Tuesday, January 31, 2012

White House installs 'Secure Line' to Dennis Ross' WINEP/ AIPAC office!

"...two independent sources approached me – one an Israeli academic, and the second a U.S. official. Both sources divulged a small, but very significant detail that clarified just how much Ross is still involved in framing U.S. policy regarding Israel and the Middle East.
Apparently, a short while after Ross left his position in the Obama administration, the White House made an unusual request to install a secure phone line in Ross' office at the Washington Institute. The secure line is known in Israel as a "red phone", which could be used to discuss confidential information without the risk of wiretapping...
For unknown reasons, Ross’ strange work arrangement is kept secret both by him and the White House. But the publication of the news brought up the issue of Ross’ position during the Department of State’s daily briefing last Friday. Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated that not only is Ross advising the president, he is also part of a formal arrangement.
"Dennis Ross is now a private citizen, but he also has an association with the White House as an unpaid advisor,” Nuland told journalists during the briefing. So I’m going to send you to the White House in terms of…those details.”
During his visit to Israel last week, Ross met secretly with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as with his advisor Yitzhak Molho. American officials estimated that Ross’ talks with Netanyahu are on behalf of President Obama, and part of a channel of communication that bypasses the government...."

Israeli drone the size of a Boeing 737 crashes

"...Israeli drone the size of a Boeing 737 crashes
"...A huge Israeli Heron TP drone that is the size of a Boeing 737 and can fly as far as Iran has crashed on a routine experimental flight ..."

Syrian Free Army warns Hassan Nasrallah: 'We will settle scores with you!'

"...The secretary general of the Free Syria Army's military council warned that Syrian rebels will settle the score with Nasrallah and his group at court once the Syrian leader is deposed..."

Turkish Finesse: "There is no [good] end for this. The end is certain. The question is how painful it will be!"

The president said authoritarian rulers in the Middle East have two options, which he said are either carry out reforms or face foreign intervention. “If they do not do that and do not bring order to their lands, foreign intervention will be inevitable,” he said.
“Some think that we want war in Syria. Turkey has done everything in its power for a transformation under the leadership of the president. We did everything except beg for it, ...We worked so hard [to convince Assad]. We told him that one day you will regret it, one day you will say, ‘I did this and that, but it will be too little, too late, ... Syria is unfortunately on a path of no return. The important thing is that this process is not dragged out. There is no [good] end for this. The end is certain. The question is how painful it will be,” the president also said...
The president was also asked about the comments that the region has been dominated by Iran during the interview. He played down an alleged Turkey-Iran rivalry in the Middle East..."

"It seems that our arm-twisting with the Russians hasn't borne fruit!"

"... Syrian human rights activists said they are placing increasingly desperate hopes on the UN.
"It has become the last chance for the Security Council to Act," Syrian pro-democracy activist Radwan Ziadeh told Yahoo News in a telephone interview from New York Monday.
Ziadeh is one of a group of Syrian opposition activists who had just come from a meeting Monday with Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin. So far, Ziadeh said, the Russian envoy gave no sign Moscow would budge on its opposition to a resolution condemning Assad.
Syria is Russia's closest ally in the Middle East. "But we hope in last minute negotiations Russia agrees to not use its veto, to at least not block a resolution," Ziadeh said.
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said Monday that the United States and allies would back a resolution drafted by Morocco on behalf of the Arab League. She said that since the draft does not call for Libya-style military intervention or even new sanctions, the resolution should not raise objections or require extended debate. Still, she did not rule out the idea that Russia would block the measure.
Russia's continued objection to Security Council condemnation of Assad has both political and economic components.
"Basically there are domestic constraints that [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin is under because has his own election process and … his giving in to pressure abroad and dumping Assad would not look good for him domestically given he has faced protests at home," Andrew Tabler, a Syria analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Yahoo News Monday. "It seems that our arm-twisting with the Russians hasn't borne fruit yet."

Ziocons hard at work: "How the Americans will feel proud?"

