Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Iraq to buy F-16 fighter jets to guard against threats from Iran and Syria? (Reuters via Haaretz)

Seymour Hersh on NPR: "Cheney ‘Left A Stay Behind’ In Obama’s White House ..to "sabotage.."

Sy Hersh on NPR, here via Think Progress, here
“Are you saying that you think Vice President Cheney is still having a chilling effect on people who might otherwise be coming forward,” asked Gross. “I’ll make it worse,” answered Hersh, adding that he believes Cheney “put people back” in government to “stay behind” in order to “tell him what’s going on” and perhaps even “do sabotage”:

HERSH: I’ll make it worse. I think he’s put people left. He’s put people back. They call it a stay behind. It’s sort of an intelligence term of art. When you leave a country and, you know, you’ve driven out the, you know, you’ve lost the war. You leave people behind. It’s a stay behind that you can continue to contacts with, to do sabotage, whatever you want to do. Cheney’s left a stay behind. He’s got people in a lot of agencies that still tell him what’s going on. Particularly in defense, obviously. Also in the NSA, there’s still people that talk to him. He still knows what’s going on. Can he still control policy up to a point? Probably up to a point, a minor point. But he’s still there. He’s still a presence..."

Desert Schism: Prince Nayef Bids for Saudi Throne

[The future of the Sunni tandem?]

'...If Nayef eventually becomes king, Saudi Arabia's hesitant steps toward reform will likely stop, and Washington's relations with Riyadh -- crucial for energy, financial, and regional policy -- would most likely be rockier than those with the current King Abdullah.......Prince Nayef, who controls the kingdom's huge internal security apparatus, is notorious for speaking his mind. He most famously suggested that Israel's intelligence service, Mossad, was behind the September 11 attacks on the United States in which fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were Saudis. He later proposed that Americans visiting the kingdom should be fingerprinted like visitors to the United States. .....
Prince Talal's March 28 statement, faxed to the Reuters news agency, put the issue succinctly: "I call on the royal court to clarify what is meant by this nomination and that it does not mean that he (Prince Nayef) will become crown prince." So far there has been no clarification and none is expected, but the move suggests intrigue and possible drama. Talal, the father of billionaire businessman Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, although considered eccentric, is viewed as a close ally of King Abdullah, who most likely approved of the statement. The speculation is that Abdullah was pressured by the Sudairi princes to make the appointment but now wants to diminish its significance.

Challenges for Washington

Many U.S. officials have been unhappy at the prospect of Sultan becoming king because they believe his reputation for personal financial gain from weapons contracts would jeopardize the rule of the House of Saud. Nayef, whose son Muhammad now runs Saudi counterterrorism efforts and wins plaudits from Western officials for his efforts, presents a different challenge...

Given its claim to leadership of the Islamic and Arab world, and its balancing role in the world oil market, good relations with Riyadh have been deemed a vital U.S. interest by successive administrations. This week, King Abdullah is expected to demonstrate the kingdom's crucial role in global affairs; first, at the Arab summit in Doha, where he is likely to block Iranian influence in Syria and with Palestinian groups, then at the London G-20 meeting, where Saudi Arabia will be asked again to help boost the International Monetary Fund's reserves to help countries badly hit by the world economic crisis.

Careful management of U.S.-Saudi ties while this succession drama plays out will be vital. On the U.S. side, there is a problem finding the right personnel. The Obama administration has yet to appoint its envoy to Riyadh. Former CENTCOM commander Gen. Anthony Zinni was reportedly offered the job as a consolation prize for not securing the Baghdad post, but he rejected it. In the interim, Bush administration novice appointee, Ford Fraker, is still in the kingdom. On the Saudi side, there is the danger that key players will slip further into dotage or simply die. King Abdullah, who turns eight-six this year, is physically limited. He could not help but be reminded of his own mortality when he visited his brother Musaid in a Riyadh hospital on March 29. Musaid, born in the same year as Abdullah, is the eldest surviving son of Ibn Saud (but was passed over for the role of king). The only disagreement on the eighty-five-year-old Sultan's condition is whether his longevity is measured in weeks or months. Even Nayef (seventy-six) is reportedly unwell, suffering from leukemia.

Some used to say that understanding the often mysterious process of succession in Saudi Arabia was less important than knowing who the candidates are. Now, neither the process nor the likely successors are clear. Moreover, the princes next in line are so old that they are unlikely to be able to rule for more than a year or so. Coupled with open disagreements within the House of Saud, this greatly increases the chances for instability in one of the linchpins of the Middle East..."

Netanyahu to Obama: Stop Iran—Or I Will

Netanyahy talks to the Atlantic, here
"...He went on, “Since the dawn of the nuclear age, we have not had a fanatic regime that might put its zealotry above its self-interest. People say that they’ll behave like any other nuclear power. Can you take the risk? Can you assume that?”
Neither Netanyahu nor his principal military advisers would suggest a deadline for American progress on the Iran nuclear program, though one aide said pointedly that Israeli time lines are now drawn in months, “not years.” These same military advisers told me that they believe Iran’s defenses remain penetrable, and that Israel would not necessarily need American approval to launch an attack. “The problem is not military capability, the problem is whether you have the stomach, the political will, to take action,” one of his advisers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told me.
If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, Netanyahu asserted, Washington’s Arab allies would drift into Iran’s orbit. “The only way I can explain what will happen to such regimes is to give you an example from the past of what happened to one staunch ally of the United States, and a great champion of peace, when another aggressive power loomed large. I’m referring to the late King Hussein [of Jordan] … who was an unequalled champion of peace. The same King Hussein in many ways subordinated his country to Saddam Hussein when Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990. Saddam seemed all-powerful, unchallenged by the United States, and until the U.S. extracted Kuwait from Saddam’s gullet, King Hussein was very much in Iraq’s orbit. The minute that changed, the minute Saddam was defeated, King Hussein came back to the Western camp.”One of Iran’s goals, Netanyahu said, is to convince the moderate Arab countries not to enter peace treaties with Israel..."

