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Terrorism & Security

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Lakhdar Brahimi, joint special representative for Syria, arrives at closed door consultations regarding the situation in Syria at the Security Council at United Nations headquarters Monday, Sept. 24. (David Karp/AP)

UN envoy to Syria: Assad thinks he can turn back the clock (+video)

By Staff writer / 09.25.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

As the United Nations General Assembly Debate kicks off in New York today, the 18-month-old protracted conflict in Syria is expected to take center stage, particularly after calls by the UN envoy to Syria for the international community to change its approach to the civil war.

“The situation in Syria is dire and getting worse by the day,” Lakhdar Brahimi said after his first report to the Security Council as UN envoy yesterday, according to The New York Times. Mr. Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, took over for Kofi Annan as UN envoy to Syria three weeks ago.

“There is a stalemate; there is no prospect today or tomorrow to move forward,” Brahimi said, noting that now that he’s learned more about what is happening inside Syria, he hopes “we will find an opening in the not too distant future.” According to the Times, Brahimi found that President Bashar al-Assad hoped to return to "the old Syria" rather than move toward marked political change:

“I refuse to believe that reasonable people do not see that you cannot go backward, that you cannot go back to the Syria of the past,” Mr. Brahimi said at the news conference. “I told everybody in Damascus and elsewhere that reform is not enough anymore, what is needed is change.”

Still, he stressed that he did not have a specific new plan, but was relying on the never-implemented six-point peace plan, basically a cease-fire, first proposed by Mr. Annan, as well as a communiqué calling for a political transition that many nations, including Syria’s staunch supporters Russia and China, signed off on in June.

In the latest reports from Syria, several bombs were detonated by rebel forces inside a school held by the Army today, injuring at least seven people, according to the Associated Press.

Rebels have increasingly targeted security sites and other symbols of the regime’s power, including a bombing that killed four senior-level government officials in July, reports the AP. Today, the rebels expected high casualties after the bombing, but were unable to confirm reports of deaths, Reuters reports.

“There were several officers present, and we are hoping they will be part of a large number of killed in this operation,” Abu Moaz, a leader of Ansar al-Islam, one of the rebel groups attempting to overthrow President Assad in Syria, told Reuters.

At least 60 people, including 27 civilians, 22 soldiers, and 11 rebels, were killed in the violence in Syria yesterday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In addition to high death tolls – the UN estimates more than 20,000 people have been killed in the conflict thus far – Brahimi noted in his report to the Security Council yesterday an impending threat of food insecurity after a bad harvest in Syria this year, the “medieval” torture enacted on detainees, and damage to all but 200 of the 2,200 schools in the country, according to Agence France-Presse.

The impact that the civil war has had on children is a big concern as well. The Syrian Observatory on Human Rights estimates some 2,000 kids have been killed in the conflict.

British-based charity Save the Children launched a story-telling project today highlighting how the conflict has uniquely affected the youngest echelons of Syrian society. The CEO of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth, wrote an opinion in the Telegraph today noting:

Our teams on the ground, working with refugees who have fled the horror of war, hear stories of children who have seen loved ones killed in front of them, of children being used as human shields, of instances of torture where children have been hung from the ceiling and beaten, of schools being targeted, and in one case, of a six year old who was tortured and denied food and water until he died.

Their experiences confirm Syria’s war is proving devastating for children.

Some blame the ongoing violence on the international community’s inability to come together on a resolution.

"Children should be going back to school, but instead they are suffering extreme violence," said Abdel Rahman from the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights, who also noted children are being traumatized by the violence. "This would not be possible were the international community not silenced by its paralysis.”

Some 120 heads of state are gathering in New York for the UN General Assembly, and although questions about Syria have caused numerous stalemates in the past – Russia and China have vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions – many hope today’s debate will provide an opportunity for the emergence of new ideas on drawing down the conflict. 

A fisherman raises a Taiwanese national flag as several dozen fishing boats set out from the Suao harbor, northeastern Taiwan, to the disputed islands in the East China Sea, Monday, Sept. 24, 2012. The islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan, and have been a key part of simmering regional tensions over rival territorial claims. (Wally Santana/AP)

As China and Japan set meeting to ease island dispute, Taiwan steps into fray

By Staff writer / 09.24.12

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Chinese and Japanese officials are set to meet to discuss their nations' impasse over a disputed island cluster tomorrow, as Chinese ships patrol the area in an attempt to reinforce Beijing's claim to the islands. But a new party looks set to step in with its own claim to the islands: Taiwan.

