Iran: Row with world powers over Arak reactor ‘virtually solved’

Posted April 19, 2014 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Iran: Row with world powers over Arak reactor ‘virtually solved’ | JPost | Israel News.

By JPOST.COM STAFF, REUTERS

04/19/2014 17:30

Islamic Republic’s nuclear chief says P5+1 has accepted Iranian proposal to “make certain changes” at unfinished heavy-water reactor.

A general view of the Arak heavy-water project, 190 km (120 miles) southwest of Tehran

A general view of the Arak heavy-water project, 190 km (120 miles) southwest of Tehran Photo: REUTERS

Iran and six world powers have “virtually solved” a dispute over the Arak heavy-water reactor, which the West fears could yield bomb-grade material in the future, AFP reported Iran’s nuclear chief as saying on Saturday.

Ali Akbar Salehi – the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran – was reported as saying the the P5+1 powers had agreed to a proposal presented by Iran to alter the course of production at the plant.

“Iran has made a proposal to the P5+1 to make certain changes in Arak and they have accepted. This question is virtually resolved,”  Salehi was quoted as telling the Arabic-language al-Alam TV.

The fate of the heavy-water plant, which has not yet been completed, is one of the central issues in negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 powers aimed at reaching a long-term deal on Tehran’s nuclear program by an agreed July 20 deadline.

Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China on Wednesday ended their last round of negotiation in Vienna and said they would start drafting an agreement at their next meeting there on May 13. But officials said significant gaps needed to be bridged.

Following the latest round of talks, Salehi announced that Iran had made the proposal that would significantly lower highly-radioactive plutonium production at the Arak research reactor, signalling flexibility on a key issue in talks to end the nuclear dispute with world powers.

The comment was the latest sign that a compromise may be possible over the disputed reactor, which the West fears could yield weapons-usable plutonium. Iran denies any such aim.

The website of Iran’s English-language state television Press TV, citing Salehi late on Wednesday, said Iran had offered a “scientific and logical proposal to clear up any ambiguities” over the Arak reactor.

“In our plan, we explained that we would redesign the heart of the Arak reactor, so that its production of plutonium will decrease drastically,” Salehi was quoted as saying.

RUSSIA SEES ARAK COMPROMISE

The West is worried that Arak, once operational, could provide a supply of plutonium – one of two materials, along with highly enriched uranium, that can trigger a nuclear blast.

The Islamic Republic has said that the 40-megawatt reactor is intended to produce isotopes for cancer and other medical treatments. It agreed to halt installation work at Arak under a six-month interim accord struck on Nov. 24 which was designed to buy time for negotiations on a comprehensive deal.

Russia’s chief negotiator suggested after the April 8-9 talks that progress had been achieved on Arak. “The possibility of a compromise on this issue has grown,” Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.

Heavy-water reactors like Arak, fueled by natural uranium, are seen as especially suitable for yielding plutonium. To do so, however, a spent fuel preprocessing plant would also be needed to extract it. Iran is not known to have any such plant.

If operating optimally, Arak – located about 250 km (150 miles) southwest of Tehran – could produce about nine kg of plutonium annually, the US Institute for Science and International Security says.

Any deal must lower that amount, Western experts say.

Last week, Princeton University experts said that annual plutonium production could be cut to less than a kilogram – well below the roughly 8 kg needed for an atomic bomb – if Iran altered the way Arak is fueled and lowered its power capacity.

A Show of Contempt, at Home and Abroad

Posted April 19, 2014 by danmillerinpanama
Categories: Uncategorized

A Show of Contempt, at Home and Abroad, Steyn Online, Mark Steyn, April 18, 2014

(Steyn ties facially unrelated U.S. domestic and foreign matters together well. We  form circular firing squads while pointing our fingers, guns or both in the wrong directions . — DM)

Bundy ranch and dronesA scene from Cowboys And Aliens? Or the Bureau of Land Management droning the Bundy ranch?

If Putin closes down a transgender nightclub a week before the Special Olympics, he can get America’s attention. When he annexes neighboring states, not so much. Under Nato, the US has collective-security treaty obligations to the Baltic States, but if I were Estonian I wouldn’t bet on them. Not unless the Russians make the mistake of bombing a gay wedding in Tallinn.

David Goldman, meanwhile, is weary of the admiring line that that Putin guy is some kind of genius. He doesn’t have to be when we’re idiots.

. . . .

In the Second World War, when the Japanese took Singapore and inflicted what Churchill called the most ignominious defeat in British military history, it was famously said of the colony’s ill-prepared defenses that the guns were pointing the wrong way. In America today, the guns seem to be pointing the wrong way.

