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Terrorism & Security

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borissov, not seen, in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Sept. 11. Netanyahu expressed on Tuesday his dissatisfaction with Washington's refusal to spell out what would provoke a US-led military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. (Gali Tibbon/AP)

Netanyahu criticizes US refusal to draw a 'red line' on Iran

By Staff writer / 09.11.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lambasted the Obama administration today for its continued refusal to give Iran an ultimatum, telling reporters, "Those who refuse to draw red line to Iran don't have the moral right to put a red line to Israel."

The defiant comments were a response to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement earlier this week that the US was “not setting deadlines” for attacking Iran and to US efforts to tamp down Israeli rhetoric about staging a unilateral strike on Iran's nuclear facilities in hopes of halting – or, more realistically, delaying – nuclear development that Israeli leaders believe is intended for a bomb.

"The world is telling Israel to wait on Iran because there is time and I ask, 'Wait for what? Wait for when?'," Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid quoted Mr. Netanyahu as saying, tweeting some of the prime minister's comments. "Clearly, diplomacy and sanctions didn't work. Every day that passes brings Iran closer to a nuclear bomb and that's a fact."

Iran insists that its nuclear work is for civilian purposes only.

The mood between the US and Israel oscillates quickly and often between cooperative and combative because of the gulf between their opinions on the best course of action on Iran. As White House spokesman Jay Carney said yesterday, according to Israel's Ynet News, the US believes there is still a window of time for sanctions and diplomatic efforts, but Israel believes both tactics have failed and it cannot afford to give either more time. 

"The president has said, again and again, unequivocally, that we will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon," State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday in Washington, according to The Wall Street Journal. "So we are absolutely firm about the president's commitment here, but it is not useful to be parsing it, to be setting deadlines one way or the other, red lines."

Tension between the Netanyahu and Obama administrations seemed to be abating last week as Israel eased up on its hawkish rhetoric, giving the US space to pressure Iran itself, but the comments by Ms. Clinton and other US officials this week, followed by Netanyahu's today, indicate they are ratcheting up again, Ynet News reports.

Netanyahu told visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle that his suggested red line was uranium enrichment beyond 20 percent because that exceeds civilian energy refinement. Netanyahu told Mr. Westerwelle that it would take Iran only six weeks to reach weapons capability from that point, although independent analysts largely disagree, saying it would take at least several months, if not more than a year, Reuters reports. 

The Los Angeles Times cast the demand for a red line from the US as Netanyahu looking for a way to "back down gracefully" from his recent threats to attack.

Over the weekend, government insiders began hinting to Israeli news media that the chances of an attack this year were diminishing and that Defense Minister Ehud Barak — who was once seen as a staunch proponent of a military operation — had changed his mind, leaving Netanyahu more isolated.

Calls for the Obama administration to set red lines could give Netanyahu the political cover he may need if Israel decides to refrain from an attack, despite its persistent claims that sanctions are not working and that Iran's nuclear program is accelerating.

Iraq's Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi speaks to the media during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, Sept. 10, 2012. Iraq's fugitive Sunni vice president on Monday declared his "absolute innocence" and rejected the terror trial that sentenced him to death on charges of masterminding the murder of rivals as a politically motivated sham. (Burhan Ozbilici/AP)

Rejecting death sentence, Iraqi VP Hashemi calls for Iraqis to resist (+video)

By Staff writer / 09.10.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi today rejected the death sentence meted against him yesterday by an Iraqi court, calling the verdict a political vendetta by the prime minister's office.

Mr. Hashemi, who, along with his son-in-law Ahmed Qahtan, was sentenced to hang for allegedly organizing the murders of a lawyer and a Shiite security official, said the ruling was the result of a political campaign by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to eliminate his rivals and consolidate dictatorial power, reports the Associated Press.

“I totally reject and will never recognize” the verdict, Hashemi told reporters in the Turkish capital of Ankara, where he is currently living. “I consider the verdict a medal on my chest.”

“The death sentence is a price I have to pay due to love to my country and my loyalty to my people,” he added. “I reiterate that I’m innocent, and am ready to stand before a fair judicial system and not a corrupt one that is under al-Maliki’s influence.”

Reuters reports that Hashemi also called upon his countrymen to resist Mr. Maliki.  "My people, don't give Maliki and those who stand behind him the chance. They want to make this a sectarian strife. Oppose his conspiracies and provocation calmly... People should not stay silent on the unprecedented oppression in Iraq."

The announcement of Hashemi's sentence coincided with the worst day of violence in Iraq since July, as scores of people were killed and hundreds injured in a series of bombings across the country, the worst taking place in the capital city of Baghdad.  AP notes that "It's unlikely that the attacks in 13 cities were all timed to coincide with the afternoon verdict," but "taken together, the violence and verdict could energize Sunni insurgents bent on returning Iraq to the brink of civil war by targeting Shiites and undermining the government."

