Category Archives: WORLD ECONOMY
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, is perhaps the most prominent of the groups that lobby the United States government on behalf of Israel. For decades, its effectiveness has been the envy of other lobbies as well as a model to emulate. Its initial method was to focus on Congress, but in recent years, especially during the administration of George W. Bush, it turned its attention as much, if not more, to the executive branch. The Bush administration had many senior officials who believed, as does Aipac, that support of Israel should be the linchpin of the government’s Middle East policy.
Aipac has more than 100,000 members, and its influence, especially in Congress, comes in part from its ability to raise money in a wide range of congressional districts for specific contests. Aipac is not a foreign lobby — its members and officials are largely American Jews — and because it does not get money from Israel or have a contractual relationship, it is not required to register as a lobby for Israel.
Aipac has, for decades, assumed an important but informal role in the formation of policy with regard to Israel; its officials have sometimes served as a backchannel conduit between Israel and the United States government. That aspect of the organization has come under increasing scrutiny since the arrest in 2005 of two of the group’s analysts on charges of espionage.
The highly unusual indictment of the former officials, Steven J. Rosen andKeith Weissman, accused them of receiving classified information about terrorism and Middle East strategy from a Defense Department analyst, Lawrence A. Franklin, and passing it on to a journalist and an Israeli diplomat. Mr. Franklin pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12½ years in prison although his sentence could be reduced based on his cooperation in the case.
The Obama Justice Department moved on May 1, 2009, to drop all charges against Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman. Judge T.S. Ellis 3d of the federal court in Alexandria, Va., rejected several government efforts to conceal classified information if the case went to trial. Moreover, he ruled that the government could only prevail if it met a high standard; he said prosecutors would have to demonstrate that the two men knew that their distribution of the information would harm national security.
Just days after the charges were dropped, the committee Wielded its annual convention as an intentional show of its political strength.
More than half the members of the House and Senate attended the May 4 dinner, which featured the group’s “roll call” in which the lawmakers all rise. It is a conscious — and effective — effort to demonstrate the group’s influence on Capitol Hill.
The roster of scheduled guests for the three-day event included Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Senator John Kerry, Newt Gingrich and Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff. The group also heard from the new Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (via satellite), and the new opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, and the president, Shimon Peres (in person).
Obama meets Netanyahu at the United Nations in New York on September 21, 2011 (Reuters / Kevin Lamarque)
American-Israeli relations have not been so bright recently.
The visit of a top Obama administration official was supposed to ease tensions between the countries but instead it might have only widened the gap regarding attitudes toward the Iranian nuclear problem.
President Obama’s National Security Adviser Tom Donilon arrived in Israel this week and sat with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for two hours to warn Israel against unilateral attack on Iran. According to the Israeli news outlet Debka, however, this message didn’t sit well with the hawkish leader. To military sources that have spoken to Debka, Netanyahu is believed to be upset that the US is willing to work with Iran in terms of a possible nuclear program, giving them the go-ahead as long as they promise to avoid enrichment that will lead to them developing nukes. Iran has long insisted that any nuclear related efforts are in the work for energy procurement, although the US and Israel have been called this into question.
The Obama administration has so far avoided any military action against Iran, hoping instead that international sanctions and strong words will serve as enough of a warning to keep Tehran from working on warheads. Netanyahu, on the other hand, is not convinced. He is not willing to wait for an optimistic outcome and doesn’t rule out a strike on Iran.
Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon explicitly called the Obama administration “hesitant” in their unwillingness to attack, which was followed by a warning only a day later by the nation’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in which he urged the US to “move from words to deeds.”
Lately, however, the US is relying less on threats in terms of taking down a weapons program and more on the hope that Iran will keep their word that the nuclear enrichment program there won’t be used for a warhead. According to the latest reports to the media made by American officials close to the matter, an US strike on Iran is currently out of the cards.
Following the recent, nearly unprecedented deployment of Iranian warships into the Mediterranean Sea, Israel appears closer than ever in coming down hard on Iran. US Joint Chiefs of Staff Commander Gen. Martin E. Dempsey warned to CNN this week that an attack at anytime soon simply wouldn’t be “prudent.”
“A strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives,” Gen. Dempsey cautioned to CNN host Fareed Zakaria.
“I wouldn’t suggest…that we’ve persuaded them that our view is the correct view and that they are acting in an ill-advised fashion,” added Dempsey.
The US is now hoping that as other countries sign on to detest a nuclear program, Iran will throw in the towel. To Bloomberg Business Week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak shared similar thoughts, noting, “I think there is consensus in most capitals of the world that Iran should not be allowed to turn into a nuclear military power.”
Last week, US Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess said Iran will not start the war in the Middle East, unless, of course, the US acts first. Burgess also added that, despite increased sanctions imposed by the US and a buildup of American military forces surrounding the country, Iran is unlikely to halt the nuclear program that has become the cause of international concern.
