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Terrorism & Security

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

In an image provided by IntelCenter, a still from the video released Sunday by al-Qaeda of American hostage Warren Weinstein. Weinstein said he will be killed unless President Barack Obama agrees to the militant group's demands. (IntelCenter/AP)

US hostage Warren Weinstein makes plea to Obama in Al Qaeda video (+video)

By Correspondent / 05.07.12

A US citizen kidnapped last August in Pakistan has appeared for the first time in a video statement calling on US officials and President Obama to accept Al Qaeda’s demands in exchange for his release. The video appeared on several Islamic extremist websites on Sunday, but it remains unclear when it was made.

“My life is in your hands, Mr. President,” said hostage Warren Weinstein in the video, as described by the Associated Press. “If you accept the demands, I live; if you don't accept the demands, then I die."

Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s leader claimed responsibility for the abduction in an audio recording last December. The group’s demands include the release of several Al Qaeda members tied to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and an end to US air strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.

The latest video further identifies Al Qaeda with the kidnapping of the elderly Mr. Weinstein, a dubious public relations strategy, notes the Monitor's Dan Murphy: "It's going to be very hard to sell the kidnapping of a 70-year-old unarmed man to the jihadi base as striking a glorious blow in a grand, religious cause – and as evidence that Al Qaeda is back in business." 

Gunmen broke into Mr. Weinstein’s home on August 13, just days before he was scheduled to leave Pakistan. He had been working for J.E. Austin Associates, an American company that manages many contracts for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The BBC reports that he had nearly 25 years of development experience. In Pakistan, he helped import high-tech dairy machinery to increase milk yields, and set up scholarships for youth from the tribal areas to study a gemology.

Friends of Weinstein said their kidnapping left them “puzzled.” The veteran aid worker had reportedly gone to great lengths to understand and respect the local culture and learned to speak some Urdu.

“He brings people together. When there’s no compromise between people in a meeting, he brings people to one point,” Ehtesham Ullah Khan, a gemologist who worked with Weinstein, told the Monitor last year. “He wants things to be done practically. He’s not like a paper man who likes reports and keeps [himself buried] in the files.”

There is also some concern over Weinstein’s health in captivity. He suffered from several ailments, reports Agence France-Presse. Prior to his abduction he’d changed his diet and took several medications to deal with his health problems. In his hostage video, he reported that that he had all of the medicine he needed.

Weinstein appears clean and in good health during the three-minute video. He wears traditional Pakistani clothing and sits behind a table with books and food. Throughout the video, he is seen periodically taking bites of food, reports Khaama Press.

Though Weinstein is believed to be held somewhere in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, local police say they have made some progress in his case. In April, agents from the Crime Investigation Agency (CIA) arrested two men who were said to be involved with the kidnapping, reports the Daily Bhaskar. One of the men, Hafiz Imran, is said by police to have led the abduction operation in Lahore and the other, Saifur Rehman, is accused of sheltering those involved.

Even before Weinstein’s abduction, Pakistan was considered one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers. The most recent report on aid worker safety by Humanitarian Outcomes found that Pakistan had the fourth highest rate of security incidents targeting aid workers, following, in order, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Somalia. Local aid workers are most often the victim of these attacks, but on a per capita basis international aid workers face a greater risk of attack.

Late last month British aid worker Khalil Dale was found beheaded in Pakistan about four months after he was abducted. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the British national, originally of Yemeni origins, who was working with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Pakistan, reports the Dawn. His abductors say the killed him with ICRC failed to pay his ransom.

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Taliban suicide bombing in northwestern Pakistan kills at least 19

By Staff writer / 05.04.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

At least 19 were killed in Pakistan today when a suicide bomber attacked a security post near the Afghan border. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was retaliation for the death of Al Qaeda commander Sheik Marwan, who was killed by local security forces there in 2011.  

The attack targeted the head and deputy head of a security force made up of local Pashtuns, known as Bajaur Levies, The New York Times reports. The two men were visiting the area – a crossroads in the capital of Bajaur district, Khar, near the market – to check on reports of a possible attack. Some 57 people were wounded. Pakistan's GeoNews puts the death toll at 22.