Japanese Vice-Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai will head to China for two days of talks over the disputed islands, known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and the Diaoyu islands in China, reports the BBC. Hong Kong's RTHK English news adds that Mr. Chikao is expected to meet with Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhang Zhijun tomorrow.

The BBC reports that news of the diplomatic meeting comes amid the Chinese vessels' ongoing sail-bys in the area, the latest being a pair of "marine surveillance ships" making a "rights defense" patrol, according to China's State Oceanic Administration. Japanese officials also said a Chinese fishing vessel sailed through the area. Japan lodged a protest over the vessels' visit, with a government spokesman promising that "if they enter our territorial waters, we will raise objections at the highest level." At present, no Chinese vessels are reported in the vicinity of the islands.

The Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, reports that the island dispute also led to the postponement of a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan. The celebration was set to take place on Sept. 27 in Beijing, but a senior official of the China-Japan Friendship Association, a Communist Party organization, told Japanese officials that the decision to postpone was "based on the current condition of the Japan-China relations."

But even as China and Japan try to resolve their dispute, a Taiwanese group is pushing ahead with its own claims to the islands, which are northeast of Taiwan.

Reuters reports that a Taiwanese flotilla of up to 100 fishing vessels, escorted by 10 Taiwan Coast Guard vessels are set to arrive at the disputed islands on Monday. The fleet, "sporting banners and large Taiwan flags," plans to sail around the islands to assert Taiwan's right to fish in the area. Reuters adds that the fishing group organizing the fleet did not rule out trying to land on the islands.

The BBC adds that hundreds of Taiwanese from right-wing parties protested in Taipei on Sunday, calling for a boycott of Japanese goods. Some called for cooperation with the mainland to resolve the dispute, even despite the long tension between China and Taiwan over Taiwan's political status. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province.

The Asahi Shimbun's Tomoyoshi Isogawa, the former chief of the paper's Chinese General Bureau, writes in a commentary that at root, the problem between Japan and China is the two countries' "inability to understand each other." Citing a recent Asahi Shimbun survey taken before the Japanese government's purchase of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, he writes:

The only way to maintain stability in bilateral relations is to promote mutual understanding and heighten a sense of trust toward one another. However, the survey results show that this will be extremely difficult to do. ...

The gap in perception is a potential factor for friction that has the possibility to inflame passions anew.

In addition, a considerable number of Chinese respondents regard Japan as an authoritarian country. That sentiment is strong even among young people, who get much of their information on world affairs from the Internet. This is surprising.

The distorted impression of Japan seems to be directly related to the patriotic style of education that took hold of China in the 1990s.

ZDNet notes that the impasse over the islands has produced problems outside the diplomatic sphere, specifically with mapmakers like Apple, which just released a proprietary Maps app for iOS6.  ZDNet and blog "The Amazing iOS6 Maps" write that as a result, Apple has offered a novel, if impractical, solution to the territorial dispute: Duplicate the islands.  The Apple application shows two sets of islands located next to each other, one of which it identifies as the Diaoyu islands, the other as the Senkaku islands.

Protesters shout slogans as they march towards the US embassy during an anti-America rally to mark the 'Day of Love' in Islamabad, Pakistan, September 21. Pakistan has declared Friday a 'Day of Love for the Prophet Muhammad.' (Mian Khursheed/Reuters)

Sweeping Pakistan: Wave of violent protests fueled by anti-Islam film (+video)

By Staff writer / 09.21.12

With anger still simmering over the anti-Islam YouTube video from the film "Innocence of Muslims," and stoked by cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that ran in a French magazine this week, authorities worldwide braced for another day of protests.

Pakistan was particularly on alert, unsure what the result of declaring a national holiday to honor the prophet would be.

Governments worldwide took steps to mitigate the fallout of expected protests: Tunisian authorities used their emergency powers to ban all demonstrations today, the German Interior Ministry postponed the launch of a government-sponsored anti-radical Islam campaign, and France closed embassies and other French institutions in at least 20 other countries for the day, according to The New York Times. The US closed diplomatic missions in Indonesia because of demonstrations Friday, though no violence had been reported according to the Associated Press and CNN

Haaretz reports that Egypt's grand mufti, the country's highest Islamic legal authority, appealed to Egyptians to "follow [the prophet's] example of enduring insults without retaliating." The top leader of France's Muslim community also called on French Muslims to forgo protesting the cartoons published in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, warning that a protest, even a peaceful one, could be "hijacked." 

Meanwhile, France banned any protests over the cartoons today, Reuters reports.

