Friday, December 12, 2008

USA Nuclear Umbrella? for Israel?


According to reports, the United States is about to offer Israel a nice nuclear umbrella. It is very pretty and colorful. It comes with a vinyl carrying case. The offer was first broached by Hillary Clinton in April 2008 in the Democratic primary campaign.

Well, thanks but no thanks, dear Uncle Sam. We are in an embarrassing position here. It is a bit like a Jew who gets a greeting card from a well meaning neighbor: "Happy Tisha B'av." (Fast day commemorating the destruction of the temples). Well meant perhaps, but not appropriate.

What can be bad about a nice pretty colored nuclear umbrella, you say? After all, NIE report to the contrary notwithstanding, it becomes more and more obvious each month that Iran is constructing nuclear weapons - lock stock and implosion mechanisms.

US chooses war and force over engagement

This is clearly an outrage. The US government, inensitive to the deep seated causes of this militancy, has turned to brute force in order stop it. Did the Bush administration try to engage the pirates fighters? Offer them concessions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
In any case, isn't it likely that all the pirates are Israeli Mossad agents?

US calls on UN to hunt pirates by land and air

UNITED NATIONS – The U.S. is proposing that the United Nations authorize tracking down Somali pirates not only at sea, but on land and in Somali air space with cooperation from the African country's weak U.N.-backed government.
The United States is circulating a draft U.N. Security Council resolution on the issue, as part of one of the Bush administration's last major foreign policy initiatives. The resolution proposes that all nations and regional groups cooperating with Somalia's government in the fight against piracy and armed robbery "may take all necessary measures ashore in Somalia."
Somalia's government is welcoming the U.S. initiative. Somali government spokesman Abdi Haji Gobdon said Thursday the government will offer any help it can.
If the U.S. military gets involved, it would mark a dramatic turnabout from the U.S. experience in Somalia in 1992-1993 that culminated in a deadly military clash in Mogadishu followed by a humiliating withdrawal of American forces.
U.S. Navy ships already are involved, in small numbers, in patroling the waters off Somalia. A senior administration official in Washington said Thursday that the proposed additional U.N. authority would give the U.S. military more options in confronting the pirates but does not mean the U.S. is planning a ground assault.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said the resolution would simply provide the possibility of taking action ashore, including from Somalia's air space, in the event of timely intelligence on the pirates' whereabouts. The official said it should not be assumed that such action would necessarily involve U.S. forces.
Without committing more U.S. Navy ships, the Bush administration wants to tap into what officials see as a growing enthusiasm in Europe and elsewhere for more effective coordinated action against the Somali pirates. Administration officials view the current effort as lacking coherence, as pirates score more and bigger shipping prizes.
The U.S. resolution is to be presented at a session on Somalia Tuesday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
It proposes that for a year, nations "may take all necessary measures ashore in Somalia, including in its airspace, to interdict those who are using Somali territory to plan, facilitate or undertake acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea and to otherwise prevent those activities."
The draft also says Somalia's government — whose president wrote the U.N. twice this month already seeking help — suffers from a "lack of capacity, domestic legislation, and clarity about how to dispose of pirates after their capture."
Britain agreed Thursday to hand over pirate suspects captured off Somalia's lawless coast to face trial in Kenya, removing a key legal obstacle to prosecuting them, a British diplomat said at a U.N.-organized piracy conference.
In the past, foreign navies patrolling the Somali coast have been reluctant to detain suspects because of uncertainties over where they would face trial as Somalia has no effective central government or legal system.
"Nations are very wary of taking pirates onboard their ships," said Lord Alan West, British undersecretary of state for security and counterterrorism. "It is extremely difficult — where can you put them — if you're not going back to your home country, and even going back to your home country causes immense problems in terms of legal prosecutions."
Britain does not currently have any detained suspects. But in the past some suspects have been released by other members of the international naval coalition despite being found with weapons and boarding equipment such as ladders and grappling hooks.
The agreement is based on an ad hoc deal that saw eight suspected pirates brought to Kenya by a British warship last month. Their trial is expected to take approximately a year. The European Union is currently completing a similar arrangement.
Piracy off Somalia has intensified in recent months, with more attacks against a wider range of targets. There was an unsuccessful assault on a cruise ship in the Gulf of Aden, which links the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. In September, pirates seized a Ukrainian freighter loaded with 33 battle tanks and on Nov. 15 they seized a Saudi oil tanker carrying $100 million worth of crude.
About 100 attacks on ships have been reported off the Somali coast this year. Forty vessels have been hijacked, with 14 still remaining in the hands of pirates along with more than 250 crew members, according to maritime officials.
On Thursday, a U.N. anti-piracy conference attended by representatives of more than 40 nations failed to produce a consensual legal framework for tackling piracy but recommended regulation for armed guards on ships and establishing a common policy to discourage ransom payments.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said his government had discussed putting armed guards onboard ships from the navies of friendly nations and had also had approaches from private companies.
The conference also recommended targeting the financial networks that support the pirates and building Somali coast guard forces. Somali pirates have taken in an estimated $30 million in ransom this year.
Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Pauline Jelinek contributed from Washington; Katharine Houreld from Nairobi, Kenya; and Salad Duhul from Mogadishu, Somalia

Dear President Obama

Dear President Obama
Barry Rubin

December 6, 2008

Dear President Obama:

They say that you prefer the name Barry and so it pleases me no end that another Barry is finally president of the United States. In addition, I once worked as a community organizer so we have two things in common.

On that basis, then, I hope you don't mind my making some suggestions about how you might think about the Middle East. I'm not looking for a job in Washington. In fact, as I look back on my life, I note that if I'd been successful in some obsession for a U.S. a government post I would have been a proud participant in such endeavors as the catastrophic mishandling of Iran's revolution, the failed U.S. dispatch of troops to Lebanon, the botched trade of arms for hostages with Iran, the crashed peace process, and the Iraq war.

So don't be misled! Today, everyone's talking about how wonderful you are. Those are the people who want jobs, favors, and access. There are others who want something else from you--like control over Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, or Georgia--who are more likely to be psychopathic than sycophantic.

Your expressed theme for your administration's Middle East policy can be described in one word: conciliation. You think that your predecessors made unnecessary enemies and blocked, rather than furthered, progress. Building on the basis of your perceived popularity and sincere good will, you believe that it is not so heard to make friends with Iran and Syria, soothe grievances that have caused Islamism and terrorism, and solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Good luck. We hope you succeed.

But please bear in mind some important points as you go along in this effort.

  • In the Middle East, it is not so useful to think yourself popular and show yourself to be friendly. You have to inspire fear in your enemies and confidence in your friends. And if you don't inspire fear in your enemies--if you're too nice to them--then you will indeed foment fear among your friends.
  • Not everyone thinks the same way. When you talk of "empathy," America's enemies hear the word "fear." When you speak of change, they, too, want change. Unfortunately the change they want means wiping other states off the map, creating radical Islamist dictatorships, and kicking the United States out of the region.

This is no misunderstanding: it's a conflict.

(In the film, "Cool Hand Luke," the noble convict (played by Paul Newman), jokes to the sadistic guards, "What we have here is a lack of communication." The audiences laughed. What everyone has forgotten is that a moment later they shoot him dead. Harvard Law School meets the law of the jungle.

You are going to talk to Iran, negotiate with Syria, and try to buy the Palestinians or press the Israelis into making peace. It's your presidency and many Americans think--whether rightly or not--that this hasn't been tried enough.