“Iran can close the Strait of Hormuz at least temporarily, and may launch missiles against United States forces and our allies in the region if it is attacked,” Burgess explained this week to a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
“Iran could also attempt to employ terrorist surrogates worldwide. However, the agency assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict,” he added.
Israel, it would seem, is not as willing to wait for that outcome and could very well clash with Iran before the US makes up its mind.
Both the US and Israel will coordinate on a joint missile exercise, the largest of its kind, in Israel later this year.
Shoppers line up at the cashiers’ checkout at a Target store in Miami (Joe Raedle/ Getty Images / AFP)
Fancy a quick scuba lesson before going on a last-minute trip to Hawaii? Paying in cash for a snorkel? Just shaved mustache because it doesn’t go with a dive mask? Big Brother will spot a terrorist: “See something, say something” policy in action.
The 25 flyers issued by the FBI and the Department of Justice give no mere Orwell creeps. Every area seems to be bursting with bombers: airports, beauty shops, construction sites, banks and internet cafes. Your tattoos master meets a bunch of them every day. Terrorists have taken to your favorite shop with train models across the street – remember how you pressed your nose against the glass after school? Now press harder: see something, say something, do something for your country.
‘Constant vigilance!’ – from fiction to action
The FBI and Department of Justice have streamed the “terrorist profiles” to every federal, state and local law enforcement agency across the country previous week. No one wants armed dangerous freaks invading a shopping mall on a Sunday, but now think about this. Are you:
– constantly impatient with your hair color?
– nervous in public spaces?
– inclined to show off before your girlfriend, even when taking your first ever dive?
– prone to staring around?
– obsessed with taking pictures?
– eager to keep your passwords to yourself in an internet cafe?
If yes, then you have all the chances to fall on the wrong side with the community and be referred to the police.
No encryption, no anonymity (forget about Skype, patriots), no cash, no hanging around, no heritage disputes at construction sites. Know your shopping list, show genuine interest, don’t avoid talking to assistants, but don’t ask for exits and sales days – you are not looking for crowds.
So the War on Terror is getting inward-bound and tens of millions of law abiding Americans will get a flavor of it. Putting aside proper instructions to identify a potential terrorist (nervous, sweating, unsure of own name and story, wearing too much clothing) and terrorist activity (using abandoned houses to store unidentified goods, driving a car without number plates, leaving packages in public areas) – where is the bottom line to assess “extreme” behavior?
The handouts stress to Americans that people who “make suspicious comments regarding anti-US, radical theology, vague or cryptic warnings that suggest or appear to endorse the use of violence in support of a cause” are, well, terrorists. So, good-bye Occupy Wall Street, you won’t be flashing headlines any more soon. Not after several arrests on “assaulting police” charges.
Be careful to forget your Constitutional rights, too. Only those, who are looking for a thrashing from homeland security, know them by heart. And never, ever speak ill of Washington’s policies:
“Fury at the West for reasons ranging from personal problems to global policies of the US” is an attitude indicator of a “sleeper,” a person who “camouflages their involvement in terrorist activity.”
By the way, you will never believe who fits the description of a sleeper as an adjoining puzzle piece. War veterans! Consider those who have spent quite some time in “countries where militant Islam rules,” are “missing hand/fingers,”have “burns” and are inclined to show undesired interest in all security stuff – like “hey, which is the police frequency over here?” So, welcome home, Afghan troops.
Think wider – stay in limits
The leaflets conclude with two disclaimers fitting quite neatly with each other. First, “just because someone’s…way of life is different, it does not mean that he or she is suspicious.”
Then, “The activities outlined on this handout are by no means all-inclusive.”
So if you see a guy, meddling in the shop with a lobster, a witch’s hat he is using as a bag and a newspaper he is holding upside down, and somehow you feel he is conspiring for a delayed bombing out, tip him off to the police.
But if your dad has given you a hooked nose and dark curls and then one morning you trade for a model plane with the “maximum range remote control” for your little bro… Just don’t get a nasty shock if your neighbor reports you. It is not the FBI’s fault that Mr. Thompson is such a raging xenophobe, who does not care what next door people look like.
FBI’s Potential indicators of terrorist activities related to Shopping Malls and Entertainment Facilities (Click to enlarge)
With the new 25 lists of security commandments, Americans now have a handout for every trip to the outer space. Still, the new instructions daze even some ex-law enforcers:
“I spent some years in law enforcement, and some of those devoted to counter-terrorism. I can assure you that most federal, state and local law enforcement personnel abide by their oath to ‘support and defend the Constitution’ and are steadfastly accountable to that oath. In other words, they understand that broadly labeling as ‘terrorists’ those who support constitutional limits on government is offensive to that oath,” reads the dedicated story in the Patriot Post.