In Pakistan, authorities shut down cellphone service coverage in several major cities, blocked road access to US diplomatic posts, and closed down gas stations and exits from Islamabad after Friday prayers, according to The New York Times, Bloomberg, and The Washington Post. The foreign ministry summoned US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Richard Hoagland today to demand that the US government remove the video from YouTube.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar defended the government's decision to proclaim the national holiday, deemed a "day of Love for the prophet," saying that making it official would encourage peaceful protest, Associated Press reports. "We are very confident this will lessen the violence," she said, although she acknowledged, "There will always be elements that will try to take advantage of these things." Indeed, at least three people have been killed following the protests there. 

The Washington Post reports two movie theaters were burned down in Peshawar, close the the Afghan border and a tollbooth and cars were torched near Islamabad and Rawalpindi as thousands turned out to protest across the country. 

The AP reports that the US is spending $70,000 to air a television ad in Pakistan that features both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton denouncing the video in a bid to tamp down the anger still boiling more than a week after the initial protests.

The State Department said Thursday the embassy had compiled brief clips of Obama and Clinton rejecting the contents of the movie and extolling American tolerance for all religions into a 30-second public service announcement that is running on seven Pakistani networks. Obama and Clinton's comments, which are from previous public events in Washington, are in English but subtitled in Urdu, the main Pakistani language.

Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the aim was to get the messages to the widest possible audience in Pakistan, where tens of thousands of protestors angry about the film tried to reach the U.S. embassy before being turned back by Pakistani police. She said embassy staffers had decided the ads were the best way to spread the word. The seven networks have a potential audience of 90 million people, she added.

Ms. Nuland said it was common practice for the US to buy ad time in Pakistan. The US Embassy in Islamabad also distributed an e-mail with a link to a video showing ordinary Americans denouncing the video.

Afghan university students burn a US flag in Surkhrod district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Sept 19, 2012. (Rahmat Gul/AP)

Street reaction to Charlie Hebdo cartoons muted, so far (+video)

By Staff writer / 09.20.12

A day after a French magazine posted cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, public reaction in the Muslim world has so far been relatively muted, with isolated protests taking place in Iran and Afghanistan. But French agencies remain on high alert in anticipation of larger protests tomorrow.

In Kabul, Afghanistan, several hundred people took to the street today to protest the cartoons published yesterday by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the anti-Islam film "Innocence of Muslims," Agence France-Presse reports. According to AFP photographers in Kabul, a group of 300 students in a western neighborhood of the city chanted condemnations of the US and France. A second protest of hundreds gathered nearby, chanting "death to America."

Iran also saw modest protests against the cartoons. Reuters reports that about 100 students demonstrated in front of the French embassy in Tehran today shouting "Death to France, death to America," according to Iran's Fars news agency. Reuters notes that security forces remained in tight control of the event.

Many in the West worry that Charlie Hebdo's publication of the cartoons of Muhammad will only serve to stir further anger in the Muslim world, which has already seen protests against "Innocence of Muslims." The Monitor reported yesterday that the French government ordered enhanced security for its facilities abroad. France also announced that it will close its embassies, consulates, cultural centers, and schools in two dozen countries tomorrow. Friday is a day of prayer in most Muslim countries, and is when major protests tend to be held.

Muslim response to the cartoons in France has also been modest. The Jerusalem Post reports that the cartoons have been condemned by religious leaders within the country, though there have not yet been reports of violence directly connected to the cartoons.

During a news conference, Mufti Dalil Boubaqueur, rector of the Paris Mosque, described the publication of the cartoons as “dangerous” and “irresponsible.” The caricatures, he said, repeated “the same stupid things, the same calumnies, the same ignominies. It seems me to be a psychotic syndrome.”

[Richard Prasquier, president of French Jewish umbrella-group CRIF,] denounced the cartoons on his group’s website.

“To publish such a cartoon today in ‘the name of freedom’ is a form of irresponsible arrogance,” he wrote.

Nevertheless, Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-rightwing National Front Party, defended the weekly’s right to publish the cartoons in the name of freedom of expression. She went on to say during an interview on the France 2 channel that for the government to step in would be “anti-republican.”

The Jerusalem Post does note that soon after the cartoons' publication, an explosive was thrown into a Jewish kosher grocery on the outskirts of Paris, injuring one person. But BBC News reports that French officials say it is too soon to tell whether the incident had anything to do with the cartoons.

The BBC also writes that a little-known organization, the Syrian Freedom Association, lodged a legal complaint against Charlie Hebdo, accusing the magazine of "inciting hatred."

It accuses Charlie Hebdo of "throwing oil on the fire by disseminating a cartoon against the Prophet Muhammad".