But please keep in mind four very important points for when the going gets rough:

  1. How much do you offer them and at who's expense? Not too much, please.
  2. How closely will you monitor whether or not they are keeping their commitments? Be tough please.
  3. At what point will you conclude that they don't want to end existing conflicts or be America's friends? Don't wait too long, please.
  4. What do you do when you figure out this doesn't work? Don't be afraid to admit failure, blame those responsible, and try something else.

Let's take Iraq. You want to withdraw and turn the war over to the Iraqis. Makes sense. But what will you do if Iran escalates in order to make your withdrawal look like a defeat and fill the vacuum--subtly, of course, not too openly.

And what do you do to combat Iranian and Syrian efforts to turn Iraq, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip, into their sphere of influence? They will pump in money, pump up hatred, and kill anyone who stands in the way. Making a good speech, apologizing for the past, or offering more concessions won't work.

Westerners are eager to resolve conflicts; revolutionaries want to use conflicts. You think grievances can be resolved; their grievances are insatiable. Make a concession, they ignore it and demand another. Withdraw from a territory, they occupy it and turn it into a base for the next advance. Explain that you feel their pain, and they add to your pain.

This is what it is like to deal with extremists and ideologues.

Right now you don't understand why Bill Clinton and George Bush couldn't solve a little thing like the Arab-Israeli conflict. Don't worry. Be patient. You will.

The truth is that an emphasis on Afghanistan is no panacea because Afghanistan is far tougher than Iraq. no one tames Afghanistan, it is a product of geography, ethnic conflict, macho militarism, and degree of development. In Iraq, the majority is very basically on your side and a stable government could definitely emerge, in Afghanistan, it is a permanent holding action or collapse.

I'm not the least bit worried about a good U.S.-Israel relationship, but what about the indirect threat.

What happens when the Europeans hug you, kiss you and then refuse to extend sanctions. Will Austria, Germany and Switzerland cut off their deals with Iran or will you even ask them to toughen up?

How will you convince the Saudis, Jordanians, Egyptians and others that you are their reliable protector against Iranian nukes?.

Is the war in Iraq won?

Kenneth Pollack believes the war in Iraq is not won, despite progress in security and stabilization. He cites various problems of management by the Iraqi government and believes there is a threat of renewed civil. Most Americans have a more optimistic assessment. of the Iraq government. They are so enamored of the model of turning the war against terror over to local authorities, that they want to push this model for Israel and the Palestinians. That seems to be the strategy of Jim Jones, who will evidently be Barack Obama's National Security adviser.
Both analyses ignore geopolitical facts. Civil wars in the Middle East don't just happen. They are manufactured in plants in Damascus and Tehran, as can be seen clearly in Lebanon.
By the time the United States leaves Iraq in 2011, Iran will probably be a nuclear power, as there are no serious plans to stop it. Iran and Syria both have ambitions in Iraq. Iran will have supplanted the US as a regional power, and the US retreat from Iraq will seal the end of U.S. influence in the Gulf. The Iranian government has wisely have decided that since the United States is leaving, there is no point in pressing their war while the Americans are there. Their Jihadists did what they were supposed to do: They got the United States to leave Iraq. "Mission accoplished." After the U.S. leaves Iraq, Iran and Syria will renew the civil war in earnest and then the U.S. will need to make a critical decision about what to do. Juding from past history, Americans will have totally forgotten about Iraq by then, and will be glued to their superbowl and reality TV shows.  
The "solution" that is shaping up for Iraq is rather similar to the one that Henry Kissinger concocted for Vietnam. The U.S. declares victory and departs, the locals take over and then the regime is helpless to save itself against a renewed onslaught.
Ami Isseroff

Volume 12, No. 4 - December 2008, Total Circulation 25,000
Article 1 of 8
Kenneth M. Pollack*