Message is: 'Invade my country, kill my people, but do it well!'
"... He expressed concern that Americans "will face the same problem as they faced in 2003," when a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq, toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein and unleashing a wave of sectarian violence.
And he said he did not understand how U.S. President Barack Obama is able to characterize Iraq as a free, stable and democratic country.
"What sort of Iraq we are talking about?" he asked. "How the Americans will feel proud? How the American administration is going to justify to the taxpayer the billion of dollars that has been spent and at the end of the day the American saying, 'Sorry, we have no leverage even to put things in order in Iraq'?"
Though Iraq's instability may not affect this year's election campaign in the United States, "it is going to affect the American interest in the region, and they should be very much concern about that," al-Hashimi said. "The future of Iraq is grim."..."

"Bashar al Assad lost control of the country ... (he) is a threat to peace & security"

White House:
"...Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "has lost control of the country" and it is inevitable that his "brutal regime" will fall from power, according to a spokesman for the White House."..."
'I can't hear you!'

"... The Security Council must act and make clear to the Syrian regime that the world community views its actions as a threat to peace and security. The violence must end, so that a new period of democratic transition can begin.
Tomorrow, I will attend a United Nations Security Council meeting on Syria where the international community should send a clear message of support to the Syrian people: we stand with you. The Arab League is backing a resolution that calls on the international community to support its ongoing efforts, because the status quo is unsustainable. The longer the Assad regime continues its attacks on the Syrian people and stands in the way of a peaceful transition, the greater the concern that instability will escalate and spill over throughout the region..."

Monday, January 30, 2012

“Patience and persistence!"

"... There is reason to doubt, though, that an attack on Iran is imminent. The United States and the European Union are ratcheting up economic sanctions in the hope that they will push Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to re-start serious nuclear negotiations.... The strategy, led by Obama, appears to be achieving its aim of raising the pressure on the ayatollahs to an unprecedented level. The value of Iran’s currency has fallen sharply. The diplomatic campaign would be stronger if it contained a definite plan to assuage Iran’s fears that the West and Israel ultimately seek regime change in Tehran—fears that presumably inform Iran’s search for a nuclear deterrent. Yet this is a rare period of momentum and international unity regarding Iran. “A peaceful resolution . . . is still possible, and far better,” the President said in the State of the Union. An attack now by either Israel or the United States would shatter diplomacy’s achievements.
The Iranian nuclear program is a problem with a long arc. The secret work began in the late nineteen-seventies, under the secular-minded Shah returned to power by Eisenhower’s intervention. There can be little doubt that Iranian scientists have studied atomic-bomb design. Several leading Israeli defense officials have said recently that Iran’s nuclear work has become so advanced that unless the sites are bombed soon—within months or, at most, within a year—it will be too late to prevent the country’s acquisition of atomic arms. It is difficult to tell whether the officials really believe that or if they are just adding to the pressure on Tehran. Either way, the evidence casts doubt on their judgment. The centrifuge technology that Iran has acquired to enrich uranium is relatively easy to hide, so it is conceivable that work has advanced further than world governments understand. But all of Iran’s known nuclear-fuel enrichment facilities are today under U.N. monitoring, and there is no evidence that any of Iran’s enriched uranium has been diverted to a military program.
Short of a nation conducting a bomb test, it’s not possible to define precisely when a country’s technology has attained weapons capability....The burden of proof rests, in any event, with those who would urge war. Two of Iran’s uranium-enrichment sites are underground; there are two significant reactors and another being built, and possibly other important sites that are unknown. In these circumstances, no one can confidently predict what aerial bombardment would achieve by way of damage or delay to Iran’s over-all nuclear timelines. And the costs of any such attack are much easier to describe than the benefits. For Israel, those costs would certainly include heavy retaliatory rocket and missile strikes by Hezbollah and Hamas against Israeli civilians, a wave of popular anti-Israeli upheaval in Egypt, and the prolonged inflammation of Iran’s nuclear nationalism. A regional war involving Lebanon, Syria, and oil-producing Gulf emirates would also be a possibility.
Moreover, although “the forces of stability and freedom” may be elusive and late arriving in Tehran, the durability of the Islamic Republic is far from assured. In Cairo last week, Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square to commemorate the first anniversary of their revolution, an uprising that was as stunning and as unforeseen as Iran’s revolution was in 1979. The Arab Spring offers ample evidence that no dictatorship should be assumed to be indelible.
In 2009, in Prague, Obama, in one of the eloquent and idealistic speeches that characterized his early Presidency, pledged to pursue a world free from the menace of nuclear arms. He receives little credit for his work in this field, but he has delivered: accelerated programs to safeguard loose nuclear materials abroad, and a hard-won New START treaty with Russia, which proposes a smaller American nuclear arsenal. Iran’s case doesn’t offer much prospect for clear achievement; it is a crucible of uncertainty and risk. In Prague, however, Obama warned against “fatalism” about the nuclear danger, and he prescribed a strategy to defeat it: “Patience and persistence.” That strategy shouldn’t be taken off the table. ♦

"Why are Israeli leaders suddenly so chatty on the topic of bombing Iran?"