Agence France-Presse reports that Bajaur has been "one of the toughest battlegrounds" in Pakistan's efforts to dislodge the Taliban from its northwestern provinces. Today's attack was the third bombing in two days in the district, with two yesterday killed pro-government elders and local security personnel.

The whole country has been on a high state of alert since May 1, driven by concerns about retaliatory attacks on the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden's killing, according to AFP.

CBS/Associated Press report that in the batch of documents from Osama bin Laden's compound that were made public yesterday, Mr. bin Laden expressed concern about the number of civilians who were being killed by Pakistani militants.

The Pakistani Taliban, which rarely admits a role in attacks that kill many civilians, often blaming them on the US or Pakistani governments, claimed responsibility in a statement.  

In the statement, spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan said that among the security force targets was one man who had received an award for killing many militants. It was a "warning" to "people who are involved in any type of activity against the Taliban that we are aware of them and they will be treated with iron hands," Mr. Ihsan said.

But while the attack was ostensibly in retaliation for the killing of an Al Qaeda figure, the way it was carried out may not have been pleasing to Osama bin Laden's group. Despite strong links between Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, recently released papers found at bin Laden's compound "shed light on Al Qaeda’s frustration with the Pakistani Taliban’s indiscriminate attacks on Muslim civilian targets within Pakistan," the Los Angeles Times reports.

One letter, written by two Al Qaeda leaders and sent to Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mahsud, criticized the Pakistani militant leader for dispatching suicide bombers to “marketplaces, mosques, roads and assembly places….We hope that you will take the necessary action to correct your actions and avoid these grave mistakes.”

The NYT reports that Bajaur has been calm, particularly in comparison to more southern North and South Waziristan, where Taliban and Al Qaeda militants have established havens from which they can stage attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan. The last major militant attack in Bajaur was in December 2010.

The Pakistani Army has been deployed in the region since 2008 as part of an operation to oust Faqir Muhammad, a former local leader of the Pakistani Taliban who was forced to flee to Afghanistan. He has since been replaced in Bajaur.

The Pakistani government says that more than 30,000 people have been killed in attacks across Pakistan in the past decade – 10 times the almost 3,000 people who perished in Sept.11.

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An Israeli worker hangs an election poster for Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu over one of Labor Party leader Ehud Barak in Jerusalem in this file photo. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a published comment on May 2 that policy toward Iran will be based solely on strategic interests. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP/File)

Dissent, elections make Israel's next steps on Iran difficult to predict

By Staff writer / 05.03.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Top Israeli political and military figures remain at odds over their opinions on Iran's regime and its nuclear program, making it difficult to guess what Israel's next steps will be. The prime minister's announcement this week that he is open to moving elections up by more than a year only increase the uncertainty.

Today Defense Minister Ehud Barak slammed former prime minister Ehud Olmert, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, and former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, all of whom have downplayed the threat that Iran poses to Israel and criticized Mr. Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for their hawkish approach. 

"Olmert, Dagan, and Diskin are traveling the world and are weakening Israeli leaders' accomplishment of turning the Iranian issue into an important and urgent one – not only to Israel but to the world," Barak said today, according to Haaretz. Of Mr. Diskin, who formerly headed Israel's domestic security agency, Barak said, "it is not even his field of specialization or his responsibility."

Israel's top foreign-policy priority has been convincing the international community, particularly the United States, that Iran is an imminent threat, and the world cannot afford to wait and see if increasingly stringent sanctions will curtail Iran's nuclear program. Iran argues that its program is wholly peaceful, but Israel and others suspect Tehran aims to develop nuclear weapons under cover of its civilian program.

The Jerusalem Post reports that Barak "implied" in the same interview that the Israeli parliament "might need to pass stricter laws to prevent former members of the defense establishment from discussing certain security issues in public."