This article discusses the current situation in Iraq and U.S. policy on that country. It discusses current plans for a U.S. withdrawal and Iraqi politics, putting them also in the context of the likely policy of the Obama administration and the coming challenges in Iraq.
All across America, people increasingly seem to believe that the war in Iraq is won. Republicans proclaim it triumphantly. Democrats acknowledge it grudgingly and then try to change the subject to Afghanistan.
There is only one problem. The war in Iraq is not won. Despite the remarkable progress since 2006, the situation in Iraq remains extremely tentative and could easily fall apart again.
The United States--and particularly the U.S. military--will be a critical determinant of whether it is able to build on that progress and leave a stable, functional Iraq that picks its way toward a better future, or squander all of the gains made and lives lost and allow it to sink back into civil war--a civil war that would be deadly for the Persian Gulf and the wider Middle East.
Taken together, however, the perception and the reality create a conundrum for the new Obama Administration. President Obama cannot be seen as "losing" the war that George W. Bush is now increasingly seen as having "won," albeit only after nearly losing it himself. The fact that this perception is inaccurate is also unfortunately irrelevant in the world of politics.
On the other hand, candidate Obama promised a rapid withdrawal from Iraq based on an unconditional timetable--an even faster one than the goals set in the new Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) between the United States and Iraq. He also announced on the campaign trail that Afghanistan, not Iraq, would be the focus of his foreign policy, and he will need to shift troops there if he is going to honor those pledges. Yet the truth is that Afghanistan has little strategic value for the United States, while Iraq is vital. Consequently, jeopardizing the real priority of Iraq for political gains and the lesser priority of Afghanistan would leave the new president vulnerable to a harsh verdict from history and require a lot of explaining during his 2012 reelection bid should he pull the plug on Iraq too soon.
Fortunately, the situation in Iraq is not hopeless for President Obama, although it will be hard. If progress in building a new political foundation in Iraq can proceed at even a fraction of the pace that security has improved since 2006, a reasonably rapid drawdown (albeit hardly the total withdrawal of combat brigades in 16 months he promised during the campaign) should be possible. If, as seems more likely, Iraqi politics encounter problems, a slower pace of withdrawal should still allow the new President to run for reelection having left a secure Iraq and having removed virtually all American combat troops in his first term.
The reason that growing numbers of Americans are reaching the conclusion that the war in Iraq has been won is that the security situation there continues to improve in an impressive fashion. The civil war has been virtually extinguished--there have been close to zero instances of sectarian violence for months. The Sunni insurgency is over. There are still frequent terrorist attacks in Baghdad, Mosul, and other cities, but these are more lethal nuisances than serious threats to the political order of the society. Reflecting this, the numbers of Iraqi casualties have fallen from nearly 4,000 per month in 2006 to about 500 per month over the summer of 2008.
Across much of Iraq, a sense of normality is creeping back. In areas that had previously experienced horrific violence, barriers are being torn down, soldiers replaced by police, and parents are once again allowing their children to play in the streets.
In response, Iraq's micro-economies are beginning to revive in much of the country. With security much improved, traffic--in the cities and on the highways--is thick again. The stores are open, and open for longer, and the markets are bustling. Iraq's macro-economy remains moribund (more on that later), but average Iraqis are having an easier time with many routine tasks of day-to-day life than they once had.
As hoped and predicted, the improvement in security (and, to a much lesser extent, economics) has caused profound changes to Iraqi politics. The logjam that paralyzed Iraqi politics from 2004 through early 2007 has broken wide open. Instead, Iraqi politics today are remarkably fluid, with constant alignments and realignments producing unexpected coalitions. The old ethno-sectarian divisions among Sunnis, Shi'a, and Kurds are not gone, but they are now only one of several different axes around which Iraqi politics are coalescing. In one positive development, a number of the new divisions are driven by policy differences--over federalism, the American presence, relations with Iran, Iraq's oil industry, and the like--which have created important splits within the Sunni and Shi'i camps. Indeed, as of this writing, the most important rivalry in Baghdad is not Sunnis vs. Shi'a, but the alliance between the Shi'i Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the two main Kurdish parties on the one hand, pitted against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Da'wa Party, the Sadrists, and a Shi'i tribal movement that is trying to shape itself into a new political force.
In Iraq today, it is all about politics. All of the remaining problems--and they are still many and daunting--are problems of politics. Integration of the Sons of Iraq (SoIs) into the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), the treatment of thousands of (mostly Sunni) detainees who will be transferred from Coalition custody to the jurisdiction of the (mostly Shi'a) government of Iraq, the status of Kirkuk and wider Kurdish-Arab tensions, the residual violence in Mosul, the potential for a military coup, and Maliki's steady effort to centralize autocratic power in his own hands are the most likely sparks to renewed violence and even a return to civil war. All of them stem from failings of Iraq's political process.
The same is largely true today of Iraq's enduring economic problems. Direct foreign investment in Iraq increased from about $10 million per month in 2007 to roughly $100 million this year. The fact that it is not soaring even higher, like that of the region's other major oil producers, is no longer a product of poor security but increasingly a product of poor governance. In both the ministries of oil and electricity, the security factors affecting basic performance have largely been solved: attacks on pipelines, pumping stations, power lines, transformers, generators, and the like are way down. At this point, the remaining problems (which are very sizable) are the results of incompetence, dysfunctional bureaucratic practices, and the intrusion of venal politics into the provision of services.
For instance, Iraq is now generating roughly the same amount of energy that it did before the invasion and Coalition advisers to the Ministry of Electricity report that the national grid is stable. Instead, the reasons that most Iraqis get only a few hours of electricity per day are about demand and politics. Since 2003, Iraqis have gone on a buying spree, importing air conditioners, freezers, TVs, and all manner of other energy-gobbling appliances. As a result, demand has gone through the roof.
There is no question that Iraq desperately needs to build vast amounts of new generation, distribution, and transmission capacity to meet this new demand (and eventually replace the old grid infrastructure), but Minister of Electricity Karim Wahid al-Hasan is an old-style Saddamist who micromanages, has difficulty delegating authority or making major decisions, and is a non-aligned Shi'a who lacks the political base to back him against stronger foes in the government. His ministry is bloated with huge numbers of useless personnel--friends and cronies of powerful Iraqi leaders looking for sinecures--and too few capable technocrats. He is engaged in a moronic feud with Oil Minister Husayn Sharastani, in which Sharastani refuses to provide fuel for Iraq's generators and Karim retaliates by cutting power to the Bayji refinery.
Meanwhile, Sharastani is guilty of failings of similar scope and dimension, including a baffling failure to repair the main pipeline from Bayji to Baghdad even though there is no security reason not to do so. Add to that unintelligible disputes among Sharastani, Karim, and Finance Minister Bayan Jabr over funding, and it is easy to see Iraq's energy ministries are not doing better despite the improvements in security. Why these various personnel have not been replaced or compelled to do their jobs properly stem from Iraq's dysfunctional politics.
In short, if Iraq reverts back to widespread conflict and/or its economy continues to flounder, the cause will be the failure of Iraqi politics, not security. This means that continued progress in Iraq is now all about politics. That is especially true for 2009, which will see provincial elections at the start of the year, municipal elections in the spring, and then national elections in the winter (probably in December, but possibly in January 2010).
The 2009 Elections
The upcoming elections are critical because Iraqi politics today are in a state of disequilibrium. The fluidity roiling Iraqi politics will not last. Iraqi politics will settle into a more stable pattern, a state of equilibrium, and the elections will play a huge role in determining which type of equilibrium prevails. Many of the imaginable states of equilibrium are very dangerous--the kind of political equations that would likely push Iraq back into all-out civil war, albeit perhaps more slowly and in a different manner than what was happening in 2005-2006. These include a bid by Maliki or someone else to make himself dictator; a coup by the military; or a recrudescence of the monopoly on power by the main Shi'a militia parties--ISCI, the Sadrists, Da'wa, and Fadhila.
All three of these scenarios would likely produce tremendous violence. Anyone attempting to make himself dictator will galvanize all of the other parties to oppose him by force and there is no leader out there who seems to have what it takes to win such a fight and unify the country under his iron fist, at least not for long. It is worth keeping in mind that the only Iraqi dictator who successfully held power for more than a few years was Saddam Hussein, who required genocidal levels of violence to do so. The Iraqi military is not strong or unified enough to pull off a coup, and the effort to do so could easily cause it to fragment. Finally, it was the chauvinistic misrule by an ISCI-Sadrist-Da'wa-Fadhila alliance that was driving Iraq to civil war in the first place in 2006.
There are also some more positive potential outcomes for Iraq's political process. However, it is worth noting that while Iraqi politics could crystallize very quickly--in weeks or months--around one of the bad scenarios, it would take much longer--several years at least--to settle into one of the better scenarios and, even then, Iraq would hardly be Switzerland.
Still, all across Iraq, average Iraqis desperately want political change. They consider the current parties ruling in Baghdad to be thoroughly corrupt, the cause of the violence, the source of their other miseries, unresponsive to their needs, and ultimately unrepresentative of their perspectives and aspirations. The sentiment of "throw the bums out" seems ubiquitous, including among both Shi'a and Kurds. In response, hundreds of new independent political parties and candidates have emerged all across the country (even in Kurdistan), reflecting the desire of the average Iraqi for new leadership.
Of course, the current power-holders in Baghdad have no intention of going gently. Instead, they are fighting back every way they can. To a limited extent, they are trying to deliver good governance and basic services to the people to show that they can be responsive and responsible representatives of their constituents. Yet their main effort has been to subvert the political process as best they can, by killing, intimidating, or buying off potential rivals.  What this means is that many of those "independent" candidates and parties may already be under the thumb or in the pocket of one or another of the big parties.