"... why are Israeli leaders suddenly so chatty on the topic? Doesn't that put at risk one key strategic advantage Israel has prized in the past, the element of surprise? Bergman spoke to Yahoo News by phone from Israel Sunday. The interview has been edited and condensed.
b>Yahoo News: There's always been a theory that if Israel is going to strike Iran, it is going to be very quiet about it (as it was before the 1981 strike on Iraq's nuclear reactor and in the 2007 strikes on the alleged Syrian nuclear facility). By contrast, I was struck by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak so conspicuously thinking out loud on such a sensitive question in recent public statements, including in your piece. What happened to earlier thinking in the administration of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that if Israel is serious about bombing Iran, it would not blab so much?
Bergman: I have heard with some amusement the comments and follow ups and op-eds following the story, basically some of them suggesting Barak is using me and using the platform of the New York Times Magazine to send a message to the U.S. administration and to the White House. But it was not easy even to convince him to speak off-record about that.
Yahoo News: But it's not just in your piece. Barak and Netanyahu have the past few months made several statements publicly signaling they are keeping their option open to strike Iran this year. The Pentagon interpreted Barak's request last month to take a planned U.S.-Israeli missile defense exercise off the calendar as one possible sign that Israel is keeping its options open to strike Iran in the spring, and thus wouldn't want 5,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Israel then. And top U.S. officials--the president, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey--have asked Israel at least twice for assurances that it will not do so, or at least will not do so without giving the U.S. advance warning, and reportedly been refused.
Bergman: Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan's public campaign against an Israeli strike on Iran has caused a public debate in Israel about this issue. And you can see that he has put Barak and Netanayhu in a tight spot, in a certain sense. He is accusing them; that for popularity they are going to strike Iran. So they feel they need to explain their position.
The second thing is that most of the Israeli statements are not meant for Israeli ears. There's an expression in Hebrew, 'Hold me back. So I won't hit him.' What Barak is doing with these statements—what Israel is now doing with the aerial drill—and other issues: they are trying to tell Europe—hold me back, you know, crazy Israel, because otherwise Israel will take the initiative. The problem with this sort of statement is that it is coming back to some extent to the Israeli public and it is creating fear in the population here.
Yahoo News: I know you're an intelligence expert, and not a political journalist. But is there any sense that politics, and in particular the U.S. presidential elections, could be one factor under consideration in Netanyahu's calculus on whether and when to launch Iran strikes? [Defense Secretary Panetta, in a speech to the Saban Forum last month, in which former Mossad chief Meir Dagan was in the audience, was in some ways making a case why Israel should not do a preemptive strike on Iran--in part because he said the consequences would drive oil prices over $200 a barrel, throw the world back into a global recession, etc. Left unsaid, such a situation would seemingly also potentially cost Obama reelection.]
Bergman: For politicians, I cannot overrule political considerations. But for Netanyahu's and Barak's political coalition, I would be very hesitant to bet it is going to help them to win, because the day after [a possible Iran strike] is going to be [very] problematic, the world will be mad at Israel, and I am not sure the population is ready for war.
Some people in Israeli intelligence and military planning are saying, "let's wait for President Obama to win re-election and once he has his next term in the White House, we cannot overrule [rule out] that he would order military action, because he promised that he will not allow Iran to [get nuclear weapons]. So if he did, he will be humiliated."
A lot of people say, "do not underestimate the stubbornness of President Obama. He was there to take the decision and was courageous enough to take military action against Osama bin Laden--against the advice of some of his advisors."

"Is there no shame in this town?"


'Will Israel REALLY attack Iran?'

