small, isolated world, with its own mosque, cafeterias, administrative buildings and research complexes. The professor was appointed to the position after surviving an attempted assassination.
The facility, where isotopes for the treatment of cancer patients are produced, is subject to IAEA supervision. But the international community is alarmed by the fact that Iran is enriching the fuel rods needed to operate the reactor to a level of about 20 percent, a concentration that puts the country a big step closer to possessing weapons-grade uranium.
The scientist who accompanied SPIEGEL journalists on a tour of the facility last year insisted that nothing untoward is happening in the laboratories. "My work is intended to save lives, not destroy them," he said. Then he glanced over at the mosque and added: "May God protect us."
The Covert Proxy War
The complex in Israel where officials discuss hit squads, cyber warfare and conventional war objectives couldn't be more inconspicuous, and it takes a while to notice the many surveillance cameras and hidden gun embrasures. This is to be expected, given that the mousy gray building in northern Tel Aviv, near the highway to Haifa, houses the Mossad, or "Institute," the foreign intelligence agency of the Jewish state. The agency, which kidnapped Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann from Argentina, took bloody revenge for the massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich and later did the reconnaissance for Israel's aerial bombardment of nuclear facilities in Iraq (1981) and Syria (2007), is also known in Israel as the "Eye of David."
Now, many believe, Israel is waging a covert war against Iran's nuclear program, one aimed at eliminating Tehran's scientific elite. Most presume the killings are controlled from Mossad headquarters.
The first Iranian nuclear expert died in January 2007. Ardeshir Hosseinpour died of gas poisoning in the Isfahan uranium conversion plant, probably as a result of a leak caused by sabotage. A remote-controlled bomb killed Masoud Alimohammadi, a physicist, near his home in Tehran in January 2010. In November of the same year, a hooded motorcyclist attached a magnetic bomb to the car of Majid Shahriari, an expert on neutron transport, in the midst of Tehran traffic. He was killed instantly.
Darioush Rezaeinejad, a nuclear scientist, was killed with a shot to the head in July 2011. Only a few weeks ago, one of the young stars of the Iranian nuclear program, Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, 31, a director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, died in a Tehran bombing.
The Israeli intelligence service has not officially taken responsibility for any of the deaths. Traditionally, the Mossad does not comment on such attacks. Unofficially, however, experts leave little doubt as to who should be given credit for the killings.
Hardly anyone in Israel questions the liquidation of Iranian scientists, a method that is highly dubious under international law. And in keeping with a recommendation from the Talmud ("If someone is coming to kill you, rise up first and kill this person"), a large majority also endorses another form of warfare: the digital attack.
For several years, Iranian nuclear scientists have complained about inexplicable failures in the nuclear facilities. Three Revolutionary Guard aircraft crashed as a result of malfunctions in the computerized control system. But an uncanny war descended on Iran on a much larger scale in June 2009, in the form of a miracle weapon called Stuxnet. The computer worm burrowed its way into many of the roughly 8,000 centrifuges at the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, manipulating them to the point of self-destruction. It took Iranian scientists months to find an antidote to the cyber war. Meanwhile, Israeli experts are developing a new worm that they intend to smuggle into the Iranian systems. But while cyber attacks may be an effective tool against Iranian nuclear facilities, they can only delay development.
This is especially true now that the Iranians have begun operations at a second underground production facility for enriched uranium in Fordo near Qom, in addition to the one near Natanz. The IAEA (and, therefore, the Mossad) knows that Iranian engineers have produced neutron sources that can be used to trigger a nuclear explosion, and that they have completed work on the development of a nuclear detonation mechanism. In principle, it also knows where all of this was done. But experts also believe that Iranian scientists have duplicated most of the particularly important steps toward acquiring an atom bomb in hidden locations.
Only one person can issue the order to assemble the bomb: the revolutionary leader himself. But based on everything Western intelligence agencies know, Khamenei hasn't given this order yet. He appears to be keeping all of his options open. Only a few days ago, he insisted once again that the weapon of mass destruction is "haram," or forbidden for religious reasons. Tehran has also repeatedly stated that the documents on which the nuclear inspectors base their conclusions are forged, namely by those who want regime change in Iran: the Israelis and their allies in Washington. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi accuses IAEA Director Amano of allowing himself to be manipulated.
In Tehran, presidential advisers are handing around IAEA reports that are supposed to prove that Iran, contrary to all other claims, is indeed willing to cooperate. Is it a serious offer? Or are the Iranians just playing for time?
Iran's nuclear program is like a puzzle. The individual parts -- uranium enrichment, the trigger system and the missile technology with which the bomb would be flown to its target -- are prepared, organized and laid out for use in Tehran, Natanz and Fordo.
Perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle at the moment is the uranium enrichment facility in Fordo. There, Iranian scientists have installed several hundred centrifuges in two cascade groups, which continually enrich uranium hexafluoride, eventually reaching an enrichment level of 19.75 percent.
The centrifuges, made of shiny, hardened steel, function like giant salad spinners. Aside from a plutonium reactor, the use of centrifuges is the only possible route to creating a bomb.
The trick is to gradually increase the concentration of isotope 235 in the uranium to levels of up to 90 percent, which are necessary for the abrupt chain reaction needed for an atomic explosion to take place. There is a rotor inside the centrifuges, and the gaseous uranium hexafluoride is centrifuged until the heavy, worthless isotope accumulates along the outer wall, leaving the usable isotope in the center. The gas is conducted from one machine to the next, and the enrichment level increases as it is repeatedly centrifuged. A level of 3.5 percent is sufficient for fuel rods in a nuclear power plant, 19.75 is needed for medical purposes, and about 90 percent for a bomb.
All of this is currently happening underground in Fordo, under the supervision of the IAEA. But because the final steps occur more rapidly than the initial ones, it is less challenging to advance from an enrichment level of 19.75 percent to the critical 90 percent level.
Natural Protective Shield
According to the Vienna-based IAEA inspectors, Iran has produced 5,451 kilograms of low enriched uranium gas in recent years. This would be enough raw material for four to five nuclear bombs, at least in theory. A portion of the uranium gas -- 110 kilograms -- has already been further enriched to 19.75 percent.
These figures prompted Israeli Defense Minister Barak to coin the term "immunity zone" in relation to Iran's nuclear program.
Iran's invulnerability begins at the point at which bombs could no longer stop the enrichment process in Fordo, because a natural protective shield of solid granite protects the centrifuges there. Besides, the existing stockpile of low enriched uranium is enough to allow scientists to continue working underground, even if the country is attacked from abroad. According to military experts, there is only one conventional bomb powerful enough to break through this granite shield. The bomb, known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), is a 13,600-kilogram bunker buster that the US military has developed specifically for use in Iran. Washington has deliberately not sold this weapon to Israel. The MOP is Washington's trump card in the negotiations with Netanyahu. The Israelis argue that without this weapon they would have to attack six months earlier.
The Israelis assume that the Iranian scientists need at least another nine months to assemble the individual pieces of the puzzle and build the bomb -- if the order came from Khamenei, that is. Western intelligence agencies, including Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the BND, disagree with the Israeli assumption. They argue that in a best-case scenario the Iranians, assuming everything runs smoothly, would need at least 18 to 24 months to put the parts together. Another year would be needed to optimize the warhead to fit onto an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
The Master of War and Peace
Can a regime like the one in Tehran be brought to its senses with bombs, as many of the hawks in the West believe? And will the population resist its own leadership?
It is indisputable that the Pasdaran, the regime's most important pillar, will pay a high price. The current sanctions are already aimed primarily at the Revolutionary Guards. International travel bans have been imposed on their leaders, the trade embargo is directed against their businesses, in particular, and the oil embargo has drastically reduced their revenues from the oil business. In the event of a military strike, most of the victims would come from their ranks, because Pasdaran troops protect the nuclear facilities that would be targeted.
Upon closer inspection, however, the Pasdaran officers benefit from any escalation. Each additional tightening of the sanctions leads to a booming black market and boosts smuggling activities, thereby strengthening the shadow economy -- which some Pasdaran leaders control even more than legal commerce.
Even high casualties would probably not convince the loyal servants of the regime to give in. In fact, the opposite is more likely. They would declare each of their dead to be a martyr. And with each martyr that the organization can boast, its standing within the population will only increase.
The president would probably also benefit from a military attack. Granted, he would be the clear loser in the internal conflict among the various power centers, because he has previously claimed that the West would accept Iran's uranium enrichment. Each round of sanctions by the UN Security Council was a bitter blow to the president. An attack would be tantamount to a political disaster. But Ahmadinejad's rivals, including parliamentary speaker Larijani and, most of all, Revolutionary Leader Khamenei, were also skeptical of the international community's resolve not to back down.
Not Seeking Armed Conflict
An attack would silence all criticism, and the fight against Israel and its allies would force the entire population to close ranks. The Green Movement would hardly dare to object, and even the turf wars between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad would be forgotten.
With the first Israeli bomb, the revolutionary leader would rise up from the depths of everyday political life into which the president has pulled him. Suddenly he would become the master of war and peace.
And then Khamenei would undoubtedly have an excuse to instruct his experts to build the nuclear bomb.
Nevertheless, those who know Khamenei and his closest advisers well believe that the revolutionary leader does not seek armed conflict, notwithstanding all the belligerent rhetoric. There is talk in Tehran that Khamenei is placing his bets on the period after Ahmadinejad's term as president ends, at which point a president acceptable to Khamenei will clean up the mess left behind by the zealots.
Experts also believe that a resolution of the nuclear conflict could be possible with a future president who enjoys the confidence of the revolutionary leader. If the international community were to recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium, the leadership in Tehran would allegedly be willing to accept "maximum transparency and confidence-building measures." Then all options would indeed be on the table -- in a peaceful sense, that is.
But given the most recent escalations, it is questionable whether Israel will give the leadership in Tehran that much time. This is why the meeting in Washington will be so important. Much will depend on whether Obama and Netanyahu are able to build trust in one another.
Netanyahu sees Obama as a spineless "peacenik" who would shy away from an attack and would ultimately allow Iran to build the atom bomb, just as Pakistan and North Korea have already done. Obama, for his part, sees Netanyahu as a liar and a deceiver who is trying to blackmail him by threatening to launch an attack before the US presidential election in November. In an election year, Obama would have little choice but to support Israel, or at least not to stand in its way.
It is a balancing act for Obama. On the one hand, he wants to intimidate Iran with the credible threat of a military strike. On the other, he wants to dissuade Netanyahu from going it alone.
To do that, however, he would have to provide the Israelis with an "iron-clad guarantee" that he himself will stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon -- as long as he is still in a position to do so, says Amos Jadlin, who was head of Israeli military intelligence until the end of 2010. This means that Obama would have to clearly define the point at which the United States would attack Iran. Will he do that?
Not even former Republican President George W. Bush agreed to support Netanyahu's predecessor when Israel attacked the Syrian reactor in 2007. In fact, he advised Israel against it.
The outcome? Israel destroyed the Syrian nuclear facility a few weeks later.
REPORTED BY DIETER BEDNARZ, ERICH FOLLATH, JULIANE VON MITTELSTAEDT AND HOLGER STARK
US bunker-busters, aerial refueling for Israel alongside diplomacy for Iran
DEBKAfile Special Report March 6, 2012, 9:25 PM (GMT+02:00)
Tags: Barack Obama Benyamin Netanyahu Iran nuclear bunker-busters
US GBU-31 bunker buster bomb
American sources disclosed Tuesday March 6, that President Barack Obama had decided to let Israel have weapons systems suitable for long-range military operations and strikes against fortified underground targets. They include four KC-35 aerial refueling aircraft, doubling the number already in the Israeli Air Force's inventory, and GBU-31 Direct Attack Munition-JDAM bombs of the type which serve US bombers especially those based on aircraft carriers.
This news came together with the announcement that European Union’s Catherine Ashton had proposed to Iran that long-stalled nuclear negotiations be resumed with the Six World Powers.
debkafile reported earlier Tuesday, March 6:
The morning after Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu pledged before the pro-Israeli AIPAC convention that he would head off the threat of Israel’s annihilation by a nuclear Iran, and his agreement to disagree with US President Barack Obama in their White House talks, the European Union’s Catherine Ashton suddenly jumped up with a proposition to Tehran to resume the long-stalled nuclear negotiations with the world powers. She made her offer on behalf of China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Following the same script as Ashton, Tehran signaled its willingness to let international inspectors visit the military base of Parchin where nuclear explosive tests are strongly suspected of taking place.
Straight after this two-way messaging, Tehran prevaricated by announcing, “Considering the fact that it is a military site, granting access is a time-consuming process and cannot be permitted repeatedly. Nevertheless it would be allowed after the International Atomic Energy Agency submits paperwork about related issues.”
Monday, March 5, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano declined to spell out the suspicion that the Iranians needed time to remove the nuclear evidence from Parchin. "But I can tell you that we are aware that there are some activities at Parchin and it makes us believe that going there sooner is better than later," Amano said.
debkafile has reported in the past that this military base was used for the secret testing of nuclear explosives and warhead triggers.
Our Washington sources add that US intelligence certainly knew what was going on there. So did President Obama, when he addressed the AIPAC convention and promised to “prevent, not just contain” Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon. And so did Netanyahu, when he met the president at the White House Monday
Yet Parchin did not come up on any of those occasions.
The prime minister knew there was no point because Obama was already firmly set on engaging Iran in nuclear diplomacy with the Six Powers – probably in Istanbul next month as Tehran had proposed – irrespective of any other considerations. Tehran was to be allowed to flex its military muscle so as to reach the table in the strong position of a nuclear power.
(On Feb. 18, debkafile first revealed that agreement had been reached to resume those talks.)
Netanyahu spoke from this knowledge when he declared “Israel must be master of its fate” and “The pressure (on Iran) is growing but time is growing short.”
He made it clear that he has no faith in the diplomatic option achieving anything. As in the past, Tehran would apply “bazaar tactics” to duck, weave, procrastinate and haggle, the while using the talks as a safe cover for continuing with impunity the very processes under discussion.
Yet a few hours after the Obama-Netanyahu impasse, Washington and Tehran whipped out the diplomacy ploy to cut short Israel’s military plans. It was assumed that Israel would not risk attacking Iran while it was locked in international negotiations.
But Netanyahu has always resisted making this promise. Israel may therefore see its chance when the diplomatic process inevitably hits bumps in the road and stalls.