Elena Medvedeva, Vitaliy Matveev, RT
NEW YORK: US President Barack Obama has imposed more economic sanctions on Iran, including freezing Iranian assets owned by its Central Bank in US, amid fears that the Obama Administration may be preparing for an attack by Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
However, Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Khazee dismissed such reports, saying, “I don’t think that is going to happen.”
Mr Khazee told National Public Radio in an interview: “Iran is so strong,” and “the consequences would be devastating for (Israel) and maybe for whoever helped them.”
“There are wise enough people around the world to tell them not to do such a crazy thing.”
The US and other nations have been tightening sanctions on Iran and have been warning that it needs to be more transparent about its nuclear ambitions. Iran says it is not pursuing development of nuclear weapons.
Another media report here said the world leaders were genuinely concerned that an Israeli military attack on the Islamic Republic could be imminent — “an action that many fear might trigger a wider war, terrorism and global economic havoc”.
High-level foreign dignitaries, including the UN secretary general and the head of the American military, have stopped in Israel in recent weeks, urging leaders to give the diplomatic process more time to work.
Israel seems unmoved, and US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has reportedly concluded that an Israeli attack on Iran is likely in the coming months.
Shortly after the Europeans enacted their embargo, Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi told reporters, “We will not abandon our just nuclear course, even if we cannot sell one drop of oil.”
A report said on Wednesday that in a move to bypass the sanctions, India had reportedly agreed to pay for Iranian oil with gold, with China expected to follow suit. Instead of isolating Iran, it appears that the sanctions are pushing the state closer to her top trading partners.
To make its embargo more effective against India’s and China’s dodge, will Washington next move to simply blockade all oil shipments out of Iran? And what are the likely consequences of these actions?
In an interview with China’s NTDTV.com, Chinese General Zhang Zhaozhong was quoted as saying that “China will not hesitate to protect Iran even with a third world war.” Not very surprising. In the Iran-Iraq war, Iran purchased Chinese weapons.
The Obama Administration has also accused Chinese firms of lending a hand to developing Iran’s purported nuclear weapons programme.
A senior Russian foreign ministry official lashed out at Israel for “inventing” allegations about Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme and warned that such fabrications could entail “catastrophic consequences”. On Wednesday, Mikhail Ulyanov, the head of Security and Disarmament Department at Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, denounced Tel Aviv’s hawkish rhetoric on Iran over its nuclear programme as “inventions” that “are increasing the tension and could encourage moves towards a military solution with catastrophic consequences”.
He also described the speculations over Iran’s nuclear programme as “noise” and reiterated that such allegations “have political and propaganda objectives, which are far from being inoffensive”.
By ALEXANDER BURNS |
1/27/12 11:40 AM EST
Newt Gingrich is standing by his warning that an Iranian nuclear weapon could cause a “second Holocaust.”
At a press conference here in Miami, a reporter noted to Gingrich that he was on the cover of casino mogul and Gingrich super PAC backer Sheldon Adelson’s Israeli newspaper, Israel Hayom. The headline declared that President Barack Obama’s policies could lead to another genocide against the Jews.
Asked if he would disavow that kind of rhetoric, Gingrich shrugged: “It’s probably my rhetoric.”
“I have said allowing Iran to get nuclear weapons … runs the direct risk of a second Holocaust. That is a fact,” Gingrich said.
However Jewish voters in Florida respond to his rhetoric, Gingrich’s most important audience for this kind of question is almost certainly Adelson, who has directed $10 million to the pro-Gingrich group Winning Our Future.
Gingrich is scheduled to address a rally of the Republican Jewish Coalition — another organization Adelson supports — elsewhere in Florida this afternoon.
Also a must read: http://motherjones.com/politics/2009/09/aipac-still-chosen-one
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGC-N) is an integral component of Iranian defensive strategy and its forces are expected to be key players in any Iranian retaliatory strategy should the US attack Iranian nuclear facilities. IRGC-N doctrine is based on “access-denial” of the strategically vital Straits of Hormuz through which almost a third of all seaborne oil passes and could include directly targeting US warships, attacking merchant shipping, mining and attempting to close the Straits of Hormuz, as well as attacking various energy and strategic installations in and around the Persian Gulf. The net effort of IRGC-N forces is likely to impact global energy security but Iran is unlikely to be able to close the Straits of Hormuz, particularly for any extended period of time.
Iran has two navies – the Shah-era conventional Iranian Navy (IRIN) – and the IRGC-N, which emerged as an independent entity in the 1980s and came of age during the Iran-Iraq War with successful amphibious operations in southern Iraq. Following post-Revolution mistrust of all Shah-era military formations, the IRGC-N was promoted and today wields substantial influence with the Supreme Leader as well as with influential defense, government and clerical figures, as a result of which it has primacy in resource and funding allocations, and has acquired several new platforms and capabilities even as the IRIN fleet ages. Especially after the Tanker Wars of the late 1980s, Iranian strategic planners appear to have concluded that in the event of large-scale hostilities, Iran’s larger conventional fleet would be of limited use (during Operation Praying Mantis in 1988, US forces destroyed over 25 percent of Iran’s larger naval ships in one day) and as such have restructured their forces to wage asymmetric naval guerrilla warfare. This fleet is expected to be far more lethal than IRIN could hope to be and is now entrusted with “full responsibility” for operations in the critical Persian Gulf. The IRIN is now relegated to the Gulf of Oman and the Caspian Sea.