While the complaint refers to "a" cartoon, there are several in the latest issue of the magazine.

Charlie Hebdo is accused of "publicly provoking discrimination, hatred or violence of an ethnic, racial or religious kind".

The BBC adds that the association "was registered earlier this year in France but appears to be little-known among Syrian expatriates."

An aerial photo shows the Chinese marine surveillance ship Haijian No. 51 (l.) cruising as a Japan Coast Guard ship Ishigaki sails near Uotsuri island, one of the disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea, September 14. (Kyodo/Reuters)

Concerns mount as Japan, China island dispute shows no sign of easing (+video)

By Staff writer / 09.19.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Tensions are mounting over the disputed islands in the East China Sea, just one day after the anniversary of Japan’s 1931 occupation of China. Twelve Chinese vessels reportedly arrived in the waters around the islands today, and some fear there is potential of pushing rhetoric to the next level between China and Japan, which have two of the best-equipped militaries in the region.

On Sunday, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned that the territorial dispute could lead to a “violent conflict.” In comments made on his way to a weeklong trip to the Asia-Pacific region, he told reporters:

I am concerned that when these countries engage in provocations of one kind or another over these various islands, that it raises the possibility that a misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence, and could result in conflict.

The Chinese vessels – a combination of fishing patrol boats and surveillance ships – were reportedly sent to the Diaoyu islands, as the Chinese refer to the territory, or Senkaku, as they are known in Japan, in order to “conduct patrol and law enforcement,” reports China’s state media outlet, the People’s Daily. The first boats began to arrive yesterday afternoon. “This is the largest marine patrol in China’s history,” the paper wrote.

This follows a rise in anti-Japanese protests, which have spread to close to 100 Chinese cities, according to The Christian Science Monitor. But the Japanese government has thus far been cautious in how it has dealt with the dispute, in part perhaps because of proximity of the flareup to the Sept. 18 anniversary of Japan’s invasion and occupation of Manchuria, something that spurs protests annually, island disputes aside.

In an opinion piece, Bloomberg View columnist William Pesek writes that the tiny islets that are in dispute don't appear to be worthy of an international incident. But, he argues, this flareup between China and Japan feels different than past face-offs, like the sweeping 2005 protests over Japanese school textbooks downplaying Japan's role in World War II.

“The Japanese call them the Senkaku Islands, the Chinese refer to them as Diaoyu. Let me suggest a more appropriate name: Goat Islands. Goats are all you will find on the cluster of uninhabited rocks over which Japanese and Chinese seem ready to go to war,” writes Mr. Pesek.

He continues:

Diplomats in Tokyo and Beijing … are blaming one another over a mushrooming international crisis that has U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta worried about a military “blowup,” the last thing the world needs right now.

That isn’t as hyperbolic as it might sound. It is easy to envision a couple of Japanese businessmen being dragged from their corporate offices in Shanghai and beaten, or even killed, by an angry mob. Things could get out of hand very quickly, which explains why Panasonic Corp. (6752) and Canon Inc. are shutting Chinese plants. That goes, too, for naval ships near the disputed islands. Miscalculations, collisions and gunfire that lead to broader armed conflict aren’t hard to imagine. 

Japan and China should end this foolish row now.

Pesek describes the “spike in tensions” as a way to deflect attention from domestic politics, and notes that this latest clash puts a trade relationship of more than $340 billion between China and Japan at risk.

China has faced a succession of political embarrassments this year, including the Bo Xilai scandal and bad economic news.

But nationalism in both China and Japan has not helped the issue, with the Chinese government reportedly organizing and encouraging protests at home. An article by the Globe and Mail yesterday describes people patiently waiting their turn to protest in front of the Japanese Embassy in Beijing as though they were “waiting to go on a carnival ride”:

“Declare war on Japan!” some yelled in fury over the island dispute that continues to escalate. “Japan! Apologize!” others screamed, their anger based in unaddressed grievances from the Second World War, top of mind on the anniversary of Japan’s 1931 invasion of Manchuria. A line of Riot police walked in front of and behind each group of 100, preventing them from ever forming a mass that couldn’t easily be controlled.

It was a day of orchestrated and, so far, symbolic confrontation in China and at sea.

And others argue that Japan did not help stamp out tensions when it purchased the islands from a private owner, something China’s apparent leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping called a farce today.

"Japan should rein in its behavior and stop any words and acts that undermine China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Mr. Xi said in a meeting with visiting Defense Secretary Panetta today, according to Xinhua news agency

The Wall Street Journal warns that it is a mistake to underestimate the power of nationalism in China.