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta echoed President Obama when he spoke before the AIPAC conference on Tuesday: He vowed that the United States would take military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon if diplomacy failed.
"Military action is the last alternative when all else fails," he told the pro-Israel lobbying group. "But make no mistake, we will act if we have to."
He carefully sidestepped any reference to a timeline. So there is no guarantee that Iran won’t already be armed with a nuclear weapon by the time Washington gets around to determining that diplomacy has failed.
The Fraying Iran-Venezuela Alliance
| March 6, 2012
Sean Goforth 
Senator Richard Lugar recently warned of the growing threat posed by the Venezuela-Iran alliance. Lugar’s concern is a scenario in which Iran manages to block transit through the Strait of Hormuz, giving Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez the opportunity to deal Washington a “double blow ” by simultaneously cutting off oil exports to the United States.
On the surface, this may seem worrying. The two countries have a long tradition of trying to rile oil markets through a combination of bravado—Iran recently announced that it will preempt EU sanctions by halting oil sales to  Britain and France—military exercises and repeated vows to cripple the United States any way they can.
Chávez has proven willing to use Venezuelan oil for his political ends, primarily by doling out fuel subsidies to his regional allies but also by delivering oil products  to Iran in clear defiance of international sanctions. Yet despite his bluster, Chávez has kept the oil flowing north since he came into office, except for brief period in 2002–2003 when a worker’s strike against Chávez halted oil exports.
Behind the scenes, the anti-American alliance is in tatters. Key to the partnership is Iran’s ability to use Venezuela as a bridgehead for an expanded network of ties throughout Latin America. Shortly after elections brought Chávez allies to power in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, Iran’s trade with Latin America soared, tripling  from 2007–2008. To help bring those leaders closer into the fold, Venezuela and Iran pledged aid to Bolivia and Nicaragua that, when combined, amounted to more than 20 percent of each country’s GDP. Despite this, Iran’s support network in the region has thinned since 2010.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s four-country tour of Latin America in January, which Lugar and others  have cited as a sign of a growing Iranian presence in Latin America, actually demonstrates the decline of Iranian influence. Ahmadinejad didn’t visit Brazil, a country that championed Iran’s right to nuclear energy less than two years ago. He also didn’t go to Bolivia, which is probably the largest recipient of Iranian developmental aid in Latin America. (Iran’s bypass of Bolivia is a sign of ongoing fallout  from a visit by Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s defense minister, to Bolivia last summer. The visit drew Argentina’s ire because the former Quds commander allegedly had a role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires.)
Unable to keep up the guise of broad-based diplomatic support in Latin America, the central features of the illicit relationship between Venezuela and Iran have become more apparent. As one unclassified Department of Defense report  from 2010 points out, members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, an elite wing of Iran’s military, “have an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela.” Given the surge of Hezbollah operatives in the area, the prevailing belief is that the groups may launch retaliatory attacks against the United States or Western-oriented countries in the Americas if Iran’s nuclear installations are bombed.
There is also substantial evidence  to suggest that Iran is helping mine uranium in Venezuela and that financial institutions in Venezuela have funneled money to Iran’s nuclear program. In December, a Venezuelan diplomat  posted in Miami was implicated in a foiled Iranian cyber attack on the United States; if true, it is especially alarming because security experts regard the cyber arena as an area in which the playing field between Tehran and Washington is most even.
Managing the Threat
The Venezuela-Iran alliance does pose a threat to U.S. security. But it’s probably a manageable one.
Led by Undersecretary Stuart Levey, the U.S. Treasury has waged a global campaign to stop banks from laundering money  for Iran’s nuclear program in recent years, and international sanctions are slowly crushing Iran’s economy.
Meanwhile, Venezuela and Iran’s spheres of influence are breaking down, and a few of their allies—Cuba and Syria—have already begun death rattles.
Playing up the threat, as a recent House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing  chaired by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen tried to do, unduly politicizes the issue. Republican presidential candidates have started to call for bold action against the Venezuela-Iran tag team, although they haven’t offered any specifics other than to advocate expanding sanctions or bombing Iran. Lugar’s choice remedy is completing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline; a new energy source would undoubtedly buoy America’s energy security, but it’s hard to imagine how it would alter Chávez’s behavior in the midst of current tensions.
There’s no way to rule out the possibility of Chávez or the Iranian leadership unleashing terrorist attacks against the United States or its allies in a desperate final-hour kamikaze, but Washington shouldn’t needlessly provoke that scenario—not when the current arrangement works to America’s advantage.
Sean Goforth is author of Axis of Unity: Venezuela, Iran & the Threat to America (Potomac Books, 2012).
A Call for Autonomy in Libya's East
March 6, 2012 | 1422 GMT
MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images
Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib in Istanbul on Feb. 25
Thousands of eastern Libyan political and tribal leaders met March 6 near Benghazi. At the meeting, they declared their intent for autonomy in the country's eastern region and appointed a leader of a new governing council to administer local affairs, moves in keeping with recent calls for federalism. Regardless of what plan is eventually adopted, it is increasingly likely that a strong central authority will not exist in the future Libyan governing system. A power struggle over the amount of authority possessed by the country's respective autonomous regions will ensue.
At least 2,000 Libyan political and tribal leaders met March 6 near Benghazi and stated their desire for semi-autonomy in the country's eastern region. Delegates at the conference, which was held to discuss the federalism issue, also announced plans to form a new governing council for eastern Libya with Sheikh Ahmed al-Zubair as its leader. Al-Zubair, whose name has also been reported as Ahmed al-Senussi, was a longtime political prisoner under former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and is reportedly a descendant of former Libyan King Idriss al-Senussi.
Though scant details have been released about the nature of the envisioned new region, eastern autonomy represents the most serious threat to Libya's central authority -- the National Transitional Council (NTC) and the interim government it appointed -- since the fall of Gadhafi. Statements by the NTC and the government made ahead of the planned Benghazi gathering have demonstrated that the government had tried to pre-empt any push to weaken the country's central authority by issuing its own decentralization plans. Regardless of what plan is eventually adopted, power will not be concentrated in Tripoli to the same degree as under Gadhafi. The question remaining is how closely knit the country's future autonomous regions will be.
The eastern Libyan group that appears to be driving the federalism demands is the National Federal Union (NFU). The NFU is not a secessionist movement, and it is unclear how much support the group holds. The NFU is calling for a return to the system that existed under Libya's former monarchy. Its 1951 constitution divided Libya into three administrative regions that were relics of Italian colonial rule: Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east and southeast and Fezzan in the remainder of the country's desert interior. Though these divisions (known in Arabic as "Tarabulus," "Barqah" and "Fizzan," respectively) formally ceased to exist during Gadhafi's reign, they still are part of the nation's collective memory.
Under the NFU's purported vision, the group would oversee the establishment of an autonomous Barqah province with its own capital, parliament, police and courts. The other two regions would follow Barqah's lead. One of the NFU's followers has compared the group's plan to the U.S. system of states and a federal government, though it appears that the group is advocating that individual provinces hold more power.
Trouble for the NTC
The fact that opposition is coming from Libya's east is notable given the NTC's origins in Benghazi. Though the council began as an eastern-based political movement, it came to represent all of Libya during the war against the Gadhafi regime. Now that Gadhafi is gone, the NTC's aim is not to redistribute power and wealth back to eastern Libya but rather to fill the void created by the former leader's departure. As a result, NTC leaders are being pulled in several directions.
Organizers of the planned March 6 gathering in Benghazi have taken issue with the NTC's latest draft proposal for the country's constituent assembly, which is expected to be elected in June and to draft a new constitution in July. Under the NTC plan, the east would only hold 60 of 200 seats, compared to 102 for the west. This signals to many eastern Libyans that they would once again be subservient to Tripoli. In fact, the draft plan is laid out logically according to the country's population distribution, but it angers the NTC's own power base.
To counter the push for federalism, the NTC is touting its own decentralization plans. The plans allocate more power to the central government than the NFU plans, but the NTC's proposal still tacitly admits that the old system of strong central governance is over. The current power struggle is over how much authority the country's respective autonomous regions will possess.
Risks to Fragmentation
The NFU's plan for autonomy in the east will not be adopted anytime soon. The NTC has made it clear that it opposes such moves, and signs of opposition to the plan within eastern Libya have emerged. But should the federalization push eventually gain traction to the point where the country begins to fragment, Libya would be at risk of splintering into far more than just three autonomous regions. Highlighting this risk, there have recently been several examples of fraying ties between armed groups across the country:
* The western coastal city of Misurata, which has long existed as a de facto city-state of its own, recently completed local elections to replace a city council that was nominally loyal to the NTC.
* Armed tribesmen in the central town of Bani Walid expelled a pro-NTC militia from local power in February and currently remain in control of the former pro-Gadhafi stronghold.
* Tribesmen in the southeastern area of Kufra have been fighting for the past three weeks. The NTC has only been able to issue statements in attempts to resolve the matter.
* The Nafusa Mountains lie beyond the control of anyone from the coast, and the region has experienced power struggles among its various armed militias.
While geographically part of the west, Tripoli itself remains under the control of several armed militias from different parts of the country, each of which maintains its own set of alliances -- and each of which have repeatedly ignored the NTC's calls to disarm. Were Libya to begin unraveling under the weight of a federalist movement, the city would experience its own internal struggle.
Though calls for federalism are loudest in Benghazi -- the heart of the revolution and the area where residents held the highest expectations for a post-Gadhafi Libya -- not everyone in the east supports the NFU plans. The reception garnered by the March 6 gathering in Benghazi will say much about the general sentiment in eastern Libya.
Outside the east, other political groups are forming without demands for the same sort of immediate establishment of federalism. New political parties are frequently being created -- four in the past week alone -- advocating plans in line with the NTC's proposal. The Muslim Brotherhood's branch in Libya announced the formation of its own party March 3, and it too has not come out in support of the NFU plan. Most of the parties are instead focusing their efforts on competing in the planned June constituent assembly elections in hopes of influencing formation of the country's new constitution in July.
AQAP raid decimates Yemeni mechanized battalion
By Bill Roggio
March 6, 2012 12:04 PM
The toll from last Sunday's raid by an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula assault force against a Yemeni Army base in Al Koud continues to rise as the bodies of more soldiers are recovered. AQAP is now thought to have killed 185 Yemeni troops, wounded more than 150, and captured another 55. According to Yemeni journalist Nasser Arrabyee, "about 60 soldiers were detained and taken to the Taliban-style Al Qaeda-declared Islamic Emirate of Jaar in the southern province of Abyan on Sunday morning," where they were forced to train AQAP fighters on some of the heavy equipment captured during the raid.
The Guardian reports that AQAP mutilated some of the bodies of the slain Yemeni soldiers and dumped them in the desert:
Medical officials in the area confirmed the latest death toll and said some of the bodies of soldiers recovered were missing their heads and bore multiple stab wounds. They said the military hospital morgue was packed with bodies, and some were taken to vegetable freezers in a military compound for lack of space.
A senior military official said the attack left his soldiers "fearful of al-Qaida because of the barbarism and brutality of their attack".
"Al-Qaida managed to deal a blow to the army's morale. Imagine how soldiers feel when they see the bodies of their comrades dumped in the desert," he said.
Military officials had earlier said militants overran the base and captured armoured vehicles and artillery pieces, which they turned on the army.
The official said the soldiers were taken unawares. "It was a massacre and it came by surprise as the soldiers were asleep," he said. Militants sneaked behind army lines and attacked from the rear where there was "zero surveillance".
Some Yemeni journalists are claiming that the outgoing commander of the decimated armored battalion had provided vital information that allowed AQAP to overrun the camp.
Whether or not AQAP used inside information to overrun the camp, it scored a major victory over the Yemeni Army. The AQAP assault force rendered nearly 400 Yemeni soldiers killed, captured, or wounded, essentially neutralizing an entire armored brigade in an area where the Yemeni military has struggled to contain the terror group.
At LWJ and Threat Matrix, we've noted several times that AQAP forces on the 'Zinjibar front' have prevented a division of Yemeni troops - which consists of one armored, one mechanized, and one infantry brigade - from retaking the provincial capital for nearly a year (AQAP first gained control of Zinjibar in May 2011).
Many analysts scoffed when AQAP announced (twice) in 2010 that it was forming a 12,000-man army in Abyan and Aden provinces to establish its caliphate. Perhaps the number is exaggerated a bit. But given AQAP's military prowess on the Zinjibar front, and its ability to continually replenish its ranks, perhaps AQAP didn't exaggerate by all that much.
March 5, 2012
Special Dispatch No.4547
Egyptian Cleric Abd Al-Maguid Al-Shazli: Islamists Should Bear Arms to Defend the Coming Islamic Revolution in Egypt
Following are excerpts from an interview with Egyptian cleric Abd Al-Maguid Al-Shazli at a comrade's funeral, which was attended by Egyptian presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail. The interview was posted on the Internet on February 24, 2012.
Abd Al-Maguid Al-Shazli: "The Islamic nation is alive and well, and ultimately, it will be victorious. This presentation is meant to [inaudible]. Then the banner of jihad was raised in Afghanistan by the mujahid sheik Osama bin Laden, may Allah have mercy upon him and accept him among the righteous. When Osama bin Laden was martyred, the banner was raised by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and the message of jihad continued to be borne by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
"Then Afghanistan vanquished America. America wishes it could find a way to save face while leaving Afghanistan. Then Iraq was invaded. The Islamic resistance formed in Iraq inflicted [great] losses upon America, despite the presence of the Shi'ites there, as well as Sunnis who collaborated with the Shiites and the Americans. The banner of jihad did not and will not fall.
"Then came the February 25 Revolution, and there were martyrs. […]
"There will be an Islamic revolution in Egypt. When it comes, bear arms, in order to serve as the defenders of the Islamic revolution, who will protect it from any military attack. The banner of jihad will be raised in Egypt. […]
"Even at times when the [mujahideen] were beaten by their enemies, the cause continued to exist. It was shifted abroad and continued to exist there, and from there, it will soon be shifted back into Egypt, when Egypt will witness a comprehensive Islamic revolution, which will be defended by a Sunni Islamic revolutionary guard. This guard will use arms, not just words, to fight for this revolution. This time will come. It is not far off." […]
Caracas, Tuesday March 6,2012 Mexican Party Says U.S. Sees No Danger of Cartel Pact
MEXICO CITY – The United States considers reports that the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, might cut a deal with Mexico’s drug cartels if it wins the presidency an “unfounded myth,” a party official said, citing statements by U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden.