Hashemi was a long-standing critic of the Maliki administration even before murder charges were laid against him in December, within a week of the US military's departure from Iraq. In an extensive interview with the Monitor's Dan Murphy published yesterday, Hashemi warned that Maliki's government is a worse human rights offender than Saddam Hussein's.

"I think our situation in terms of human rights, is getting much worse than it used to be during Saddam Hussein’s regime," says Hashemi. "The Maliki government took innocent people and after 24 to 48 hours bodies were delivered to their families. 'These were not the man we were looking for and we’re sorry about your son,' is all they said."

Mr. Murphy notes that Hashemi has called on the US to intervene and rein in Maliki's government, leaving Hashemi "in the strange-bedfellow's position of urging greater US involvement in Iraq's affairs after having been for years a loud and frequent critic of the US military occupation of the country."

"The American people should understand that the mission was not fulfilled, regardless of the high cost that was paid by American lives... therefore according to the framework agreement, the US should continue its mission in Iraq until there’s a real state, real institutions, and a real democracy," Hashemi said.

"Maliki is now monopolizing the ministry of the interior, of defense, of national security, of intelligence. He’s using nationalistic rhetoric but at the same time behaving in a very sectarian manner. If we are talking about democracy then how come all that happens in Iraq is considered a democracy? All under the control of one man and one party," he added.

CNN notes that the verdict is apt to further sour Iraq's relationship with Turkey, where Hashemi has been given sanctuary.  After Hashemi's sentence was announced, the Turkish foreign ministry said that he was welcome to stay in the country as long as he wished.  Ankara and Baghdad are already at odds over Syria and over the Kurdish separatist group PKK, which has launched attacks into Turkey from Iraq.

IN PICTURES: Leaving Iraq

A member of the Free Syrian Army walks near a damaged building in Aleppo on September 2. (Courtesy of Shaam News Network/Reuters)

France gives Syria's rebel-held cities aid, other Western powers may follow

By Staff writer / 09.07.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

The Syrian opposition has consolidated its hold on a swathe of territory in northern Syria, giving Western powers confidence in knowing who and where the rebels are in order to distribute funds, but the amount of aid provided so far is "laughable," a spokesman for the main Syrian opposition group has said.

France announced this week that it was providing aid and money to five rebel-held cities, mostly to supply and repair infrastructure such as water supplies and schools, so that the rebels can administer themselves, the Associated Press reports. France's allies are considering taking similar steps.

French officials say that their assistance will remain strictly nonmilitary unless there is an international agreement authorizing it.

But locals in rebel-held cities (situated in the provinces of Aleppo, Deir al-Zour, and Idlib, according to Reuters) say that the French assistance has made barely a dent in their needs and that they remain mostly self-sufficient, according to the AP. "The amounts that have been delivered are even laughable," said Ausama Monajed, spokesman for the Syrian National Council, according to a separate AP report.

"Instead of fixing water systems," said Mohammed Saeed, an Aleppo activist, "they should go and give food to 5,000 refugees stuck on the border with Turkey."

Britain and the US have also offered nonmilitary aid – $10 million from Britain, $25 million from the US – but it has been distributed carefully, in small amounts, and only after establishing ties with the recipient groups, according to AP. The hesitancy has been criticized by some humanitarian groups.

Peter Harling, of the think tank International Crisis Group, said Syria's opposition, although divided, was more than capable of handling aid. He criticized European and American diplomatic hesitancy as "a tendency to posture, to make statements as opposed to actual policy-making."

Rebels have become adept at taking out the Army's tanks, formerly one of the greatest threats to their forces, according to AP. With tanks becoming a surmountable challenge for the rebels, Assad's forces are increasingly turning to air strikes, likely to spare its infantry, which is thinning because of both casualties and defections.

"The regime knows it will be a fair fight on the ground," Riyad Hamso, a rebel fighter in Aleppo, told Reuters. 

Many rebels believe that if they could stop Army aircraft, they could declare victory in some parts of the country in a matter of days, AP reports.

In the interim, they have turned to targeting Syrian Army air bases in hopes of preventing the planes from even taking off. "We control the ground in Aleppo but the regime has the air force and controls the air," Abdul Qadir Saleh, the field commander of the Tawhid Brigade, said, according to AP. "We will solve this by destroying airports and air bases."

But the attacks on the air bases have so far been largely unsuccessful and deadly for the rebels, AP reports.

So far, every rebel assault on the air bases, which are guarded by tanks, rockets as well as the aircraft themselves, has ended in failure and often with a heavy loss of life. On Aug. 31, the same day al-Mansour's fighters attacked Kuwiras, rebels hit two air bases in neighboring Idlib province, but all ultimately foundered. He did not give any casualty figures.

Capt. Ahmed Ghazali, the head of rebel forces in Azaz, said his forces have repeatedly tried to take the Menagh helicopter field, which squats on the key road between the border and the rebel stronghold of Tel Rifaat. From there, its aircraft have hit rebels across the region.