The IRGC-N seeks to operate at the lower end of the conflict spectrum and exploit vulnerabilities in the larger conventional forces of its US and Gulf Arab enemies. IRGC commander Brigadier General Jafaari explicitly stated, “The enemy is far more advanced technologically than we are, we have been using what is called asymmetric warfare methods… our forces are now well prepared for it.” The IRGC-N operates a sizable fleet of small boats, small submarines, mine-laying units, anti-ship missiles, and naval infantry units to conduct naval guerilla war. It will likely rely upon its “mosaic defense” strategy to decentralize its command and control apparatuses and allow operational zones to operate autonomously. IRGC soldiers and sailors are also generally expected to be more ideologically committed than regular forces and could even be used to conduct suicide attacks.
Iran is generally believed to be a rational player that recognizes the consequences of full-scale engagement with the US – not least of which is the effect on Iran’s 87 percent of imports and 99 percent of exports that transit by sea, most through the Straits of Hormuz. Iran has also generally abstained from escalating conflict in the Gulf beyond limited engagements, although has shown a willingness to engage in brinksmanship. In March 2007, IRGC-N forces captured 15 British marines for several days for ‘entering sovereign Iranian waters’ and Iranian small boats have occasionally harassed and provoked US warships. One such incident in 2008 may have been designed to test US rules of engagement and involved IRGC-N boats making threatening maneuvers as well as a radio transmission that stated, “I am coming at you. You will explode in a couple of minutes.” It remains difficult to distinguish between Iranian rhetoric and reality, but the IRGC-N has carried out several wargames in recent years, and Iranian officials have sometimes threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz in the aftermath of tensions with the US.
The IRGC-N is under the command of Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, who was appointed by Supreme Leader Khamenei in May 2010, to replace Rear Admiral Morteza Saffari. The Persian Gulf is divided into four main areas of responsibility.
Key Base, Location
Area of Responsibility
1st Naval District
Shahid Bahonar, Bandar Abbas
Straits of Hormuz
2nd Naval District
Shahid Mahalati, Bandar Bushehr
Central Persian Gulf
3rd Naval District
Northern Persian Gulf
4th Naval District
Click on the placemarks in the map for information on each base
The IRGC-N maintains operational control over the Persian Gulf and maintains several bases along the Persian Gulf as seen in the map below. The IRGC-N has also expanded its bases along the Sea of Oman towards the Pakistani border, moving outside its regional competency to potentially extend its “layered defense strategy” outside the Straits of Hormuz.
View IRGC Naval Bases in a larger map
Small Boat “Swarming” Attacks
The IRGC-N has prioritized the use of small missile-equipped craft to implement “swarming” tactics against warships and merchant shipping in the narrow Persian Gulf. Given US conventional superiority and air dominance, the IRGC-N is likely to have dispensed with ‘mass swarming’ tactics in favor of ‘dispersed swarming’ where highly agile small craft converge from various concealed bases to surprise and attack targets. Swarming is a crude but potentially effective asymmetric tactic to overwhelm superior conventional forces, particularly if coupled with effective anti-ship missiles. In a 2002 US Navy simulation “sunk” 16 ships including an aircraft carrier while copying Iranian asymmetric capabilities. Since then, obviously this need has been recognized, and amongst other changes, the US’s new Littoral Combat Ships are designed for precisely such encounters. In naval wargames, Iran often highlights its small-boat capacity.
The IRGCN operates a sizable fleet of small but heavily armed boats. These include the Azaraksh (China Cat) and Thondar (Hudong) fast-attack missile craft armed with the Kowsar and C-802 anti-ship missiles (ASM), the North-Korean acquired Peykaap I and II (IPS-16/IPS-16 modified) and Tir (IPS-18) missile boats, as well as patrol craft the Ashura, Tareq and Boghammer speedboats. The C-802 ASM is the same missile used to destroy an Israeli corvette during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War. Iran is also unveiling new lines of high-speed and “stealth” boats including the Ya Mahdi, Seraj and Zolfaghar craft and in a daring international scheme Iran acquired and intends to mass produce the Bladerunner-51, the world’s fastest speedboat.
Iranian small boats have obvious disadvantages and on their own are highly vulnerable to US firepower. Surprise will be their most important asset for any successful confrontation, a requirement acknowledged by the IRGCN. Many vessels are designed to be capable of being “launched discreetly…off the back of a flatbed truck under cover of darkness, during high tide without any special accommodations.” Many are dispersed along “small inlets, small fishing ports and hardened sites,” and the IRGC is believed to have a presence on many islands and coastal villages along the Persian Gulf.