Happy Easter, Happy Passover. On this Good Friday, we mark the tenth anniversary of Mel’s movie, and over the weekend we’ll have something with a lighter touch.

Caroline Glick, my old colleague from The Jerusalem Post, has a column using a very Steynian word, “The Disappearance of America’s Will“:

The most terrifying aspect of the collapse of US power worldwide is the US’s indifferent response to it.

In Europe, in Asia, in the Middle East and beyond, America’s most dangerous foes are engaging in aggression and brinkmanship unseen in decades.

That first sentence is very true. Thirteen years ago, the left hopped aboard the war-on-terror bandwagon for reasons of electoral self-preservation, and hopped off as soon as they could. But, after a decade of ineffectual thankless three-cups-of-tea transnational ersatz “nation-building” in Mesopotamia and the Hindu Kush, the right has largely checked out of global geopolitics, too. Whether the GOP nominates a compassionate amnesty guy like Jeb Bush or goes full Rand Paul, the world and its woes will not be much of a factor. Miss Glick again:

The generation coming of age today is similarly uninterested in US global leadership.

During the Cold War and in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the predominant view among American university students studying international affairs was that US world leadership is essential to ensure global stability and US national interests and values.

Today this is no longer the case. It is because of this that the world is more likely than it has been since 1939 to experience a world war of catastrophic proportions.

There is a direct correlation between the US elite’s preoccupation with social issues running the narrow and solipsistic gamut from gay marriage to transgender bathrooms to a phony war against women, and America’s inability to recognize the growing threats to the global order or understand why Americans should care about the world at all.

If Putin closes down a transgender nightclub a week before the Special Olympics, he can get America’s attention. When he annexes neighboring states, not so much. Under Nato, the US has collective-security treaty obligations to the Baltic States, but if I were Estonian I wouldn’t bet on them. Not unless the Russians make the mistake of bombing a gay wedding in Tallinn.

David Goldman, meanwhile, is weary of the admiring line that that Putin guy is some kind of genius. He doesn’t have to bewhen we’re idiots. Miss Glick notes that, as a show of “strength”, the US sent an unarmed warship to the Black Sea:

Clearly not impressed by the US moves, the Russians overflew and shadowed the US naval ship. As Charles Krauthammer noted on Fox News on Monday, the Russian action was not a provocation. It was “a show of contempt.”

As Krauthammer explained, it could have only been viewed as a provocation if Russia had believed the US was likely to respond to its shadowing of the warship. Since Moscow correctly assessed that the US would not respond to its aggression, by buzzing and following the warship, the Russians demonstrated to Ukraine and other US allies that they cannot trust the US to protect them from Russia.

In other words, Putin correctly identified the show of strength as a show of weakness, and revealed it to the world as such. In the land of the unfocused, the clear-sighted man is king.

~Perhaps Americans will get the quiet life they long for if they let the world go its own way. But oddly the less power the United States projects around the planet the more it turns on its hapless citizens right here at home. I write often about the utterly repulsive paramilitarization of the American bureaucracy, most recently with regard to the snipers deployed by the Bureau of Land Management in a cattle-grazing dispute. Guest-hosting for Rush yesterday, I remarked that the showdown between guys in cowboy hats and invaders wearing the full Robocop was like something out of that terrible film from a year or two back, Cowboys And Aliens. John Fund has a column today on the United States of SWAT:

Dozens of federal agencies now have Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams to further an expanding definition of their missions. It’s not controversial that the Secret Service and the Bureau of Prisons have them. But what about the Department of Agriculture, the Railroad Retirement Board, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Office of Personnel Management, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service? All of these have their own SWAT units and are part of a worrying trend towards the militarization of federal agencies — not to mention local police forces.

“Law-enforcement agencies across the U.S., at every level of government, have been blurring the line between police officer and soldier,” journalist Radley Balko writes in his 2013 book Rise of the Warrior Cop. “The war on drugs and, more recently, post-9/11 antiterrorism efforts have created a new figure on the U.S. scene: the warrior cop — armed to the teeth, ready to deal harshly with targeted wrongdoers, and a growing threat to familiar American liberties.”

The proliferation of paramilitary federal SWAT teams inevitably brings abuses that have nothing to do with either drugs or terrorism. Many of the raids they conduct are against harmless, often innocent, Americans who typically are accused of non-violent civil or administrative violations.

Take the case of Kenneth Wright of Stockton, Calif., who was “visited” by a SWAT team from the U.S. Department of Education in June 2011. Agents battered down the door of his home at 6 a.m., dragged him outside in his boxer shorts, and handcuffed him as they put his three children (ages 3, 7, and 11) in a police car for two hours while they searched his home. The raid was allegedly intended to uncover information on Wright’s estranged wife, Michelle, who hadn’t been living with him and was suspected of college financial-aid fraud.