Nevertheless, there are still several positive scenarios despite this harsh reality. The first is if the people choose--and feel safe enough--to vote for true independents, unaffiliated overtly or covertly with the big parties. Such an eventuality would be a tremendous boon for Iraq, because it would break the monopoly on power held by the current parties. It would force them to begin delivering on political compromises, good governance, and basic services so as to hold onto a (dwindling) share of power in future elections. Over the course of two to three election cycles (eight to twelve years), it might actually produce a reasonably representative Iraqi parliament.
Even if the elections do not produce this most positive of the feasible outcomes, there are other paths toward stability, progress, and pluralism for Iraq. For instance, if significant numbers of independents are elected, even if they are all coopted by one or another of the major parties, this could still maintain the fluidity of Iraqi politics and prevent its crystallization around one of the bad alternatives if the independents are not wedded to one of the major parties.
In other words, if there are large numbers of independents who are always open to the highest bidder and willing to sell out one patron for another, this would make it difficult for any one party to secure the kind of permanent majority they all seek. For instance, in southern Iraq, a new political movement among the Shi'i tribes, claiming to have over a million members, is selling itself to the highest bidder. While it would be much better if they were to form a party of their own and run candidates, as long as they do not become permanent constituents of Da'wa, ISCI, or the Sadrists, and are willing and able to shift their allegiance among them--thereby preventing any one of them from emerging with a clear, permanent majority--they can still play a positive role in Iraqi politics.
Moreover, because so many Iraqis are so desirous of change, even the illusion of change would be better than a clear-cut triumph by the same old parties using the same old methods of intimidation, fear-mongering, bribery, extortion, and violence. Even Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has recognized this by announcing that, unlike in 2005 when he told all Shi'a to vote exclusively for one of the chauvinistically Shi'i parties, in 2008, he believes Iraq's Shi'a should feel free to vote outside the bonds of sectarian loyalty. This too should help secure some change, which is important because no one knows what would happen if the vast majority of Iraqis were disappointed by elections that failed to produce any meaningful change. Whatever their reaction, it certainly would not be positive.
While the problems of Iraq have increasingly become issues of internal politics, that should not be taken as a sign that the United States, and particularly the U.S. military, have done their job and can head home. Quite the contrary is true. Today, American forces and the wider American effort remain absolutely vital, although their role has changed significantly. Today, the refrain heard all over Iraq--from Americans, Iraqis, Europeans, UN personnel, and others--is that the American military is the glue holding the country together. A better metaphor would be that the U.S. military is more like a cast placed on a broken arm that is allowing the fractures to knit together properly, a process that can produce a strong arm again, but only slowly.
The role of American military forces in Iraq has changed significantly since 2007, and continues to evolve. American forces continue to lead the fight against the remnants of al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI), in Mosul and other parts of northern Iraq. However, elsewhere, American forces are increasingly shifting over to two different sets of missions: on the one hand, advisors and enablers to Iraqi military formations, and on the other hand, peacekeepers.[1]
The advising and training role was always one foreseen by American commanders, and it remains crucial. Thousands of American soldiers are partnered with Iraqi formations; they provide guidance, occasionally sources of emulation, and often are able to call in critical enablers that only the United States possesses--air power, artillery support, predator drones, intelligence, and surveillance capabilities, even medical evacuation.
However, the second role--as peacekeepers--looms ever larger, especially because of the criticality of Iraqi politics during the next stage of Iraq's reconstruction. American troops are increasingly seen by Iraqis as a neutral force preventing all of Iraq's bad actors (including the government) from employing force against them and one another. It removes violence as a means of resolving disputes among different Iraqi groups, forcing them to try to solve their problems through the political process. It is absolutely essential for moving forward because it gives various Iraqi groups the confidence to "take risks for peace." For instance, in the absence of American military forces it is virtually unimaginable that the Sons of Iraq would have agreed to be paid and controlled by the government of Iraq as it did earlier this fall. The large American military presence gave them the peace of mind to do so, knowing that if the government of Iraq tried to crush them then the United States would step in to protect them.
This American role is emerging across Iraq as the most important one given current circumstances. At Khanaqin earlier this year, Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga probably would have come to blows had American military personnel not been present to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the stand-off. The American military presence is also the greatest impediment to a military coup.  Similarly, the most important factor limiting Maliki's efforts to consolidate autocratic power is the United States, and specifically the fact that the U.S. military remains the most powerful force in Iraq. American forces are critical to the economic and political capacity-building missions of both Coalition Provincial Reconstruction Teams, as well as the UN mission to Iraq. American and UN civilians have made clear that without the U.S. military, they cannot operate and if the U.S. military pulls back, they will also do so. American and UN personnel report that they commonly hear average Iraqis asking for American military personnel to be present at the polling places before and during elections because the Iraqis claim that only if the American troops are present will they really be free to vote for whom they want.
A key challenge then for the United States moving forward is how to continue to play this critical role in an era in which American resources and authority in Iraq will decline, perhaps precipitously. Whatever decision President Obama makes about the pace of the U.S. military drawdown from Iraq, it seems certain that there will be a drawdown. Moreover, in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, it seems unlikely that the White House or the Congress will be willing to fund economic reconstruction in Iraq as extravagantly as in the past. Moreover, there will be no "surge" in American civilian personnel to take up the slack as the military reduces its presence. Simply put, there just aren't enough Foreign Service Officers in the world to increase significantly the complement already in Iraq. The UN might be able to tap into the wider pool of international reconstruction workers and NGOs, but, as noted, they see their role as unavoidably dependent on the American presence.
The pull from Washington is also likely to be accompanied by a push from Baghdad. Unfortunately, if it comes--as seems inevitable--it will be for mostly the wrong reasons. It is likely to come from Prime Minister Maliki, who increasingly sees the United States as the main impediment to his consolidation of power, as well as his Sadrist allies, who have always attempted to win support by playing the ultra-nationalist card--which pitted them against the United States from the outset and provoked a consistent American effort to prevent them from acquiring the kind of power they seek.
Indeed, Maliki was reportedly very ambivalent about the new SOFA agreement. In large part because the Iranians successfully (but inaccurately) convinced much of Iraq's Shi'i community that the SOFA would compromise Iraqi sovereignty, Maliki feared that supporting it would tarnish his nationalist credentials. This despite the fact that he had insisted on a SOFA rather than a simple rollover of the UN Security Council resolution as Washington had initially preferred. This coupled with frustration at the American efforts to prevent him from consolidating power left him toying with the idea of allowing the UNSCR to expire without a SOFA--thereby forcing a full American withdrawal.
However, Maliki also recognizes that he cannot allow the country to fall apart. What good is being dictator over a country torn apart by full-scale civil war? In late October 2008, at a dramatic meeting of the Iraqi leadership, Iraq's defense and interior ministers stated flat out that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) would not be able to hold the country together if the Americans left at the beginning of 2009. Consequently, Maliki was forced to agree to the SOFA, although he used the popular nationalist backlash to extract numerous concessions from the United States that will make it harder for Americans to constrain his actions than in the past.
It is impossible to know how, where, or when the Iraqi government will choose to limit American freedom of action in the future, but it seems sure to do so--and more so over time. Nevertheless, it is still the case that that the United States will remain enormously influential in Iraq for years to come. Indeed, the United States likely will remain the most influential entity in Iraq for some time to come because of the size of its military presence, the ISF's dependence on its presence, and the fact that so many Iraqis do not want to see all American troops removed immediately.
Moreover, there are actions that the United States could take that could potentially increase its leverage with the Iraqis. For instance, because Iraq's economic problems increasingly derive from dysfunctional politics rather than American-caused damage from the invasion or misguided early reconstruction, it would be plausible for the United States to announce that it will no longer pay for economic assistance or capacity-building programs for Iraq's economic ministries. Instead, the United States could propose a new model, perhaps based along the lines of the U.S.-Saudi Joint Economic Commission, to handle American support to Iraq's further economic and ministerial development.[2] In that example, American and Saudi officials jointly assessed Saudi Arabia's developmental needs and identified how best to meet them. In some cases, the U.S. government agreed to provide the expertise and materiel, but the Saudis had to pay for this assistance under a program similar to Foreign Military Sales. In other cases, the commission agreed that private contractors would be best suited to the task--and both countries then identified the right contractor, drew up the terms of service and oversaw the project.
The truth is that the Iraqis still need American assistance, not so much to prevent a further slide into chaos and violence, but to develop into the kind of country they would like to become. Consequently, they would likely want such an arrangement, which would remove the need for the U.S. taxpayer to pay for Iraq's further reconstruction. Perhaps of greater importance, it would reconfigure the relationship from one in which the U.S. attempts to impose upon Iraq the development assistance it needs, to one in which Iraq is unambiguously asking for American assistance. This could be enormously helpful in recasting the relationship in a much more positive light for Iraqis and Americans alike.
There are three broad principles that an Obama administration should derive from this state of affairs in moving forward on Iraq.