"There is no cover around these areas and it is very exposed. We can't get close, and they use artillery and jets on us," complained Ghazali, wearing Gulf War-era U.S. surplus camouflage. "With our current means, we can't attack these places."

The rebels' drumbeat for anti-aircraft weapons is ever insistent, but so are international concerns about where those weapons could end up.

Reuters reports that a French official acknowledged the areas it is sending supplies to are still getting bombed, but said that France is confident they will remain free from government control. 

"[Supplying anti-aircraft weapons is] a subject that we are working on seriously, but which has serious and complicated implications. We aren't neglecting it," the French official said.

"It's not simple. There have been transfers of weapons which then ended up in different areas such as in the Sahel so all that means we need to work seriously, build a relationship of trust to see who is who so that then an eventual decision can be taken. It takes time."

Newly arrived Syrian refugee children are helped by Jordanian military soldiers after they crossed the border from Tal Shehab city in Syria, through the Al Yarmouk River valley, into Thnebeh town, in Ramtha, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 5. (Mohammad Hannon/AP)

Syrian troops recapture rebel-held town, cutting off refugees

By Staff writer / 09.06.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Syrian troops recaptured a rebel-held town along the Jordanian border today, cutting off a major crossing for Syrian refugees fleeing to Jordan and putting further stress on the humanitarian crisis resulting from the protracted civil war.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organization, and local activist Mohammad Abu Houran, 20 Syrian tanks and scores of soldiers attacked Tel Chehab this morning.

Nearly 2,000 refugees were in Tel Chehab when the Syrian Army attacked, Mr. Houran told The Associated Press. The territorial loss is a setback for Syrian rebels who, according to AP, claim to control more than half of the country but are facing increasing challenges, such as weapon shortages.

“Right now we have more people who want to fight than we have weapons,” Ahmad Ibrahim, a senior member of the Free Syrian Army in the town of Akhtrin, told The Christian Science Monitor's reporter Tom A. Peter this week. (See his coverage on the rebels' surplus of volunteers but shortage of weapons here.)

But the rebels aren’t the only ones losing ground: The Army’s recapturing of a refugee thoroughfare exacerbates an already difficult reality for Syrian refugees as well. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in coordination with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, has supplied food and water for an estimated 180,000 internally displaced people in Syria since mid-July. Aid agencies have been trying to boost their relief operations, Reuters reports.

Aid agencies are trying to beef up relief operations across Syria, where the ICRC says that needs have grown "exponentially" in the past few weeks due to the escalation of violence in the 17-month-old rebellion against Assad.

Clashes and continuous bombardment have cut off many civilians from basic services and life-saving supplies.

On Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Peter Maurer, the head of the ICRC, that he welcomes humanitarian operations carried out by the organization in Syria – as long as it works “independently and neutrally,” reports Syrian newspaper Day Press News.

Syrian official Ali Haidar said caution was called for in allowing in aid workers, as such organizations could be making an  "impermissible request to open doors that violate Syrian sovereignty," reports Reuters. A diplomatic source also said that "Syria has been very unwilling to grant access and independence to the ICRC once they get in."

For those displaced by the conflict, finding safety, food, and water is increasingly precarious, according to a report by the BBC.

Every family has a story to tell – stories of fear and horror, of blood and loss.

One of the men, Abu Salem, says he fled the central town of Rastan with his wife and four children four months ago after a rocket hit their house.

They travelled to Damascus and ended up renting a 50 sq m (538 sq ft) flat in one of the capital's suburbs. Then early last month, the area came under heavy bombardment from government forces.

Abu Salem says they yet again had to flee, but this time there was no place to go except a nearby public park. They spent 12 days there with many other families until some aid workers found them a place at the old house.

"The neighbours provided us with some food, but we spent 12 days without a shower," he recalls.

Abu Salem used to work in construction but – like hundreds of thousands of other Syrian men – he has not earned anything since protests against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. Like hundreds of thousands of other Syrians, he and his family have also been displaced from their homes by the ensuing conflict.

The humanitarian crisis is not contained within Syria. Refugees, like those in the town of Tel Chehab, are fleeing into neighboring countries like Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan in the thousands. More than 25,000 Syrian refugees crossed into Jordan and registered with the United Nations humanitarian agency last month alone, and there are close to 100,000 Syrians in Turkish camps today. The total number of refugees is estimated at 235,000, according to an editorial in the Los Angeles TImes.

The war has an estimated death toll of more than 23,000 people, activists say, with nearly 5,000 people killed in August, the highest monthly total since the crisis began in March last year, according to AP.