Biden expressed the United States’ position during a meeting Monday in Mexico City with PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, who is the favorite to win the July 1 presidential election, Peña Nieto’s campaign chief, Luis Videgaray, told Radio Formula.
Biden told Peña Nieto that the “United States does not have this fear,” Videgaray said.
The U.S. vice president was alluding to reports “in some circles of public opinion” that the PRI might “return to an era of supposed pacts” with Mexico’s organized crime groups, Videgaray said.
Biden said the United States “is sure” that a Peña Nieto administration “will work to fight organized crime,” Videgaray said.
“This is a message from the U.S. government to create confidence among Mexicans in general and especially PRI members that there is nothing against the PRI,” the campaign chief said.
Peña Nieto’s campaign has been trying to counter reports that came out last year about certain PRI factions supposedly preferring the option of cutting deals with Mexico’s cartels to reduce the drug-related violence in the country.
PRI leaders have always denied that there might be a preference among members for deals with the cartels and criticized the governing National Action Party, or PAN, for using such reports for political gain.
The issue gained traction last October after President Felipe Calderon told The New York Times that certain sectors of the PRI were willing to negotiate with criminal organizations in the past and might do so again.
“There are many in the PRI who think the deals of the past would work now. I don’t see what deal could be done, but that is a mentality that many of them have,” the president said in response to a question about the PRI’s reputation for having dealt with criminal organizations.
Calderon told The New York Times that former Nuevo Leon Gov. Socrates Rizzo was among the PRI members who had cut deals with criminal organizations.
“There are many in the PRI who agree with the policy I have, at least they say so in secret, while publicly they may say something else,” Calderon told The New York Times.
Peña Nieto told reporters after his meeting with Biden that the two discussed the drug-related violence in Mexico.
“I made my personal position and that of my party very clear of having an unwavering commitment as leaders of the Mexican state to fighting organized crime,” Peña Nieto said. EFE
Defense: Beijing announces another double-digit jump in military spending as the U.S. disarms and sacrifices its defense budget on the altar of entitlement spending. We have many duties; the Chinese have but one target.
China announced this week that its military budget this year would rise 11.2% on top of a 12.7% increase last year. This does not bode well as the U.S. defense budget and force levels decline as a result of cuts mandated by our failure to come to grips with runaway spending.
As China ramps up military spending, President Obama's budget contains $487 billion in cuts that, when added to the half-trillion or so in cuts mandated by the sequestration process, leaves us a military with a precipitately declining capability to meet its global commitments and responsibilities.
The Heritage Foundation has labeled as "factually incorrect" the assertion by Obama and others that U.S. defense cuts are only in the rate of growth. These are real cuts with real consequences, and the consolation that our budget is still larger than the next dozen or so countries combined ignores the fact that none of these states has our global commitments or interests.
China has only one interest — expanding its power beyond its coastlines into the Western Pacific and South China Sea and to be able to defeat any opposing forces within that theater of operations. The president has promised "budget reductions will not come at the expense of that critical region." Yet by crunching the numbers of projected U.S. force levels, it's hard to see how it could not be otherwise.
Heritage reckons the president's budget cuts alone would result in the loss of eight combat brigade teams in the Army, six Air Force tactical fighter squadrons and one training squadron, and 130 aircraft. Ground forces will be reduced by 73,000, or 13%, in the Army and by 20,000, or 10%, in the Marines.
As a result of the president's cuts, we will retire nine Navy ships and reduce the acquisition of new ships. President Reagan's 600-ship Navy will be reduced to less than we've had at any time since World War I. The Navy will shrink to 238 vessels and lose two carrier battle groups needed to project American power and influence.
China's spending hikes give it a defense budget larger than all other Asian nations combined. Heritage's Dean Cheng writes that those figures are "a sobering statistic when one considers that this includes the world's third largest economy (Japan) and North and South Korea, which remain locked in a Cold War-era standoff."
South China Sea special region proposed
Updated: 2012-03-06 15:52
By Xiao Lixin (chinadaily.com.cn)
China should establish a South China Sea special administrative region to assert its sovereignty over Nansha, Xisha and Dongsha islands and waters in the area, according to a proposal by Luo Yuan, an Academy of Military Science researcher and member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee.
According to Luo's proposal, China should mark its sovereignty over the area by five key measures: administrative, legal, economic, military and a media presence in the region. Diplomatic, economic and legal means should be used to solve any territorial disputes with military solutions only as back-up measure, the proposal said.
However, China should station troops on the islands, send naval patrols, and where possible, mark its sovereignty with the national flag. China should also encourage its fishermen to fish in the area and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation and China National Petroleum Corporation to explore offshore oil and gas resources there, the proposal said.
Luo also suggested that China publish a South China Sea white paper to demonstrate China's historical sovereignty over the many islands and waters in the area.
Despite Kremlin’s Signals, U.S. Ties Remain Strained After Russian Election
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and STEVEN LEE MYERS
Published: March 6, 2012
MOSCOW — Now that Russia’s presidential campaign is over, the Kremlin signaled on Tuesday that it was prepared for its relationship with Washington to get back to normal, potentially including swift cooperation on containing Iran’s nuclear program amid the prospect of a military strike by Israel.
But senior American officials suggested that it could take some time to get past the strident anti-American rhetoric that characterized Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin’s politicking in recent months, including his strangely personal allegation that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was trying to stoke political unrest in Russia.
Underscoring the ambivalence in Washington, the Obama administration fiercely debated how to respond to the Russian election, with some officials favoring a strong condemnation of the results. The White House ultimately settled on a tempered statement, not directly congratulating Mr. Putin but saying “the United States looks forward to working with the president-elect.”
As of late Tuesday night in Moscow, President Obama still had not called Mr. Putin to congratulate him. But at an afternoon news conference in Washington, Mr. Obama acknowledged the result, noting that a Group of 8 meeting in May at Camp David would “give me a chance to spend time with Mr. Putin, the new Russian president.”
Mr. Putin, who won a six-year term on Sunday, had said Mrs. Clinton sent a “signal” to demonstrators to begin street actions in Moscow after Russian parliamentary elections in December that observers said were marred by voter fraud. More broadly, the Kremlin asserted a plot in which the United States was financing opposition groups as well as Golos, the only independent election-monitoring organization in Russia, which gathered evidence of irregularities.
In the months since, there have been sharp disagreements over how to handle the violence in Syria, including Russia’s joint veto with China of a Security Council resolution calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Mrs. Clinton recently called those vetoes, at a time when Syrian forces continued to shell civilian neighborhoods, “just despicable.”
Mrs. Clinton spoke by phone on Tuesday with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, in a call that officials said had a “get back to business” tone. A senior State Department official said they discussed Iran, Syria, the Middle East peace process and the Russian election.
Russia on Tuesday also joined the United States, Britain, China, France and Germany in accepting Iran’s offer to negotiate on its nuclear program at a time and place to be determined, a step American officials said they viewed as very encouraging.
The deep strain in relations between Washington and Moscow had come at a time of numerous pressing international security issues. And just as Russia seems ready to move beyond the recent tough talk, the United States has its own presidential election that could complicate things.
In reacting to Mr. Putin’s victory on Monday, the State Department clearly tried to walk a tightrope. With European observers sharply criticizing the Russian election as unfairly tilted in Mr. Putin’s favor, some officials wanted to strongly condemn the outcome, according to one American official involved in the process and another who was briefed on it.
But there were concerns about alienating Mr. Putin and further jeopardizing ties at a time when the United States is eager for Russia’s cooperation, especially in the Middle East. There was also some sense at the White House that little good could come from a debate over Russia policy, traditionally a divisive topic, during a presidential election year.
Mitt Romney, the leading Republican presidential candidate, pounced quickly, issuing a statement criticizing the Obama administration for being too tepid in its statement on the election.
“What the world witnessed in Russia yesterday was a mockery of the democratic process,” Mr. Romney said. “Instead of stating that it ‘congratulates the Russian people on the completion of the presidential elections,’ as the Obama administration has done, it should have condemned the flagrant manipulation and media restrictions that marred this election. With the dimming of democracy in Russia, a better label for President Obama’s Russia policy is ‘set back’ rather than ‘reset.’ ”
In the highly coded language of diplomacy, the Obama administration’s statement was hardly a valentine. It pointedly congratulated “the Russian people on the completion of the presidential elections,” but not Mr. Putin himself. It endorsed the report by European election observers and urged the Russian government “to conduct an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations.”
In addition, the administration’s statement praised the new political activism by Russian citizens “exercising their constitutional right to free assembly” — a clear reference to the opposition groups that have staged anti-government protests in Moscow.
But the political situation in Moscow could prove a new source of tensions in the countries’ relations.
On Monday night, as the police rounded up the leaders of the latest protest rally, the American ambassador, Michael McFaul, posted a message on Twitter: “Troubling to watch arrests of peaceful demonstrators at Pushkin Square. Freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are universal values.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry snapped back at Mr. McFaul, in its own Twitter post: “Police on Pushkin were several times more humane than what we saw in the break up of the Occupy Wall Street protests, the tent camps in Europe.”
But there were also clear overtures from the Russian government on Tuesday.
“We think a great deal of important, good and useful work has been done in Russian-American relations over the years of Dmitri Medvedev’s and Barack Obama’s presidency,” Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said at a news briefing. “All this must be saved and used as a foundation for the next step.”
A senior administration official said Washington would be looking for concrete proof of Russia’s intentions.
“Privately they have said to us at the highest levels that the change in president will not mean a change in their policy toward the United States,” this official said. “Now we get to test that proposition.”
The official added: “It’s time to translate these diplomatic notes and communications into some policy achievements. For us, we really do need even an incremental success. We need something to show we are moving in a different direction.”
David M. Herszenhorn reported from Moscow, and Steven Lee Myers from Washington.
After Election, Putin Faces Challenges to Legitimacy (March 6, 2012)
At Chechnya Polling Station, Votes for Putin Exceed the Rolls (March 6, 2012)
Putin Contends Clinton Incited Unrest Over Vote (December 9, 2011)
China must be transparent over its military spending
The Yomiuri Shimbun
China is continuing to beef up its military. This is apparent from the country's defense budget for 2012, which was made public at the opening session of the People's National Congress on Monday.
The country's defense spending for this year totals about 670 billion yuan (about 8.7 trillion yen), up 11.2 percent over the previous year and the second-largest figure after that of the United States.
China has maintained double-digit growth in defense spending since 1989, with the exception of 2010 when its economy was affected by the global recession. During the decade President Hu Jintao's administration has been in power, China's defense budget has increased fourfold to reach a level nearly double the size of Japan's.
Japan and China's other neighbors are increasingly worried about Beijing's military buildup. Why is China continuing to expand its military budget? Its explanations are insufficient.
"The budget includes research and purchase costs for all military equipment, including new types of weapons," a spokesman for China's parliament said without going into details.
Responsibility of major power
The new defense budget does not include costs for space exploration, which is inextricably linked with military development. So its total defense spending is estimated to be almost double the figure disclosed.
As a major power, China must exercise its responsibility by making its military spending and equipment purchase plans more transparent.
The increase in China's defense spending is mainly intended to develop or procure antiship ballistic missiles targeted at U.S. aircraft carriers, cruise missiles and next-generation fighter jets. China is believed to be bolstering its capabilities to deny access by the U.S. military to waters around China in times of an emergency in the Taiwan Strait.
In December last year, Hu directed high-ranking naval officers to prepare for an expansion of their "military struggle," indicating China's intention to build a strong naval force from the western Pacific to the Indian Ocean to vie with the United States, which places importance on the Asian region.
Japan must remain vigilant
China's naval strategy leaves Japan with no alternative but to maintain its vigilance.
In a report released last month, the Defense Ministry's National Institute for Defense Studies warned that as China strengthens its military muscle, Beijing would take a hard-line stance in the East China Sea similar to that in the South China Sea.
Sign of this have already occurred.
A Chinese patrol boat confronted a Japan Coast Guard survey ship last month--the third time in recent months--to demand that it stop conducting marine research in Japan's exclusive economic zone around Okinawa Prefecture.
Japan must continue to lodge protests over these illegitimate demands.
It is also essential to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance to boost its deterrent power.
Japan's defense spending has declined for 10 consecutive years. Unless this is rectified, the upgrading of military equipment and the operational capabilities of Self-defense Forces troops will be severely affected. The decrease in defense spending must be halted as soon as possible.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 6, 2012)
(Mar. 7, 2012)
US expects Pakistan to reopen border soon: general
(AFP) – 4 hours ago
WASHINGTON — A top US general said Tuesday he plans to visit Pakistan in 10 days for talks that he hopes will reopen the border to supply convoys for NATO troops in Afghanistan.
The vital routes have been closed to trucks ferrying supplies to coalition forces since November, when US air strikes killed 24 Pakistani troops in a friendly fire incident that enraged Islamabad.
General James Mattis, who oversees US forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan as the head of Central Command, said that NATO had managed to keep supplies flowing to troops in Afghanistan by using routes on its northern border as well as deliveries by air.
But he said the roads through Pakistan were needed to carry out a scheduled US troop drawdown, which calls for reducing American forces from nearly 90,000 to 68,000 by the end of September.
"However, (for) the withdrawal out of Afghanistan we do need the ground lines of communication through Pakistan. As far as the status of that discussion, I will fly to Pakistan here in about 10 days and we'll reopen the discussion," Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
American officials have expressed optimism that Pakistan will soon reopen the border once a parliamentary review of the US-Pakistan relationship is completed. Mattis said it should be finished by the time he arrives for talks.
Pakistani military leaders have "been waiting for the parliamentary process to be done and that's why there's been a bit of a delay here," he said.
Asked if he was optimistic about resolving the border blockade, Mattis said "yes."
Once it reopens the border, Pakistan is expected to impose a tax on NATO convoys carrying supplies shipped to its port in Karachi and trucked through its territory to landlocked Afghanistan.
The November 26 friendly-fire air strikes capped a disastrous year for the US-Pakistan alliance, which was already under serious strain from the unilateral US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2 and the detention of a CIA contractor who killed two Pakistanis in January 2011.