As I always say, the US Secretary of Education doesn’t employ a single teacher but he is the only education minister in the western world with his own personal SWAT team. Americans will end their days in a very dark place unless this vile trend is reversed.

Around the planet, Russia’s neo-tsar, the Chinese Politburo, apocalyptic ayatollahs, Afghan goatherds and Benghazi jihad punks laugh at the very idea of American power, but on the home front, if your estranged wife failed to repay her college loan or you drink loose-leaf tea, you’ll get your door kicked down and be cowering in terror.

In the Second World War, when the Japanese took Singapore and inflicted what Churchill called the most ignominious defeat in British military history, it was famously said of the colony’s ill-prepared defenses that the guns were pointing the wrong way. In America today, the guns seem to be pointing the wrong way.

Can Israel be neutral on Ukraine?

Posted April 19, 2014 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Middle East: Can Israel be neutral on Ukraine? | JPost | Israel News.

By AMOTZ ASA-EL

 LAST UPDATED: 04/19/2014 10:27

The Jewish state has diplomatic, geographic, economic – and Jewish – reasons to shun the international arena’s hottest flash point.

Pro-Russian supporters in Ukraine attend a rally in the Crimea.

Pro-Russian supporters in Ukraine attend a rally in the Crimea. Photo: REUTERS

Bored by life in the opposition and missing his previous career’s action, Moshe Dayan decided to go to Vietnam, take a close look at what then was the world’s only major war, and report his impressions in several newspapers.

The Americans – still confident of their victory – rolled out the red carpet for the celebrated general as he landed in Saigon, showing him whatever he wished, from close-range fighting to large-scale deployments, and showering him with briefings, tours and dinners with assorted generals, including the war’s commander, Gen. William Westmoreland.

Jerusalem, however, was less enthusiastic.

Responding to protestations in the Knesset, even from Dayan’s own Rafi faction, over a famous Israeli personality arguably taking sides in the conflict, foreign minister Abba Eban told the plenary he could not stop a private citizen from traveling wherever he wished. The Jewish state, however, had elaborate and sensitive interests in Asia, and “would welcome any effort that would lead to opening negotiations for a settlement of just peace in this conflict.”

This was 1966, when the IDF’s main weaponry was European, and American aid was modest and strictly civilian. Israel, in short, owed America a lot less than it owes it today. Then again, Israel’s current response to the steadily escalating conflict between Russia and Ukraine smacks of the same reluctance to take sides displayed during the Vietnam War.

The only difference is that now there are many more reasons – global, regional and Jewish – to shun the international system’s hottest flash point.

THE UKRAINIAN situation deteriorated twice this week. First, when the interim government in Kiev ordered, for the first time since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, military action, and secondly, when the pro-Russian secessionist euphoria spread beyond Ukraine, to Moldova.

With 40,000 Russian troops mobilized on its eastern border, and challenged by ethnic Russian militias roaming its eastern cities, Ukraine ordered a military operation. Retaking an airport lost previously to pro-Russian militias, it initially seemed as if the Ukrainians have a plan and know what they are doing.

However, what was initially trumpeted as a Ukrainian “offensive” soon proved hollow, when a lightly armored column was stopped in its tracks by unarmed pro-Russian civilians.

The seizure, at the same time, of Ukrainian armored vehicles elsewhere, and their display in the town of Slovyansk a day before three Russians were killed in a skirmish with Ukrainian forces, all raised fears that a bloody clash was but a matter of time. The roars of Ukrainian fighter jets above the flatlands east of the Dnieper River served as a reminder that, whether in terms of its size or resources, Ukraine is not Georgia.

If hostilities flare, the Red Army will sooner or later be seriously challenged, and fighting might be fierce and also protracted.

The West, meanwhile, remained perplexed.

As American, European and Ukrainian diplomats prepared to hold talks with Russia Thursday, US President Barack Obama again blamed the crisis on Moscow, but when asked to shift from rhetoric to action he failed to deliver more than the vague vow that each Russian attempt to “destabilize” Ukraine will bear “consequences.”

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was not much more specific when he said the American- led alliance will reinforce its presence along its eastern frontiers – apparently referring to NATO members Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, all former Warsaw Pact members bordering Ukraine.

Rasmussen had hardly finished his statement when fresh developments again exposed the West as responding to events rather than shaping them. In Moldova, the former Soviet republic of 3.5 million abutting southwestern Ukraine, the regional parliament of Transnistria formally asked Russia to recognize its secession.