As scholar Guo Yingjie has written, modern China harbors two strains of nationalism. The cultural variety emphasizes the preservation of traditions and values that are seen as the essence of being Chinese. The political variety focuses on the creation of a strong state capable of defending its sovereignty, and sees traditional culture as a drag on development.

The clash between these two visions of China has created an identity crisis, Mr. Guo believes, as well as a love-hate relationship with foreign cultures.… So far China has not sought to overturn the international status quo as the Soviet Union did, but this new super-nationalism could change that.

Ultimately, China will pay a price for putting its nationalist impulses ahead of its national interest in cultivating foreign trade and investment and acquiring a reputation as a stable, rational and trustworthy power. The question is, how high will the price have to go—and who else will have to share in paying it—if Chinese leaders don't put their worst impulses in check.

Residents walk near an area damaged after a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fired missiles in Kansfra, near Idlib, Sept. 18. (Courtesy of Shaam News Network/Reuters)

UN: Syrian regime, rebels both increasing attacks on civilians (+video)

By Staff writer / 09.18.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

As the Syrian conflict spilled into neighboring Lebanon yesterday, the United Nations released a report indicating both the Syrian Army and rebel forces had increased attacks against civilians – which, if proved, would be war crimes under international law.

UN investigators announced they have a “formidable and extraordinary body of evidence” of human rights abuses committed by both sides of the conflict in Syria, and urged the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.

“Gross human rights violations have grown in number, in pace, and in scale,” Paulo Pinheiro, who led the UN commission of inquiry into human rights abuses in Syria, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday. “There is no statue of limitations on these crimes.”

The United Nations estimates that over the past 18 months of conflict in Syria, more than 19,000 people – mostly civilians – have been killed. In addition, an estimated 1.2 million are now internally displaced, and close to a quarter million have fled the country.

Mr. Pinheiro, whose team conducted more than 1,100 interviews to put together their report, noted the conflict has spilled into neighboring countries. This includes both via humanitarian ramifications – large waves of refugees seeking safety, food, water, and shelter – and through overflow of actual fighting. On Monday, four missiles were reportedly fired by Syrian jets, which struck a remote area on the Lebanese side of the border, reports The Associated Press.

The Syrian forces were believed to be chasing rebels in the area, which has been the site of clashes in the past between opposition fighters battling Syrian troops just on the other side of the frontier. Lebanese armed forces have in the past detained people in the region for trying to smuggle weapons into Syria from Lebanon.

Arsal is a predominantly Sunni Muslim town, like the majority of Syria's opposition that is trying to oust President Bashar Assad from power. Assad belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Syrian shells have hit Lebanese territory in the past but the air raid appears to be the most serious violation. Several Lebanese, including a journalist, have been killed and dozens wounded by fire coming from the Syrian side.

Monday also saw attacks on rebel-held areas of Aleppo and Damascus, reports AP. Pinheiro urged the international community to deploy renewed efforts to help resolve the conflict and end the ongoing violence in Syria.

Yesterday also marked the first meeting of a newly formed group of four Mideast “heavyweights” tasked with finding an end to Syria’s conflict, reports a second AP story. The group consisted of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt – all supporters of Syria’s rebels – as well as Iran, the staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Nobody should expect from one meeting an immediate action plan which we agree upon and could be presented to others,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who added that the “regional ownership” of the Syrian crisis was the most important aspect of the gathering.

Iran recently acknowledged its direct role in aiding Mr. Assad’s army, and Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s foreign minister, said yesterday that “the solution in Syria should be a Syrian solution,” not “imposed from the outside,” reports AP. This stance could make any regional agreement challenging.

The Turkish foreign minister focused more on civilians, saying the ultimate goal should be “a strong Syria” based on the “legitimate rights and demands of the people.”

Yesterday’s UN report comes almost one year after the US and European Union implemented sanctions on Syria in an effort to place non-military pressure on the violent conflict there. Though the sanctions have inflicted economic pain, it may not have reached the intended ranks, reports USA Today.

In August 2011, President Obama announced new sanctions against companies and figures in the Assad regime that barred U.S. citizens and firms from dealing with them. The sanctions were announced the same week that the European Union imposed an embargo of Syrian oil.

Syria's Central Bureau of Statistics revealed last month that consumer prices rose 36% in June from a year earlier amid sanctions on more than 100 individuals and entities. The cost of electricity and gas increased 32%.

But the Assad family, often referred to in the country as a "mafia," has more than 40 years in power established control over much of Syria's domestic corporations and large businesses that are relatively unaffected by sanctions.