Diskin said last week that he had no confidence in Barak and Netanyahu's leadership and said their Iran efforts were motivated by a "messianic" drive. There has been dissent for months – often public – among current and former political and security officials, but his unequivocal comments gave the criticism a substantial credibility boost, The Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy writes:

Israeli politicians are known for their very public disagreements, but differences between security officials past and present and Israel's sitting government – especially on a topic as critical as this – are rare. Israel's generals have far more sway over policy in Israel than US ones do, at least historically, and in the case of the war posturing over Iran's nuclear program the simple message of their public comments appears to be: Don't.

Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer said Diskin's warning that an Israeli strike could harden an Iranian desire for the bomb is striking. "While it is true that many experts have expressed this opinion, this is the first time that a central figure who was so recently within the innermost security circles has said such a thing."

Dahlia Scheindlin, a Tel Aviv public opinion expert and blogger at the left wing blog +972, told the Monitor earlier this week that the only people who can "credibly" criticize Netanyahu's Iran policy are members of the security establishment, such as those Dagan and Diskin. 

According to one recent poll for the Jerusalem Post, less than half of Israelis support a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran but an overwhelming majority – 72 percent – would support an international strike. About half agreed with Diskin's criticism, according to a separate poll cited by The New York Times.

With the Knesset beginning to talk about dissolution, it appears likely that the elections will be bumped from their original date in 2013 to this coming September. The Los Angeles Times reports that the change in timing for the elections is "the latest sign that [Israel's] threatened attack against Iran's nuclear facilities is unlikely to take place in the coming months."

Some officials predict the chances of an Israeli airstrike against Iran will decrease because a divisive political campaign would paralyze the government and focus attention on domestic issues.

At the same time, Netanyahu is unlikely to risk the comfortable lead most polls give him over his rivals by launching a risky, complicated operation against Iran. A bungled or failed strike is one of the few things that could stand in the way of his reelection, analysts say. 

The LA Times also reports that Netanyahu has the strongest security credentials of possible prime minister candidates and would be the one most likely to benefit if a debate on Iran became part of the campaign.

The Associated Press reports that Barak and Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said in a statement yesterday that only "strategic interests" will play a role in Israel's policy on Iran, even during an election campaign.

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Members of Somalia's Al Shabab militant group patrol on foot on the outskirts of Mogadishu on March 5. (AP/File)

Al Shabab strikes Somali lawmakers

By Staff writer / 05.02.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Al Shabab has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in a Somali province yesterday that killed at least two lawmakers visiting from the capital. They were meeting several other lawmakers to discuss establishing a local administration as part of a larger effort to end Somalia's series of transitional governments.

Most reports indicate there were civilian deaths as well.

Although Al Shabab attacks on government and African Union targets are common, they are rare in the city of Dusamareb and the Galgadud region, where the attack took place, Reuters reports. Dusamareb has long been controlled by a pro-government militia named Ahlu Sunna, which receives support from Ethopia. 

Al Shabab also claimed responsibility for blowing up a car in Mogadishu, killing one man. The militant group said he was targeted because he worked for the government, according to Reuters.

The two attacks came on the heels of a warning from the United Nations, the African Union mission to the country, and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African diplomatic organization, that a fledgling agreement to establish a lasting government is endangered, Agence France-Presse reports. A road map for replacing the weak Western-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) by August and bringing an end to decades of civil war was agreed to and signed by Somali leaders in September.

The biggest hurdle is determining what kind of government system would best unite the various administrations across the country. A new constitution and parliament are also needed.  

"The roadmap continues to be jeopardised by the actions of individuals and groups in and out of Somalia, working to undermine the fragile progress we have collectively made in recent months," the statement from the international organizations read, according to AFP. "We have come too far, and too much is at stake, for us to allow the process to backslide at the exact moment Somalia has its best opportunity for peace in decades."

Al Shabab has been waging a war against the transitional government for years and controlled the capital of Mogadishu for much of that time, but a fierce African Union-backed campaign that began last summer has pushed them out and kept them on their back feet. The original 12,000 AU troops were boosted to 18,000 in October to include Kenyan troops; Kenya has accused Al Shabab of being behind a number of kidnappings in Kenya. The AU troops have expanded their efforts beyond Mogadishu, sometimes working in tandem with Ethiopian troops, BBC reports.