.... but Holbrooke had brief and cordial exchange with Iranian deputy FM...

The Cable, here
During the course of the conference, Rep. Holbrooke held a brief and cordial exchange with the head of the Iranian delegation, not substantive," Clinton said.

Les chrétiens d'Orient sacrifiés

(Maalulah, Syria...)
In Le Point, here

En vain attend-on l'indignation des pleureuses d'Europe ou des Etats-Unis.Toute paix, même la pseudo-paix des braves, suppose un vaincu, lequel ne saurait être les juifs, ni les musulmans, ni même les Kurdes, qui ont retrouvé leur territoire. Est-il illégitime de penser, hors toute théorie du complot mais selon le mécanisme de la victime émissaire cher à René Girard, que ce seront les chrétiens, dans leur ensemble, qui seront sacrifiés sur l'autel de la paix au Proche-Orient ?

US Official: "Facing US opposition.. Israel plans to go ahead with covert operation to 'assassinate Iranians'..."

Our friend Richard Sale writes this in the METimes, here

"...The Israeli program which has been in place for almost a decade, involves not only targeted killings of key Iranian assets but also disrupting and sabotaging Iran's nuclear technology purchasing network abroad, these sources said.

"With cooperation from the United States, Israeli covert operations have focused both on eliminating key [Iranian] assets involved in the nuclear program and the sabotaging of the Iranian nuclear supply chain," he said.

But U.S. opposition to the program has intensified as U.S. President Barack Obama makes overtures aimed at thawing 30 years of tension between the two countries.

Asked about the mounting administration disapproval, Clawson (WINEP) said of the killings, "It would be implausible to call off all covert ops." He added: "If the U.S. pressures Israel, then the Israelis will simply stop talking to us about it."

Israel's targeting killing program was done in concert with the [George W.] Bush administration, former U.S. sources said. A former senior CIA official described several joint U.S.-Mossad operations to derail Iran's nuclear program as "something out of slapstick." All had failed miserably, he said.

A new wave of assassination and sabotage programs were launched in spite of the fact that in 2005, the United States had little to no intelligence about the status of Iran's nuclear weapons program.

According to U.S. sources, in 2004, the CIA had lost its entire agent network in Iran when a CIA headquarters communications officer was about to send instructions to an agent via its Immarsat transmitter/receivers. The CIA officer attempted to download data intended for a single operative, but accidentally hit a button that sent it to the entire U.S. spy network in Iran, these sources said.Operation Merlin was still alive and kicking during the Bush administration, whose officials said they planned to try it on other countries.

A U.S. official said that Israel has staged targeted killings "in friendly countries," but that the diplomatic world has greatly changed since former President Bush. For one thing, the United States and Iran are engaged in talks on major issues. For another, Iran is a long-standing and unforgiving enemy of the Taliban.According to U.S. officials, in October 2001 when U.S. forces began bombing the Taliban force following the 9/11 attacks, Iran provided excellent targeting information on the Taliban..."

(more & in full here...)

Clinton welcomes Iran's participation, but had "no plans" to seek out Iranian diplomats.."

Al Jazeera/English, here
"The fact that they accepted the invitation to come suggests that they believe there is a role for them to play, and we're looking forward to hearing more about that," she said.......
Iran has voiced objection to the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan. Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzade, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, was quoted by Iran's official Irna news agency as saying: "The presence of foreign troops cannot bring peace and stability for Afghanistan."He instead called for a regional solution..."

Clinton offers olive branch to Taliban

Reuters, here
"...Clinton said on Tuesday at a U.N. conference on Afghanistan that Taliban members in Afghanistan who abandoned extremism must be granted an "honorable form of reconciliation."

Iran, Syria Got Indirect U.S. Nuclear Aid

In the WSJ, here

Iran received more than $15 million from 1997 to 2007 under the International Atomic Energy Agency's Technical Cooperation program, according to the Government Accountability Office report set to be released Tuesday. An additional $14 million went to Syria, while Sudan and Cuba received more than $11 million each, it said. The U.S. is the largest funder of the United Nations body's program and provided $20 million in 2007, or about a quarter of the budget, the report said.

Monday, March 30, 2009

"A trip through the maze of Saudi censorship: It's no longer Arab Nationalism or Che .. it's Sex that worries... "

Samah Idriss, in Al Akhbar, here

John Hannah: ' Sy Hersh’s Account Of ‘Executive Assassination Ring’ Is ‘Certainly True’...

Think Progress, here

Today, CNN interviewed Hersh and former Cheney national Blockquotesecurity aide John Hannah. Although he expressed regret for revealing the story (calling it a “dumb-dumb”), Hersh stood by his initial statements. “I’m sorry, Wolf, I have a lot of problems with it,” he said about the assassination scheme:

HERSH: I know for sure…the idea that we have a unit that goes around, without reporting to Congress… and has authority from the President to go into the country without telling the CIA station chief or the ambassador and whack somebody. … You’ve delegated authority to troops in the field to hit people on the basis of whatever intelligence they think is good.

Hannah replied that Hersh’s account of the assassination scheme “is not true.” Yet in the same breath, when asked about a “list” of assassination targets, Hannah echoed Hersh’s statements. Hannah said that “troops in the field” are given “authority” to “capture or kill certain individuals” who are perceived as a threat. “That’s certainly true,” he said:

Q: Is there a list of suspected terrorists out there who can be assassinated?

HANNAH: There’s clearly a group of people that go through a very extremely well-vetted process, interagency process…that have committed acts of war against the United States, who are at war with the United States or are suspected of planning operations of war against the United States, who authority is given to our troops in the field in certain war theaters to capture or kill those individuals. That is certainly true.

Hannah didn’t directly dispute Hersh’s claim that Congress wasn’t informed about the assassinations. “It is extremely hard for me to believe,” he said.

Photo of the Day

Iraq: the unraveling?