Iranian mine-laying craft Iran Ajr captured by US Navy in Sep. 1987
Iran operates multiple platforms capable of mining the Straits of Hormuz including at least three ships with dedicated mine-laying capabilities, three RH-53D Sea Stallion mine-laying helicopters, as well as the option of adapting virtually any other small boat, disguised fishing trawler or larger missile craft for the purpose of deploying mines. Submarines, particularly the Ghadir midget-class submarines are also ideal for mine-laying operations in the shallow coastal waters of the Persian Gulf. The Iranian stockpile is believed to consist of between 3,000-5,000 mines acquired from Russian, Chinese and North Korean sources, as well as developed indigenously notably the Chinese EM-11 and EM-52 and the Russian-made M-08, M-26 and MDM-6.
US and Gulf surveillance and naval capabilities make prolonged mine-laying operations exceeding difficult, but the possibility of mine-laying boats escaping undetected is not unlikely. Iran operates dhows disguised as fishing vessels in addition to regular craft, making detection difficult, and during the Tanker Wars of 1987-98, IRGC-N boats were able to lay 12 mines right in the path of Kuwaiti supertanker MV Bridgeton, while in visual range of escorting US navy warships.
Additionally, even a limited mine-laying operation would be economically costly. STRATFOR notes that even a 10 percent chance of a mine strike would entail the need to clear a Q-route, which could take a week or more, a substantial amount of time and disruption to energy flows and maritime insurance costs. Moreover, given the density of traffic transiting the Straits, it is possible that even a cleared route would restrict normal tanker traffic.
Iran’s amphibious raiding strategy would seek to replicate its successful operations in the southern Iraqi marshlands during the Iran-Iraq War to attack oil terminals, merchant ships and other strategic targets. Amphibious assaults would be highly vulnerable to US/Gulf military superiority, but Iran has made concerted efforts to deploy frogmen far out into the Gulf. The IRGC-N now maintains a brigade strength contingent of about 5,000 Iranian Marines, a large underwater training center at Bandar Abbas and the largest amphibious fleet amongst its Arab neighbors, barring the U.A.E. The IRGCN has modified logistics ships to deploy frogmen and sought to disguise its ships to resemble normal commercial traffic. Iran has also experimented with submersible-delivery vehicles including the Ghadir midget submarine, which contains provisions for mounting a Swimmer Delivery Vehicle (SDV).
Iranian Admiral Sajjad Kouchaki claimed that Iran has “1,500 special operation teams” with 23 landing ships and vessels, which all told could in theory transport a few thousands troops and tens of tanks. Iran also operates about 5 M-171 helicopters and could utilize civilian craft to move troops. In general, however, aside from intercepting merchant ships or attacking lightly defended areas in surprise attacks, Iran naval infantry forces are ill-equipped to move amphibious forces across the Gulf in combined operations.
“Static Warships” and Coastal Missile Batteries
The IRGC-N has geography to its advantage and is able to use the many islands dotting the Persian Gulf to create a crescent of shore-based missile batteries that ring the Straits of Hormuz. On these islands, a variety of anti-ship and ballistic missiles platforms are located using extensive networks of tunnels and underground missile bunkers that create “static warships” with which to attack enemy forces. In theory, the US could face a formidable threat with “several dozen batteries and several hundred anti-ship cruise missiles spread across an area roughly the size of Kosovo.” In reality, however, the IRGC-N may suffer from maintenance and training deficiencies, whereas US surveillance and countermeasure capabilities continue to improve.
Iranian coastal defense systems are armed with a variety of anti-ship missiles of varying sources and capabilities including but not limited to variants of the Chinese-made Silkworm (the HY-2 and HY-2G Seersucker), and the C-801 Sardine (Raad) and C-802 Saccade (Noor) missile based off the French Exocet missile. Iranian missiles have been adapted to several platforms including truck-mounted batteries, and it is not always easily apparent which service branch maintains operational control over specific coastal batteries. Some missiles are capable of hitting Gulf Arab ports, especially if forward-deployed on island chains.
JERUSALEM — Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Israel said on Wednesday that any decision on attacking Iran because of its nuclear program was “very far off,” apparently seeking to lower the tone of increasingly nervous discourse as powers maneuver in advance of European moves to intensify sanctions against Tehran.
Iran Tightens Its Security for Scientists After Killing (January 18, 2012)
“Iran will fight to the death to protect its history and culture. Any war in Iran will make the Iraq war look like a romp in the park.”
James, St. Paul, MN.
At the same time, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia renewed his country’s aversion to sanctions and military threats against Tehran, while Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi of Iran said his country was ready to resume negotiations with the outside powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — trying to broker a settlement.
Mr. Salehi said during a visit to Turkey on Wednesday that negotiations were under way about the venue and date, Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency reported, and that the talks “will most probably be held in Istanbul.”