Good old Iran hand Gary Sick believes that Israel will jot attack Iran!
"... Would Israel actually attack while these international inspectors are at work? No, they would need to give them warning, thereby giving Iran warning that something was coming. The IAEA presence is a trip wire that works both ways. It is an invaluable resource. Risking its loss would be not only foolhardy but self-destructive to Israel and everyone else.
Bergman’s (Maariv) dramatic statement that “I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012,” is also nothing new — it simply changes the date. We heard the same thing a year ago from Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, and two years before that from uber-hawk John Bolton, who confidently predicted that the U.S. and/or Israel would strike Iran before George W. Bush left office.  It is becoming almost an annual ritual. 
Why do these false alarms keep going off? Bergman suggests an answer with disarming honesty: “Some have argued that Israel has intentionally exaggerated its assessments to create an atmosphere of fear that would drag Europe into its extensive economic campaign against Iran…” To this, the ubiquitous “senior American official” adds that “It is unclear if the Israelis firmly believe this or are using worst-case estimates to raise greater urgency from the United States.” In other words, Israel benefits by keeping the pot near the boiling point so that no one can ignore the Iran issue, even for a moment..."

'Arab Spring May Benefit Israel'

"... now, with spreading instability resulting from a contagion of protests, the hydra of anti-Israel populism and Islamism threatens to undo years of Israeli diplomatic efforts to ensure their country's place among the Arab states.
To be sure, the Great Arab Revolt could still produce regimes that threaten Israel. But it hasn't yet.
In Tunisia,... ... If the Israelis can ignore the unsettling Muslim Brotherhood rhetoric coming from the Nahda party, they will recognize that Tunisia may be unfriendly, but it remains a weak Parisian exurb that poses no threat to the Jewish state.
Egypt is a potentially bigger problem...But the chances of war with the new Egypt are currently low. Its economy is in the toilet, with foreign investors spooked and the corrupt patronage network that Mubarak created on the verge of collapse. Even if the Muslim Brotherhood is as powerful as the recent polls suggest, it is increasingly apparent that the real struggle for control of Egypt is between the military and the internal security apparatus.Both actors rely heavily on US assistance, and neither will want to jeopardize it. So, unless the Islamists manage to purge them altogether (unlikely), Israeli interests for the time being appear safe.
Yemen is a basket case.... a hotbed for terrorism, but more for America than for Israel...
In Syria, regime change could pose a challenge to Israel. But could Bashar Assad's successor really be worse? Though Israel's northern border has remained quiet since the October 1973 war, the Syrians have been a strong ally to Iran and spilled plenty of Israeli blood by proxy, through Hezbollah and Hamas. In many ways, the fall of Assad would likely be a good thing.
Of course, Islamists could inherit Syria, but they would have little room to maneuver against Israel. After nearly a year of unrest, Syria is exhausted and impoverished, and Israel has a far superior military. For now, Israel must ensure that, amid the chaos, Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles do not fall into the wrong hands.
Finally, there's Libya.... The greatest Libyan threat to Israel now comes from the many weapons that went missing in the war that raged throughout 2011, which are allegedly pouring into Gaza with the help of Beduin in the Sinai Peninsula. But the means for those weapons to arrive in Gaza have not changed. The Israelis will need to continue to deny these weapons entry via smuggling routes and tunnels.
A better-armed Hamas is worrisome, but Hamas is a train wreck. In addition to the financial hardships owing to international sanctions against Iran (the group's primary patron), the ongoing carnage in Syria has forced its external leaders to flee Damascus. It's unclear that any other Arab state will bear the burden of harboring the group, given the expected fallout with Washington. Notably, Hamas appears to be wooing Jordan. This is obviously cause for concern in Israel, which made peace with the Hashemite Kingdom. In 1999, King Hussein of Jordan threw Hamas out of the country, but his son Abdullah is now mending fences with the group in hopes of wooing the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood into a political partnership.
But, he too, will likely deny Hamas safe haven. He wants to shore up his rule, but cannot threaten his alliance with Washington. If Abdullah fell, that would mean trouble for Israel. But that's an unlikely scenario for the near term.
So far, the greatest question mark of the Arab Spring is the Palestinians.... for the time being, the Palestinians are unlikely to launch another intifada. Indeed, while violent groups may attempt more attacks against Israel on an ad hoc basis, Palestinians leaders in the West Bank quietly cede that they are still regrouping after an exhausting round of fighting with the Israelis during the second intifada (2000-2005)....
Here's the best of the bad news: the Arab protests amount to a much-needed reminder to the Israelis that their region is filled with Islamists, and that paying off dictators cannot solve Israel's problems in the long term.
But here's real bad news: the Arab protests are a distraction from the threat of a nuclear Iran..."