Tom Ricks in FP, here

"...I think Maliki's gambit is to crack down on the Sunnis Blockquotewhile American forces are still available in sufficient numbers to back him up. This is a turning into a test of strength, Sunni vs. Shiite. ...
There's more. If the Awakening fighting spreads, I wouldn't be surprised to see Moqtada al-Sadr's Shiite militia re-emerge. I've always thought the Sunni Awakening forced him to go to ground, because he didn't want to be the only guy taking on American forces. But if the Sunnis are on the attack again, it might be game on for him as well. I am reminded of Ambassador Ryan Crocker's worry, expressed in my new book and elsewhere, that the future of Iraq was something like Lebanon. That is, it has a government, but it is shaky, and there is violence in the streets, with some political parties having armed wings that are outside the control of the government.
Question of the day: What should I say the next time someone tells me the surge "worked"?

Ross brings in more of WINEP to STATE...

In the Cable, here
"...Ben Fishman, his former researcher and special assistant at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.."

Iran sending B team to Afghanistan powwow?

In the CABLE, here
But while the U.S. is sending its top diplomat, U.S. BlockquoteSecretary of State Hillary Clinton, and U.S. special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, reports today sourced to Dutch diplomats indicate that Tehran plans to send its deputy foreign minister, Medhi Akhundzadeh, a former Iranian ambassador to the IAEA."It does send a signal," that Iran is holding back somewhat on regional cooperation talks until "they have practical indications of America's [larger] strategic objective with Iran," he says. Tehran's response is "predictable," if unfortunate, he says, adding that Tehran's "emulating Bush's insistence on preconditions would be a mistake."

"Cast Lead," a useless effort.

Pat Lang at SST, here
This reminds me of the time an Arab dictator of my acquaintance displayed on his local television two scoundrels whom he accused of murdering a cabinet minister who had known too much. The dictator (later a pal of President GW Bush) had ordered the killing, but there, on television, the two miscreants cowered in a corner while their guilt was proclaimed and el Jefe swore by the Qur'an that investigations would continue until all the evil doers would be punished, were punished as these two evil doers would be punished.

Nothing further was ever said or printed of the two miscreants, further investigations or the death of
the inconvenient minister.

Well, the photograph above is of white phosphorus shell fired from either artillery or mortars. It is bursting over an upscale civilian apartment development. There are a lot of pictures like this. Any old soldier, including ones from the IDF, knows that this is white phosphorus shell.

White phosphorus (a metal) burns on contact with air. It burns under water. If you get it on you, it will burn through your arm, leg, etc., until the burning phosporus comes out the other side. Your only real recourse is to cut it out of you with a knife before it does so. White phosphorus shell is legally used for generating smoke on the battlefield. It used to be common in aerial bombs. Germany and Japan were heavily bombed with this among many other things for the specific purpose of burning down their towns.

So. The IDF spokeman is a liar. The question of whther and to what extent the IDF also shot civilians deliberately I leave to the conscience of IDF soldiers who seem unwilling to shut up about it. God bless them.

On a grander scale, Israeli complaints of continued Palestinian (Hamas) smuggling of supplies and munitions are a validation of the analytic comments I made here and on television to the effect that the Israeli effort at Gaza (Cast Lead) would be a total strategic failure if the Palestinians did not submit toBold the Israeli collective will as a result of that punitive campaign.

They have not submited and so it is fair to say that "Cast Lead" was strategically a total failure that served once again to demonstrate the impotence of Israeli arms in dealing with the essence of their "problem" with the Palestinians. What is next, forced "re-locations," a first strike against Iran as a relief from having to deal with the truly existential issue of Palestine? How about face to face negotiations with the Palestinians as equal human beings? How about that? pl

On Prince Nayef and the Succession

"...I do not think that this appointment settles the issue of succession. If it actually comes to appointing a new Crown Prince, we have the as-yet untried process of the Allegiance Council to get through. That puts a wild card into the process, potentially. .... My impression, and this is just an impression based on superficial observation, is that Prince Nayif has strongly held opinions, some of which will not endear him to Washington (about democracy, for one). But I remember that for years it was commonly accepted among Saudi-watchers that Prince Abdallah was "anti-American" and "close to the tribes" and thus very conservative. So much for that as an indicator of how he would govern ..."

Elliot Abrams: ".. Iranians Will Welcome Us As Liberators If We Launch Unprovoked Airstrikes on Their Country.."

Matt Yglesias, hereBold

".....He is all-but-certain to return to office more powerful than ever. Thus, I’m going to hope for the sake of the country that this argument he made during a debate on whether or not we should bomb Iran represents dishonesty rather than stupidity:
We are not talking about the Americans killing civilians, bombing cities, destroying mosques, hospitals, schools. No, no, no – weʹre talking about nuclear facilities which most Iranians know very little about, have not seen, will not see, some quite well hidden.So they wake up in the morning and find out that the United States if attacking those facilities and, presumably with some good messaging about why weʹre doing it and why we are not against the people of Iran.

Itʹs not clear to me that the reaction letʹs go to war with the Americans, but rather, perhaps, how did we get into this mess? Why did those guys, the very unpopular ayatollahs in a country 70 percent of whose population is under the age of 30, why did those old guys get us into this mess..."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Information International Polls "Metn" electorate: "39.6% vote for March8 .. and 26.3% vote March14..."

"Roger Cohen would've been a Nazi apologist..."

In the Guardian, here
"...The newspaper, and Cohen in particular, has been accused of being too critical of Israel and an apologist for Iran and its leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Cohen's column was written from Iran about the country's small Jewish minority.....
Cohen was attacked by Jewish writers and bloggers. The Jerusalem Post dubbed him "misled", while the Atlantic Monthly called him "credulous". Others went much further. "The Nazis had Theresienstadt, their 'model' concentration camp used to 'persuade' the gullible that Jews and others who aroused the ire of the Nazis were being treated well. Would Roger Cohen have had no problem portraying that favourably as well?" fumed writer Ed Lasky on the American Thinker website...
Perhaps part of the reason for the intensity of the attack is the fact that he is Jewish himself. "I think it's partly my name. The 'self-hating Jew' things can come to the surface in some of the responses," he said. Another reason is that the column appeared in the Times, which many media experts hardly see as a fierce critic of Israel, given its home audience. "As soon as I read the column I thought a lot of people would be unhappy," said Jack Lule, a journalism professor at Lehigh University...."