Disengage slowly, with an eye on Iraq's stability. One cannot take off the cast until reasonably certain that the bones have healed. Unfortunately, this is where the medical analogy breaks down, because mending a broken society is much harder and more complicated than mending a broken limb. As General Odierno and his lieutenants already intend, the United States is going to have to test the waters continuously to see whether further drawdowns and redeployments can be sustained. U.S. commanders on the ground should test these propositions aggressively, but err on the side of caution whenever the results are ambiguous, because major set-backs simply cannot be afforded. At a tactical level, the United States does not want to have to withdraw from a place or a mission only to find things falling apart and have to reassert themselves. At a strategic level, the United States just cannot afford to allow the country to fall apart.
In particular, the plans of both the military command and the embassy in Baghdad for the drawdown of forces is smart, sensible, and logical, but it is predicated on things continuing to go as well in the next three years as they have over the previous two. As both General Odierno and Ambassador Crocker understand, given the litany of problems plaguing Iraqi politics, that trajectory may prove illusory. Under those circumstances, the command and the administration are going to have to be willing to slow the drawdown to give the Iraqi political process the time that it needs, and give American personnel attempting to deal with the problems the most leverage and options to do so.
 Focus on Iraq's politics. American military forces in Iraq need to help the Iraqis stamp out the last remnants of al-Qa'ida (if at all possible), prevent the re-emergence of Shi'i militias and terrorist groups, and continue to ensure the security of the Iraqi people against all possible threats of violence. However, looking forward, the entire U.S. mission needs to make Iraq's politics its principal concern. As noted, all of Iraq's remaining problems are now tied to the dysfunctions of its political system and therefore all American efforts in Iraq--political, diplomatic, economic, and military--must be structured with an eye toward alleviating or eliminating those problems, and certainly not making them worse. That may mean taking on tasks that do not seem militarily necessary to military officers, or economically sensible to economic advisers.
A prime example of this may be securing Iraq's elections. It is unclear at this time what will be necessary, but given the numbers of Iraqis asking for American troops at the polling places to ensure that they are fair and free, it may prove necessary. Although this would not be a true security mission, the importance of the election to Iraq's political progress means that U.S. military and political leaders must consider it any way.
Prioritize. Given that American resources and authorities will be more constrained in the future than they have been in the past (although the full extent is very unclear), the United States is going to have to do a much better job of determining its priorities and concentrating resources and leverage against the most important ones. This will be an important change for Americans in Iraq. In the past, the United States had unlimited authority and extensive resources and, as a result, it concerned itself with almost everything in Iraq. There was certainly some virtue to that, but it will not be possible in the future regardless of whether it is desirable.
Moreover, to link this to the previous recommendation, many of the highest priorities will have to be those most closely related to ensuring that Iraq's political process develops in a positive, sustainable direction. It will mean ensuring that the ISF does not attempt a coup. It will mean continuing to prevent Prime Minister Maliki from making himself a strongman--or anyone else from doing so for that matter. It is also going to mean preventing the current powerbrokers in Baghdad from cementing their rule permanently by subverting the process.
This last point is important because even within the sphere of politics, some things are going to be more important than others. For instance, at some level the United States might try to determine who is in charge in Baghdad, as in the past. In the resource- and authority-constrained future, however, that is going to be much harder, and probably less necessary. Instead, the United States needs to focus on the political process itself and making sure that Iraq's various political parties are not able to subvert that process, as all of the large, current power holders are attempting. This will mean doing whatever is necessary to prevent them from bribing, blackmailing, intimidating, and killing political opponents--and seeing that those who use such methods are punished.
It will also mean doing whatever is possible to help level the playing field by providing greater support to the newly-emerging leaders and parties hoping to compete in the 2009 elections and displacing the corrupt old parties that have so far failed to deliver what the Iraqi people want or need. That is going to require a much bigger effort than the current programs by National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute.
Another challenge the United States is going to have to overcome to deal with the real problems of Iraq is one of the new administration's own making. Throughout the presidential campaign, whenever the Republicans brought up the success of the "surge" in Iraq, Democrats would retort that Iraq was not the central front in the war on terrorism, that Afghanistan was, and that this required the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq so that they could be sent to Afghanistan--which was the more important of the two wars. Unfortunately, almost every element of these claims is wrong, and the new administration will have to demonstrate that it is willing to put the best interests of the country ahead of consistency with its campaign message.
Iraq is of far greater significance to American interests than Afghanistan for reasons that include, but go well beyond, the threat of terrorism. Iraq is of intrinsic strategic importance because of its oil wealth. It is of even greater importance because the civil war that threatened to engulf Iraq in 2006 (and which could still reignite despite all of the progress during 2007-2008) also threatened to destabilize the wider Persian Gulf region, whose oil production is economically irreplaceable.
Afghanistan has little intrinsic strategic value to the United States. The war in Afghanistan derives its importance to American interests from three sources. First, the United States did invade the country and topple its government. Second, there is concern that if allowed to fall back into tribalist semi-anarchy, the Taliban might return, and with them, al-Qa'ida might be able to reestablish a presence from which to launch new terrorist attacks. Last, there is the fear that true chaos in Afghanistan would further destabilize Pakistan, which, because of its extremist politics, terrorism, and possession of nuclear weapons, cannot be allowed to deteriorate any farther. None of these arguments is inconsequential; together, they do justify keeping Afghanistan as a major priority for the United States in the years ahead, second only to Iraq in military terms.
It should be noted that the terrorist threat does not reverse U.S. strategic priorities. Simply put, al-Qa'ida central, which remains important for training and motivating terrorists around the world, as well as furnishing the skilled personnel critical to many recent attacks, is in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Specifically, it is believed to be somewhere in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). Given the ability to operate from the FATA, it is not clear that al-Qa'ida even need to move back into Afghanistan if it were possible to do so. Moreover, given current NATO force levels in Afghanistan, it is unlikely that the Taliban could carve out enough of a sanctuary there to allow al-Qa'ida to recreate the kind of facilities it had before 9/11. In other words, al-Qa'ida is a Pakistan problem, not an Afghanistan problem.
If the United States were willing to withdraw all of its forces from Iraq and commit them all to Afghanistan, effectively flooding the country with Western troops, it is unlikely to have more than a minimal impact on al-Qa'ida central or its ability to plan and conduct terrorist operations because they are in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.
The problem of the Taliban/al-Qa'ida sanctuary in Pakistan cannot be solved by deploying more American military forces to Afghanistan.  A stronger American presence in Afghanistan might allow for more aggressive cross-border operations into Pakistan, but these are unlikely to eliminate the problem. As the United States learned in Vietnam, mounting cross-border operations--whether small special forces raids or much larger air and ground campaigns--cannot alone solve the sanctuary problem. These kinds of operations famously failed to eliminate Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia, let alone North Vietnam itself, no matter how big or how protracted the operations.
As for dealing with al-Qa'ida central in Pakistan, doing so can only be accomplished by competent Pakistani forces as part of a wider effort by a legitimate Pakistani government to deal with the country's various internal problems. The kinds of low-intensity conflict operations that have succeeded in Iraq and that the United States is now contemplating for Afghanistan, may well be part of such a program, but they cannot be implemented by American forces alone, and certainly not without Pakistani government approval and assistance.
Thus, rooting out al-Qa'ida from the FATA is only conceivable with the cooperation of the Pakistani government, which so far is not forthcoming. That is a diplomatic challenge for the United States, not a military challenge. At some point, if the Pakistanis actually make a real effort to subdue the FATA and extirpate the Taliban and al-Qa'ida, some cross-border American operations from Afghanistan could be helpful. In fact, if the Pakistanis will countenance it, American combat units deploying alongside their troops might be even more helpful. That day, however, is a long way away, if it ever comes, and certainly does not justify a redeployment of troops from Iraq any time soon.
In addition, it is important to keep in mind that in Iraq, U.S. troops are making a real difference. They remain important today, even as the surge has ended, and even as Iraq's security forces are bearing an increasingly large share of the collective burden. Among other tasks they are helping defeat an al-Qa'ida threat that emerged in the heart of the Arab world after 2003--where it would be far more dangerous than it is in Pakistan or Afghanistan--and are helping preserve a newfound Sunni-Shi'a ceasefire that is crucial to future Middle East stability.
Quickly shifting large numbers of U.S. troops to Afghanistan might or might not produce a major improvement in that situation there, but doing so would have little impact on the most important U.S. national interests and could easily jeopardize the higher priority of building on the gains made in Iraq since 2006.
The strategic calculus should be clear: Iraq is a vital American interest and American troops are critical to its success. American troops may also be critical to Afghanistan's success, but it is a lesser priority than Iraq. Pakistan may or may not be as important as Iraq, but solving the problems of Pakistan is a diplomatic task, not a military one. Consequently, the notion that American troops need to be withdrawn rapidly from Iraq to deal with the "more important" war in Afghanistan is strategically backward.
The war in Iraq is neither won nor is it lost. Great progress has been made and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it could, over a period of years, achieve sustainable stability, and then at some future date even true pluralism and prosperity.  Yet the quelling of the civil war that had been engulfing the country has brought to the fore the deep political dysfunctions of Iraq, and unless they are adequately resolved, they could easily reignite the same vicious cycle that were feeding that conflict. America's role in Iraq remains absolutely critical although the ability to play that role is becoming more and more complicated. With patience and perseverance, there is no reason that an Obama administration cannot achieve not just a satisfactory outcome in Iraq, but an outright positive one.
*Kenneth M. Pollack is Director of Research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East (Random House, 2008). He most recently visited Iraq in October 2008.