Besides controlling most of Syria's national wealth, which runs into hundreds of billions of dollars, the family's personal assets could equal more than $1 billion, [Iain Willis, director of research at Alaco, a business intelligence consultant in London] says.

Pinheiro noted that the combination of economic sanction and unabated violence has in part worsened the situation in Syria. “The Commission maintains that sanctions result in a denial of the most basic human rights to Syrians,” he said. “Scarcity of basic human needs such as potable water food, electricity, petrol and cooking fuel is causing rampant inflation.”

A book is left on the ground at the yard of a school destroyed in a government airstrike in Tel Rifaat, on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP)

Iran's Revolutionary Guard admits to providing military assistance in Syria

By Staff writer / 09.17.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

 The commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard officially confirmed that his organization is assisting the Syrian government side of that country's civil war. The statement is the first public confirmation of Iran's involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari told a press conference in Tehran Sunday that members of the Qods Force, the Revolutionary Guards' international branch, are currently operating in Syria and Lebanon, Haaretz reports.

Members of the force are not currently providing military assistance, but give advice and "opinions" in a number of areas in which Iran has experience, Jafari said. He added that they were also assisting on the financial level.
 
If Syria were attacked militarily however, Jafari said, his troops will provide support, although he did not provide any further details.
 
Jafari told reporters, "We are proud to defend Syria, which constitutes a resistance to the Zionist entity," adding that Iran provides advice based on its expertise, while other countries support terror organizations.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and most of his top regime officials are Alawites, a religion that began as an offshoot of Shiite Islam, Iran's predominant religion. But Alawites are a minority within Syria, where the majority of the country is Sunni, including many of the rebels.

Iran's involvement in Syria has long been rumored, and Jafari's confirmation gives credence to other reports detailing Iran's role in the civil war. Iraqi fugitive Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi claimed on Sunday that Iran is ferrying supplies to Syria through Iraqi airspace, reports Lebanon's The Daily Star.

“My country is unfortunately becoming an Iranian corridor to support the autocratic regime of Bashar Assad, there is no doubt about that,” Hashemi told Reuters in an interview in Istanbul.

“It is not only the airspace. It is thousands of militia now inside Syria, supporting Bashar Assad and killing Syrian innocent people,” he said, citing reports he had received from Iraq’s Anbar province, which borders Syria, and from members of the Syrian opposition.

An adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denied Mr. Hashemi's accusation, and said that Iraq was not taking sides in the Syrian conflict. Hashemi, a vocal critic of Mr. Maliki and his government, was recently found guilty of murder in absentia and sentenced to death by an Iraqi court, and has been in de facto exile in Turkey.  Hashemi claims that the charges against him were fabricated for political advantage.

Iran is just one of several Middle Eastern nations involved in the Syrian conflict; Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been aiding the rebel forces. Agence France-Presse reports that foreign ministers from all three nations, along with Egypt, are set to meet in Cairo today to attempt to resolve the conflict in Syria, according to Iran's official IRNA news agency.

The gathering of the "contact group" on Syria – an initiative by [Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi] – follows preparatory talks a week ago in the Egyptian capital by lower-ranking officials from the four countries' foreign ministries.

[Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi] told the ISNA news agency before leaving Tehran on Monday that Iran would be setting out its "clear" position on its ally Syria.

"We are very hopeful given that four important countries of the region are gathered to discuss one of the sensitive issues of the region," he was quoted as saying.

AFP adds that United Nations envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi is scheduled to attend the meeting. Mr. Brahimi said on Saturday that the Syrian conflict was "getting worse" and that the crisis “has serious consequences on the Syrian people, the region and the entire world.” Bloomberg News reports that Brahimi spoke with several rebel leaders on Sunday, including Col. Abdel Jabbar al-Ageidi, the rebels' top military commander in Aleppo, who said that Brahimi "didn’t have any solutions to offer."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borissov, not seen, in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Sept. 11. On Sunday interviews with Netanyahu will air on NBC and CNN. He will argue the US should establish clear restrictions on Iran's nuclear program. (Gali Tibbon/AP)

Iran nuclear threat: Netanyahu goes to the people - the American people, that is

By Staff writer / 09.16.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking his case for stronger action against Iran straight to the American people, after facing stiff opposition from the Obama administration.

“Iran is guided by a leadership with an unbelievable fanaticism,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press. “It’s the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today. You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons?”

Mr. Netanyahu’s interviews with NBC and CNN, airing this morning, coincide with a report that Israeli officials have been trying in vain for months to convince their US counterparts of an increasing radicalization across the Middle East.