Spanish Court Weighs Inquiry on Torture for 6 Bush-Era Officials

(Judge Batazar Garzon, of "Pinochet quest" fame)
NYTimes, here
Bush Men in question: Gonzales, Feith, Addington, Haynes, Yoo, & Bybee

"..Saudi Arabia, fears that the US will come to a historic agreement with Iran..."

"...Saudi Arabia has been keen on a truce with Syria and Qatar and is concerned that Arab divisions allow Iran to trumpet itself as the champion of the Palestinians.Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the leader of mainstream Sunni Islam, fears that the United States will come to a historic agreement with Iran recognising it as the Gulf regional power, thus creating a possible threat to Al Saud family rule.
Tensions between the Saudi authorities and minority Saudi Shi'ites
bubbled to the surface last month with clashes in Medina and rare talk by a firebrand Shi'ite cleric that Shi'ites in the oil-rich Eastern Province may one day seek secession.
As'ad AbuKhalil, a politics professor at California State University, said Riyadh had lost faith in Washington's resolve to defend its corner in regional disputes. "The Saudi government and the rest of the so-called 'Arab moderate camp' are fully aware that the BoldUnited States is going to be too distracted with financial troubles and Iraq and Afghanistan to fight inter-Arab affairs."

Sy Hersh: "Syria Calling"

After a looooong wait, here it is Sy's New Yorker story, here

"...An official who served with the Bush Administration said that late last year the Administration thought it was unrealistic to engage Syria on the Golan Heights. “The Bush view was, if we support the talks, with no preconditions, what are we going to say to our supporters in Lebanon who are standing up to Hezbollah? ‘You stood up to Hezbollah’—and where are we?”....What he needed, Assad said, was direct contact with Obama. A conference would not be enough: “It is most natural to want a meeting with President Obama.

The Obama transition team also helped persuade Israel to end the bombing of Gaza and to withdraw its ground troops before the Inauguration. According to the former senior intelligence official, who has access to sensitive information, “Cheney began getting messages from the Israelis about pressure from Obama” when he was President-elect. Cheney, who worked closely with the Israeli leadership in the lead-up to the Gaza war, portrayed Obama to the Israelis as a “pro-Palestinian,” Boldwho would not support their efforts (and, in private, disparaged Obama, referring to him at one point as someone who would “never make it in the major leagues”). But the Obama team let it be known that it would not object to the planned resupply of “smart bombs” and other high-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel. “It was Jones”—retired Marine General James Jones, at the time designated to be the President’s national-security adviser—“who came up with the solution and told Obama, ‘You just can’t tell the Israelis to get out.’ ” (General Jones said that he could not verify this account; Cheney’s office declined to comment.)

However, Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer who operated in the Middle East and later served as an adviser to the European Union and a staff member for a fact-finding committee on the Middle East headed by Mitchell, said that the new Administration should not assume that Bashar Assad could be separated easily from Iran, or persuaded to give up support for Hamas and Hezbollah. “Bashar now has enormous standing in the Arab world, and it comes from these pillars—he was among the first to oppose the American war in Iraq and his continued support for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas,” Crooke said. “He cannot trade the Golan Heights for peace with Israel, and cut off his allies. What Syria can do is offer its good standing and credentials to lead a comprehensive regional settlement.” But, he said, “the Obama Administration is going to make it really painful for Syria. There will be no bouquets for Syria.”He went on, “The real goal of Assad is not necessarily an agreement on the Golan but to begin to engage America and slice away the American demonization of his state.Bold The changed political landscape in Israel would complicate this process for the Syrians. He said, “They’re starting all these processes to break their isolation and change their strategy. It’s going to be bloody difficult for them to manage this.”

"...Zardari, just lies to us ...Honestly, I don’t believe there’s a war going on in the tribal areas.."

In the Washington Independent, here

"....Significantly, Obama identified the source of the al-Qaeda problem as emanating from Pakistan, where for years, U.S. intelligence assessments have judged that the jihadist organization has constituted a safe haven in tribal areas largely out of the control of the Pakistani government.
Some in the administration are skeptical that the Pakistanis will meet their commitments under the new strategy. “You have people there who just lie to our face, like Zardari, who just lies to us,” said one official who requested anonymity, referring to the Pakistani president.Honestly, I don’t believe there’s a war going on in the tribal areas. The Pakistanis tell us that, but they’re just baldfaced lies.” The official believes that U.S. diplomats in Pakistan accept Pakistani claims of maximal warfighting efforts at face value: “They don’t speak Urdu, they don’t speak Pashto, and they eat it all up.”
Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia, said he has discussed the Pakistani intelligence services’ former and perhaps current support for the Taliban with its director and with the chief of staff of the Pakistani Army..."

Gates on FOX: ...Al-Qa'ida is the objective, not a renaissance for Afghanistan..

"...There has been concern here about the new US policy in Afghanistan. When asked if Obama was denying the US command there of forces, Gates said that the president had approved all requests that he, Gates, has made for deployment authority for forces going to Afghanistan. When asked what the US goal is in Afghanistan, Gates repeated the president's statement that we are there to "defeat, disrupt and destroy"al-Qa'ida forces in the country. Wallace tried several times to expand that mission statement to include the Taliban. Gates ignored this and would not be drawn. The implication is clear that an attempt will be made to suborn the more suborn-able parts of the insurgent array. Wallace also tried to insist that a lot more troops would be needed. Gates ignored that as well. There will not be a lot more US troops over and above the 60,000 number that are now scheduled. These are several reasons for that. The most important one is that the administration does not want to be pulled into an open ended commitment to Afghanistan. Al-Qa'ida is the objective, not a renaissance for Afghanistan. The second most important reason for a limited force in Afghanistan is the state of exhaustion of the US Army. Materiel, soldiers, families, are all exhausted. The force is brittle. Money for the "operations and maintenance" costs of another big war would be unsustainable. The right wingers on FNS want to see a bigCOIN campaign in the policy that Obama announced for Afghanistan. They want to see a policy that represents an Obama acceptance of what they call the "Bush Surge." In fact the Obama Afghanistan policy if very limited in scope, and cleverly disguised to look like something that the right thinks it likes."
Lang in SST

Baghdad warns Mujahidin Khalq that "their days in Iraq are numbered"...