[1] Credit for the initial observation regarding this shift--and what that means for the missions of U.S. forces--should go to Dr. Stephen Biddle, who first raised the issue with this writer in May 2008.
[2] Thanks to Ambassador Ronald Neumann who reached the same conclusion regarding American support to Iraq's economic development and suggested the very useful model of the U.S.-Saudi Joint Economic Commission.
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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas in the Holyland: No cheer for Christians

There is almost total media silence about the persecution of Christians in Palestine, particularly in Gaza. This article focuses on Gaza, but it is only the worst manifestation of the phenomenon.

Analysis: Cruelty and silence in Gaza

Dec. 11, 2008
jonathan spyer , THE JERUSALEM POST

Unremarked upon by the Western media, a systematic campaign of persecution is taking place in the Gaza Strip, and to a lesser extent in the West Bank. The general silence surrounding this campaign aids its perpetrators. The victims are Palestinian Christians, in particular the small Christian community of Gaza.

The perpetrators are a variety of Islamist groups, all of which are manifestations of a process of growing Islamic militancy and piety taking place across the region.

The Christian population of the Gaza Strip is small - 2,000-3,000 people. Gazan politics has long been characterized by a conservative, Islamic bent. Gaza's Christians as a result have tended toward political invisibility.

Since the Hamas coup of July 2007, this position has become increasingly untenable. Islamist organizations, empowered by the indifference of the authorities, have begun to target Christian institutions and individuals in Gaza with increasing impunity. Intimidation, assault and the threat of kidnapping are now part of daily reality for Christians.

The trend became noticeable with a series of attacks on the Palestinian Bible Society's "Teacher's Bookshop" in Gaza City last year. The shop was the subject of a bomb attack in April 2007. Its owner, Rami Khader Ayyad, was abducted in broad daylight, and found dead on October 7, 2007.

Over the following year, a series of bomb attacks on Christian institutions in Gaza took place. Particular attention was paid to places of education. The Rahabat al-Wardia school run by nuns in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City, and the American International School in Beit Lahiya were both bombed, most recently in May 2008. The Zahwa Rosary Sisters School and the El-Manara school, both in Gaza City, were also attacked this summer. The YMCA Library was bombed, as was the Commonwealth War Cemetery.

Most of these attacks took place at night, and hence casualties were avoided. In a number of cases guards were the victims of violence.

Who is carrying out these attacks? The perpetrators are thought to be Salafi Islamist groups like Jaish al-Islam, Jaish al-Uma and similar organizations. The larger Popular Resistance Committees terror group has also stated that the Christian presence in Gaza should be eradicated, since it exposes Gazans to a pro-Western, anti-Islamic influence.

Where are the Hamas authorities in all this?

Hamas is officially committed to tolerance toward the Christian community, and spokesmen for the authorities have criticized the attacks. In practice, however, only superficial investigations have taken place, and arrests are rare. In the few cases where arrests have been made, the suspects were not charged and were quickly released. This was the case, for example, with two members of the Jaish al-Islam who were suspected of involvement in the YMCA bombing.

The persecution of Christians is not emerging from a small Islamist fringe. Rather, it is part of a larger process of Islamization taking place in Palestinian society. The rise of Hamas is part of this.

But the cadres of the divided Fatah movement are not immune. The Popular Resistance Committees group, for example, noted above for its anti-Christian stance, was founded by ex-Fatah officers who sought an organization reflecting their religious zeal.

The situation in the West Bank is different, reflecting the larger Christian population and the greater strength of secular forces. Yet here, too, anti-Christian trends are serving to embitter lives.

A recent article in the Palestinian Al-Ayyam newspaper drew attention to the long-simmering issue of "compulsory purchase" of land owned by Christians. This trend has been particularly noticeable in the Bethlehem, Ramallah and al-Bireh areas. Individuals with close links to the Palestinian Authority security forces, or to powerful clans, have adopted a variety of means to lay their hands on Christian-owned land. These have included false registration documents, squatters, and the involvement of senior PA security officers.

The Al-Ayyam columnist who raised this issue, Abd al-Nasser al-Najjar, lamented that no "constructive action" by the authorities to protect the Christians has taken place. Najjar listed the PA authorities, the Palestinian political factions, and the myriad of NGOs present in the West Bank among the bodies who might have been expected to take an interest in this situation, and who have not done so.

The official bodies of Palestinian nationalism continue to claim that the Palestinians are a single nation, with harmony between Christians and Muslims. The official leadership of Palestinian Arab Christianity repeats this claim.

Meanwhile, on the ground, Palestinian Christians are fearful, and are voting with their feet. Bethlehem, for example, has seen its Christian population decline from a 60 percent majority in 1990 to under 20% of the population today. The small and harassed Christian community of Gaza may simply cease to exist in the near future.

These events reflect broader regional processes. Their failure to become known is also part of a larger trend. The foreign media, NGOs on the ground and some Western political leaderships prefer to foster a version of events in the West Bank and Gaza based on illusion and willful ignorance of the evidence. The slow death of an ancient community is one of the fruits of this.

The writer is a senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya.

Evidence Iran is making a nuclear weapon

The statement below that Iran has no known space program is untrue. Iran announced a space program a while ago, perhaps as a cover. Here is a description for example. However the evidence regarding the implosion device, if it is as described, may be much more worrisome. Prima facie, it is most unlikely that Iran is NOT making a bomb, as there is no other rationale for investing such a large portion of the national income in acquisitio of nuclear technology. The NIE report of 2007 did not discuss this aspect of the problem, but rather focused narrowly on evidence that Iran had stopped a particular project.
This doesn't sound very peaceful:
Then, in late 2007, IAEA investigators uncovered a detailed Iranian narrative, written in Farsi, that described how a Russian scientist helped the Iranians conduct experiments to help Iranian scientists solve a complex design problem: Configuring high-tension electric bridge wire to detonate at different points less than a fraction of a nanosecond apart. In an implosion-type bomb, this is crucial for properly compressing the nuclear core. As Olli Heinonen, the IAEA's chief inspector explained at a closed-door briefing in February 2008, these Russian-led experiments were "not consistent with any application other than the development of a nuclear weapon."
Ami Isseroff
Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A year has passed since the release of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. In a stunning departure from all the previous estimates dating back to 1997 under Presidents Clinton and Bush, it declared: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program."