* US expects Pakistan to reopen border soon: general
AFP - 3 hours ago
* US seeks to reopen key Pakistan supply routes
NavyTimes.com - 3 hours ago
* Top US commander going to Pakistan
Sioux City Journal - 8 hours ago
The violent response to accidental Koran burning once again drives home the perils of nation-building.
American soldiers mistakenly burned a half dozen Korans in Afghanistan. Predictably, the response was riots by many and murder by a few Muslims. Violence has become the tactic of choice of Islamic extremists around the world against secular critics and religious minorities alike.
Indeed, this isn't the first time that Afghan mobs have killed to avenge a perceived insult to their faith. Last year a crowd in the generally peaceful city of Mazar-e-Sharif slaughtered a dozen United Nations staffers after Rev. Terry Jones burned a Koran in Florida.
The latest round of violence was sparked by the burning of six Korans removed from a prison because they contained extremist messages -- added by Afghan Muslims apparently unconcerned about the alleged sacredness of the text. Sent to a landfill, they were set on fire before Afghan personnel identified them as Korans.
In the ensuing violence some 30 Afghans died and a half dozen Americans were killed. A taxi driver told the Wall Street Journal: "If they are insulting our Koran, we don't want peaceful rallies." A policeman informed the Washington Post: "Afghans and the world's Muslims should rise against the foreigners. We have no patience left." Another cop, trained by NATO, declared: "We should burn those foreigners."
Members of parliament and political allies of Afghan President Hamid Karzai openly encouraged attacks on allied personnel. Parliamentarian Abdul Sattar Khawasi asserted that "Americans are invaders, and jihad against Americans is an obligation" and called for "war against Americans."
Apparently no one expressed remorse over the deaths of innocent people. President Karzai demanded U.S. cooperation in his investigation of the incident. Local religious leaders called for trying the American personnel who burned the Korans in Islamic court. After meeting with President Karzai, one group of senior Islamic clerics issued a statement: "This evil action cannot be forgiven by apologizing."
The initial U.S. intervention in Afghanistan was necessary to break al Qaeda and punish the Taliban for hosting terrorists. But those objectives were achieved a decade ago.
Since then Washington has been attempting to establish competent and honest governance in Kabul. Along the way Americans have sacrificed more than 1,900 lives (U.S. allies have lost another 1,000) and $507 billion. However, the latest example of deadly intolerance in Afghanistan suggests that America's attempt at nation-building is a chimera, unattainable at least at reasonable cost in reasonable time.
The difficulty starts with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. His supporters committed widespread electoral fraud during his 2009 reelection campaign. The State Department declared the vote "marked by serious allegations of widespread fraud." The 2010 parliamentary elections were little better, "marred by widespread fraud and corruption" according to State. Last year the group Freedom House declared that the "parliamentary elections, which were characterized by widespread fraud, did little to repair the credibility of Afghan political institutions following the flawed 2009 presidential poll." In an assessment released earlier this year, Freedom House reported a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.
Corruption is pervasive, yet President Karzai forced the release of a top official arrested as a result of an investigation by the anticorruption task force. Karzai's late brother, Ahmed Walid Karzai, was widely believed to be involved in the narcotics trade. Wealth generated by that business, as well as siphoned off from the massive inflow of Western money that dominates Afghanistan's war economy, has funded construction of gaudy "poppy palaces" that line Kabul streets. In grand understatement, Freedom House warned of "a lack of political will to address the problem."
Afghans are cynical about "their" government. However, they fear "their" security forces, particularly the Afghan National Police. When I visited Afghanistan people described being robbed by the latter, which is supposed to protect them. The latest State Department assessment on human rights reported that the "security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings." State cited "reports of serious abuses by government officials, security forces, detention center authorities, and police," including arbitrary arrests, unlawful trials, and illegal imprisonments filled with beatings, torture, and rape. Children are mistreated as well.
Such is the government presided over by President Karzai. Yet he plans to spend his time investigating the accidental burning of a few copies of the Koran.
EVEN MORE FANTASTIC is the U.S. government's desire to build a liberal nation state in Afghanistan. The latter is a desperately poor land ravished by decades of conflict. More important, Afghanistan is locked in the past.
There are educated and tolerant Afghans who want to build a free and humane society, some of whom I met on my first trip to Afghanistan in 2010. When I visited the country last October as part of a NATO-sponsored delegation, a group of female parliamentarians expressed their fear of the consequences of an allied withdrawal. Even most rural, tribal peoples are not the "savages" denounced by Sarah Palin, but simply traditionalists who want to be left alone.
However, there obviously are many -- too many -- Afghans who view the lives of infidels, even "people of the book," as Jews and Christians are known, as valueless. The burning of the Korans was called "antihuman" by one Islamic cleric and "inhumane" by the clerical delegation which met with Karzai. Yet the murder of non-Muslims is accepted as reasonable and just by some Afghans.
In fact, there are reasons why Afghans might hate Americans. Even then U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal admitted that at checkpoints "We've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force." Tens of thousands of Afghans have fled to Pakistan and more than 300,000 have been displaced within their own nation. While the Taliban is primarily responsible for the human carnage, Americans and Europeans are outsiders, who rarely have been welcomed fondly by people determined to govern themselves.
However, the latest round of violence was just another instance of hateful intolerance. Six years ago Kabul sentenced to death a Christian convert. Under Western pressure the Karzai government released the man on a technicality and allowed him to emigrate. Christians and other religious minorities receive none of the respect that Afghan Muslims demand for themselves. Indeed, there is no freedom of religious conscience even for Afghans in Afghanistan.
The situation was worse under the Taliban, but that is scant comfort today. In its latest assessment Freedom House reported: "Religious freedom has improved since the fall of the Taliban government in late 2001, but it is still hampered by violence and harassment aimed at religious minorities and reformist Muslims."
The group Open Doors ranked Afghanistan number 2 on its latest "World Watch List," up a spot from last year. Afghanistan outranked even Saudi Arabia and Iran in persecution. Explained Open Doors: "the situation remains desolate, especially for minority groups, including the small Christian community. Despite having signed all international agreements designed to protect the freedom of religion, the government in the current setting is not even able to guarantee the most basic tenants of this right. On the contrary, being recognized as a Christian immediately places any believer in a very difficult position."
In its most recent report the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom concluded simply: "Conditions for religious freedom remain exceedingly poor for minority religious communities and dissenting members of the majority faith, despite the presence of U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan for almost 10 years and the substantial investment of lives, resources, and expertise by the United States and the international community." Recently "the small and vulnerable Christian community experienced a spike in government arrests, with Christians being detained and some jailed for the 'crime' of apostasy."
Last year's State Department assessment of international religious liberty offered a similarly negative assessment. Noted State: "The constitution and other laws and policies restrict religious freedom and, in practice, the government enforced these restrictions." Respect for religious liberty is on the decline, "particularly for Christian groups and individuals." Moreover, "Negative societal opinion and suspicion of Christian activities led to targeting of Christian groups and individuals, including Muslim converts to Christianity. The lack of government responsiveness and protection for these groups and individuals contributed to the deterioration of religious freedom."
Members of this society are lecturing Americans about the latter's lack of "respect" for the former's religious beliefs.
THE LATEST ROUND of violence should cause Americans to reflect on what Afghanistan is and is likely to become. U.S. foreign policy cannot be based solely on the perceived worthiness of those being defended, but presidential contender Newt Gingrich made an important point when he declared that Washington shouldn't risk "the life of a single American… in a country whose religious fanatics are trying to kill us and whose government seems to be on the side of the fanatics."
The U.S. and its allies entered Afghanistan to fight terrorism. That job has been completed. Al Qaeda is a wreck and its remnant operates elsewhere, including next door in Pakistan. Afghanistan has become irrelevant to protecting Americans from terrorist attack.
It still would be best if possible to leave an Afghan government capable of protecting its people from the worst depredations of the Taliban. To that end the U.S. and NATO have constructed at great cost Afghan security forces that are more capable than in the past, but which continue to suffer from debilitating deficiencies -- many privately admitted by allied personnel on the ground.
The biggest problem remains the Afghan government, however. Even allied officials who have increasing confidence in the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police express frustration with the Karzai government. However impressive the official façade, the reality behind looks very different -- rather like in South Vietnam decades ago. Will even well-trained Afghan security personnel be willing to die for the regime in Kabul when the allies depart?
Remaking Afghan society is a hopeless task. Social engineering is hard enough at home. Doing so abroad is far more difficult, especially when many Afghans are ready to kill when offended by those who believe differently than them. The problem runs far deeper than the loss of mutual trust between Afghans and allies, as some observers suggest. Afghan society may -- and hopefully will -- eventually evolve in a more humane direction, but it will do so on Afghanistan's, not America's, schedule.
Indeed, violent intolerance pervades the Muslim world. Not all Islamic states persecute -- Turkey and some of the small Gulf kingdoms are more tolerant places -- but Islam joins Communism as the two most accurate predictors that a government will suppress religious liberty. And Muslim nations like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan top any list of religious persecutors.
American foreign policy cannot be focused on promoting religious liberty abroad. However, to the extent that promoting human rights remains a basic U.S. goal, Washington should advance respect for freedom of religion. Moreover, the lack of a shared commitment to the value of the life, dignity, and conscience of the human person makes some partnerships difficult if not impossible. As perhaps in Afghanistan.
Americans should wish the Afghan people well. But Washington cannot turn Afghans into Americans. The latest round of Islamic violence in Afghanistan alone is not enough to pronounce the U.S. counter-insurgency mission to be a failure. However, the killings highlight the perils of nation-building. And they entitle the American people to ask: Why are we still in Afghanistan?
About the Author
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and the Senior Fellow in International Religious Persecution at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics (Crossway).
Mar 7, 2012 Holes in North Korea nuke deal
By Naoko Aoki
WASHINGTON - Last week's agreement between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear program - the first negotiated progress on the issue in four years - has spurred debate about whether the new deal will stick.
While there has been widespread speculation about whether North Korea will really suspend work at its uranium enrichment plant at Yongbyon, refrain from nuclear and missile testing, and allow the return of international inspectors in exchange for 240,000 tons of US food aid, little attention has been given to the impact those actions would actually have on Pyongyang's nuclear program.
So are the deal's undertakings mostly symbolic confidence-building gestures, or will they have bite? A closer inspection of North Korea's promised actions shows that while the measures could slow the pace of progress of its nuclear development, they will not necessarily completely halt the program.
Significantly, the deal does not cover any nuclear weapons that North Korea has already produced - and the outside world may remain in the dark about the size and sophistication of those weapons for some time to come.
A key feature of the agreement announced on February 29 was North Korea's promise to halt operations at its uranium enrichment facility in the Yongbyon nuclear complex. The new modern centrifuge plant, which could be producing material for nuclear weapons, became public knowledge after it was shown to a group of US academics including Stanford University Professor Siegfried Hecker in November 2010.
While the announced suspension has been widely greeted as a positive development, there is an important catch: the facility at Yongbyon is unlikely to be the only uranium enrichment plant North Korea currently operates. In other words, a promised moratorium at the Yongbyon facility does not necessarily put a stop to all uranium enrichment activities in the country.
"When you build an enrichment plant like this, you need to have a place to do your research and development and testing," Olli Heinonen, a senior fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said in a telephone interview. "So most likely there is at least one location where they have been doing this," said the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Hecker, who headed the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1986 to 1997, has also concluded that North Korea must also have a pilot-scale centrifuge plant at an undisclosed location. "We are still not certain of what they can produce at an undisclosed site, but I believe it is limited," Hecker said in an e-mail message to Asia Times Online.
Diplomats have pointed out that even without concrete evidence, it would be logical for North Korea to maintain uranium enrichment facilities outside of Yongbyon. The fact that Yongbyon's nuclear capabilities have been shown to an American delegation and is also visible in satellite images makes it a potential target for a military attack. The diplomatic logic follows that North Korea would not risk putting their investment and technology all in one place, and therefore should have at least one other facility elsewhere.
How much progress North Korea has made at the uranium enrichment facility in Yongbyon is difficult to assess, but both Hecker and Heinonen indicate it could be limited, as North Korea has claimed, if it became operational shortly before Hecker's visit there in 2010. Low-enriched uranium is used as fuel for light-water reactors. Material for nuclear weapons must be enriched further to what is called weapons-grade or high-enriched uranium.
"It typically takes a lot of time and effort to get centrifuge cascades to work perfectly," Hecker said in the same e-mail message. "They may have perfected the operations and produced some low-enriched uranium. … On the other hand, it is also possible that they are still struggling to make the centrifuge facility work smoothly."
Clues to how far North Korea has come in its uranium enrichment program will become available when IAEA inspectors return to the Yongbyon complex, as promised in the new deal. It will represent the first time IAEA inspectors are allowed to enter the facility since they were kicked out of the country in April 2009. Details of when and under what conditions the inspectors will be allowed access to the facility have yet to be determined.
In the agreement, North Korea also promised to refrain from carrying out new nuclear tests. This is expected to help limit the sophistication of North Korea's existing nuclear weapons, as many experts believe Pyongyang's tests in 2006 and 2009 have not yielded enough data and confidence to put nuclear warheads on missiles.
One expert, however, argues that North Korea may already have enough data to move ahead with the development of nuclear warheads that can be mounted on shorter-range missiles that could reach neighboring South Korea and Japan.
Larry Niksch, who analyzed North Korea for 43 years at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, said in a telephone interview that given such factors as information that North Korea gleaned from A Q Khan, the "father" of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, Pyongyang probably has enough information to weaponize its nuclear capabilities.
"I don't think they have to test in order to move ahead with nuclear warheads for the Nodong missiles," said Niksch, who is now a senior associate at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. Nodong (or Rodong) missiles armed with conventional weapons or weapons of mass destruction have the range to reach US military bases in Japan. The moratorium on nuclear tests, therefore, is likely to have little or no benefit to Japan or South Korea, Niksch added.
The moratorium on long-range missile launches has been welcomed by many observers as both a confidence-building measure and a move to constrain North Korea's development of missile technology. But some view the moratorium with skeptically, arguing that North Korea has already found a way to work around the inability to carry out its own missile tests.
"North Korea has been able to enlist surrogate countries as testers, in order to in effect bypass their own missile moratorium," Niksch said. He said that North Korea has benefited from Pakistan's and Iran's tests of their versions of the Rodong missile - the Ghauri and Shahab-3 respectively - as well as Iran's reported testing of the longer-range Musudan missile developed by North Korea.