Despite these numbers, few are arguing for international military intervention in Syria. According to an editorial by the Los Angeles Times, military intervention is too risky, and the international community’s focus should remain on helping refugees and the displaced:

Dismay over the continued violence in Syria is understandable and should impel the United States, other "friends of Syria" and the United Nations to support relief measures including, if necessary, the creation of safe havens for refugees. But the Obama administration is right to stop short of either arming Syrian rebels – who, according to U.S. intelligence officials, have been infiltrated by Islamic extremists from outside the country – or engaging in direct military intervention. Advocates of military involvement exaggerate the ease with which the U.S. could shape events in Syria and underestimate the dangers.

US flag and China's flag flutter in winds at a hotel in Beijing Wednesday. Beijing told US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today it was willing to work with its neighbors to peacefully resolve the dispute with their smaller neighbors over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. (Andy Wong/AP)

South China Sea dispute: China says it will work with neighbors

By Staff writer / 09.05.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Tensions in the oil-rich South China Sea have come to a boil in the past month, with the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and China all vying for overlapping territorial claims.

Regional power China steadfastly maintains its sovereignty over a number of small islands in the region, even islands that are much closer to the smaller claimants. But in a potential sign of movement on the issue, Voice of America reports, Beijing told US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today it was willing to work with its neighbors to peacefully resolve the dispute, though showed no sign on budging on its claims.

Secretary Clinton met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Yang Jeichi today in Beijing where she noted the need for a “code of conduct” in the region in order to resolve the South China Sea dispute in a timely and diplomatic manner. China has dodged signing such a code in the past.

"Our interest is in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, freedom of navigation, and unimpeded lawful commerce. And as a friend to the countries involved, we do believe it is in everyone's interest that China and ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] engage in a diplomatic process toward the shared goal of a code of conduct,” Clinton said.

Nearly half of the world’s commercial shipping uses the South China Sea, and the US depends on it to pass military vessels. The waters are also rich in oil, natural gas, and seafood. “Despite mutual suspicion of each side’s weight on the world stage and competing political systems, the [US and China] usually cooperate because they need each other as trade partners,” reports The Christian Science Monitor.

According to The New York Times, China has resisted holding talks with ASEAN, and since Clinton’s last visit to China in May, “the Chinese have acted more boldly in maritime disputes.”

China contends it will resolve each conflicting claim through bilateral talks, and “eventually” agree to talks with ASEAN member countries through a code of conduct, according to Mr. Yang. Yang says there is ample historic evidence to prove China’s right to the islands, and that disputes will be resolved through "direct negotiation and friendly consultation.” According to Bloomberg:

"China has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters. There is plenty of historical and jurisprudence evidence of that," he said.

Yang also rejected that there was any threat to international maritime commerce from the rising tensions over the disputes, something Washington has cited for the reason that peaceful settlements of the claims are a U.S. national security interest.

"The freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea is assured," he said. "There is no issue currently in this area nor will there ever be issues in that area in the future."

Though Clinton was praised by President Hu for the import she has placed on US-Chinese ties, displayed by her visit to the country and a student visa program, her welcome was not entirely warm. Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over the presidency this fall, canceled a planned meeting with Clinton. Additionally, she was lambasted by Chinese state media, which raised suspicions over US interest in the conflict and accused the US of containment policies. The Financial Times reports:

“Sowing discord among China’s neighbours will not benefit the United States,” said the People’s Daily, the ruling Communist party’s mouthpiece, in a front-page editorial of its overseas edition. “If American foreign policy damages China’s core interests, that can only lead to China hitting back strongly.”

The blast followed a wave of similarly critical coverage in other state media, including Xinhua, the official news agency, calling the US a “sneaky troublemaker”.

According to another New York Times report, Clinton did not have high expectations of resolving major conflicts like the South China Sea or Syria going into her visit, and Chinese leadership was “in no mood to be constructive” on major foreign issues with the US, according to a senior diplomat in Beijing who spoke anonymously.

Clinton came to China from Indonesia where she pushed for ASEAN countries to “present a unified front in dealing with Beijing in attempts to ease rising tensions in the South China Sea,” according to the Associated Press. The binding code Clinton is calling for could help create a process to resolve maritime disputes without intimidation or coercion. The hope is to make progress toward this shared code by a November summit of East Asian leaders, where President Obama may be present.

What exactly would the code do? The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this summer:

The idea is that it would spell out what ships should do to avoid a clash but it wouldn't actually spell out how to resolve competing claims, according to regional news media.

So what’s the big deal behind this year’s deal – besides calming nervous people onshore and making their leaders look like saintly peacemakers?

The deal doesn't really work unless China, the one that all the others are worried about, agrees to it. But China is leaning against adding its signature. It wants to keep an upper hand in the dispute, especially with the recent US push to focus on Asia.

A recent editorial in Gulf News calls on ASEAN nations to exercise their sovereignty amid what it sees as a US-China squabble over the “economic hot spot” of the Southeast Asian region.

The US has been battling economic drought and seeks to gain a foothold in an area which is prosperous and seen as one of the fastest growing in the world. China merely wants to bulldoze its way through in a quest towards opening up more and more trading outposts all across the world. This spot, however, is a little closer to home and presents an ideal opportunity to increase its growing influence, thanks to the presence of huge gas reserves in the South China Sea.