A forlorn land where streets are still named after Marx and Lenin and the flag still sports the hammer and sickle, this esoteric province’s separatism would ordinarily inspire political parodies like Peter Sellers’s The Mouse that Roared or Woody Allen’s Bananas.

But these are not ordinary times, and Transnistria’s Russian longings raise suspicions of a grand plot, one masterminded in the Kremlin and aimed at reassembling some of the dismantled Soviet Union, if even gradually, piecemeal, and by what will be presented as demand from below.

In itself, Moldova may still seem marginal for Westerners, but the next candidate for such secessionist emasculation is Latvia, a NATO member more than twice the size of Belgium with a sizable Russian-speaking population directly opposite Stockholm, across the Baltic.

In short, at stake is a major clash between Europe and Russia, a confrontation in which America has taken sides hastily and now expects its allies to follow it as it stumbles further into this European fray.

The Jewish state, it appears, is politely rejecting this demand.

THERE WAS a brief moment during Israel’s infancy when it toyed with the idea of assuming a policy of neutrality between East and West. That quest quickly proved unrealistic, as the Arab states loomed prominently in what became the nonaligned bloc, while the Jewish state could fit nowhere but in the West, whether in terms of its ideals, economy or diplomacy.

That is why even during the Korean War, when David Ben-Gurion turned down a request to send troops to fight alongside the US-led international force, Israel did send the South medicines and food, even though the Jewish state was at the time so strapped that it rationed bread, milk and eggs.

By 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Israel had not even that minimal maneuver space.

Whereas America had by then become the IDF’s main supplier, Moscow had severed ties with Jerusalem following the Six Day War and emerged as the center of anti-Israeli gravity, whether in terms of its diplomacy, propaganda, arms exports, emigration policy or oppression of the Jewish faith. It therefore went without saying, when the US decided to boycott the Moscow Olympics of 1980, that Israel would do the same as Uncle Sam.

Today’s situation is different in just about every aspect.

First, Russia is not anti-Israel. Not only are relations between Jerusalem and Moscow normal, in many ways they are even warm. Traffic between the two countries is free and hectic, Russia has become Israel’s major oil supplier, it is a potentially deep destination for Israeli exports and the two countries are in the process of finalizing a free-trade agreement.

Then there is the Jewish aspect.

Though a million Jews have left, both Russia and Ukraine remain home to sizable Jewish communities.

According to last year’s World Jewish Population Survey there were 255,000 Jews in Russia and Ukraine, about a quarter of them in Ukraine.

Counting semi-Jews, as Israel must do, the number multiplies.

The Jewish state is therefore calculating its treatment of the Ukrainian conflict in a way that considers the fate of the Jews on both its sides.

Israel’s normalization of its ties with Russia is a major strategic asset, the happy aftermath of an epic struggle that was led jointly by Israeli leaders, American statesmen and the Jewish Diaspora. Barack Obama was too young to experience this hard-won struggle, but in Israel it is etched in every political mind, certainly that of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who joined that struggle as an ambassador at the UN, not to mention Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who was born and raised in Soviet Moldova.

Then there is the Middle East.

The past three years’ upheaval across the Arab world has for now resulted in increased Russian presence and diminishing American prestige. Obama’s failed gambles in Egypt, where he chased Mubarak from power and then failed to avert the Muslim Brotherhood’s removal, have resulted in previously unthinkable arms deals between Cairo and Moscow.

Meanwhile, the unfulfilled threat to hit Syria if it uses chemical weapons has further enhanced Russia’s position, as Bashar Assad’s loyal and efficient sponsor.

Faced with such a Russian comeback, Israel would be foolhardy to squander its hard-earned relations with post-Communist Russia.

Lastly, there is geography.

The New York Times’s columnist Tom Friedman last week recalled that back in 1998 former US ambassador to Moscow George Kennan decried NATO’s expansion, arguing the US was mindlessly provoking Russia and committing to defend countries it did not intend to defend.

Kennan, who died last decade at age 99, did not live to see this, but current events vindicate him. America is now embroiled in distant Ukraine, and should the conflict spill into one of its NATO neighbors, Washington will be even deeper in distant East European squabbles where it does not naturally belong.

Israel’s situation is the opposite of America’s: Ukraine is close, and Israel is not involved. This, then, is the background against which Israel avoided participating in last month’s UN General Assembly vote that condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea, with a majority of 100 to 11, and 58 abstentions.

Neutrality in this conflict seems for now Israel’s only plausible choice, and Jerusalem apparently expected Washington to understand this, as indeed does the Israeli opposition, where no one has so far attacked this policy, not even Meretz chairperson and human-rights champion Zehava Gal-On, with or without connection to her own arrival here, as a child, from Soviet Lithuania.