The previous negotiations — also in Istanbul — broke off a year ago when Iran presented its own set of preconditions, including a lifting of sanctions, that the West considered unacceptable.
Mr. Salehi made similar remarks about a resumption of the talks during a visit to Tehran two weeks ago by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey, and some European officials have interpreted his remarks as an effort to buy time just days before European foreign ministers are to meet next week to discuss possible measures to curb Iran’s critical oil exports.
Speaking at an annual news conference in Moscow, Mr. Lavrov took issue with Western policy on Iran, saying a military strike would be a “disaster.”
He said sanctions now being proposed against Tehran had been couched in terms of nuclear nonproliferation but were “seriously intended to have a smothering effect on the Iranian economy and the Iranian population, probably in the hopes of provoking discontent.”
Mr. Barak was speaking in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio at time of high tension following the assassination on Jan. 11 of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the deputy director of Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment site — an act blamed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday as the work of “the evil hands of arrogance and Zionist agents.” On Tuesday, Mr. Ahmadinejad ordered stricter security to protect Iranian scientists from what some experts have portrayed as a covert war against Iran’s nuclear program.
After the assassination, Israel’s leaders maintained a customary, cryptic silence while the White House condemned it and vigorously denied any responsibility. At least five Iranian scientists with nuclear connections have been killed since 2007.
Tehran says its uranium enrichment efforts are for peaceful civilian purposes, but that assertion jars increasingly with Western insistence, supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iranian scientists have been working toward building nuclear weapons.
Twisting the spiral of regional tension, Israel has been pressing for more aggressive and immediate American-led sanctions against Iran while the Iranians have threatened to shut off the Strait of Hormuz, the maritime conduit for a fifth of the world’s oil.
Mr. Barak’s remarks also came ahead of an imminent visit to Israel by the American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey. Israeli media commentators have suggested that General Dempsey was coming in part to warn Israel against going it alone in striking Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Mr. Barak denied that suggestion, saying that military chiefs “are concerned with formulating different military options and bringing their views to the political leadership, and don’t deal with delivering diplomatic messages.”
Still, efforts seem to be under way on both sides to reduce regional anxieties.
Israel and the United States agreed this week to postpone major joint missile-defense exercises that had been scheduled for the spring. Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, cited “diplomatic and regional reasons, the tensions and instability,” as factors in the delay.
In the interview with Army Radio on Wednesday Mr. Barak reiterated the Israeli assessment that Iran has not started building nuclear weapons.
“The Iranians have not ended the oversight exercised by the International Atomic Energy Agency,” he said, adding, “They have not done that because they know that that would constitute proof of the military nature of their nuclear program and that would provoke stronger international sanctions or other types of action against their country.”
The official Islamic Republic News Agency confirmed on Tuesday that a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency would visit Iran for three days starting Jan. 29.
Israel has kept open the possibility of military action against Iran, saying that a credible threat is necessary to back up the sanctions effort.
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Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem, Ellen Barry from Moscow and Alan Cowell from London.
Another great link: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/science/topics/atomic_weapons/index.html
Tel Aviv — “Everyone knows that we’re behind this and we should be proud!”
The comment appeared on the Facebook page of the Israeli Defense Forces’ chief spokesperson following the assassination last week of an Iranian nuclear scientist. Despite the usual silence from Israeli officials, the quip reflected the widely held consensus that Israel’s Mossad was responsible for the hit.
Amid accusations abroad that the killing represents state-sponsored terrorism and the realization that such actions won’t necessarily stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the covert war is still seen the preferred method among many Israelis for fighting Tehran.
“Covert action definitely has an impact; the question is, how much,” said Ephraim Inbar, the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. “I am sure it slows [Iran] down. There were forecasts of them finishing much sooner. So far we’ve done rather well.”
The speculation comes amid heightened concern that Iran could reach the point of obtaining a nuclear weapon in the next year. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday told an Israeli parliamentary committee that Western sanctions on Iran would not be sufficient to stop its nuclear quest. On Tuesday, an Israeli general told reporters that a nuclear-armed Iran could deter Israel against Hamas and Hezbollah.
The tension has escalated concern that Israel might decide to launch a preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear targets. But such an attack would not take the form of the one-and-out attacks on Iraqi and Syrian nuclear installations, say experts.
Because Iran’s nuclear program is highly dispersed at various sites around the country, an effective attack could likely last more than two weeks, said Uri Dromi, a former government spokesperson and air force pilot. Even then, it is not at all certain that Israel has the capacity to deal a fatal blow to the Iranian nuclear program, Dromi said.
In lieu of a high-risk attack on Iran, undercover sabotage is seen by many Israelis as the next best means of staving off the nuclear threat.