In the light of this scenario US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s plea for Asean unity against China in dealing with territorial disputes — namely the South China Sea issue — comes across as duplicitous….

This is why the situation presents Asean countries with an opportunity to realise their true potential and function with an independent, but cautious, mindset without being influenced by either Beijing, or Washington. They must exercise their sovereignty and make the right choice without the pressure of undue influence. They should not become accomplices to an arms race.

While Clinton advocates the dispute to be resolved through collaboration, by as early as November, China is seeking individual agreements with countries with a view towards giving it more control. A disagreement between the two superpowers is on the cards, but it can be avoided if the individual nations choose to act with responsibility coupled with tact.

Clinton is halfway through her 11-day tour of the Asia-Pacific, and after she leaves China she will go on to visit East Timor and Brunei.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, Sept 2. Netanyahu is urging the international community to get tougher against Iran, saying that without a "clear red line" Tehran will not halt its nuclear program. (Baz Ratner/AP)

Netanyahu calls for US to give Iran a 'clear red line'

By Staff writer / 09.04.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

The Obama administration is stepping up measures against Iran, both to force Tehran to negotiate over its nuclear program and to mute Israeli leadership's ongoing drumbeat for a military strike against Iran.

According to a New York Times report yesterday, the US is set to hold a large-scale minesweeping naval exercise later this month in the Persian Gulf, and is accelerating efforts to complete a new radar system in Qatar that, in combination with existing radar in Turkey and Israel, would create broad antimissile coverage around and against Iran. The programs are meant to send a message to Tehran that closing the Gulf and developing nuclear weapons would be largely futile. 

The Times adds that the US is also reluctantly considering previously rejected covert action against Iran, including air strikes on power plants and other sites that could impact Iranian civilian populations, as well as a "clandestine" strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, much like the strike Israel launched against Syria in 2007.

The Times report comes a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the international community to set a "clear red line" for military action against Iran.  Bloomberg News reports that Mr. Netanyahu said that such a threat was necessary to rein in Iran.

“This is a brutal regime that is racing ahead with its nuclear program, because it doesn’t see a clear red line from the international community,” Netanyahu said today at a meeting in his Jerusalem office, according to an e-mailed statement. “The greater the resolve and the clearer the red line, the less likely we’ll have conflict.”

But while the war drumbeat in Israel, echoed in its media, has been loud in recent weeks, there are signs that it is abating.  Amos Harel writes in Haaretz today that the newspaper Israel Hayom, perceived as having close ties to Netanyahu's government, has been taking a softer stance in recent days – perhaps a sign that Netanyahu has "overplayed [his] hand."

In recent weeks, Israel Hayom has featured a barrage of worrying reports on Iran's nuclear progress and Washington's failure to halt it. But over the last few days, something interesting has happened: Last Friday, the paper instead highlighted a statement by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, that he doesn't want America to be "complicit" in an Israeli attack on Iran right now. The International Atomic Energy Agency's disturbing report on Iran's nuclear program got second billing.

On Sunday, Iran was mostly relegated to the daily's inside pages. On Monday, it returned to the headlines, but only in the form of Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz's vague statement that the IDF can act "anywhere, anytime."

In short, the paper that has been beating the war drums for weeks is now muting them.

Mr. Harel adds that "many officials now believe an attack is not as inevitable as it previously seemed."

And while a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran's nuclear program brought a brief "bout of panic" concerning an Iranian nuclear weapon, Shashank Joshi writes in a blog post for the Telegraph that the IAEA report indicated that despite increasing its uranium enrichment and installing more centrifuges, Iran has actually taken steps that put its program farther away from a "zone of immunity" from Israeli attack.

Iran is still using extremely old centrifuge designs, and – something that was missed in most reporting – has taken steps that actually put it further away from a bomb. Iran set aside over half of its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium for conversion to fuel plates used in its medical research reactor. In that form, the stuff is much harder to use for weapons purposes (and impossible to use quickly). Iran is left without enough for even one bomb. Yes, it will eventually make up this lost amount through more production – but that takes time, and its willingness to eat into this stockpile, a bargaining chip for Iran, is a positive step.

The upshot is that Iran – if it chose to do so at all – would take months, not weeks, to produce the weapons-grade uranium for a single bomb. And even if the breakout timeline did fall to weeks, this would still not eliminate the risk of getting caught by IAEA inspectors, foreign intelligence services, or both. In this sense, Iran is not about to leap into the zone of immunity.

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Dempsey warns Israel that a unilateral strike wouldn't end Iran's nuclear program

By Staff writer / 08.31.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

The top US military official reiterated Washington's opposition to a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran yesterday, saying that it would "clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran's nuclear program."