That is also why Netanyahu, in a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, reiterated Israel’s hope that the conflict in the Ukraine would be peacefully resolved – just as Abba Eban once said of Vietnam.

Bangkok Terrorism Arrests Could Mark Latest Setback for Hizballah and Iran | TIME.com

Posted April 19, 2014 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Bangkok Terrorism Arrests Could Mark Latest Setback for Hizballah and Iran | TIME.com.

A senior U.S. official once called Hizballah “The A-Team of terrorists” but the Lebanese militia and its Iranian sponsors are struggling

The arrest of two Lebanese men in Thailand, allegedly for plotting to target Jewish tourists on a busy Bangkok street on behalf of the Lebanese Shiite group Hizballah, could mark the latest failed effort by the militia to resume terror attacks overseas. The latest plot, revealed in the Thai press on Friday, ended almost before it began. The two men reportedly arrived in Bangkok April 13 and were detained by Thai police on information supplied by Israeli intelligence. Both men allegedly carried passports of third countries (Philippines and France); Hizballah has previously shown it prefers its operatives to carry second passports. Media reports say one of the men admitted a plot to detonate explosives on Bangkok’s Khao San Road, a nexus for international backpackers, including young Israelis. The suspect also agreed to lead investigators to “bomb-making equipment” in the province of Rayong, southeast of the capital, the Bangkok Post reported.

The incident serves to underscore the apparent gap in operational abilities of the Iranian-backed Hizballah’s covert forces – which lately have shown little of the disciplined success that built the organization’s reputation as the “terrorist A-team” – and its uniformed militia. The troops are fighting on the side of President Bashar Assad in the civil war in Syria, and making a significant impact. Meanwhile, except for the 2012 bombing of a tourist bus carrying Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria – a “soft target” – Hizballah has suffered a number of setbacks that reveal what one analyst called “an atrophying of the group’s operational capabilities.”

“What I had been hearing from numerous sources is they just did not have the bandwidth to keep up the pace of the attacks because of Syria,” says Matthew Levitt, a former Treasury Department and FBI terrorism specialist, author of Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God. “They are all in Syria. And once that started in Syria in earnest, then [covert operations] became something that was less critical, it wasn’t their priority.”

One reversal came in Bangkok in January 2012, when a Hizballah agent (with a Swedish passport) led authorities to a 8,800 pounds of chemicals being assembled into explosives, apparently for shipment abroad in bags labeled as kitty litter. And Bangkok was the scene of the group’s biggest fiasco, a debacle in February 2012 that involved an Iranian agent blowing off his own legs while trying to escape a safe house where the roof had just blown off by a bomb-making accident. Three agents of the Quds Force, the branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps that operates overseas, were detained in the safe house incident. Inside the building, investigators found magnetic “sticky bombs” like the kind Israeli agents had attached to the cars of Iranian nuclear scientists. The Quds Force agents apparently intended to do the same to Israeli diplomats.

Phone records and other evidence gathered by four governments in a joint report detailed by the Washington Post link the Bangkok plan to Iranian plots against Israeli targets in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and India, all of which ended in failure and arrests. Other plots were thwarted in Kenya, South Africa, Cyprus and Bulgaria – and Texas, where an Iranian-American used car salesman tried to plot the assassination by bomb of Saudia Arabia’s ambassador in Washington D.C.

From Iran’s perspective, the flurry of attacks was intended both to avenge the death of the Iranian scientists and to demonstrate what in the way of “asymmetrical warfare” the West might face if there were a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Levitt wrote in a paper for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. But neither Quds nor Hizballah proved as formidable in the field as they had had been before 9/11, when they drew back from terrorist strikes. When they resumed, the world had become more security-conscious, and both Hizballah and the Quds Force were both rusty and hasty, mounting 20 plots in the 15 months from May 2011 to July 2012.

Since then, Iran appears to have reduced terror operations once again – scaling back as Iran and Western powers began talking seriously about launching diplomatic negotiations addressing Iran’s nuclear program. (Israel has restrained its covert operations, as well.) Hizballah, however, appears to be constrained only by the need to concentrate on Syria. Levitt says the group remains committed to striking Israeli targets to avenge the 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, its talented terrorist leader, whose death was what prompted Hizballah to re-activate its covert operations. In addition, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to strike Israel in retaliation for its most recent airstrike on a convoy carrying advanced weapons; the Feb. 24 attack was the first such airstrike inside Lebanon.

Nasrallah later took responsibility for a March 14 roadside bomb attack on an Israeli patrol that wounded three soldiers. But he called the ambush on the Israel-Lebanon border only “part of the reply” to the airstrike. It’s possible another “part” was what the two Lebanese men were allegedly planning in Thailand, Levitt says.