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United Nations observers travelling in UN vehicles leave the UN office in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, May 1, as they head to areas where protests against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been taking place. (Khaled al- Hariri /Reuters)

Both sides violating Syria cease-fire. Still worth supporting? (+video)

By Staff writer / 05.01.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued another call today for all parties in Syria to respect a cease-fire that was violated almost as soon as it began thee weeks ago.

Lacking any alternatives at the moment, the UN and international and regional powers are continuing to focus their efforts on the UN observer mission that is being deployed to Syria and the cease-fire that the observers are meant to be monitoring. At this point, 30 of the 300 intended monitors have been deployed so far.

Meanwhile, fighting continues. Bombing by government forces killed 10 civilians in Idlib today, while suicide bombings of government security buildings – reportedly by opposition forces – killed 20 yesterday, mostly security personnel, Agence France-Presse reports. The Syrian National Council insists the government is behind the bombing of its own buildings in a bid to undermine the opposition.

The New York Times describes the current situation as a "stalemate."

The result is a bloody stalemate, with the West still endorsing a peace plan even while calling it unrealistic, and the Syrian government, if anything, empowered by the paralysis, even more confident it can weather the fractured and diffuse international pressure.

Despite months of fighting, Western and Arab sanctions that have sapped the national treasury and defections that have eroded the unity of the military, the Syrian government is not on the verge of falling nor abandoning its use of lethal force.

The rest of the world, fearing the chaos that further militarizing the conflict might bring, remains reluctant to arm the opposition.

But the opposition appears to be taking care of arms itself. While opposition groups have disputed claims that they are behind the most recent bombings and some that came earlier this year, Reuters reports that their offensive tactics are shifting from "small-scale ambushes on checkpoints and military patrols to audacious assaults on infrastructure and symbols of the Assad state."

"The rebels are getting better at bomb-making – as you know, desperation is the mother of invention," one anti-Assad fighter who claimed to be in command of a militia unit told Reuters in neighbouring Lebanon. "We are starting to get smarter."

A separate Reuters report corroborates such claims. Rebels chalked the shift up to economics – guns are increasingly expensive, while bombs, which can be made, are comparatively inexpensive. 

"We are starting to get smarter about tactics and use bombs because people are just too poor and we don't have enough rifles," a rebel fighter from the north of Idlib province said last week as he took a break across the border in Turkey.

"It is just no match for the army," said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, "So we are trying to focus on the ways we can fight."

However, mindful of Assad's portrayal of those who have opposed him over the past 14 months as "terrorists", and keen to maintain Western and Arab support, several rebel fighters who spoke to Reuters said that, unlike al Qaeda, their bombs were aimed at military, and never civilian, targets.

"We are not targeting civilians. We are strictly going against regime targets," said Haitham Qdemati, spokesman for a rebel group called the Syrian Liberation Army. "We're not killers. We're defending ourselves."

There are a number of theories about who is behind the bombings of the last couple months: the government, trying to discredit the opposition; Al Qaeda-linked Syrian Islamists with experience fighting in Iraq; and the mainstream opposition, despite its denials. 

The Monitor reported yesterday that Syria's uprising may be drawing militants looking for new opportunities after Iraq and Afghanistan, although at least some appear to be Syrian nationals; a salafi jihadist group has claimed responsibility for recent suicide bombings, and the names of its leader and one of its martyrs suggests they hailed from Damascus and the Golan Heights. But a prominent Lebanese militant was among those recently killed.

Earlier this year Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called for Muslims in neighboring countries to assist Syria's opposition. But rebels and opposition figures haven't appeared to welcome the call; they deny they are receiving help from Al Qaeda and insist the uprising is being fueled by domestic forces.

"The only Al Qaeda cells that operate in Syria are those manipulated by Assad's security apparatuses," said Ammar Abdulhamid, a US-based Syrian opposition activist in an online newsletter emailed [Monday]. "The suicide bombings are directly staged or facilitated by them. Issues pertaining to the timing and the real beneficiaries, and everything we know about the Assads' involvement in terror networks, all point in this direction."