The comments by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey are only latest of months of such comments from top US officials, intended to tamp down heated rhetoric from Israeli officials about staging a unilateral strike on Iran. Gen. Dempsey himself has made similar statements in the past, although yesterday's were the firmest yet.

His comments came the same day that the International Atomic Energy Agency released its latest report on Iran's nuclear program, which stated that Iran has doubled its number of centrifuges and accelerated its nuclear fuel production – a clear sign that despite international pressure, it is moving forward with its nuclear development (although not a definitive sign that Iran has military intentions).

Speaking in London, Dempsey said that he did not know what Iran's intentions were – because intelligence does not provide such information – but that he did know that the international pressure on Iran was having an impact and an Israeli strike would cancel that progress, the Guardian reports.

"I don't want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it," he added.

The New York Times reports that the US has reminded Israeli officials repeatedly that, on its own, Israel lacks the military capability to destroy the key nuclear site at Fordow, which is underground and heavily reinforced. The US has the capability, but wants to give "diplomacy, sanctions, and sabotage" more time.

But yesterday's IAEA report "validated" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's stance that diplomacy and sanctions have failed to slow Iran's nuclear wok, and may even be forcing it to speed up, according to the Times.

But the agency’s report has also put Israel in a corner, documenting that Iran is close to crossing what Israel has long said is its red line: the capability to produce nuclear weapons in a location invulnerable to Israeli attack.

… Officials and experts here say the conclusions may force Israel to strike Iran or concede it is not prepared to act on its own.

Whether that ultimately leads to a change in strategy – or a unilateral attack – is something that even Israel’s inner circle cannot yet agree on, despite what seems to be a consensus that Iran’s program may soon be beyond the reach of Israel’s military capability.

“It leaves us at this dead end,” said a senior government official here, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is involved in the decision-making process. “The more time elapses with no change on the ground in terms of Iranian policies, the more it becomes a zero-sum game.”

Singling out the US, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said today that comments from world powers have led Iran to believe that it does not face a true risk of a military strike, Reuters reports.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters yesterday when asked about the IAEA report that the US has been firm that Iran has a limited amount of time to halt further nuclear work, Haaretz reports.

"The president has made clear frequently that he is determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Mr. Carney said. "So long as the Iranian regime refuses to comply with its international obligations, the United States, with its allies, will continue to take actions to further isolate and penalize Iran and the regime."

Dov Zakheim, a former defense department official in the Bush administration, writes in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration's only goal regarding Iran right now is "delaying anything from happening in the Middle East before Election Day."

As for the impasse with Iran, here too, the key to achieving American objectives is the credibility of American pronouncements.  There is more than Washington can do as it attempts win the trust of Israel's key decision makers on any Israeli attack…. Supplying missile defense systems is simply not enough for a nation that cannot tolerate even the most minimal probability that a nuclear weapon could penetrate those defenses.

Washington's willingness to look the other way [as other countries flout sanctions on Iran] further intensifies Israeli fears that, at the end of the day, Iran will develop a nuclear capability while America and the West wring their hands.

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Afghanistan war: More insider attacks hand Australia worst casualties since Vietnam

By Staff writer / 08.30.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Australia's military suffered its worst 24-hour period of losses since the Vietnam War after five of its soldiers were killed in Afghanistan yesterday and today, including three murdered in an apparent "green-on-blue" attack – a trend that has seen significant growth this year.

The Australian Associated Press reports that three Australians were killed and two injured yesterday when a man in an Afghan National Army uniform opened fire on members of the Australian Mentoring Task Force Five at a patrol base in the southern province of Uruzgan. Two more were killed today when the US helicopter they were riding in rolled over upon landing in Helmand Province.

"It is a terrible day for all of us and our thoughts and prayers are for all those who are touched by these incidents," Air Marshal Mark Binskin told reporters in Canberra.

The death toll is Australia's highest in a 24-hour period since August 1966, when 18 of its troops were killed and 21 wounded in the Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam.

But while drawing comparisons with Long Tan, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the losses would not dissuade Australia from seeing out its mission in Afghanistan, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

A visibly emotional Ms. Gillard pledged Australia cannot have its war aims dictated by ''even the most grievous of losses'' after the worst bloodshed for Australians in combat in decades.

"We are making progress. I can tell you that, I've seen it with my own eyes when I have visited Afghanistan,'' she said.

The Morning Herald notes that the Uruzgan attacker escaped.

"Green-on-blue" attacks – a reference to the Afghan military's green uniforms and NATO's blue uniforms – have been a growing problem for NATO forces in Afghanistan, reports Australia's News Limited Network.

According to data from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan policy institute in the US, such "from within'' attacks have already accounted for 14 percent of coalition casualties in 2012. The figure has steadily increased from 6 percent in 2011, 3 percent in 2010, 2 percent in 2009 and less than 1 percent in 2008.

The figures show there have been 55 attacks since the start of 2008, with 29 this year, and they have resulted in the deaths of 109 troops and left another 85 wounded.