“The Israelis in particular are very sensitive to any civilian loss,” he notes. “It’s possible the message is let them know there is pressure on every front.”

Vladimir Putin’s Middle Eastern harvest

Posted April 19, 2014 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Conrad Black: Vladimir Putin’s Middle Eastern harvest | National Post.

Conrad Black describes Moscow's slow path back to Middle Eastern dominance.

AP Photo/RIA-NovostiConrad Black describes Moscow’s slow path back to Middle Eastern dominance.

For those hoping to ignore the Middle East during Easter and Passover, I am the Grinch who will steal the holiday. Approximately 140,000 people have died in the three years of the horrible imbroglio in Syria. Russia, despite its weakness and the moral bankruptcy of its foreign policy, has reaped a harvest of consistency and single-mindedness. It has entirely and unwaveringly supported the Bashar Al-Assad regime, used its status as a permanent United Nations Security Council member to veto any opposing resolution, and has provided superior weaponry to the Syrian government in its war against the atomized majority of its countrymen. Russia ignores European and American disapproval and does what’s necessary to maintain its Mediterranean naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus, and pretends to continue as a rival to the power of the United States Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.

The conduct of the United States has been much harder to follow and justify. It started with Hillary Clinton infamously referring to Assad as “a reformer.” It then morally supported the dissidents because they were clearly the majority, and because the overthrow of Assad would assure the end of the Iranian pipeline of assistance to Hezbollah and even, up to a point, of Hamas, curtailing the terrible mischief they have inflicted on Lebanon and Israel. But the United States declined to arm the Syrian rebels with the anti-aircraft capability they needed, though such weapons were entirely defensive, for three reasons: The U.S. government was afraid that these weapons would fall into the hands of Sunni extremists; was mesmerized by what it considered to be the more important relationship with Russia (a relationship that has proven to be entirely antagonistic and based on Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s correct calculation that American appeasement could be secured at no cost); and, because the American public, after 10 years, $2-trillion, and more than 50,000 casualties, was averse to any involvement in another Middle Eastern war.

The only provocation that could apparently motivate the United States to intervene was Assad using poison gas on his own citizens. When this was done, President Barack Obama announced that he would punish Assad, deployed American warships in a position to fire cruise missiles at the Syrians, and then abdicated the constitutionally assigned position of commander-in-chief to the Congress. And when the legislators appeared likely to deny any authority to attack Syria, despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s assurance that such action would be “unbelievably small” (and therefore probably not too onerous a deterrent or punishment), Obama grasped pathetically at Putin’s offered straw of supervision of Syrian surrender of the poison gas stocks to Russia.

The U.S. is checkmated — Assad continues as a Soviet and Iranian puppet and his principal opponents are jihadists and terrorist-supporting organizations, and over 2.5 million Syrians (more than 10% of the country’s population), are refugees in a pitiful condition. The United States is complicit, though only through passivity and negligence, in all that has gone wrong, but has no dog in the hunt for advantage.

Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have all sponsored rebel factions in the Syrian civil war. Saudi Arabia is in a regional struggle for influence with Iran, which is in part a Sunni-Shiite intra-Muslim conflict, and does not forget the efforts of the fundamentalist groups in the region to overthrow the Saudi royal family in the 1980s. (The Saudi government is essentially a joint venture between the House of Saud and the Wahhabi establishment, lubricated by vast amounts of Danegeld paid to the propagation of Wahhabi fundamentalist views around the Muslim world). Turkey and Qatar have been less discriminating and the Turks have supported the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar the local Salafist militias. Both countries are committed to Assad’s downfall but have maintained their relations with Iran. The scheming and conspiring is endless and constant, in all directions and by all sides, as can only happen in the Middle East.

Syria has earned Iran’s loyal support because it has continued through thick and thin to be a conduit to Hezbollah. The Iranians have been steady suppliers of weapons, artificially low-price oil, and extensive military training for Assad’s para-militaries and even regular forces.

With the United States having done a U-turn retreat, Russia and Iran appear strong enough to keep Assad in office and with authority over more of Syria than anyone else. In general, Assad benefits from greater assistance and a severely divided opposition. The attempts to unite the various Syrian opposition groups have failed, and it is all terribly confused because of murky or obscure differences and terminological subtleties, as in the withdrawal, three months ago, of the Syrian National Council from the Syrian National Coalition. Many of the more moderate forces (great caution should be used in applying that word anywhere in the Middle East), are now awaiting events, fatigued by ineffective internecine combat. It is hard to figure out who is in the Free Syrian Army, Supreme Military Council, and the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front and where each ends and the other begins. The Islamic Front, with around 50,000 part-time fighters, seems one of the stronger and more coherent entities and seeks an Islamic state with shariah law. Al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, is a more disciplined but smaller organization, and has been more careful than most about collateral damage.