It is also significant that the recent agreement is not designed to deal with the nuclear materials North Korea has already developed - a stockpile of what US security analysts estimate to be 30 to 50 kilograms of separated plutonium, or enough for at least six nuclear weapons. Hecker's estimate is between 24 to 42 kilograms of plutonium, which he believes is enough for four to eight crude nuclear bombs.
Hecker says North Korea is unlikely to have added to that stockpile as the 5-megawatt-electric nuclear reactor in the Yongbyon complex that was shut down in 2007 as part of the Six-Party Talks agreement remained inactive when he visited the site in November 2010, and that there is reason to believe that it has remained in a stand-by status since.
Yet the exact size and sophistication of North Korea's plutonium stockpile remains shrouded in mystery to the outside world, and how to deal with it will be left to further discussions beyond the recently agreed deal. A comprehensive assessment of North Korea's nuclear development will remain difficult until the IAEA gains nationwide access, Niksch said.
"You really have to get the IAEA in North Korea and they have to be able to conduct inspections throughout North Korean territory, not just Yongbyon," Niksch said. If North Korea is determined to make progress with their nuclear and missile programs, the obligations in the deal "will not really prevent them from moving ahead," he added.
Naoko Aoki is a journalist based in Washington DC. She formerly covered Japanese domestic politics and economic policy for Japan's Kyodo News before serving as the news service's Beijing correspondent from 2004 to 2009. She has visited North Korea on 18 separate occasions.
Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved.
Mar 7, 2012
SINOGRAPH PLA makes moves on political frontline
By Francesco Sisci
BEIJING - It was more than many in Asia and the Pacific were hoping to see, but was also less than in the past - and it possibly shows a trend for the future. China on March 4 announced it would boost military spending by 11.2% in 2012, describing its first defense budget since United States President Barack Obama promoted a policy of bolstering the American presence in the region, in non-hostile terms.
The new official budget for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) will be 670.3 billion yuan (US$110 billion), after a 12.7% increase last year and a near-unbroken string of double-digit rises reaching back two decades. In 2010, the PLA announced an increase of only 7.5%. Unofficial estimates reckon the increases to be much higher. But the official newspaper for the foreign audience, China Daily, took the pains to show an overall decrease of the Chinese military spending.
The latest official budget shrinks the increase by 1.5% compared to last year, while the complex calculations of the China Daily show a decrease, and in so doing aim at achieving two goals: to signal to Asia-Pacific countries, which are growing concerned about China's military might, that PLA expenditures could be drastically reduced in the future; and at the same time, since the increase is still quite significant, to pays political dues to the military establishment during the year of leadership succession from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping.
The PLA represents the single largest political asset in the party. Deng Xiaoping for years had no major role in the government or the Chinese Communist Party, but was chairman of the military commission. After him, both Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao wore three major hats together; head of state, general secretary of the party, and chairman of the military commission.
In 2002, Jiang gave up the first two posts, but retained for two more years the military commission leadership, proof that he was still the paramount leader in China. In October, at the 18th Party Congress, China should have its second peaceful transition of power with the one from Hu to Xi, which follows that of Jiang to Hu. In this transition, when many things have yet to be decided, nobody can afford to antagonize the PLA. And the PLA wants money for its weapons and its people, as money, besides being money, is power in the party and in China.
This, in a way, goes beyond the normal military logic of many countries, where militaries seek more money for their aggrandizement. It is part of the current logic of power in China. Jiang in the 1990s was the first party chief who had no combat experience and no great familiarity with the military. Before him, Deng drastically reduced the military budget to open up resources to grow the civilian economy, and in the early 1980s, he cut down PLA forces by one third.
In return for this, Deng allowed the military to seek business on its own, start companies, make money, be capitalist, and de facto not be interested in military affairs.
However, with the crackdown on the Tiananmen movement, the military were brought back to the political frontline. They were asked to move against the students and take sides in the power struggle at the top, which brought about the political demise of former party chief Zhao Ziyang. At the 14th Party Congress in 1992, the powerful military faction headed by Yang Shangkun was toppled, and Deng conferred all the power on Jiang, while putting general Liu Huaqing, then formerly retired, in the Standing Committee of the Politburo. Liu was to back Jiang in his hold of power, which at the beginning was not too firm.
Around the 15th Party Congress, in 1997, another major break took place between the army and the party. Two elements brought this split about. The first was the PLA involvement in a major smuggling scandal in Xiamen, and the other was the reform of the state-owned enterprises (SOE). The Xiamen scandal occurred when China was negotiating its entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The official line was of resistance, but then a group of Chinese scholars produced a study proving that if China were to cut back on smuggling, it could achieve the tariff targets to get into the WTO, and it would actually increase its total income from customs. In other words, smuggling in China, conducted mainly with the support of the army, was costing the government more than the tariff cuts requested by the United States.
Moreover, for China's economy to become more efficient, China needed to reform its SOEs, making them fully commercial and separate from their old ministries. In this way, in a few years, the military had to shed all its companies and drastically reform its internal procurement system.
It meant that the military stopped making money for itself, had to officially cease being a capitalist enterprise, and thus had to get money from the state. As a further sign of the demilitarization of politics, there has been no soldier on the Standing Committee of the Politburo since the 15th Party Congress. In return, the military got the green light to increase its budget and proceed with a long-delayed program of modernization.
Over a decade later, the PLA has become the second-largest military in the world, in line with its economic power. But this stronger military is not increasing China’s international standing; it is conversely undermining China's position in the region and the world as it multiplies fears of a "yellow peril" invading the world with its products and soldiers.
Not only does China not affirm its power through the military (for a wide number of reasons), but China may also find it more difficult to conduct simple business, such as mergers and acquisitions, because of the military shadow. Every M&A conducted because of a normal interest becomes suspicious: is it an act of military invasion? Is it part of a convoluted Chinese plot to conquer the world?
If this were so, now would be the time for the asymmetric strategy expounded by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui in their 1999 book War Beyond Limits (Chao Xian Zhan). That is, to acquire a greater military voice and greater political credibility in the world, China should conceive a complex strategy - a simple vertical military increase is just counterproductive. It only multiplies fears and reactions that start with the military but cover all kinds of Chinese activities at home and abroad: any purchase of a mine or factory abroad and any crackdown on turmoil could become evidence of China's conquering spirit.
Moreover, competition with the United States in space  and on Internet security is heating up. In these two fields, crucial for future security (through the ''conquest'' of the Internet or space I can make your weapons follow my commands, or I can block all your weapons' systems), China is not lagging far behind the US, so Beijing should have no real fear of being attacked and easily beaten by America.
This logic is simple enough to be grasped by all generals, and this should be reason enough to decrease military spending and seek a major dialogue with the US on transparency and military collaborations. But, as we saw, the purely military-strategic element is only part of the story. There is also the part about domestic politics. Money is power everywhere - and in the PLA, as well - and what does the PLA want in China in return for giving up part of its money and present power?
This is a general question, which then goes down to the various factions of the PLA, as the army is not totally united. The recent alleged offensive of general Liu Yuan against his colleague Gu Junshan, who fell accused of corruption, proves that in-fighting in the military is no less cruel than among civilians. But unless the PLA fails to find a new model to balance its power within the party, its internal logic (more power - more money) will prevail over the external logic (more money for the PLA - more trouble for China).
The answer will not be found in the coming days but over the next few months, when the political balance leading to the party congress this autumn will require different factions to take into consideration the military vote. We shall see who in the military will win: those who are after the money or the ones more broadly in favor of a new, more sophisticated strategy for China.
1. See, for instance, Moore, Gregory (2011). An International Relations Perspective on the Science, Politics, and Potential of an Extraterrestrial Sino-US Arms Race. Asian Perspective, 35, 643-658.
Mar 7, 2012
SPEAKING FREELY Iran muscles in on Azerbaijan
By Robert M Cutler
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.
MONTREAL - The debate over Iran and its relations with the international community has taken on such a character that egregious errors of fact and logic cannot be allowed to stand, especially when they concern relations with smaller neighboring countries such as Azerbaijan.
Polemics from Tehran against Baku reflect the fact that Iran's anti-Azerbaijan policy is driven by three motives. It is worthwhile to enumerate them after the briefest recall of the situation on the ground.
Wars between Russia and Persia in the early 19th century ended the rule of local khans and established the present border between Azerbaijan and Iran, as the former was made part of the Russian Empire (and later Soviet Union) while "southern Azerbaijan" became part of the Persian Empire. Since 1991, the independent Republic of Azerbaijan has emerged as an autonomous player in Caspian Sea and world energy markets with significant offshore deposits of oil and gas.
With a population just over 9 million scattered over an area of 86,600 square kilometers (approximately the size of Portugal), including Nagorno-Karabakh, the 20% of Azerbaijan's land surface occupied by Armenia since the 1994 ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh War, Azerbaijan's energy resources and geopolitical location have given it over the past two decades an international profile far higher than could otherwise be expected.
The three motives that drive Iran's anti-Azerbaijan policy are:
First, Azerbaijan's independence attracts the attention of the ethnic Azeri minority in Iran.  Second, Iran cannot stomach Azerbaijan's relations with the West in matters of security and energy. Third, the secularism of the Azerbaijani model gives the lie to the millenarian pretensions of the Tehran regime. Let me address these matters in sequence.
First, Azerbaijan's independence attracts the attention of the ethnic Azeri minority in Iran, which comprises over a quarter and possibly as much as a third of Iran's population. Like other ethnic minorities in Iran (which together comprise half the country's population), ethnic Azeris are denied the right to educate their children in their national language and to use it in interaction with state institutions such as during judicial proceedings or in written bureaucratic forms. 
In the early 1990s, the then Azerbaijani president Abulfaz Elchibey made a few statements about "southern Azerbaijan" (ie, ethnic Azeri locales in northwest Iran) upon which Iranian commentators have drawn ever since, in order to seek to justify Tehran's support for "Christian" Armenia over "Muslim" Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh War.
However, Elchibey left the presidency in Baku nearly two decades ago and no subsequent leader has ever repeated his views. Indeed, as demonstrated by the facts documented below, Azerbaijani state policy has respected the integrity of the Iranian state rather more scrupulously than Iran has respected Azerbaijan's.
Second, Iran cannot stomach Azerbaijan's relationship with the West in matters of security and energy. But it is Iran that has been threatening Azerbaijan for over a decade rather than vice versa as some commentators have it.
Thus, in the summer of 2001, the deployment of military force by Iran in the Caspian Sea and the threat of its use compelled a BP-led exploration mission including an Azerbaijani vessel to cease its work on the offshore Alov hydrocarbon deposit. 
Moreover, Iran has for years already been seeking not only by words but by deeds to destabilize the legitimate government of Azerbaijan. A few examples demonstrate the point. Fifteen Iranians and Azerbaijanis were convicted in Azerbaijan in 2007 for spying on US, British, and Israeli interests, including oil facilities, and conspiring to overthrow the government. In 2008, Azerbaijani authorities exposed and thwarted a plot by Hezbollah operatives with Iranian assistance to blow up the Israeli Embassy in Baku. 
Four months ago, the Azerbaijani journalist Rafiq Tagi was murdered in Baku for publishing an article critical of Iran, likely by an Iranian agent or pro-Iranian elements in Baku.  And in December 2011, three Azerbaijani men were detained after planning to attack two Israelis employed by a Jewish school in Baku. 
Against this background, warnings, for example, that Iran "could ... engag[e] in counter-covert operation activities" in Azerbaijan and that "Tehran will take it to the next level and most likely take action inside Azerbaijan" represent admissions of responsibility for what has already been occurring. (See, Tehran takes issue with Azerbaijan, Asia Times Online, February 15, 2012). This would be risible if the events themselves were not so tragic in their consequences.
Third, the secularism of the Azerbaijani model gives the lie to the millenarian pretensions of the Tehran regime, this being all the more dangerous to the theocrats since Azerbaijan has a predominantly a Shi'ite population. Hypocritical to its own religious declarations, Iran has favored "Christian" Armenia over "Muslim" Azerbaijan from the start of the conflict between the two South Caucasus countries.
The Tehran regime's advocacy of Islamic and Muslim unity is revealed as a thin tissue seeking to obscure the assertion and pursuit of Iran's own national interests as conceived by its ruling elite ("mullahklatura"), just as Moscow's advocacy of international proletarian unity was during the Cold War a cover for asserting and pursing Russia's national interests, as conceived by the Soviet ruling elite ("nomenklatura").
Iran's support for Armenia has come in more than words. To indicate but a few deeds: Iran opened a crucial gas pipeline to Armenia in 2007 providing an energy lifeline, is constructing two hydroelectric plants on the Araks River that marks their common border, and has built a highway and railroad between the two countries. 
Armenia has reciprocated Iran's attention. According to a US State Department cable released by WikiLeaks, Armenia has facilitated the purchase by Iran of rockets and machine guns later used to kill American troops in Iraq.  In March 2011, Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan accepted the invitation of Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to celebrate Novruz (Persian New Year) in Tehran, where the leader from Yerevan, the Armenian capital, underlined that the Iranian government "has placed no limits on the development of cooperation with Yerevan". 
With Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's descent into anti-Israeli demagoguery to compete with Iran in Arab public opinion and distract the Turkish electorate from his government's faltering economic performance, Azerbaijan today represents the institutionalized historical memory of the 2,400-year coexistence of Turkic Muslims with Jews.
The well-known epitome of this relationship in modern history is the Ottoman Sultan Beyazid II's formal invitation to Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal in 1492 to take up residence in Turkey.
That being so, the ruling elite in Tehran view the very existence of Azerbaijan as giving the lie to their own pretensions about the immutability of conflict between Jews and Muslims in general. They thus seek to remove that existence.
As far back as 1999, for example, in reference to the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the Iranian armed forces Hassan Firouzabadi threatened the Baku government by pointing to the presence of "Shiite Azeris with Iranian blood in their veins" in the region where the base might be established. 
Firouzabadi has continued in this manner for over a dozen years. Just last August, he personally threatened the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev with a "dark future" if he did not "pay heed" and cease "to bar Islamic rules". 