AP, out of Baghdad: "Iraq says it will move members of an Iranian opposition group from a camp north of Baghdad to remote areas elsewhere and encourage them to leave the country peacefully. National Security Adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie says the strategy is to separate hundreds of members of the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran from their militant commanders.Iraqi forces have taken over security of the group's camp from the Americans and al-Rubaie has warned the exiles their days in Iraq are numbered. Iraq's Shiite-led government has long sought to get rid of the group, branded terrorist by Iraq, Iran and the U.S. Al-Rubaie told reporters Friday the government is also talking to Western countries about taking in nearly a third of the 3,418 members."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Al Qaeda's head in Arabia: "..two countries' Intel-services 'coach' Al Qaeda against Saudi Arabia..."

(...Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz...)
Al Hayat, here

'Germany soft on Iran due to financial considerations'

"...Germany prefers to safeguard its financial interests in Iran, and prefers its billion-dollar business deals rather than applying the necessary pressure to bring an end to the Iranian nuclear program," said Ayatollah Dr. Mehdi Haeri Khorshidi, who fled to Germany in 1986 and remained there until 2003, speaking at a conference on Iran at Haifa University. .."

Three Israeli Airstrikes Against Sudan ... since January

"...Today, a Sudanese Foreign Ministry representative said there were two separate bombing raids against smugglers in January and February. The Sudanese minister for highways was more specific, saying the airstrikes took place Jan. 27 and Feb. 11. ...Al-Jazeera also reported today a Sudanese official's claim that Israel had sunk a ship carrying weapons..."

Friday, March 27, 2009

"Israel commits suicide!"

John J. Mearsheimer in FP, here

"...The Obama administration will surely try to push Netanyahu to change his thinking about a two-state solution and work to give the Palestinians a real state of their own. The Israel lobby, however, will adamantly defend Israel's right to do whatever it wants in the Occupied Territories and make it impossible for the president to put significant pressure on Israel. Netanyahu, like all Israeli leaders, understands this basic fact of life. He knows that he will just have to say a few nice words about the "peace process" and blame the whole thing on the Palestinians, who he believes are a bunch of terrorists anyway, and he will be pretty much free to do whatever he wants in Gaza and the West Bank..... Greater Israel cannot be a democratic state, because there will soon be -- if there aren't already -- more Palestinians between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea than there are Israeli Jews. So, if you give each person one vote, Israel becomes Palestine. That is not going to happen anytime soon, if ever, which leaves two possible outcomes: apartheid and expelling the Palestinians -- and there are more than 5 million of them -- from Greater Israel ... My bottom line is that Israel, with the backing of the lobby, is pursuing a remarkably foolish -- Ehud Olmert would say suicidal -- policy towards the Palestinians..."

"The best outcome for Washington would be that the summit in Doha ... fails to resurrect SYRIA"

David Schenker, at WINEP, here

"...Despite appearances, however, differences -- particularly regarding Iran and support for "resistance" -- persist. Syria continues to refuse suggestions that it change the strategic nature of its relationship with Iran and is pressing Egypt and Saudi Arabia to adopt a more sympathetic stance toward "resistance groups." In an interview with al-Safir on March 25, Syrian president Bashar al-Asad downplayed progress on reconciliation, likening the process to an airplane that "took off . . .[but] if the engines power subside[s], the plane will collapse....
...Perhaps not surprisingly, given Syria's improved status within the Arab League, the topic of Lebanese elections does not appear on the agenda. Syria, however, did manage to insert two items into the program: a reaffirmation of Arab opposition to U.S. economic sanctions on Syria and a condemnation of "the attempts aimed at politicizing the principles of justice." The second point reflects Syria's rejection of the Hariri Tribunal, echoing al-Asad's recent threat that if the tribunal were politicized, "Lebanon would be the first to pay the price." ...
....the best outcome for Washington would be that the summit, which almost certainly will lend its imprimatur to an indicted Sudanese war criminal, will not further legitimize Hamas"

Lang: "A good plan for Afghanistan..."

SST, here

"...........And more importantly, for the United States.

I have been holding my breath to to see what the White House and CENTCOM strategy reviews would produce with regard to Afghanistan in particular. In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that I was consulted in a very small way on one of these. It was agreed at the time that I would not mention this until policy was announced.

There have been two basic possibilities for US policy in Afghanistan:

- One choice might have been to commit to a full blown, multi-decade nation building COIN war that would have "sucked up" trillions of dollars in money that we could ill afford to leave littering the heights of Central Asia. All the "old Afghanistan hands" whom I know insist that the country known as Afghanistan does have a seat in the UN and an embassy in Washington but that those two "data points" mark the closest approach to "nationhood" in the political science sense of the word that can be detected. The creation of "Afghanistan, the Country" would have been dear to neocon hearts (and the idea still is). That goal would have involved de-racination of Afghanistan to such a degree that it would become a very Westernized country. The costs would be enormous. The assumption in this (peddled by the neocons) is that a drained swamp does not breed alligators. The "swamp" in this case is the matrix of traditional lifeways. Those lifeways are despised and feared by the neocons. Why? Work it out.