The current state of affairs makes a complete mockery of George W. Bush’s crusade for democracy and the joyous ululations of the Arab Spring

In regional terms, the reduction of Syria to chaos and the quick defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, where it had been the 900-pound gorilla in the room for 60 years, makes life easier for Israel, a lightening of the horizon mitigated only by the American and international feebleness in response to the Iranian nuclear program. But the takeaway message on Syria is that in all of the circumstances, awful though the Assads were and disreputable and unacceptably motivated though their Iranian and Russian sponsors are, it is not clear that an objectively preferable alternative with a practical chance of success really exists.

This seems to be the message of much of the Arab world. There has been little democratic or civic tradition, mainly only despotic regimes relying on military and police force to prevent disintegration promoted by subsets of radical Islam. While it makes a complete mockery of most of George W. Bush’s crusade for democracy and of most of the joyous ululations in the early phases of the Arab Spring, the incapacitation of the Arab powers has reduced the level of exported political mischief in the world, and, one would hope that civil conflict on this scale will eventually cause more sophisticated standards of civic governance to become a widespread ambition.

AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC

AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMCThis Jan. 29, 2014 citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center (AMC), shows a Syrian man carrying the body of a child who was killed following a Syrian government airstrike in Aleppo, Syria.

Iran is obviously close to a nuclear capability and if it so arms itself, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt will do the same, and it will probably then be only a matter of time before at least a small nuclear weapon gets into the hands of terrorists and is detonated, when the perpetrators have a reasonable comfort level that they can maintain anonymity. Attacks by another country on Israel are unlikely, as the retaliation would be overwhelming and Israel’s anti-missile defences are so sophisticated, the extent of first-strike damage could not be assumed. What is needed is a general agreement between major countries to keep nuclear weapons out of completely irresponsible hands, as the existing Non-Proliferation Agreement is a Swiss cheese of hypocrisy; and for identification of failed states and intervention in them by international organizations to prevent them turning into breeding grounds for terrorism as Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan did.

Given Russia’s domestic terror problems, amply publicized at the recent winter Olympics, it should be possible to deal with the Kremlin on this issue, but it hasn’t been so far. Largely lost sight of are the facts that there has been some progress in the Muslim world. Iraq, Tunisia, and Libya may be better off than they were before their upheavals. Morocco, Jordan, Turkey, the Emirates, and even in an odd way, Saudi Arabia, some of the other Gulf states, and the eastern Muslims, especially Indonesia and Malaysia, have shown some aptitude for self-governance and economic growth. But for better or worse, almost none of the Muslim world seems susceptible to useful outside intervention, and none of the traditional great or even regional powers seem to have any aptitude to intervene effectively.

It does not come naturally to the West to put on the airs of good government given how most countries have been mismanaged recently, but waiting for the Muslim world even to achieve our unsatisfactory levels of responsible public policy could be a very protracted and frustrating process.

National Post

Obama signs law designed to bar Iran’s UN envoy

Posted April 19, 2014 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Obama signs law designed to bar Iran’s UN envoy | The Times of Israel.

Amid hostage crisis controversy, US leader endorses ban of any representative ‘engaged in terrorist activity’

April 19, 2014, 2:01 am
Iran's newly appointed UN ambassador Hamid Aboutalebi (screen capture: YouTube)
Iran’s newly appointed UN ambassador Hamid Aboutalebi (screen capture: YouTube)

US President Barack Obama signed into law Friday a bill designed to bar Iran’s pick for UN ambassador from US soil over his links to the 1979 American embassy hostage siege.

But Obama also issued a statement saying that he would only regard the legislation as guidance, warning it could infringe upon his executive powers as president.

The spat over Hamid Aboutalebi’s nomination has blown up amid a cautious thaw in relations between the US and Iran as Tehran’s new leadership seeks to negotiate a nuclear treaty with global powers.

The United States said earlier this week that it would not issue a visa to Aboutalebi because he was involved in the hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran.

The move followed outrage in Congress over his selection by Iran and reflected the extent to which the episode in 1979, which was seen as a humiliation for the United States, still challenges Obama’s efforts to improve relations with Tehran.

The law bars from US soil “any representative to the United Nations who the president determines has been engaged in terrorist activity against the United States or its allies and may pose a the US at to US national security interests.”

Despite signing the bill Obama made plain his reservations about its implications in other potential cases.

Citing precedent established by former president George H.W. Bush, Obama wrote that the law could restrict his powers to accept or reject the credentials of foreign ambassadors.