But can Iran's aggressive words and deeds be at all justified? Is Azerbaijan actually hostile to Iran? The facts say no. Azerbaijan has supported Iran's right for peaceful nuclear program.  In January 2011, it signed a five-year agreement to supply least one billion cubic meters of natural gas annually to Iran.  Most notably, Azerbaijan has pledged that its territory would not be used for military purposes against Iran. 
Yet we read in Asia Times Online (see above reference) that Baku should "prepare for the worst consequences if its territory or air space [is] used for strikes against Iran", because it "has entered into a Faustian bargain that may well backfire".
The author of that article explicitly mentions the failed car bomb in New Delhi and an incident in Tbilisi in order to assert that they "serve as a warning sign that [Baku] could be witness to similar, if not worse, troubles threatening [Azerbaijan's] peace and tranquility if it continues to favor Iran's adversaries".
Still more striking, he writes: "Tehran's ruling elite may resort to offensive measures inside[!!] Azerbaijan, ... scaring energy investors, and thus introducing economic hardship"; and again, Iran "retaliat[es by] ... sowing the seeds of instability in the South Caucasus-South Caspian region"; and again, "Tehran will take it to the next level and most likely take action inside [the first "inside" was not a mistake!] Azerbaijan."
Further facts could be adduced to demonstrate how Baku, not Tehran, has the right to be the aggrieved party between the two; however, there are limits to the patience that an author is entitled to expect of a reader. Nevertheless, the facts already presented here must surely make clear the perils of "reportage" that only recites the views of one power in the region, while trusting that readers far away lack in-depth knowledge of it.
Such a commentary as the one cited here, when it is brought up against real and indisputable (and documented) facts on the ground, is revealed as a compendium of such shamelessly open threats as have long characterized the Tehran regime, threats that, when publicized in certain ways, may in turn represent a signal for a terrorist mobilization by agents already in place.
In that context, it is worth noting that as recently as late February, members of a terrorist cell created by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Sepah) and the Lebanese Hezbollah were arrested in Azerbaijan. 
1. The ethnic group is actually called "Azerbaijani" although "Azeri" is in wide popular use. Here I use "Azeri" for the ethnic group in order to avoid confusion, since "Azerbaijani" is also the proper adjectival form of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
2. International Federation for Human Rights [FIDH], The Hidden side of Iran: Discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, [Dossier] no. 545a, (Paris: FIDH, October 2010), pp. 15-16. All URLs were verified on 21 February 2012.
3. Robert M. Cutler, "Renewed Conflicts in the Caspian," FSU Oil & Gas Monitor, No. 145, 13 August 2001, pp. 4–6.
4. Sebastian Rotella, "Azerbaijan seen as new front in Mideast conflict", Los Angeles Times, 30 May 2009.
5. Il'gar Rasul, "Rafik Tagi rasskazal o pokushenii" [Rafiq Tagi Talked about the Attack], Radio Free Europe, 22 November 2011 (in Russian); see also Rauf Orudzhev and Rauf Mirgadyrov, "Iranskii aiatolla poprivetstvoval ubiistvo v Azerbaidzhane" [Iranian Ayatollah Welcomed Murder in Azerbaijan], Zerkalo (Baku), 29 November 2011 (in Russian).
6. "In Azerbaijan, the planned attack on the Ambassador of Israel", Baku Today, 25 January 2012.
7. Armen Israyelyan, "Iran, Armenia share interests in regional issues: 20-year-old history of diplomatic relations", Panorama (Yerevan), 20 February 2011.
8. US Secretary of State, Washington DC, to US Embassy, Yerevan, "Letter from Deputy Secretary Negroponte regarding 2003 Armenian Arms Procurement for Iran", 24 December 2008.
9. Gayane Abrahamyan with Gohar Abrahamyan, "Armenia: Iranian Tourists Let Loose in Yerevan for Novruz", EurasiaNet, 1 April 2011.
10. Jomhouri Eslami (Tehran), as cited in "Iran Report", Radio Free Europe (1 February 1999).
11. "Iran top commander warns Azerbaijan's Aliyev not to suppress people's awakening", ISNA [Iranian Students' News Agency] (Tehran), 11 August 2011.
12. "Azerbaijan supports diplomacy on Iran" PressTV (Tehran), 24 October 2010 (URL as cached by Google).
13. Giorgi Lomsadze, "As Iran Gets a Big Slice of Azerbaijan's Energy Pie, Europe Comes Knocking", EurasiaNet, 13 January 2011.
14. "Editor sentenced over article about possible US attack on Iran", Pravda, 30 October 2007.
15. K. Zarbaliyeva, "Terrorist group of Sepah and Hezbollah neutralized in Azerbaijan", Trend News Agency, 21 February 2012.
Robert M Cutler is a senior research fellow at the Institute for European, Eurasian and Russian Studies, Carleton University, Canada.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing..
March 5, 2012: The American DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency, a military version of the CIA) believes that the Chinese space program involves more than the peaceful use of space. The DIA has discovered that the Chinese are working hard on jamming satellite signals and using lasers to damage satellites. All this is in addition to Chinese work on tracking satellites, a prerequisite for damaging or destroying them. All this is the result of greater scrutiny of the Chinese space program since 2007, when China unexpectedly tested a Killsat (killer satellite).
The U.S. let China know that the Killsat test delivered a message. The U.S. responded a year later. The American shoot down of a failed photo satellite in February 2008, was a direct response to the Chinese use of an attack satellite to destroy one of their inoperable weather satellites in January 2007. The U.S. was alarmed at the Chinese satellite destruction test and wanted to let the Chinese know that there were American weapons available to do the job quicker and cheaper. What the U.S. didn't say, or didn't have to say, was that America was now keeping a very close eye on Chinese space warfare capabilities.
Meanwhile, the Chinese were duly impressed when, in early 2008, a U.S. Navy cruiser used its Aegis radar to locate the target, some 220 kilometers above, before firing a single SM-3 missile to destroy the truck sized satellite. To assist precisely locating the target, larger radars and telescopes were also used. This attack wasn't easy because the satellite was out of control and moving erratically. The orbit had to be predicted at least to the point where the Aegis warship could position itself under that orbit. That ability to overcome these difficulties was a good thing. If the Aegis anti-satellite weapon was to be used again, as in wartime, an enemy satellite might try to maneuver to avoid a shot from an Aegis equipped warship.
The 2008 shot took six weeks to plan, mainly because there were so many unknowns. Now, many of those unknowns are knowns and another shoot-down could be carried out more quickly. How quickly remains a secret. There were other surprises as well. When the nine kg (20 pound) missile warhead hit the satellite there was an unexpected explosion as the hydrazine fuel of the satellite ignited. The flames burned for over twenty seconds. The impact of the warhead (which is inert, just a chunk of metal) was more destructive than anticipated, breaking the satellite up into more, and smaller, pieces. That was good, as those tiny fragments are less likely to hurt anything it hits.
This all began back on January 11th, 2007, when China launched an anti-satellite system (a KillSat or Killer Satellite) that destroyed an old Chinese weather satellite, about 850 kilometers up. That's at the upper range of where most reconnaissance satellites hang out. The KillSat hit the weather bird and the result was several million fragments. Most of the pieces are tiny, at least 817 are truly dangerous (at least 10 cm/four inches long, wide, or in diameter).
What China did was, in terms of technology, something the U.S. and Russia had demonstrated over three decades ago. No big deal, unless you actually use it. While China has now demonstrated its ability to destroy satellites (at the cost of a launcher and a maneuverable KillSat), it has also caused a major stink among the dozens of nations that own, or use (usually via leasing arrangements) the several hundred satellites in orbit. That's because this Chinese test increased the amount of dangerous space debris by about eight percent. That's a lot. By common agreement, nations that put up satellites include the capability for the bird, once it has reached the end of its useful life, to slowly move closer to earth until it burns up as it enters the thicker atmosphere. This approach leaves no debris that can collide with other satellites behind. Even a small piece of satellite debris can, when hitting another satellite at high speed, destroy or fatally damage it.
A quarter century ago Russia and the United States agreed to halt such KillSat tests in order to reduce the amount of "space pollution" that threatened all current and future space satellites. Moreover, there was the practical problem of cost. Having launchers standing by to put a sufficient number of KillSats up would be enormously expensive. And it would simply encourage others to do the same thing, which would cancel the original anti-satellite effort. China has ignored, so far, any criticism of its KillSat test and dismissed the risk of starting an orbital arms race. But China has angered the other users of orbital space and earned the contempt of those nations as well. Now we know that it also compelled the United States to test one of its own anti-satellite weapons and a new one at that.
China is believed to have gone ahead and made preparations to assemble a force of 20-30 Killsat missiles, a force sufficient to cripple the American military satellite network. China denies all of this, which is the wise thing to do. It was impossible to hide the 2007 Killsat test and protests from other satellite owning nations were ignored. What China is not ignoring is the benefits of being able to fight in space.
Security Industry Gulf states bale out U.S. arms industry
The Persian Gulf arms race is accelerating with countries re-examining defense programs even though they've spent more than $100 billion on arms since 2006.
Published: March. 6, 2012 at 3:56 PM
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, March 6 (UPI) -- The Persian Gulf arms race is accelerating amid the smoldering confrontation between Iran and the United States, with gulf monarchies re-examining their defense programs even though they've spent far in excess of $100 billion on arms since 2006.
Rising tensions with Iran, a predominantly Shiite Muslim country suspected of working toward development of a nuclear weapon, is likely to drive rival Sunni Muslim states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey to acquire nuclear weapons as well.
But that's some way in the future. In the meantime, the Gulf Cooperation Council states -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain -- are bolstering defense budgets to counter Iran and are being encouraged to do by the United States.
"Military spending is increasing across the gulf," the Middle East Economic Digest reported. "With the exception of Oman, the GCC states have all accelerated defense expenditure since 2006."
In 2010, the last year for which data are available, the Saudis spent $45 billion on defense, a 79 percent increase over 2005. The emirates spent more than $16 billion, a 113 percent jump from 2006.
But this isn't just to strengthen defenses against Iran and its swelling force of ballistic missiles that even without nuclear warheads are powerful weapons to be used against sprawling oil installations and even cities.
It's widely seen as a systematic long-term effort by the United States to keep its defense industry functioning at a time when the U.S. Department of Defense is drastically cutting its defense spending and reducing the size of the U.S. military to rescue the economy.
The Persian Gulf monarchies, all but Bahrain rich in oil or gas or both, have become vital partners in the Obama White House's drive to ramp up military sales to its Middle Eastern allies as it cuts back U.S. defense spending and shrinks the United States' costly military forces.
Historian and anti-war activist Nick Turse observed recently: "The agreement to broker the sale of tens of billions of dollars' worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia sheds light on the Pentagon's efforts to shield itself -- and its favored arms dealers -- from the shakiness of the American economy, as well as President Barack Obama's stated goal of trimming $400 billion from projected national security spending of $10 trillion over the next 12 years."
Turse, who has written extensively on U.S. military affairs, says the administration has been creating "a comprehensive plan to sustain and enrich weapons makers and other military contractors in the coming years" to shield them from the downturn in domestic defense spending by expanding military exports.
"America's Middle Eastern allies are seen as a significant partner in this effort … When it comes to the Middle East, the Pentagon acts not as a buyer, but as a broker and shill, clearing the way for its Middle Eastern partners to buy some of the world's most advanced weaponry."
Critics say this has led the United States to support Arab dictators like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, a longtime U.S. ally who was toppled in February 2011 in one of the first pro-democracy revolutions to sweep the region.
Saudi Arabia, one of the most heavily armed Arab powers and by far the richest, has gone along with Washington's wishes.
Turse said that from 2002-05, Riyadh signed arms deals with the United States worth $15.3 billion. The total soared to $29.5 billion in 2006-09.
The blockbuster multiyear, $60 billion deal in 2010, the largest foreign arms sale in U.S. history, "signaled far more of the same and will help ensure the continuing health and profitability of Boeing, Lockheed Martin and other mega-defense contractors even if Pentagon spending goes slack or begins to shrink in the years to come."
In October 2010, the U.S. global security consultancy Stratfor observed that the $60 billion U.S. arms deal with Saudi Arabia wasn't just about countering Iran's expansionist strategy.
"Militarily, Riyadh's challenge is not a matter of hardware: Saudi Arabia already fields a broad spectrum of some of the highest-end and most modern military equipment in the region," it said.
"Instead, its challenge is fielding that hardware. With deliveries years away, the deal will do little to balance the resurgent Iranian regime in the near-term, and prolongs Saudi Arabia's dependence on U.S. defense support."
Mercosur keen to profit from Arab markets
Thales bids for $3B Saudi missile deal
Slower growth in aerospace, defense in 2012
National Security: President Obama criticizes Republican candidates for their "casualness" in urging force to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But who's really been "casual" about Tehran's threat?
Iran sure knows how to play the American fiddle. Its official ISNA news agency has announced Iran will give U.N. inspectors access to the Parchin nuclear facility as an act of "goodwill."
Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council says Iran has agreed to more talks about its nuclear program.
Responding to this sudden charm offensive, Obama told the media Tuesday he'll continue to pursue talks with the nuclear pariah. "It is my belief," he said, "that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically."
He then lashed out at GOP candidates: "Those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities," he sniffed. "They're not commander-in-chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I'm reminded of the costs involved in war."
That the president would use a serious threat like Iran to score cheap points against his potential GOP election foes seems politically desperate. But since he's the one who brought up "casualness," let's be clear:
Obama has repeatedly kicked the can down the road on Iran, promising Americans and our allies that "diplomacy" would magically convince the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions. It hasn't.
Since Obama took office, Iran has crept ever closer to its goal of a nuclear weapon while we've pursued "talks." By the consensus of intelligence and defense experts, Iran is about a year away from having a nuke. It has also tested new missiles that put Europe, Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf region within striking range.
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Once Iran gets a functioning nuclear weapon, it will be a game-changer, as Mitt Romney noted Monday. It will then be able to bully neighbors Afghanistan and Iraq, while intimidating potential rivals such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, destabilizing the Mideast and setting off a nuclear arms race that endangers the world.
As for Israel, we have only Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's words to go by: "Israel must be wiped off the map."
Iran's intent couldn't be clearer. Israel — the Jewish state — doesn't wish to be the object of a second holocaust, this one by the Islamic fanatics that run Iran.
"We've waited for diplomacy to work," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech Monday night. "We've waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer."