Those trends, Israel reportedly warned, concern not only Israel but also US interests in the region, according to an article in Israel’s left-leaning Haaretz newspaper.

"The Americans were constantly trying to supply explanations and excuses for events in the post-revolution Arab states, and simply ignored the problems," a senior Foreign Ministry official is quoted as saying. "Only now, after what happened to their embassies, the Americans are beginning to understand the situation.”

Netanyahu reaffirmed the strength of the US-Israel alliance in a far-ranging interview with the Jerusalem Post published today. But he said that Israel’s location in a rough neighborhood makes it more sensitive to regional security threats than the US. Speaking specifically about the threat from Iran, he said Israel has a “duty, responsibility, and a right to sound the alarm.”

Over the weekend, Iran and its allies made a series of threatening statements toward both the US and Israel.

On Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated his conviction that the "Zionists" would disappear, while a military adviser to Iran’s supreme leader threatened retaliation in the event of an Israeli strike, according to Reuters.

"The boldness and foolishness of Israeli officials in threatening the Islamic Republic, have put Israeli citizens one step away from the cemetery," said Yahya Rahim-Safavi. "If, one day, the Israeli regime takes action against us, resistance groups, especially Hezbollah ... will respond more easily."

The following day, Iran's Revolutionary Guards Deputy Commander Hussein Salami implied broader action, including against the United States, the Iranian Students' News Agency reported.

"In case of any act of aggression against Iran, we will take war inside the enemies' borders and will defeat them heavily," said Mr. Salami of the Revolutionary Guards, echoing a recent threat from Iranian proxy Hezbollah that it would retaliate against US targets in the Middle East in the event of an Israeli strike.

After a flurry of Israeli threats to strike Iran imminently, the rhetoric has quieted somewhat. A top aide to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who has reportedly cooled to the idea of a unilateral strike, said this weekend that an attack would be unlikely during the Jewish High Holidays, which begin today and run for three weeks.

But Netanyahu, by most reports, remains genuinely anxious about the Iran nuclear program.

They’re in the red zone,” Netanyahu said in an interview on NBC News “Meet the Press,” according to Bloomberg. “You know, they’re in the last 20 yards. And you can’t let them cross that goal line. You can’t let them score a touchdown.”

In the same interview, he said a policy of containment such as the US had with the Soviet Union was unfeasible because Iran's leadership is different.  

"I think Iran is very different, they put their zealotry over their survival – they have suicide bombers all over the place," he said. "I wouldn’t rely on their rationality."

Netanyahu’s interviews today appear to be part of a push to get the US to agree to “red lines” for Iran.

As Israelis prepare to celebrate the Jewish new year tomorrow, the traditional prayers include an admission of guilt. When Netanyahu was asked by the Jerusalem Post about what he needs to ask forgiveness for, he said that on the national level his main regret of the past year was that “we have not yet stopped Iran.”

“We have done a lot, but we have not yet achieved that goal,” said the prime minister. “When you interview me next year, I hope I can give you a different answer.”

Yemeni protesters climb the gate of the U.S. Embassy during a protest about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad, in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. Dozens of protesters gather in front of the US Embassy in Sanaa to protest against the American film "The Innocence of Muslims" deemed blasphemous and Islamophobic. (Hani Mohammed/AP)

Anti-film protesters target US embassy in Yemen as Egypt protests continue (+video)

By Staff writer / 09.13.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Rioting against a US-produced anti-Islam film spread to Yemen and continued in Egypt, as protesters attacked the US embassy in Sanaa and demonstrated outside the embassy in Cairo.

Agence France-Presse reports that protesters in the Yemeni capital breached a fence of the US mission on Thursday and briefly stormed the compound, but were driven back by security forces. Haaretz reports that witnesses said there were some injuries among both demonstrators and security forces, though the embassy released a statement saying that there were no casualties, and that Yemeni government security had secured the US compound.

"Fortunately no casualties were reported from this chaotic incident. The government of Yemen will honor international obligations to ensure the safety of diplomats and will step up security presence around all foreign missions," the statement read.

Young demonstrators in Sanaa shouted "we redeem, Messenger of God" and smashed windows of the security offices outside the embassy with stones and burned cars before breaking through the main gate of the heavily fortified compound in eastern Sanaa. Others held aloft banners declaring 'Allah is Greatest'.