- The other possibility in policy was that the US would spend a reasonable, but not excessive amount of money helping the Afghans in the development of physical and governmental infrastructure, would assist in enlarging Afghan security forces and improving their training in an effort scheduled to end in 2011 and most importantly would concentrate on energized and mobilizing native Afghan and Pakistani forces against their enemies and ours, the takfiri jihadis centered on the Al-Qa'ida group. The idea being to disrupt and disorganize our real enemies enough to keep them off balance and unable to plan significant attacks against the West and most importantly the United States. This intelligence and special operations task is small scale compared to neocon dreams and it is likely to be with us for a long time.

This latter option appears to be the one selected and if that is true, I support it. This is a rational plan, proportionate to the problem rather than some silly idea centered on the "end of civilization." pl

BTW. The cognoscenti point out to me a serious US problem in Pakistan/Afghanistan. That is a badly divided command structure. Something should be done about that."

Egypt's Intelligence Deputy Chief ... in Damascus...

AFP, here
Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman's deputy Omar Kinawi will push for Palestinian reconciliation during the meetings, said Nabil Shaath, a senior official with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party.

Saudi militant back from Syria to surrender

reuters, here
"...Many Saudis are among foreigners who went to Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to fight foreign forces and the Shi'ite-dominated government. Al Qaeda's Saudi wing launched a campaign to destabilise the world's largest oil exporter in 2003, but the violence was brought to a halt after a long campaign of arrests. Ruwaily was met by Interior Ministry officers on his return from Syria this week, the source said. The government says Ruwaily facilitated the movement of Saudis into Iraq as well as Afghanistan..."

Saudis bend over,... while Mubarak fails to grasp the Damascene moment,,,"

In AP, here
At the same time, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have an ulterior motive. With Obama also pursuing dialogue directly with Iran, Washington's Arab allies want to make sure their interests are not left out if the United States and Iran reach any reconciliation........
During the meeting, oil-rich Saudi Arabia offered Assad a financial package to offset Iranian aid to Syria, if it breaks with Tehran, a Saudi royal adviser told The Associated Press. Abdullah also promised Assad that the kingdom will mobilize Arab support to back Syria in negotiations for a peace deal with Israel, aimed at winning back the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in 1967. 
"What we said was, 'Come back to the Arab fold, and after that everything you need can come,'" said the Saudi official, who was briefed on the March 11 meeting. He spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door talks. 

Assad had a further condition: Arab help to ensure than an international tribunal does not name Assad or his close associates in the case of the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the Saudi adviser said......
Holding out, Assad proposed that the sides find a way to manage their differences - basically, agree to disagree civilly. 

But Egypt's Mubarak took a tough tone, pressing for Assad to commit immediately to Egyptian and Saudi demands. He bluntly warned Assad that there would be no generous Arab overtures until Syria shows a real change of behavior, an Egyptian official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door talks. 

The mini-summit appeared on the verge of collapsing. But the emir of Kuwait, who was also attending, stepped in and persuaded the two sides to continue talks in the coming weeks, said the Egyptian official, who was also briefed on the meeting. So far, there has been no sign of a breakthrough.  ...... the Egyptian-mediated talks with Hamas have since broken up without an agreement. "

White Paper of the Interagency Policy Group's Report on
U.S. Policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan


The United States has a vital national security interest in addressing the Blockquotecurrent and potential security threats posed by extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Pakistan, al Qaeda and other groups of jihadist terrorists are planning new terror attacks. Their targets remain the U.S. homeland, Pakistan,
Afghanistan, India, Europe, Australia, our allies in the Middle East, and other targets of opportunity. The growing size of the space in which they are operating is a direct result of the terrorist/insurgent activities of the Taliban and related organizations. At the same time, this group seeks to reestablish their old sanctuaries in Afghanistan. Therefore, the core goal of the U.S. must be to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan. The ability of extremists in Pakistan to undermine Afghanistan is proven, while insurgency in Afghanistan feeds instability in Pakistan. The threat that al Qaeda poses to the United States and our allies in Pakistan -- including the possibility of extremists obtaining fissile material -- is all too real. Without more effective action against these groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan will face continuing instability.

(Read the rest >>>)

UK 'reengaging Hezbollah' accelerated by "Iraq Deal"....

In the Guardian, here
...Efforts to finalise the deal were a ­factor in Britain's move to re-engage publicly with Hezbollah's political wing in Lebanon this month....

"More Troops: Modest Goals"

Meanwhile, Politico, here
"...The main new U.S. goal is as constricted and clear-eyed as can be. It is to go after Osama bin Laden and the other remains of al-Qaida hiding along the Afghan-Pakistan border region. Everything else will be secondary. ...
"...Obama officials say the most difficult part of their approach will be in dealing with Pakistan, an often chaotic place with an erratic relationship with the United States. The administration will seek to bolster the democratic government of Pakistan, and try to get the people of that country to see the U.S.-led effort as one that is in their interests. "We have to address the trust deficit that we have with Pakistanis," one senior administration official said. "That's not going to be easy." The plan notes that the top U.S. general in Afghanistan still wants some 10,000 or 11,000 additional U.S. forces next year, but it does not say whether Obama intends to fulfill that request now, sources said. That decision would come by the end of this year."

The Impact of the Coming U.S.-Iran Detente

Patrick Seale in the Middle East Times, here
"...Israel has expressed great unease. Its greatest fear is that a U.S.-Iran detente will erode its own position as America's closest regional ally, and might even threaten its monopoly of nuclear weapons. It is pressuring the United States to make its dialogue with Iran short - if dialogue there must be - and to redouble its sanctions against Tehran, in order to compel it to end its nuclear program. In turn, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are alarmed at Iran's rise as a regional rival and will need reassurance from Washington that their interests will not be ignored in any U.S.-Iranian deal...
Obama has understood that Iran's help will be needed to stabilize Iraq; to curb the Taliban in Afghanistan; to moderate hardline Palestinian factions in the search for an Arab-Israeli settlement; and to contribute to Lebanon's political harmony. Iran has become a regional power that can no longer be isolated or ignored, since its influence extends into all the interconnected conflicts in the area.
Today, there is a glaring contrast between Obama's words of conciliation addressed to Tehran and the continued attempts by U.S. Treasury officials - Stuart Levey prominent among them - to broaden financial sanctions against Iran, starve its foreign trade of finance, and force international banks to suspend all business with Iranian banks. As recently as this month, the U.S. blacklisted 11 companies linked to Iran's Bank Melli. In addition, Dennis Ross, the recently appointed Obama administration's point-man on Iran, has long been closely associated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a think-tank dedicated to influencing America's Middle East policy in a pro-Israeli direction. WINEP continues to campaign stridently for sanctions against Iran, and for military action if sanctions fail. ..
Obama will need to resolve these contradictions if he is to be heard in Tehran, and if the dialogue he is seeking is not to be sabotaged by officials and special interests in his own government..."