“If Israel indeed [killed the Iranian scientist], this is part of a clandestine war, fought in a pinpoint way with minimal losses to deny Iran a nuclear weapon,” said Yossi Alpher, a former Mossad official and a former head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies. “From the Israeli standpoint, what is the alternative … all-out war? The fact is that Iran is the only country in the world that openly calls for Israel’s destruction, and is at the same time hard at work creating weapons of mass destruction.”
To be sure, a minority of experts disputed the effectiveness of the assassination campaign.
“There’s only one benefit — it might frighten scientists in the nuclear project, and they might take more counter measures,” said Ephraim Kam, a political science professor at Tel Aviv University. “I’m not sure there’s much other benefit. How many can you kill? I’m not sure it’s a very efficient way to stop the nuclear project.”
Meir Javedanfar, Tel Aviv-based Iran analyst, said that assassination of nuclear staff would not prompt Iran from altering its plans. However, he argued that the bite of crippling economic sanctions could produce an improvement because it threatens the rule of the Islamic regime.
Avner Cohen, an Israeli nuclear expert at the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies, wrote in Haaretz that the Israeli public doesn’t question the campaign because to do so would be seen as traitorous. He speculated that the covert campaign would harden the resolve of the Iranians to proceed with their efforts, however.
“It’s very possible that the damage of such assassinations are much larger than the utility,” he said.
Inbar was one of the few Israeli analysts to openly speculate that Israel probably had a hand in the assassination. He said the killing is reminiscent of Israeli efforts in decades past to sabotage weapons programs of enemy states, such as Egypt’s missile development program in the 1960s and the Iraqi nuclear project in the ‘70s.
More recently Israel is believed to have been behind the assassination of top Hamas and Hezbollah chiefs.
Inbar said that the current covert war, which is thought to include bombings of military installations and cyber-sabotage, was spearheaded by the recently resigned chief of the Mossad, Meir Dagan.
“We don’t have a clear address for the responsibility for the covert actions in Iran, but I don’t think you need to be too imaginative to realize that there are only a few security services that have such a capability.”
A total of four Iranian scientists have been assassinated in two years, and a fifth escaped a botched attempt. Over the same period, computers managing the enrichment efforts have been paralyzed by two software viruses. In recent months, three explosions have sown destruction at Iranian military sites believed to be linked to the nuclear program.
Iran vowed to take revenge for the assassinations. On Friday, Thai authorities arrested two Lebanese men who were allegedly part of a Hezbollah plot to attack Israeli tourists in Bangkok, prompting travel warnings from both the U.S. and Israel.
On Monday, an Israeli parliamentary committee reviewed attack preparedness at Israeli and Jewish sites around the globe. Reflecting the government’s policy of ambiguity surrounding covert attacks, Committee Chairman Danny Danon declined to acknowledge a link between heightened level of alert and the Tehran assassination.
Still, such a campaign is rooted in Israel’s aversion to inaction in the face of threats, and the willingness to take bold risks to overcome them. Acting preemptively to seize the advantage is a motif that stretches back through most of Israel’s military and political history.
The impulse to be proactive is also rooted in a psyche shaped by the trauma of helplessness during the Holocaust, said analysts.
“If there’s something that Israelis don’t like, it’s the feeling of being helpless,” said Dromi. Facing grave threats, he said, “You don’t just sit there.”
Killing our enemies abroad is just state-sponsored terror – whatever euphemism western leaders like to use!
On the morning of 11 January Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the deputy head of Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, was in his car on his way to work when he was blown up by a magnetic bomb attached to his car door. He was 32 and married with a young son. He wasn’t armed, or anywhere near a battlefield.
Since 2010, three other Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed in similar circumstances, including Darioush Rezaeinejad, a 35-year-old electronics expert shot dead outside his daughter’s nursery in Tehran last July. But instead of outrage or condemnation, we have been treated to expressions of undisguised glee.
“On occasion, scientists working on the nuclear programme in Iran turn up dead,” bragged the Republican nomination candidate Rick Santorum in October. “I think that’s a wonderful thing, candidly.” On the day of Roshan’s death, Israel’s military spokesman, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, announced on Facebook: “I don’t know who settled the score with the Iranian scientist, but I certainly am not shedding a tear” – a sentiment echoed by the historian Michael Burleigh in the Daily Telegraph: “I shall not shed any tears whenever one of these scientists encounters the unforgiving men on motorbikes.”
These “men on motorbikes” have been described as “assassins”. But assassination is just a more polite word for murder. Indeed, our politicians and their securocrats cloak the premeditated, lawless killing of scientists in Tehran, of civilians in Waziristan, of politicians in Gaza, in an array of euphemisms: not just assassinations but terminations, targeted killings, drone strikes.
Their purpose is to inure us to such state-sponsored violence against foreigners. In his acclaimed book On Killing, the retired US army officer Dave Grossman examines mechanisms that enable us not just to ignore but even cheer such killings: cultural distance (“such as racial and ethnic differences that permit the killer to dehumanise the victim”); moral distance (“the kind of intense belief in moral superiority”); and mechanical distance (“the sterile, Nintendo-game unreality of killing through a TV screen, a thermal sight, a sniper sight or some other kind of mechanical buffer that permits the killer to deny the humanity of his victim”).