It also judged, with modest confidence, that Iran had not resumed its quest for nuclear weapons. If correct, this new assessment meant that previous ones, such as the 2004 NIE that also judged with "high confidence" that Iran was expanding its nuclear weapons capabilities under the cover of a civilian energy program, were based on flawed intelligence.

But was this astonishing reversal correct?

The 2007 intelligence estimate proceeded from both a reorganization of the so-called intelligence community and a re-evaluation of information the CIA had gotten on a clandestine nuclear weapon design program code-named by Iran "Project 1-11." Even though Project 1-11 had been in operation since 1997, the CIA did not get wind of it until 2004, when it obtained a stolen Iranian laptop that had been smuggled into Turkey. The computer's hard drive contained thousands of pages of documents describing efforts to design a warhead that would fit in the nose cone of the Iranian Shahab 3 missile and detonate at an altitude of 600 meters (which is too high for any explosion but a nuclear one to be effective).

From the warhead's specifications, which included the kind of high-tension electric bridge wire used in implosion-type nuclear weapons, the CIA deduced that the payload was a nuclear bomb similar to Pakistan's early bomb. Its conclusion that Iran was going nuclear was repeated in all the NIEs through 2006.

By 2007, however, the CIA and reorganized intelligence community re-examined the issue and doubts began to emerge. It turned out that shortly after the stolen laptop compromised Project 1-11, satellite photographs showed that buildings involved in it had been bulldozed, and conversations intercepted by the U.S. indicated that the project was being dismantled. Then a high-level defector from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, General Ali-Reza Asgari, confirmed in his CIA debriefings that Project 1-11 had been terminated in 2003.

After a long review, and "scrubbing" the evidence for signs of deception, the CIA reached its new conclusion that Iran's 1-11 project really had ended by 2004. In the world of clandestine activities, it is hardly unexpected that a super-secret operation such as Project 1-11, once it was compromised, would be officially closed down, and the evidence seems convincing that it was shuttered.

The issue is why. One explanation is that Iran had abandoned its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Another is that Iran no longer needed Project 1-11 because Iran had solved the tricky problem of triggering a nuclear warhead through other means.

Three pieces of the puzzle uncovered by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency cast a surprising light on how Iran has advanced its capabilities independently of Project 11-1. First, there is the digital blueprint circulated by the network of A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb. IAEA investigators decoding and analyzing the massive computer files of this network found that it had clandestinely provided clients with a detailed design of a nuclear warhead of the version used by first China then Pakistan.

Since the IAEA knew that Iran had been dealing with the Khan network since at least 2003, and features of that digital blueprint matched those described in the Project 11-1 documents, it was suspected that Iran acquired the digital blueprint, along with other components, from the Khan network. If so, it shortened the task of Project 1-11.

Then, in late 2007, IAEA investigators uncovered a detailed Iranian narrative, written in Farsi, that described how a Russian scientist helped the Iranians conduct experiments to help Iranian scientists solve a complex design problem: Configuring high-tension electric bridge wire to detonate at different points less than a fraction of a nanosecond apart. In an implosion-type bomb, this is crucial for properly compressing the nuclear core. As Olli Heinonen, the IAEA's chief inspector explained at a closed-door briefing in February 2008, these Russian-led experiments were "not consistent with any application other than the development of a nuclear weapon."

Finally, there is the Polonium 210 experiments that Iran conducted prior to 2004. Since Polonium 210 is used to initiate the chain reaction in early-generation nuclear bombs (and used in the Pakistan design), IAEA inspectors attempted up until 2008 to get access to the facility, or "box," in which the Polonium 210 was extracted from radioactive Bismuth.

Iran insisted that the Polonium 210 was only to be used for a civilian purpose - powering batteries on an Iranian spacecraft - and turned down these requests.

Iran had no known space program, but even if the extraction process was for civilian purposes, Iran's success with it meant that it could also produce Polonium 210 to trigger a nuclear bomb of the design furnished by the Khan network. So, even without further work by Project 1-11, it may have acquired all essential design elements for a nuclear weapon.

Design of course is only part of the equation. The other crucial part is obtaining a fissile fuel for the nuclear explosion, such as highly-enriched uranium.

In 1974, Pakistan, with the assistance of A.Q. Khan, had pioneered the path to nuclear proliferation by using centrifuges to enrich gasified uranium into weapon-grade uranium. In this process, the uranium cascades from one rapidly-spinning centrifuge to the next, each gradually increasing the proportion of the fissile isotope Uranium 235, until it becomes first low-enriched uranium for power plants, then, if continued, high-enriched uranium, for weapons. Iran built a similar facility in the massive underground caves at Natanz, able to house up to 50,000 centrifuges, which became operational in 2002.

Iran claimed this facility was intended for the production of low-enriched uranium for the Russian-built nuclear reactor at Bushehr to generate electric power (a facility Russia had agreed to fully supply as long as it operated). But the plant also could be used to produce weapons-grade uranium.

According to the IAEA, which monitors Natanz, by 2008 Iran had 3,800 centrifuges in operation and is adding another 3,000. It has also upgraded many of the older centrifuges, giving it about quadruple the capacity it had in 2003. To date, it has produced and stockpiled 1,380 pounds of low-enriched uranium, which is enough, if further enriched to weapons grade, to build a nuclear bomb.

The 2007 NIE deftly ducked this escalation with a footnote stating it was excluding from its assessment "Iran's declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment," which meant Natanz. However, in light of all the developments in the past year, America's new president will have to confront the reality that Iran now has the capability to change the balance of power in the Gulf, if it so elects to do so, by building a nuclear weapon.

Edward Jay Epstein is an investigative writer and the author of 13 books, including "Deception: The Invisible War Between the KGB and CIA." He is currently writing a book on the 9/11 Commission.

xtra Xtra: Xmas is evil says Muslim who approves of Mumbai attacks

Muslim lawyer Anjem Choudary brands Christmas 'evil'
Muslim preacher Anjem Choudary has branded Christmas "evil" in a sermon posted on the internet.
By Murray Wardrop
Last Updated: 12:39PM GMT 10 Dec 2008
The lawyer, who recently praised the Mumbai terror attacks, urged all Muslims to reject traditional Christmas celebrations, claiming that they are forbidden by Allah.
The 41-year-old shocked Christians and even those of his own faith by branding yuletide festivities as "the pathway to hellfire".
Choudary, who is chairman of the Society of Muslim Lawyers, ruled out all celebrations, including having a Christmas tree, decorating the house or eating turkey.
In the sermon posted on an Islamic website, he said: "In the world today many Muslims, especially those residing in western countries, are exposed to the evil celebration Christmas.
"Many take part in the festival celebrations by having Christmas turkey dinners.
"Decorating the house, purchasing Christmas trees or having Christmas turkey meals are completely prohibited by Allah.
"Many still practise this corrupt celebration as a remembrance of the birth of Jesus.
"How can a Muslim possibly approve or participate in such a practice that bases itself on the notion Allah has an offspring?
"The very concept of Christmas contradicts and conflicts with the foundation of Islam.
"Every Muslim has a responsibility to protect his family from the misguidance of Christmas, because its observance will lead to hellfire. Protect your Paradise from being taken away – protect yourself and your family from Christmas."
Choudary is Principal Lecturer at the London School of Shari'ah and a follower of the Islamist militant leader Omar Bakri Mohammed.
Earlier this year, he led a meeting at the heart of the area where the liquid bombers lived, which warned of a British September 11.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Don't close Gitmo yet: Detainees ready to confess