Out of increasing concern about green-on-blue attacks, NATO has ordered its soldiers to carry loaded weapons at all times, reports The Washington Post.  NATO said earlier this week that a quarter of the recent attacks have been carried out by Taliban and other militant plants within Afghan security forces, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai put the blame on foreign spies attempting to sow distrust between native and Western forces.

But the main cause of such incidents may in fact be cultural misunderstandings and distrust, The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this week.  On Aug. 27, the Pentagon released the results of its investigation into the burning of several-score Qurans in Afghanistan in February, an incident that inflamed tensions between NATO and Afghan forces.

The investigation offers a sobering picture of the kind of distrust and cultural misunderstanding between US and Afghan forces that, in the case of the Quran burnings, led to deadly riots in Afghanistan. More generally, it helps to explain the growing number of so-called green-on-blue incidents, in which Afghan soldiers and police turn on their US and coalition counterparts. ...

[Gen. John Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan, last week] acknowledged – and most outside experts concur – that most of the “insider attacks” appear to be the result of growing resentments and frictions that build up as more recruits from a very conservative society are in close contact with the often young military personnel of a different culture.

The Monitor added that the US is stepping up predeployment cultural-sensitivity training to try and remedy the problem.

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Syrians, who fled their homes due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, shout slogans as they march toward the Turkish side of the border, during a protest asking the Turkish government to let them enter to their refugee camps, at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing, near the Syrian town of Azaz, Tuesday, Aug. 28. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP)

Assad says he needs more time to win war as refugees overwhelm Turkey, Jordan (+video)

By Staff writer / 08.29.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he is “fighting a battle both regionally and internationally,” and his government needs more time to defeat rebel forces.

Mr. Assad's comments, made in an interview with pro-government al-Dunya TV, coincided with a renewed government effort to regain control of rebel-held areas in northern Syria and renewed interest in the international community in creating a "safe zone" inside Syria.

BBC reports that Assad said his forces were “doing a heroic job in every sense,” and that "Everyone is worried about their country – that is normal. But [the rebels] will not be able to spread fear, they never will."

The interview was reportedly conducted from the presidential palace in Damascus – the first confirmation of Assad's location since a July bombing in the capital killed four of his senior officials.

"I say to Syrians: Destiny is in your hands, and not in the hands of others,” Assad said.

For Syrian refugees, that sentiment may be difficult to grasp. The battle for Aleppo has lasted for more than a month now, and the overall conflict has entered its 18th month. Fighting between the government and rebels has disproportionately affected civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Agence France-Presse reports that, according to the human rights group, 189 people were killed in Syria yesterday, 143 of whom were civilians.

Up to 5,000 refugees have crossed into Turkey every day over the past two weeks, and the number of Syrians fleeing the conflict for a camp in northern Jordan has doubled, reaching 10,200 over the past week, Reuters reports. The United Nations estimates that up to 200,000 Syrian refugees could end up settling in Turkey alone.

Jordan is already sheltering an estimated 150,000 Syrians, some of whom have reported “being bombed as they were trying to cross” the border, according to Voice of America.

A Turkish official told the Associated Press that one of four new camps being built in Turkey opened late yesterday, which allowed Turkish authorities to let in several thousand more Syrians who were waiting at the border.

Parts of the border were temporarily closed this week due to an unmanageable influx of refugees, Reuters reports, and refugees had to be held on the Syrian side overnight. The humanitarian crisis is only expected to grow. 

The overwhelming number of Syrians attempting to enter Turkey and Jordan has renewed international interest in creating “buffer zone” within Syria where refugees can seek haven. Turkey is expected to push for a solution at a UN meeting in New York tomorrow, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

Turkey will press for an internationally-backed solution that allows uprooted Syrians to remain safely on their side of the border not only because Turkey already has received its “threshold” of refugees, regional experts say, but also because Turkey has learned the hard way the consequences of handling a refugee crisis on one’s own.

“Turkey’s lesson from the early 1990s is that if you let a large number of refugees come in, they end up being your problem only,” says Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), referring to when Turkey accepted about a half-million Iraqi-Kurd refugees who were fleeing Saddam Hussein and his gassing of Kurdish communities.

WINEP’s Cagaptay says that in reality, Turkey has a “make-do strategy” under which it is addressing the humanitarian needs of Syrians amassed across the border in what have become undeclared safe zones….

But the makeshift response is not seen as a long-term alternative to the “international legitimacy” that Turkey wants for what are becoming safe zones inside Syria. The international community’s stamp is important not just to reassure Syrians that they are safe remaining on their side of the border, regional experts say, but as a message to Mr. Assad that world powers won’t tolerate any attacks on uprooted Syrians.

In his interview with al-Dunya, however, Assad dismissed any chance of setting up havens to shelter refugees within Syria. “Talk of buffer zones firstly is not on the table and secondly it is an unrealistic idea by hostile countries and the enemies of Syria," he said.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius acknowledged that part of setting up a buffer zone would include creating a no-fly zone and deploying ground forces, according to BBC.