“Acts of espionage and terrorism against the United States and our allies are unquestionably problems of the utmost gravity,” Obama said in signing the measure.

“I share the Congress’s concern that individuals who have engaged in such activity may use the cover of diplomacy to gain access to our nation.”

But he added that he would treat the new law as an “advisory” only.

Presidents sometimes release signing statements when they believe that a new law infringes on their executive powers as defined by the US Constitution.

In 1979, dozens of American diplomats and staff were held for 444 days by radical Iranian students at the US embassy in Tehran.

The protracted standoff profoundly shocked the United States and led to the severing of all diplomatic ties between the US and Iran for the past three decades.

As the host government, the United States is generally obliged to issue visas to diplomats who serve at the United Nations.

Aboutalebi, a veteran diplomat who currently heads Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s political affairs bureau, has insisted he was not part of the hostage-taking in November 1979, when a Muslim student group seized the US embassy after the overthrow of the pro-Western shah.

He has acknowledged he served a limited role as a translator for the students who took the Americans.

Off Topic: Freed terrorist: Israel interfered with my stamp-collecting

Posted April 18, 2014 by danmillerinpanama
Categories: Uncategorized

Freed terrorist: Israel interfered with my stamp-collecting, Times of Israel, Lazar Berman, April 18, 2014

(As the “peace process” draws to a close due solely to Israeli intransigence, Israel’s inhumanity will continue to become increasingly obvious. Depriving Saint Mr. Rabbo of his clear right to humane arrangements for stamp collecting — for no better reason than his murder of two vile Israeli imperialists to avenge “Muhammad’s blood!” That disgusting lack of regard for human rights is simply another horrid example of Israel’s lack of proportionality in dealing with peace-loving Palestinians. It’s no wonder that the civilized world is upset with the Israeli invaders. — DM)

Issa Abd Rabbo, who murdered two hikers in 1984, complains that he couldn’t get ‘special albums’ in prison

RabboIssa Abd Rabbo speaks about the murder he committed during an interview on Ma’an TV (Photo courtesy: Palestinian Media Watch)

Palestinians have long accused Israel of a range of human rights violations. But recently freed Palestinian terrorist Issa Abd Rabbo came up with a new one — infringing on his philatelic rights while he was incarcerated, and thus keeping him from attaining high quality stamps and “special albums.

Abd Rabbo was released from an Israeli prison in October 2013 as part of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He was serving two life sentences for murdering two Israelis, Ron Levi and Revital Seri, as they were hiking south of Jerusalem in 1984.

Abd Rabbo happened upon the two university students as they rested under a pine tree. He tied them up at gunpoint, covered their heads with bags and fatally shot them both.

According to a Palestinian Media Watch translation Friday, Abd Rabbo told Al Hayat al Jadida, a PA daily newspaper,  in an April 8 interview, ‘I’m proud of the stamps I collected in prison, but it was difficult for me to pursue [my] hobby in prison, because there were many restrictions, few letters arrived, and the quality of the stamps. Prison also affects our hobbies, and I had no special albums to put the stamps in properly, so I put them in an envelope — the same one that left prison with me.’”

“I have resumed my hobby of stamp collecting with enthusiasm, to make up for what I lost during my time in prison…” Abd Rabbo continued.

“I asked each prisoner to save the envelope for me so I could cut out the stamp or stamps attached to it. During my long time in prison, I collected 100 stamps, which accompanied me whenever I moved between nearly all of the occupation’s prisons…”

Abd Rabbo and other released murderers were welcomed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas  as “heroes.”

In a January 9 interview with Palestinian Ma’an news agency, Abd Rabbo calmly recounted the murder of the two Israelis.

“There was supposed to be a military operation shooting at a bus transporting Israeli soldiers…,” he remembered. “I was surprised when on my way to the area, I waited, waited and waited and the bus didn’t come. I was forced to carry out an operation on my own, an improvisation, I took it upon myself. An Israeli car approached, with two in it. I said, here’s a chance and I don’t want to return empty-handed.”

They left the car… and walked towards the valley, and sat down under a pine tree. I went down to them. Of course I was masked and was carrying a rifle. He asked me: ‘Are you a guard here?’ I told him: ‘No, I’m in my home.’ I told him: ‘You are not allowed here. This is our land and our country. You stole it and occupied our land and I’m going to act against you.’”

“They were surprised by what I told them. I tied them up of course and then sentenced them to death by shooting, in the name of the revolution. I shot them, one bullet each, and went [hiding] in the mountains… I went to my aunt and told her: ‘We have avenged Muhammad’s blood.’”

I told her: ‘Instead of one, we got two.’ She cried out in joy.”

 


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