Protests also continued at the US embassy in Cairo, where the initial anti-film demonstrations in the Muslim world began on Tuesday. Some 200 protesters reportedly clashed with Egyptian security forces outside the embassy on Wednesday night and through Thursday morning in a series of running confrontations involving firebombs and tear gas. Ahram Online writes that most of the protesters were young and unbearded, unlike Tuesday's protesters. 

A state news agency alleged that the protesters are members of Ultras groups – bands of soccer fans with radical political ideologies – and that they tried to break into the embassy compound, though security forces drove them back. However, at least one Ultras group, The Ultras White Knights, denied being involved in any violence, though they admitted to protesting.

"Our members are not present around the US embassy now. We stress that our participation in the demonstrations was peaceful, we just wanted to send a message (to authorities)," Ultras White Knights said in a statement on their Facebook page in the midst of the clashes by dawn.

"We condemn and reject the continuation of the same repressive and unfruitful tactics used by security forces in dealing with such situations."

The White House has ordered US embassies around the world to step up security as the threat of attacks continues, and the Associated Press reports that guards and police special forces were seen carrying assault rifles outside the embassy in Manila, Philippines. Bloomberg writes that Nigeria has stepped up its security outside the foreign diplomatic buildings as well.

The AP also writes that, according to US officials, the White House has ordered two destroyers to positions off the coast of Libya. The two Tomahawk-missile-laden warships do not have a specific mission, the officials said, but will be in a position to quickly respond to incidents within the region.

US President Barack Obama (r.) meets Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations in New York in this file photo taken in September 2011. The White House denied on Tuesday that President Obama refused a request from Nentayahu to meet in the United States this month but said no meeting would take place, citing conflicts in the leaders' schedules. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Israel-US spat: A help to Iran? (+video)

By Correspondent / 09.12.12

A day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unusually caustic criticism of the US, Israel’s most important ally, tensions between the two nations have risen as the feud spilled into the media.

The Israeli leader chastised the US for not setting a "clear red line” for when it would take military action to strike Iran’s nuclear program. He added that the US had no “moral right” to stop Israel from attacking Iran’s nuclear program.

Meanwhile, the White House has denied reports that President Barack Obama turned down Mr. Netanyahu’s request for a meeting.

The row may indicate that different opinions on the immediacy of the threat posed by Iran have pushed Mr. Obama and Netanyahu apart, and the Israeli prime minister is now seeking to pressure the US by dragging the issue into the public forum as the US presidential elections near.

“[T]here is a suspicion that Netanyahu is seeking to use the US election to bounce Obama into committing to early military action against Iran or is trying to influence Jewish American votes in favour of the more hawkish Republican candidate, Mitt Romney by suggesting the president is jeopardising Israel's security,” writes the Guardian’s Chris McGreal.

This strategy may backfire, however, and work to the benefit of Iran, reports The Los Angeles Times. Despite the recent rhetoric, Israel and the US have most of the same beliefs. If diplomatic feuds keep them at odds, it may make the situation easier for Iran by weakening the alliance of those who oppose it.

“Both the US and Israel are seeing an escalatory pattern to statements from the other, and interpreting the worst to the other side's political intentions, even if there is a case to be made that both sides actually have a preference to be on the same page,” said David Makovsky, a Middle East analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in an article by The LA Times. “This is tragic and the only winner is Iran.”

Following comments in the media from Israeli officials that Obama had turned down requests for a meeting in the US during a United Nations conference later this month, Obama phoned Netanyahu last night to reassure Israel of his commitment to working together on the Iran issue, The Jerusalem Post reports.

“President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu reaffirmed that they are united in their determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” said the White House in a statement. “There was never a request for Prime Minister Netanyahu to meet with President Obama in Washington, nor was a request for a meeting ever denied."

Within Israel, some politicians are now questioning the prime minister’s conduct with Washington. In unusually sharp remarks yesterday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said his nation’s alliance with the US is too important to risk compromising in a bout of political gamesmanship.

“The United States is Israel's principal ally and despite the differences on [Iran] and the importance of keeping Israel's ability to operation independently, we must also keep in mind the strategic importance of the partnership with the United States, and refrain from hurting it,” he said in an article by YNetNews.

Other Israeli political figures have also questioned the wisdom of embracing a “red line” policy with Israel. Most recently former Israeli Defense Force Chief of Staff Dan Halutz spoke out against Netanyahu’s position during remarks in Washington DC this week, reports Haaretz.

I don’t believe in red line policies, because when you’re stating something at time one, it might not be the same at time two,” he said. “When you are saying red line, you’re claiming you can draw a line based on what the other side is doing... when it comes to the decision, someone will come up with an excuse."

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Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

 
 
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