EURASIA report, here
"...Adding to Ahmadinejad's troubles, his political opponents within the conservative establishment have seized the initiative on a key presidential campaign issue -- Iranian-US relations. Larijani on March 25 occupied the hardliner high ground from Ahmadinejad by coming out forcefully against US President Barack Obama's recent olive branch address, made in connection with the Iranian new year on March 21...
The combination of bad news for the incumbent appears to have emboldened reformists in Iran, who have largely wandered in the political wilderness since Ahmadinejad's landslide election win in 2005. The man who Ahmadinejad forcefully defeated in that election, Ayatollah Mohammad Khatami, has issued a call for a united front of political forces to oppose Ahmadinejad's reelection.
With less than three months until election day, Ahmadinejad, given the bevy of recent setbacks, would seem like a lock to be a one-term president in most countries. But in Iran, where democratic mechanisms are checked by powerful institutions that operate beyond the reach of the electorate, Ahmadinejad still has ample reason to feel confident about his reelection prospects..."

DNI Blair: "Intel lacking in Afghanistan"

CNN, here

Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told reporters the United States lacks a deep understanding of local power structures in Afghanistan and of the militants operating along that nation's border with Pakistan.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Obama's New Afghan Policy

In The Atlantic, here

"...According to people who have been briefed on the results of the policy review, Obama plans to emphasize results-driven cooperation with both countries. He will endorse a Senate bill, authored by Sens. John Kerry and Richard Lugar, that would condition a significant increase in aid to Pakistan on measurable improvements in Pakistan's internal efforts to combat terrorism. (President Obama and Vice President Biden were cosponsors of the bill in the Senate.)

In seeking to reassure Americans that help to Pakistan is contingent on internal reforms, he plans to stress that Americans will work with those in both countries who demonstratively seek peace and reconciliation.

This will be interpreted as a warning to both President Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. Pointedly, the new Afpak policy does not express a preference for specific leaders, another difference from the previous administration, which had been accused of coddling and courting Karzai and former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf at the expense of rooting out corruption and terrorism. Afghanistan holds elections later this year, and the U.S. hasn't found a candidate it likes.

The Americans will lean on Zardari to end his military's ongoing cooperation with the Taliban. Some analysts may interpret the new American policy to mean that the U.S. is open to working more closely with the leader of the main opposition party in Pakistan, Narwaz Sharif.

A few weeks ago, Obama announced that an additional 17,000 U.S. troops would be sent to Afghanistan. Tomorrow, he plans to spell out their mission. 4,000 additional troops will be tasked with training Afghan soldiers and the national police; the administration hopes to have more than 130,000 soldiers and 82,000 police officers trained by 2011. The rest of the troops will be given expanded counter-terrorism assignments and charged with defeating Al Qaeda, not just killing them in isolation.

It is not clear whether Obama will mention Iran by name -- I think he probably will -- but he will ask neighboring nations to form a working group to handle disputes and plan longer-term initiatives. It will be clear, in any event, that Iran ought to be included in the group.

The new bearing reflects Vice President Joe Biden's imprint. He has been arguing internally for a more focused counterterrorism mission rather than a larger, more complex counterinsurgency mission, which would involve significantly more American resources and troops. Though the President plans to endorse the concepts of counterinsurgency as a means to fight the Taliban, it will not be the primary objective of U.S. and NATO troops. U.S. policy also focuses on improving the legitimacy of Afghan government institutions by endorsing anti-corruption drives, by devoting U.S. resources to counternarcotics missions, and by providing basic goods and services to Afghans outside Kabul.

Administration officials briefed Congress on the outlines of the policy this afternoon; NATO and EU countries were looped in on Wednesday.'"

Michel Aoun: "Jeffrey Feltman got a 'slight rebuke'..."

In his interview with Marcel Ghanem on "Kalam el Nass", Michel Aoun divulges a "fax" he received from 'friendlies' in the US administration to the effect that Jeffrey Feltman got a 'slight rebuke' about his comments on the Christian Vote and M14 allies ... basically saying that the Obama administration sees things from a different prism and a wider angle than the one Feltman is accustomed to. (more on that later)

Pakistani ISI's "S Wing" ...and aid to Afghani insurgency

In the NYTimes, here

"Support for the Taliban, as well as other militant groups, is coordinated by operatives inside the shadowy S Wing of Pakistan’s spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, the officials said. There is even evidence that ISI operatives meet regularly with Taliban commanders to discuss whether to intensify or scale back violence before the Afghan elections. ...

Little is publicly known about the ISI’s S Wing, which officials say directs intelligence operations outside of Pakistan. American officials said that the S Wing provided direct support to three major groups carrying out attacks in Afghanistan: the Taliban based in Quetta, Pakistan, commanded by Mullah Muhammad Omar; the militant network run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; and a different group run by the guerrilla leader Jalaluddin Haqqani. ..."

Israel-Gaza cartoon called 'hideously anti-Semitic'

"Washington made peace with the notion that it cannot force the decoupling of Syria from Tehran..."