But if Assad feels there are international powers working against him, he can expect continued support from one ally: Iran. Yesterday, Iran publicly stated it will send members of its elite Revolutionary Guard to Syria to help Assad, reports Fox News.

“Today, we are involved in fighting every aspect of a war, a military – one in Syria, and a cultural one as well,” Gen. Salar Abnoush, a Revolutionary Guard commander said in addressing a group of volunteer trainees Monday, as reported by Daneshjoo News Agency, an online pro-regime student-run media platform.

Though many have pointed for quite some time to the symbiotic relationship between Tehran and Damascus, including Iran’s training of Syrian cyber police and sending tactical support and cash, the statement appears to be the Iranian regime’s first public account of military participation in Syria.

This military support comes as many Syrian soldiers defect or declare themselves unwilling to fire their weapons on protesters or suspected rebels.

According to the BBC, Assad mocked government officials and military members who have defected in recent months, saying their actions were a result of “self-cleansing of the government firstly, and the country generally."

IN PICTURES: Conflict in Syria

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A riot police officer near to a tire on fire, lit by Muslim youths, outside Masjid Musa Mosque, in Majengo, Mombasa, Kenya, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. Police and protesters fought running battles after the killing of a radical Islamic preacher. ((AP Photo))

Mombasa riots stretch into second day as extremist group tries to rally Muslims (+video)

By Staff writer / 08.28.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Kenyan police fired tear gas at youths rioting in the streets of Mombasa the day after a Muslim cleric – who the United States and United Nations say was linked to the extremist group Al Shabab – was shot and killed there.

Yesterday, youths threw stones at police who arrived at the scene of the killing of Sheikh Aboud Rogo, and violence continued overnight. Barricades of burning tires were set up throughout a Muslim neighborhood in Mombasa, according to the Kenyan paper The Star, cars have been torched, and at least four churches have been vandalized. One person is confirmed dead as a result of the violence.

In July, the Muslim cleric Aboud Rogo was identified in a leaked UN report as a prominent recruiter for Al Shabab, an East African militant group with links to Al Qaeda. That same month, the US implemented sanctions against Mr. Rogo “for engaging in acts that directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security or stability of Somalia,” specifically for recruiting and raising money for Al Shabab, which is based there, according to Agence France-Presse. He was one of three Kenyans under US sanctions because of their ties to Al Shabab, on whose behalf they are accused of recruiting non-Somalis and conducting fundraising.

On Monday, gunmen sprayed bullets at Rogo's car while he was driving through the southeastern coastal city of Mombasa (see map) with six other people. His wife was shot in the leg and taken to a nearby hospital, Rogo's lawyer, Mbugua Mureithi, told The Associated Press, but his daughter and father were not injured. Many Muslims in Mombasa have blamed the shooting on the police, according to Reuters.

But the murder of Rogo has raised concerns about a worrying trend of extrajudicial killings in Kenya, Bloomberg reports. Sheikh Rogo was awaiting trial on terrorism charges.

The killing on Monday of Aboud Rogo fits into a pattern of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances of suspected terrorists that is allegedly being orchestrated by Kenyan police, say Kenyan human rights groups….

The Muslim Human Rights Forum condemned Rogo's murder, calling it an "extrajudicial killing" and calling for an "an end to targeted killings and enforced disappearances of terrorism suspects."

"The murder of Aboud Rogo is a terrible crime," Ben Rawlence, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch told The Christian Science Monitor yesterday. "The fact that he is not the first suspect to have died while awaiting trial will only raise suspicions. It's another sad day for Kenya."

Al Shabab called on Muslims in Kenya today to “protect their religion at all costs and boycott next year’s presidential election, and condemned what it said was a ‘witch-hunt’ against Muslims by the Kenyan authorities,” reports Reuters.

"Muslims must take the matter into their own hands, stand united against the Kuffar [non-believers] and take all necessary measures to protect their religion, their honour, their property and their lives from the enemies of Islam," Al Shabab wrote on Twitter.

Merchants reported looting in Mombasa today, Kenya’s second-largest city and a popular tourist destination. Though the gangs of youths are reportedly focusing more of their anger on the police, the attacks on churches have raised fears that the violence could become increasingly religiously based. Mombasa has seen attacks by Somali militants in the past that have fueled tension between Christians and Muslims, according to Reuters.

Mombasa has a big Muslim minority.… [And] church leaders scrapped plans for a peaceful march for fear it might incite further clashes in a country where overall relations with minority Muslims have been relatively good.

Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga said his government was committed to bringing those responsible for the killing to justice, and asking those in Mombasa to “exercise restraint and allow the government to get to the bottom of the matter.”

Mr. Odinga said, “We are committed to bringing whoever was responsible to justice. I appeal to our people not to use this sad act to inflict more pain and suffering on our country.”

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