Cleanup: Syrian army regains Damascus suburb

Syrian army 'regains Damascus suburb' - Middle East - Al Jazeera English

Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Iran does, however, present the potential for further irritation with China with regard to oil purchases"

In the wake of the reductions in defense spending announced by Secretary of Defense Panetta on January 26th ... ... , the US does not feel under-resourced for any confrontation with Iran. With two carriers in the region, Pentagon officials feel confident that they can deter Tehran from ill-judged actions in the Strait of Hormuz. For the moment, the focus has switched to diplomacy. The Administration has welcomed the oil sanctions imposed by the EU and General Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has reiterated his view that military action is premature. . Concern is, however, rising rapidly in regard to Egypt and Syria. The decision by the Egyptian authorities to prevent a number of US citizens from leaving the country has crystallized rising fears that the hopes of the Arab Spring will be stillborn. One consequence of this is that US pressure on Israel over the Middle East peace process – already minimal – will not increase.

"I had a CD on Islamic jihad. I brought it to the White House and told the chief of staff, ‘I would like the President to see this.’"

"...Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam have transformed the Republican primary by pumping $10 million into a pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC, thereby enabling his surge against Mitt Romney. So it’s surprising that comments Gingrich made last week about what the Adelsons expect in exchange for their money haven’t gotten more attention.
Ted Koppel asked Gingrich the key question: what do the Adelsons get if you win?
Gingrich, in response, suggested it all comes down to U.S. policy toward Israel.
Koppel: But there has to be a so-what at the end of it. So if you win, what does Adelson get out of it?
Gingrich. Well, he knows I’m very pro-Israel. And that’s the central value of his life. I mean, he’s very worried that Israel is going to not survive.
That’s in line with what we know about the Adelsons, who have supported Israeli settlements in the West Bank and once pulled their money out of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) because of that group’s putative softness on the concept of a peace deal with Palestinians.
ABC, meanwhile, reports that “a source close to” Adelson says he wants “nothing” in exchange for his contributions. That claim doesn’t amount to much, especially coming from an anonymous source.
The latest $5 million to the pro-Newt super PAC was donated by Miriam Adelson, who is reportedly a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. And here, as reported in the New Yorker, is a small but telling example of how Miriam previously interacted with the recipients of the Adelsons’ largesse:
The Adelsons seem not to take their power for granted. Recently, Miriam told an associate, “I had a CD on Islamic jihad. I brought it to the [Bush] White House and told the chief of staff, ‘I would like the President to see this.’ It really is amazing that we have this influence.”
And here is another episode from that New Yorker article in which Sheldon personally leaned on the president:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was organizing a major conference in the United States, in an effort to re-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and her initiative had provoked consternation among many rightward-leaning American Jews and their Christian evangelical allies. … A short, rotund man, with sparse reddish hair and a pale countenance that colors when he is angered, Adelson protested to Bush that Rice was thinking of her legacy, not the President’s, and that she would ruin him if she continued to pursue this disastrous course. Then, as Adelson later told an acquaintance, Bush put one arm around his shoulder and another around that of his wife, Miriam, who was born in Israel, and said to her, “You tell your Prime Minister that I need to know what’s right for your people—because at the end of the day it’s going to be my policy, not Condi’s. But I can’t be more Catholic than the Pope.”
So the idea that the Adelsons expect “nothing” from the recipients of their millions is belied by their previous behavior.
Gingirch himself seems to have gone through a transformation on the Israel-Palestine question. As Wayne Barrett recently documented, Gingrich was as recently as 2005 praising the Palestinians, referring to “their ancestral lands” in historic Palestine, and, amazingly, inveighing against “the desire of some Israelis to use security as an excuse to grab more Palestinian land.”
That’s the type of language – Gingrich even used the phrase Israeli “land grab” in that 2005 essay – one wouldn’t hear even from alleged anti-Israel radical Barack Obama.
Fast forward to the current election cycle, of course, and Gingrich has veered way to the right, famously questioning the very peoplehood of the Palestinians and blasting calls to end Jewish settlements as a “suicidal step” for Israel. (Adelson, by the way, personally praised Gingrich’s claim that the Palestinians are an “invented people.”) ..."