He's right. Dawdling is not a policy. The sudden rush to talk seems, as we said here Tuesday, more like a political ploy than a serious diplomatic move. At this point, the U.S. needs to make clear, unambiguous demands of the Iranian regime — with consequences spelled out. If not, the least we can do is stay out of the Israelis' way as they act to protect themselves.
Unfortunately, Obama and the Security Council are being played by the crafty mullahs, who know they can drag out their phony negotiations and still develop a nuclear weapon. That's "casual" diplomacy in action, and when they get their nuke, it's game over. They win.
Jonathan Marcus By Jonathan Marcus BBC Diplomatic Correspondent
Iran has made it clear that if it is attacked either by Israel or the United States it will respond in kind. But just what could Iran do to strike back?
What would be the consequences, both in the region and inside Iran itself?
Indeed, could the potential consequences of an Israeli strike be so serious as to make military action the least preferable option in terms of constraining Iran's nuclear programme?
"Iran's ability to strike back directly against Israel is limited," says Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
"Its antiquated air force is totally outclassed by the Israelis and it has only a limited number of ballistic missiles that could reach Israel."
Iranian Mig-29s Iran's air force, which includes Mig-29s, is not seen as a match for its Israeli or US counterparts
Mr Fitzpatrick says Iran's missile arsenal includes "a modified version of the Shahab-3, the Ghadr-1, which has a range of 1,600km (995 miles), but Iran only has about six transporter-erector launchers for the missile".
"Iran's new solid-fuelled missile, the Sajjil-2, can also reach Israel, but it is not yet fully operational," he adds.
But, Mr Fitzpatrick argues that "both of these missiles are too inaccurate to have any effect against military targets when armed with conventional weapons".
"Nor are they a very effective way to deliver chemical or biological weapons, and Iran does not have nuclear weapons."
In summary, he believes that "an Iranian missile strike would be only a symbolic gesture".
Hezbollah militants transport a missile during a parade in Nabatiyeh (January 2009) Hezbollah is said to have thousands of rocket launchers in Lebanon
Mr Fitzpatrick believes Iran is more likely to respond against Israel "asymmetrically, and through proxies". Its ally, the Shia Islamist group Hezbollah, has more than 10,000 rocket launchers in southern Lebanon, many of them supplied by Iran.
"These are mostly 25km-range (16-mile) Katyushas, but also Fahr-3 (45km; 28 miles), Fajr-5 (75km; 47 miles), Zelzal-2 (200km; 124 miles) and potentially Fateh-110 (200km) plus about 10 Scud-D missiles that can pack a 750kg (1,653lb) payload and hit all of Israel."
He says that the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, could also attack Israel with shorter-range rockets.
The great danger here is of a more extensive conflict breaking out either between Israel and Hezbollah, or Israel and Hamas.
With so much instability in the Middle East - not least because of the Syria crisis - there is a very real risk of an Israeli strike sparking a much broader regional conflagration.
Naval action in the Gulf
The Iranian Navy, and especially the naval arm of its Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), are well-equipped with small, fast craft capable of laying mines or swarming attacks against larger vessels.
Iran also deploys capable land-based anti-shipping missiles.
Map showing the Strait of Hormuz
These could all be used to close off the vital oil artery - the Strait of Hormuz.
The US Navy is confident that it could re-open the Strait. But this risks an extended naval conflict between the US and Iran, and in the short term, there could be a significant impact upon oil prices.
Daniel Byman, a counter-terrorism expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, says there is also "considerable concern that Iran and groups like the Lebanese Hezbollah might engage in terror attacks in the wake of an Israeli air strike".
"Iran has at times used such attacks to strike out at enemies, particularly those it cannot hit by other means," he adds.
There is already, he points out, a kind of clandestine war underway.
"Israel and Iran are already striking at each other (Israel with more success and doing so in a way that is more targeted)," Mr Byman explains, referring to the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.
"I'm not sure Israel would increase attacks in the wake of a strike," he notes, "but Iran would."
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Iran's ballistic missile arsenal
Shahab-1 - Based on the Scud-B. Has a range of about 300km (185 miles) and uses liquid fuel, which involves a time-consuming launch
Shahab-2 - Based on the Scud-C. Has a range of about 500km (310 miles)
Shahab-3 - Based on the North Korean Nodong misile. Has a range of about 900km (560 miles) and a nominal payload of 1,000kg (2,205lb)
Ghadr-1 - Modified version of the Shahab-3, with a range of about 1,600km (1,000 miles). Carries a smaller, 750kg (1,654lb) warhead
Sajjil-2 - Surface-to-surface missile with a range of 2,200km (1,375 miles). Uses solid fuel, which offers strategic advantages, and carries a 750kg warhead
Mr Byman is uncertain about how effective such Iranian operations might be.
"Iran's reported attempted attacks in India and Thailand show it remains determined to strike at Israel, presumably in retaliation for Israeli killings of Hezbollah figures like Imad Mughniyeh and the suspected attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists."
"However, these recent attacks were not well executed, suggesting that Iran's services' professionalism is uneven," he argues.
Overall, experts believe that the Iranian government is going to have to calibrate its response to any attack carefully.
Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told me: "If they respond too little, they could lose face, and if they respond too much, they could lose their heads."
"Iran will want to respond enough to inflame the regional security environment and negatively impact the global economy - in order to bring down international condemnation of the US or Israel - but stop short of doing anything that could invite massive reprisals from the United States."
"Frankly," Mr Sadjadpour says, "I'm not sure how they do that. If Iran tries to destabilise world energy supplies - whether launching missiles into Saudi Arabia's oil-rich eastern province or attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz - the US isn't going to stand aside idly."
In the wake of any attack on its facilities, Iran might well, of course, go to the UN to seek some kind of diplomatic redress. This highlights a crucial set of legal questions relating to any military operation.
For all the uncertainties as to whether Israel would attack Iran and indeed how Iran might respond, one thing is clear - in terms of international law, such a strike would be illegal.
Missiles hit the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on 20 March 2003 The US-led invasion of Iraq resulted in a conflict that cost thousands of lives and cost billions of dollars
Professor Mary Ellen O'Connell, professor of international law at the University of Notre Dame, says for it to be considered legal, "the UN Security Council would need to authorise such a strike, because Iran has not launched an armed attack on either Israel or the United States".
"The UN Charter," she says, "makes clear that the use of force is generally prohibited unless a state is acting in self-defence to an armed attack occurring, or has Security Council authorisation."
Israel, of course, would probably claim to be acting in some pre-emptive sense to forestall a future nuclear attack from Iran (though nobody yet believes Iran has a nuclear bomb). But Professor O'Connell says that an Israeli strike would still not be legitimate.
"There is a lively debate among international lawyers as to the point at which a state may respond to an armed attack: must it be underway or merely imminent?"
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As some senior American military officials have said, bombing Iran is the fastest way to ensure an Iranian bomb”
Trita Parsi President, National Iranian American Council
"There is virtually no support among experts for attacking to 'pre-empt' a hypothetical future attack."
But surely countries do what they believe they have to do when vital interests are seen to be at stake?
For example, Nato attacked Serbia and Serbian forces in Kosovo, and the US and its allies invaded Iraq - both examples lacked UN Security Council approval.
Professor O'Connell says that in both cases, the illegal use of force came with costly penalties.
"Compare those two conflicts," she notes, "to the lawful use of force to liberate Kuwait after Iraq's invasion. The United States came out of that conflict with a financial and moral gain."
Many will also raise the question of the potential casualties that any Israeli strike might cause, especially since the operation would not be sanctioned by international law.
Iranian women hold hands outside the Isfahan uranium conversion facility (2005) There is widespread support inside Iran for the country's controversial nuclear programme
Without knowing the targets to be hit, the timing of any strikes, and the likelihood of them being hit again, it is hard to determine potential casualty figures.
Experts say that the functioning nuclear reactor at Bushehr is unlikely to be a target due to the fact that it has nothing to do with a potential military programme and radiation leakage could cause widespread civilian casualties. But, of course, aircraft can be downed and bombs and other air-launched weapons can go astray.
There are, in addition, another set of Iranian reactions to any strike that matter.
How would Iranians themselves respond to any attack? What would be the impact upon Iran's nuclear programme? And what would be the implications for the Islamic regime in Iran itself?
For now, it seems unclear that Iran has actually yet taken any decision to press ahead with a nuclear weapons programme.
But Trita Parsi, author of the recently published, A Single Roll of the Dice - Obama's Diplomacy With Iran, says that if Israel attacks, Iran's position will change considerably.
"I have not come across any observer who does not believe that the Iranian government's determination and desire for a nuclear deterrent would increase several-fold if Iran is attacked."
The US assessment, he says, is that in the wake of an Israeli attack "the Iranians will push their program further underground, exit (or threaten to exit) the Non-Proliferation Treaty, kick out the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors and dash for a bomb".
"As some senior American military officials have said, bombing Iran is the fastest way to ensure an Iranian bomb," he adds.
An Iranian army soldier salutes in front of a picture of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (2005) A military strike might rally Iranians around Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Mr Parsi, who is president of the National Iranian American Council, also says that an Israeli attack would have political implications inside Iran too.
"The Iranian regime is deeply unpopular and the wounds from their massive human rights abuses since the 2009 election are still open and bleeding."
The regime, he adds, "has thus far failed to overcome this division with the people".
"However, an attack on Iran, particularly if the bombing campaign also results in high civilian casualties, will likely unite warring factions in Iran against the external aggressor."
"This is what happened in 1980 with Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran."
"The attack helped consolidate Ayatollah Khomeini's grip on power, fuel nationalism and revolutionary zeal, and suspend the internal power struggles. The Iranian regime didn't survive in spite of Saddam's attack, but because of it."
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How do you reach a rapprochement with a regime that needs you as an adversary for its own ideological legitimacy?”
Karim Sadjadpour Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
That should be a sobering thought for Western and Israeli policy-makers, who from time to time flirt with the idea of regime change in Iran.
It all suggests a stark conclusion - even a militarily successful attack from Israel's point of view will only delay Iran's nuclear programme for a few years.
It might indeed confirm Iran in its desire to obtain a nuclear weapon. It might rally the Iranian population around the regime. And the regional consequences of any air strikes could be considerable; at worst precipitating conflict in the Gulf and on Israel's own borders.
No wonder, then, that the Obama administration seems to be trying to dissuade Israel from any attack - at least for now.
Many experts believe that there is still mileage in allowing sanctions to take their course but also - even now - in reaching out diplomatically to Tehran.
"Diplomacy has certainly not been exhausted," Trita Parsi told me. "The diplomatic efforts in the past few years have been few and short-lived," he notes.
"Political space for the type of sustained talks that are needed to generate a breakthrough has not existed in Washington or in Tehran. Rather than real negotiations, we have seen an exchange of ultimatums."
Karim Sadjadpour also thinks it may be worth another diplomatic push. But he feels the potential results will inevitably be limited.
"How do you reach a rapprochement with a regime that needs you as an adversary for its own ideological legitimacy?" he asks.
"Realistically," he concludes, "I think dialogue with Tehran can at best contain our differences with Iran, but it won't resolve them."
More on This Story
Iran nuclear crisis
Israeli Air Force F-16Analysis: How Israel might strike at Iran
The BBC's Jonathan Marcus says an Israeli attempt to severely damage Iran's nuclear programme would have to cope with a variety of problems.
Mixed press on US-Israeli talks
Oil embargo impact
Q&A: Nuclear issue
Key nuclear sites
Fears of Dubai Iranians
Is maritime clash inevitable?
Sanctions' impact Watch
Case against Iran strengthened
White House not on war path
Squeezing Iran: Oil and sanctions
Satellite images: Bushehr reactor
Analysis & Background
IAEA Iran report: What you need to know Watch
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US options over Iran
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Guide: How Iran is ruled
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Hamas will not get involved in a possible military conflict between Iran and Israel over Tehran’s nuclear program, The Guardian quoted senior members of the Palestinian organization of saying Tuesday.
Speaking to the British paper, Salah Bardawil, a member of Hamas’ political leadership in Gaza, said: “If there is a war between the two powers, Hamas will not be part of such a war.”
Bardawil denied that Hamas would launch rockets into the Jewish state at Tehran’s request in response to a potential Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear sites.
“Hamas is not part of military alliances in the region … our strategy is to defend our rights.”
According to the Guardian, Bardawil’s comments were echoed by a Hamas leader who wished to remain anonymous.
The position highlights Hamas’s rift with its key financial backers, and its realignment with the Muslim Brotherhood and protests movements in the Arab world.
Speculation has been rife in Israel on how a military strike on Iran could result in a barrage of rockets fired into the Jewish state by Hamas in Gaza or the Shiite militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon. Both organizations are described by Israeli officials as ‘proxies’ of the regime in Tehran.
Speaking on the possibility of an armed conflict, Hezbollah deputy Sheikh Naim Qassem said last month that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would set the entire Middle East ablaze.
But Bardawil said Hamas has never given “complete loyalty” to Tehran, pointing out that the Iranian population is majority Shiite Muslim while Gazans are mainly Sunni. “The relationship was based on common interest,” he said.
In February, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh visited Iran for a three-day trip. During his visit Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, “Iran will always be supportive of the Palestinian cause and the Islamic resistance in Palestine.”
However, analysts have stated that Iran is unhappy with Hamas for refusing to offer public support to its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is facing an 11-month long popular uprising.
Syria has been hosting the Hamas leadership in exile for the past 10 years.
According to a Gazan academic, Hamas’ lack of support to the Syrian regime has resulted in Iran terminating financial support worth $23 million a month.
“Iran is very unhappy about Hamas and Syria, so it is punishing Hamas,” Adnan Abu Amer of Ummah University told the Guardian. “They have stopped funding. Hamas has other sources – the Gulf states, Islamic movements, charities – but all of these together are not comparable to $23million a month.”
Bardawil however denies the sum is that large, saying “the money that comes from Iran is very limited. In the early days of the [Israeli] blockade [of Gaza], the money was very good, but it was reduced two years ago.” The cut in funding “is not because of the Syrian revolution,” he added.
According to Bardawil the Hamas office in Damascus is still open and functioning, despite politico bureau chief Khaled Meshaal relocating to Qatar.
The uprising against Assad has, however , put the Hamas leadership in a critical position, Abu Amer explained.
“For 10 months, Hamas kept silent in public about the Syrian revolution, neither for it nor against it. But inside Hamas, there was another revolution – arguments within the leadership over the killing of Syrian people,” said Abu Amer.