Bilal Saab at Brookings, here
"...From a technical point of view, the framework and pace of US-Syrian talks is yet to be determined by US officials at the State Department and the National Security Council. More importantly, it is not clear whether Washington has made up its mind yet on the nature of its opening to Damascus. Is it purely tactical, seeking to extract concessions from Damascus on a number of issues, or strategic, looking to completely re-evaluate the US-Syrian relationship? 
Finding common ground with Syria is harder than it might sound. Today, there are some serious potential standoffs between Syria and the UN over the Hariri tribunal and over nuclear inspections that could throw spanners into any imminent rapprochement with the United States. On 4 March 2009, the US stated that UN inspectors had found growing evidence of covert nuclear activity in Syria, and European allies said a lack of Syrian transparency demanded utmost scrutiny. On Lebanon, is it almost impossible to find a compromise between Washington’s stated plan of helping the Lebanese people restore their sovereignty and independence and Damascus’s fixation on controlling its smaller neighbour’s political fate. On Arab-Israeli peace, is Syria ready to cut its aid for Hizbullah and Hamas in exchange for a peace deal with Israel which would see the return of the Golan Heights to Syria? 
The visit of Feltman and Shapiro to Syria represents not a thaw, but merely a de-icing of relations. Whether relations freeze over again will largely depend on what US officials start hearing from Assad. Washington appears to have made peace with the notion that it cannot force the decoupling of Syria from Tehran. Therefore, for now, it is most likely that it will focus its efforts on advancing Syrian-Israeli talks, in the hope that such an exercise will create tensions between Damascus and Tehran and lead to the gradual deterioration of Syrian-Iranian relations"

Elliot Abrams: "Obama-Netanyuahu faceoff!"

Heather Robinson, here, via War&Piece.
"...Abrams predicted friction between Obama and Netanyahu on the issue of Israeli settlements. And he said that if sanctions fail to arrest Iran’s march toward nuclear capability, both Obama and Netanyahu will face a historic decision as to whether to allow “this regime whose stated intention is to destroy Israel” to acquire nuclear weapons.......
In terms of a military option to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capability, Abrams said two questions on the table for both Obama and Netanyahu are whether they can successfully target Iran’s nuclear facilities, and if they do so, how far it will set Iran back.“The question is, ‘How much can you destroy?’” he said. “It’s not like Osirak, they’ve spread things around. Also, what about the secret plant we’ve never heard about?
“How far can you set them back? If it’s five months, it won’t be worth it. But if it’s ten years? [The U.S.] has a larger air force and better capability than Israel. We could do a better job.”

U.S. Accused Of Killing 39 In Sudan Strike ('Shadow war against Hamas?)

CBS-News here, via AbuM

"...CBS News national security correspondent David Martin has been told that Israeli aircraft carried out the attack. Israeli intelligence is said to have discovered that weapons were being trucked through Sudan, heading north toward Egypt, whereupon they would cross the Sinai Desert and be smuggled into Hamas-held territory in Gaza. ..
In the airstrike in Sudan – said to have been "in a desert area northwest of Port Sudan city, near Mount al-Sha’anoon," according to SudanTribune.com – 39 people riding in 17 trucks were reportedly killed. ..
According to SudanTribune.com, the airstrike was an "embarrassment" to Sudan’s government, and it discussed the matter with Egypt’s government – allied with the U.S. on most issues – "to gather more information to formulate a response." ..
If Israeli airplanes carried out the attack in Sudan, it would suggest that there is a shadow war against Hamas and its weapons sources that is wider than the Israeli or U.S. government has revealed..."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Khalid Michal Interview

Khalid Michal InterviewBy Paul McGEOUGH, exclusive 3hr meeting at his Damascus headquarters, via Syria Comment, here

The former Mossad analyst Clinton couldn't avoid

In the CABLE, here

"....Sources tell Foreign Policy that when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Netanyahu at the King David Hotel earlier this month, such was the concern that a certain former Mossad analyst who now serves as Netanyahu's security advisor may pose a counterintelligence problem that, after conferring with an aide, Clinton suggested to Netanyahu that they reduce the number of people in the room.
The former analyst, Uzi Arad, has recently headed an Israeli think tank that convenes the influential annual Herzliya strategy dialogue. Arad has been unable to get a U.S. visa for the past two years, he has suggested, because he was identified in a 2005 indictment (though not by name) as one of the Israelis who met with then-Pentagon Iran specialist Larry Franklin. Franklin pled guilty in 2005 on charges related to unauthorized disclosure of national-security information to people not authorized to receive it, including officials with the Israeli government.
Clinton's suggestion was made, sources say, in the hopes that Netanyahu would get the message and excuse Arad from the meeting. What happened instead, sources report, was that Netanyahu dismissed from the meeting Israeli ambassador to Washington Sallai Meridor, who has since announced his resignation. (An account of the meeting previously published on ForeignPolicy.com revealed that Clinton seemed remarkably constrained and tight-lipped during it.)...."

Abrams at the UVA: "America cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran and must go to any lengths to prevent it.”

Miller Center and PBS' McNeill/Lehrer is hosting an Iran debate tonight. Elliot Abrams and Joshua Muravchik will argue in a support of a resolution: "America cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran and must go to any lengths to prevent it.” Martin Indyk and Karim Sadjadpour argue the opposition to it. UVA, live webcast here via War&Piece

Tel Aviv Notes: Hamas, Hezbollah and the Issue of Hostages and Missing Combatants

Ephraim Lavie, in the PULSE, here

Amos Yadlin tries something 'new': "Iran does not have nukes yet, but it could ..."

Sigh, sigh, sigh .... YNETnews, here
"...Iran is biding its time on manufacturing a nuclear weapon for diplomatic reasons, he said, adding that Israel could still prevent the Islamic republic from gaining atomic capabilities..."
... and it gets better,
"The Iranian strategy is not to get one nuclear bomb as soon as they can, so as not to give the world a reason to act against them," said Yadlin. "They are trying to get within short term reach of a bomb and they are enriching uranium in a rate meant to make it very hard to incriminate them."