 Gitmo detainees ready to confess 
WASHINGTON: In an unprecedented turn of events, five men charged with plotting the Sept. 11 attacks told a military judge at Guantanamo yesterday that they wanted to immediately confess and plead guilty.
The five defendants — who could be executed if convicted of a role in killing 2,973 people in the 9/11 suicide plane attacks — said they "request an immediate hearing session to announce our confessions."
When the judge at the pretrial hearing, Army Col. Stephen Henley, asked Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — the self-described 'mastermind' of the 9/11 attacks, and his four co-defendants if they were prepared to enter a plea, Mohammed said: "Yes. We don't want to waste time," and gave him a letter which the judge then read aloud in court:
"We all five have reached an agreement to request from the commission an immediate hearing session in order to announce our confessions... with our earnest desire in this regard without being under any kind of pressure, threat, intimidations or promise from any party."
The letter implied they want to plead guilty, but did not specify whether they will admit to any specific charges. It also said they wished to drop all previous defense motions.
Mohammed earlier said he wished to be executed and achieve martyrdom, but still put together a defense.
With time running out on the administration of President George Bush, and with his successor, President-elect Barack Obama, saying he wants to close the Cuban detention facility, analysts said Mohammed and the others may see guilty pleas for the Sept. 11 attacks as the only way they can draw death sentences and die as martyrs.
The Kuwaiti-born suspect also told the judge that he did not trust his military-appointed lawyer.
Mohammed previously told interrogators he was the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Sporting a chest-length gray beard, Mohammed said in English: "I don't trust you."
The defendants had been expected to call the military commissions' former legal adviser, Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, as well as the current legal adviser, Michael Chapman, as witnesses in a bid to dismiss the case due to unlawful political influence over commission proceedings, Human Rights Watch said.
No date has been set for the five men's full military tribunal, and their appearance in court yesterday followed hearings held under a judge who resigned last month.
The pretrial hearings this week could be the last court appearance for the high-profile detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The first US war-crimes trials since World War II face an uncertain future.
President-elect Obama opposes the Guantanamo trials, and pledged to close the detention center which holds some 250 men, soon after he takes office next month.
It's a tough decision. To empty the camp, his team must decide whether to move the detainees at Guantánamo all at once and to where, as well as how to try those accused of crimes and whether to scrap the military commissions.
On Sunday, the Pentagon airlifted 50 reporters to Guantánamo to watch the proceedings, for the first time. The prison is located in a remote patch of a US Navy base on land leased from Cuba.
Also on board were the parents of some of the Sept. 11 victims, killed after hijackers slammed jets into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
Nine relatives of victims of the 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks were on hand to observe the hearings, but were not visible in video images relayed to a press room nearby. Five were chosen by military lottery and they brought four other relatives with them.
The other co-defendants are:
• Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni described by the US as the coordinator of the 9/11 attacks who, according to intelligence officials, was supposed to have been one of the hijackers, but was unable to get a US visa;
• Mustafa Ahmad Al-Hawsawi, a Saudi man said by US intelligence officials to be one of two key financiers used by Mohammed to arrange the funding for the Sept. 11 hijackings;
• Ali Abd Al-Aziz Ali, also known as Amar Al-Balochi, who is accused of serving as a key lieutenant to Mohammed, his uncle;
• Walid Bin Attash, a Yemeni national who, according to the Pentagon, has admitted masterminding the bombing of the American destroyer USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, and is also accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

Iran: The best defense is a long range missile?

This is a very strange and opitmistic artice:
In a sign that Iran is taking military measures to ward off the threat of an attack on its nuclear facilities, the country has tripled the number of long-range rockets in its arsenal, Channel 10 reported on Monday.
Nuclear facilities can be defended by short range Surface to Air Missiles. Long range missiles are offensive weapons by any definition.
'Iran rocket arsenal tripled in 2008'
Dec. 8, 2008 Staff , THE JERUSALEM POST
In a sign that Iran is taking military measures to ward off the threat of an attack on its nuclear facilities, the country has tripled the number of long-range rockets in its arsenal, Channel 10 reported on Monday.
According to the report, Iran possessed 30 Shihab-3 missiles at the beginning of 2008. Currently, the country claims to have over 100 over long-range missiles capable of hitting Israel.
While the ability of the Islamic Republic to strike any point in Israel has long been known, this latest build-up potentially points to an Iranian intent to launch a protracted counter-strike against those who seek to destroy its nuclear program.
The Jerusalem Post could not confirm the report.
Last summer, Iran held a massive missile exercise during which it claimed to have launched an improved version of the Shihab-3, known to have a range of 1,300 kilometers. The Iranian Fars News Agency Web site reported that the Shihab-3 had recently been equipped with an advanced guidance system that significantly improves the missile's accuracy and can correct its flight plan in midair.

German imports to Iran increasing

All "those people" care about is money. Same old story.
When asked about the increase in exports, the German treasury replied that it is due to increased metal prices, and noted that steel is up 17 percent in Europe.
However, export data show that metals make up only a small part of the increase. Another explanation offered by the German government is that the sanctions on Iran prohibit it from launching large new projects, which means the Iranians are more dependent on spare parts to maintain existing infrastructure.
In fact, the price of many metals has gone down, and the steel and copper industries are in the dumps. Uranium is another story of course...
Last update - 05:51 09/12/2008       
Israeli envoy: Germany increasing exports to Iran, despite sanctions
By Assaf Uni, Haaretz Correspondent
BERLIN - German exports to Iran are up 10 percent this year, prompting Israel's ambassador to Berlin to say the German authorities are "not doing enough" to keep Tehran isolated until it abandons its alleged efforts to develop nuclear arms.
"Germany is doing something [to isolate Iran], but apparently it is not doing enough," Ambassador Yoram Ben Ze'ev told Haaretz last week.
Germany's Federal Statistical Office released data showing the increase occured over the first three quarters of 2008. Germany's exports to Iran are expected to total 4 million euros this year, close to the record it set in 2004 and 2005.
During the first seven months of 2008, the German government approved 1,926 transactions with Iran, a 63 percent increase over last year. This has further cemented Germany's position as Iran's largest trade partner.
"The Germans are providing less insurance for Iran-bound merchandise, and they claim they are making life very difficult for those who want to do business with Iran," Ben Ze'ev said. "This approach may work on businesses that have export targets other than Iran, or on small businesses that cannot afford to invest the effort and resources to overcome the difficulties. But it's doubtful whether these measures will work on large businesses that view trade with Iran as strategically significant."
When asked about the increase in exports, the German treasury replied that it is due to increased metal prices, and noted that steel is up 17 percent in Europe.
However, export data show that metals make up only a small part of the increase. Another explanation offered by the German government is that the sanctions on Iran prohibit it from launching large new projects, which means the Iranians are more dependent on spare parts to maintain existing infrastructure.
"As a result of the tightening sanctions on Iran, our office expects the volume of our exports to Iran to decrease in the future," a spokesman for the treasury said.