“The exiled leadership was frozen, because they had no other place to go. But others, in Gaza and elsewhere, wanted to speak out against the killings, especially the clerics. This was a burden on the leadership,” he added.
Also, the Muslim Brotherhood, which Hamas is an offshoot of, has been openly critical of the crackdown in Syria.
“Hamas has been part of the Muslim Brotherhood from the beginning. The leadership has a very tight relationship with the Brotherhood leadership.” The connection between the two organizations was based on ideology, Bardawil said, whereas the relationship between Hamas and Syria was strategic.
Abu Amer said Hamas now wants to be part of the Arab Spring. “The revolutions in the Arab world and the rise of Islamic movements affected Hamas. Hamas read it very well.”
The organization was realigning itself with ruling Islamist movements in the region which are more oriented towards elections and reaching out to the West rather than armed resistance. “Hamas cannot be asked to erase the history of 25 years in one day. But it’s coming.”
"We Have Done With Hope and Honor, We are lost to Love and Truth.
We are Dropping down the ladder rung by rung;
And the measurement of our torment is the measure of our youth.
God help us; for we knew the worst too young."
PARIS (Reuters) - France voiced scepticism on Wednesday that planned fresh talks between six world powers and Iran would succeed since Tehran still did not seem sincerely willing to negotiate on the future of its controversial nuclear programme.
The EU's foreign policy chief, who represents the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany in dealings with Iran, said on Tuesday they had accepted Iran's offer to return to talks after a standstill of a year that has seen a drift towards conflict in the oil-rich Gulf.
The talks could dampen what U.S. President Barack Obama has called a rising drumbeat of war, alluding to talk of pre-emptive military action by Iran's arch-foe Israel that many worry would inflame the wider Middle East and batter the global economy.
"I am a little sceptical ... I think Iran continues to be two-faced," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told i-Tele television.
"That's why I think we have to continue to be extremely firm on sanctions (already imposed on Iran), which in my view are the best way to prevent a military option that would have unforeseeable consequences."
Iran has pledged to float "new initiatives" at the talks, whose venue and date must be decided, but has not committed itself explicitly to discussing ways of guaranteeing that its nuclear advances will be solely peaceful, as the West demands.
Iran denies suspicions that its uranium enrichment work is ultimately meant to yield atomic bombs, saying it is for peaceful energy purposes only. But U.N. nuclear inspectors cite intelligence pointing to military dimensions to the programme.
Western states are likely to tread cautiously in talks, mindful of past accusations that Iran's willingness to meet has been a tactic to blunt pressure and buy time to amass enriched uranium, rather than a good-faith effort to reach agreement.
The Islamic Republic made its diplomatic approach to the six powers at a time when it suffering unprecedented economic pain from sanctions expanded to batter its oil and financial sectors.
Israel is all but convinced that sanctions and diplomacy will not get Iran to rein in its nuclear drive and is speaking more stridently of resorting to military action.
ISRAEL WELCOMES TALKS
The Jewish state on Wednesday cautiously welcomed the planned resumption of big power discussions with Iran while insisting that any agreement must ensure Tehran does not develop the means to "weaponise" enrichment.
"There will be no one happier than us, and the prime minister (Benjamin Netanyahu) said this in his own voice, if it emerges that in these talks Iran will give up on its military nuclear capability," the premier's national security adviser Yaakov Amidror told Israel Radio.
Netanyahu has said Iran must dismantle an underground enrichment facility near the city of Qom that experts say is designed to survive any air strikes, part of what Israel says is a "zone of immunity" being sought by Tehran.
Fears of war over the matter have driven up oil prices.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was the first among leaders of the six powers to push for tighter sanctions on Iranian oil and finance. Sarkozy said in January that time was running out for efforts to avoid military intervention in Iran.
But Juppe signalled France was wary of resorting to force. "There is still a debate in Israel (about military action) and it's our responsibility to bring to Israel's attention the unforeseeable consequences it would have," he said.
Obama said on Tuesday the new talks with Iran offered a diplomatic chance to defuse the crisis and quiet the "drums of war," although his defence chief said Washington would resort to military action to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons if diplomacy proved futile.
In Vienna, the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency adjourned its week-long meeting until Thursday to give the six big powers more time to agree on a joint statement on Iran, diplomats said.
Western diplomats insisted the time needed for further talks did not reflect major differences, but was more a question of consulting capitals of the six powers - the United States, France, Germany, China, Britain and Russia.
It is nothing that "we can't resolve," one envoy said.
The joint statement by the six powers was expected to underline the importance of their upcoming talks with Iran, and also urge Tehran to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, after two rounds of largely fruitless meetings between the IAEA and Tehran this year, one diplomat said.
The United States and its Western allies had hoped the board would have agreed a resolution rebuking Iran for what they see as its failure to address the IAEA's concerns about possible military dimensions to the Islamic state's nuclear programme, but Russia and China objected to this, diplomats said.
"We Have Done With Hope and Honor, We are lost to Love and Truth.
We are Dropping down the ladder rung by rung;
And the measurement of our torment is the measure of our youth.
God help us; for we knew the worst too young."
Open skepticism within the Western camp about Iran's readiness to negotiate cast further doubt about the outcome of those talks
VIENNA: Six world powers struggled Wednesday to find common ground on how harshly to criticize Iran, reflecting the difficulties of presenting a united front at upcoming talks with the Islamic Republic meant to coax it into reducing activities that could be used to make a nuclear weapon.
A 35-nation meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board was scheduled to discuss concerns about Iran's nuclear program Wednesday. But its rapid and unscheduled adjournment reflected the East-West divide.
The United States, Britain, France and Germany seek a joint statement that takes Iran to task for defying U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding it end uranium enrichment and cooperation with an IAEA probe of suspicions it secretly worked on nuclear arms. But a senior Western diplomat told The Associated Press that Russia and China — which have condemned Western sanctions on Iran as counterproductive — want more moderate language. He asked for anonymity because his information was privileged.
While divisions along such lines are not new, the fact that diplomats at the IAEA meeting have been unable to bridge them three days into the IAEA meeting reflects poorly on hopes of unity at talks scheduled in the near future between Iran and the six.
Open skepticism within the Western camp about Iran's readiness to negotiate cast further doubt about the outcome of those talks, with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe saying he is not convinced the Islamic Republic is ready to compromise over its nuclear program.
Speaking for the six powers — who have repeatedly tried and failed to wrest concessions from Iran — European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced Tuesday that they had agreed to new talks at a still to be determined time and venue. Even minor progress at such a meeting would serve to lower tensions exacerbated by increasingly frequent warnings from Israel of possible military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities.
But Juppe said Wednesday he's "a bit skeptical" about the outcome after previous failures.
"I think Iran is continuing to use double speak," Juppe said on France's i-Tele television. "That's the reason why we must remain extremely firm on the sanctions we have decided upon, which are from my point of view the best way to avoid a military option, which could have immeasurable consequences."
Iran has steadfastly rejected demands to halt its uranium enrichment, which Washington and its allies worry could be the foundation for a future nuclear weapons program. Iran claims it seeks only energy and medical research from its reactors, but it wants full control over the nuclear process from uranium ore to fuel rods.
It has also stonewalled an IAEA probe of suspected clandestine research and development into nuclear weapons for four years, dismissing the allegations as based on forged intelligence from the United States and Israel.
In a possible concession Tuesday, Tehran said inspectors could visit Parchin, a military facility that the IAE suspect was used for secret atomic weapons work. An IAEA official, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue, dismissed the offer as a stalling tactic.
In Washington, President Barack Obama declared he had been working to avert war with Iran during intensive meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week. Israel, fearing the prospect of a nuclear Iran, has been stressing a need for possible military action, but Obama said sanctions and diplomacy already were working.
Previous talks have not resolved international suspicions that Iran is engaging in its nuclear energy program as cover for an eventual plan to build a bomb.
"We Have Done With Hope and Honor, We are lost to Love and Truth.
We are Dropping down the ladder rung by rung;
And the measurement of our torment is the measure of our youth.
God help us; for we knew the worst too young."
We mortals are not privy to a transcript of the meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama. If we had one, it would not show whether the Israeli prime minister relaxed enough to smile at one of the president's jokes, or how long Netanyahu paused before answering if and when Obama said, "Do not start a war with Iran. Period." There was no joint statement afterward, reportedly because the American side knew in advance that the leaders did not agree on enough to fill a respectable press release. According to the leak from Netanyahu's team to every Israeli news organization, the prime minister told Obama that Israel had not yet decided whether to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. The leak did not say whether to read this as a concession ("We understand your concerns") or as a threat ("We will do what we want.")
For lack of inside information, we mortals can only parse the speeches that Obama and Netanyahu made to the roiling convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The policy gap remains an abyss: Obama told AIPAC that the United States had a military option but does not want to use it; Netanyahu left no alternative to an Israeli attack except an American one.
Beyond that, Obama spoke of international relations in the real world. Netanyahu spoke in mythology. Obama was willing, even in an election year, to defy the desires of the hawkish lobbying group. Netanyahu played on the crowds' fears and anxieties like Coleman Hawkins playing sax. And yet, a simple count of the words devoted to each subject shows that Netanyahu has succeeded in defining the agenda in U.S.-Israel relations as being all Iran, all the time. Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, truly the key to Israel's future, has been demoted to less than a distraction.
Obama began his speech on Sunday with a riff of praise for Israeli President Shimon Peres, but mentioned Netanyahu only in passing, like a brother-in-law whom one can't avoid. Though the Israeli presidency is a ceremonial post, Peres has let the public know he opposes an Israeli attack on Iran. Obama defined the danger of an Iranian bomb as setting off a Middle East arms race. That's a pragmatic reading of danger: American (and Israeli) nuclear deterrence could keep Teheran from using a bomb, but the more countries have nukes, the more likely it is that someone will slip and push a button.
As Spencer Ackerman has noted, Obama put down a red line: America will prevent Iran "from acquiring a nuclear weapon." Israel has implied that it wants the prerogative to launch its bombers far earlier than that—before, Iranian nuclear facilities have been placed deep enough underground that they are safe from Israel's limited weaponry. Obama demanded time for the sanctions he's succeeded in arranging to work. As if he'd read the text of Netanyahu's speech in advance, he decried "bluster" and "loose talk of war."
Speaking to AIPAC, Netanyahu virtually waved his finger in Obama's face. "Diplomacy … hasn't worked," he said; neither have sanctions, nor will deterrence. Netanyahu cited the proliferation risk, but his bottom line was that Iran works for Israel's "destruction—each day, every day, relentlessly."
The last thing I'd suggest is to dismiss Iran's animus toward Israel. But it's clear that Netanyahu's evaluation of what Iran will and won't do is based on more than intelligence reports. He'd say it's based on history, but it's a mythic reading of history, an understanding in which Jews are threatened by a single implacable enemy, unchanging in its essence, shifting only in its shape.
Netanyahu equated hesitation before attacking Iran to America's refusal to bomb Auschwitz in 1944. As additional support for his case, Netanyahu cited the biblical Book of Esther, which will be read in synagogues on the holiday of Purim this week. He described Haman, the villain of that ancient story, as "a Persian anti-Semite [who] tried to annihilate the Jewish people." In Jewish legend, I should note, Haman is understood to be from the tribe of Amalek, which tried to destroy the Israelites when they left Egypt and endlessly keeps trying. The reasoning of Netanyahu's speech, if "reasoning" can be used in this context, is that Amalek, Haman, Hitler and the current leaders of Teheran are all the same.
The standing ovations that this story of eternal victimhood brought, from an audience living in a country where Jews enjoy the greatest acceptance in their history—an audience supporting a successful Jewish state—were surreal. But an AIPAC convention apparently draws that portion of American Jewry for which learned anxiety is more powerful than any experience of safety.
It's possible—even probable—that Netanyahu will accept an American veto, if made clear enough. But even if that happens, Netanyahu has succeeded in pushing Israeli-Palestinian peace to the margins of the U.S.-Israel diplomatic agenda.
Compare this year's speeches to last year's. Addressing AIPAC in 2011, Obama devoted about 200 words of a 3,000-word speech to Iran. The concluding section, nearly half the speech, portrayed the urgent need for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps." This year, the proportions were reversed: Obama spent less than 200 words defending the very fact that he'd ever engaged in peace efforts. His long crescendo dealt with Iran. Last year, Netanyahu had to declare, "Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a vital interest for us," even while putting all blame for the failure to achieve it on the other side. This year he felt free to leave the word "Palestinian" out completely.
That doesn't mean the issue has disappeared. There's nothing static about the status quo. Two weeks ago, an Israeli planning authority approved nearly 700 new homes in settlements in an area north of Ramallah that Israel would have to give up in any two-state accord. Palestinian frustration with the diplomatic stalemate is growing; the only question is whether it will explode in violent or non-violent protest. Even conservative European leaders such as Germany's Angela Merkel are tired of Netanyahu's policies. Without a two-state agreement, international pressure to declare a single state between the Mediterranean and Jordan will grow—a "solution" almost certain to be disastrous.
Indeed, were Netanyahu rationally preparing for war with Iran, he'd want to make a show of serious negotiations with the Palestinians. That would allow him to bring centrist parties into a much wider governing coalition. It would improve Israel's diplomatic standing, especially in Europe but also in the Arab world. He'd look like a statesman seeking peace and pushed against his will to use his military against Iran.
So Netanyahu's actual behavior raises a question: Is his bellicosity a bluff, intended to scare Iran, pressure other countries to increase sanctions, or press the United States to attack? Or is he serious about the threat, but incompetent in preparing to carry it out? For the moment, we would need a transcript of Netanyahu's thoughts to know.
"We Have Done With Hope and Honor, We are lost to Love and Truth.
We are Dropping down the ladder rung by rung;
And the measurement of our torment is the measure of our youth.
God help us; for we knew the worst too young."
Iranian's deputy foreign minister has claimed that the US smuggled weapons to the Syrian opposition army. He noted that Tehran had evidence that Washington and several Arab countries smuggled illegal weapons and ammo into Syria. (Dudi Cohen)
"We Have Done With Hope and Honor, We are lost to Love and Truth.
We are Dropping down the ladder rung by rung;
And the measurement of our torment is the measure of our youth.
God help us; for we knew the worst too young."
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