Thus western liberals who fall over one another to condemn the death penalty for murderers – who have, incidentally, had the benefit of lawyers, trials and appeals – as state-sponsored murder fall quiet as their states kill, with impunity, nuclear scientists, terror suspects and alleged militants in faraway lands. Yet a “targeted killing”, human-rights lawyer and anti-drone activist Clive Stafford Smith tells me, “is just the death penalty without due process”.
Cognitive dissonance abounds. To torture a terror suspect, for example, is always morally wrong; to kill him, video game style, with a missile fired from a remote-controlled drone, is morally justified. Crippled by fear and insecurity, we have sleepwalked into a situation where governments have arrogated to themselves the right to murder their enemies abroad.
Nor are we only talking about foreigners here. Take Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamist preacher, al-Qaida supporter – and US citizen. On 30 September 2011, a CIA drone killed Awlaki and another US citizen, Samir Khan. Two weeks later, another CIA-led drone attack killed Awlaki’s 21-year-old son, Abdul-Rahman. Neither father nor son were ever indicted, let alone tried or convicted, for committing a crime. Both US citizens were assassinated by the US government in violation of the Fifth Amendment (“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”).
An investigation by Reuters last October noted how, under the Obama administration, US citizens accused of involvement in terrorism can now be “placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions … There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel … Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.”
Should “secret panels” and “kill lists” be tolerated in a liberal democracy, governed by the rule of law? Did the founders of the United States intend for its president to be judge, jury and executioner? Whatever happened to checks and balances? Or due process?
Imagine the response of our politicians and pundits to a campaign of assassinations against western scientists conducted by, say, Iran or North Korea. When it comes to state-sponsored killings, the double standard is brazen. “Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them,” George Orwell observed, “and there is almost no kind of outrage … which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side”.
But how many more of our values will we shred in the name of security? Once we have allowed our governments to order the killing of fellow citizens, fellow human beings, in secret, without oversight or accountability, what other powers will we dare deny them?
This isn’t complicated; there are no shades of grey here. Do we disapprove of car bombings and drive-by shootings, or not? Do we consistently condemn state-sponsored, extrajudicial killings as acts of pure terror, no matter where in the world, or on whose orders, they occur? Or do we shrug our shoulders, turn a blind eye and continue our descent into lawless barbarism?
Plans for a €1 trillion “big bazooka” to stem the debt crisis were crushed on Monday night as Standard & Poor’s stripped the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) of its AAA credit rating.
10:37PM GMT 16 Jan 2012
As the standoff with Greece’s creditors continued and Italy pleaded for help to reduce the cost of borrowing, S&P said the EFSF’s rating would be cut again if member states’ creditworthiness eroded further.
Leaders appeared to abandon hopes for the EFSF and turned their focus on the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) instead. Herman van Rompuy, co-president of the European Union, said he would assess the size of the ESM “without delay” and ensure it is operational by July.
Klaus Regling, chief executive of the EFSF, said the fund would have “sufficient means to fulfil its commitments under current and potential future adjustment programmes until the ESM becomes operational in July 2012”.
S&P was severely criticised across the eurozone, even before the EFSF decision was announced. Olli Rehn, an EU Commissioner, said ratings agencies are the tools of “American financial capitalism”.
Wolfgang Schauble, Germany’s finance minister, said rating agencies’ influence should be curbed and insisted German guarantees for the EFSF were sufficient. The governor of the Bank of France, Christian Noyer, said S&P’s mass downgrades “constitutes an additional challenge”.
A bigger hurdle was emerging as Greece’s international creditors warned that crucial talks would not resume without “progress” from Athens and the troika, made up of the nternational Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank (ECB) and EU.
Private holders of Greek bonds are thought to have urged Germany and France to use their weight to persuade troika officials to relax their demands.
Charles Dallara, director of the Institute of International Finance (IIF) who is negotiating on behalf of creditors, has argued that bondholders will accept 50pc losses on their debt but not artificially low coupons on new Greek paper. Efforts to reach a deal, which Greece must do to avert default in March, were suspended on Friday.
Frank Vogl, a spokesman for Mr Dallara, said: “Charles has a plan to go back to Athens but that depends on further progress from official parties that can lead to an agreement.”
The euro fell to an 11-year low against the yen and a 17-month low against the dollar. Stockmarkets rose marginally after a successful sale of French Treasury bills but the Paris faces a bigger test at a bond auction on Thursday.
A summit between Germany, France and Italy, scheduled for Friday in Rome, has been postponed until February.
Stresses in the European banking sector were shown by a record €493bn of deposits being parked with the ECB on Friday night. Latest figures showed that the central bank also bought €3.766bn of eurozone bonds last week, up from €1.104bn the previous week.