Recently, prominent US senators have declared that the UN peace plan for Syria has failed. But such declarations are premature, says Marc Lynch of Georgetown University. In April 25 testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, posted on his Foreign Policy blog, he said: 

"It is time for the Obama Administration to acknowledge what is obvious and indisputable in Syria: the Annan Plan has failed." This declaration by Senators Lieberman, McCain and Graham on April 19, 2012, came only one week after a United Nations-backed ceasefire came into effect, and two days before the passage of a unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing a 300 member team to monitor the ceasefire.  The urgent, and admirable, imperative to do something to help the people of Syria should not rush the United States into a poorly conceived military intervention. The painstakingly constructed international consensus in support of diplomacy and pressure should not be abandoned before it has even had a chance.

It is far too soon to give up on a diplomatic process which has just begun.  Rather than rush into a risky, costly and potentially counter-productive military intervention, the United States should give the current plan time to work.  It should continue to lead international efforts at the United Nations, promote the demilitarization of the conflict, continue to increase the pressure on the Assad regime, build on the efforts underway with the "Friends of Syria" group, support the political development of the Syrian opposition, and prepare the ground for future accountability for war crimes.

Prof. Lynch's full testimony is available here.

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U.S. Army special forces Captain Gregory, from Texas, right, who would only give his first name in accordance with special forces security guidelines, speaks with troops from the Central African Republic and Uganda, in Obo, Central African Republic, Sunday, April 29. Obo was the first place in the Central African Republic that Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) attacked in 2008. (Ben Curtis/AP)

How US special forces help in the hunt for Joseph Kony (+video)

By Correspondent / 04.30.12

Among those hunting for Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army in central Africa are 100 US Special Forces soldiers spread out in four bases in Central Africa. The American troops' primary mission there is to advise and train regional forces as they search for the warlord who has evaded capture since 2008.

“Kony is definitely still a threat. He's been on the run. He's on the decline, and in survival mode, but he is still dangerous and he's going to be dangerous until the LRA are eliminated,” said a US Special Forces soldier during an interview with CNN. Special forces soldiers are not allowed to use their name in media interviews. “We help our partner nation forces ask the right questions – the who, the what, the when, the where, and the why – to get all the information.”

US military officials say they were partially influenced to recommit troops to the effort to target the LRA after a March 2012 video by the organization “Invisible Children” went viral, drawing renewed attention onto Kony and the LRA, reports the Wall Street Journal. President Obama announced the special forces deployment in October 2011

Despite the present attention now focused on US support of African forces pursuing the LRA, which was originally based in Uganda, the US has provided support to the Ugandan military to help their efforts against the group for years now. Much of the efforts have been shrouded in secrecy due to the complicated relationship between the US and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is accused of arresting and harassing political rivals and engaging in corrupt electoral practices.

“Since 2008, the Pentagon and the State Department have been diligently working behind the scenes to provide military and intelligence support to the Ugandan military in the fight against the LRA, with the US embassy in Kampala coordinating the provision of money and technical assistance to the Ugandan military,” wrote Matthew Aid, author of Intel Wars: The Secret History of the Fight Against Terror.

Though the effectiveness of the LRA has been diminished, it has successfully managed to avoid regional forces by moving through the jungles of the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Congo. The Associated Press reports that since late last year, US forces have offered help largely in the form of technological and intelligence assistance. American forces are also trying to establish better communications the three countries to better coordinate efforts.

IN PICTURES: Kony and the Lord's Resistance ArmyMeanwhile, Ugandan officials have accused Sudan of harboring Kony. Col. Felix Kulayigye, Uganda’s Ministry of Defense spokesman, said that Kony and his LRA fighters look to Sudan for military supplies and then hide in the jungles of the Central African Republic where they can forage for food.

“He is in Bahr Gazel, a Khartoum-controlled area. We captured a rebel who was wearing a new uniform and said it was supplied by Khartoum, together with ammunition,” said Col. Kulayigye in an article by the Ugandan newspaper New Vision. “Since he had run out of ammunition and uniforms, he had to go back to his God-father [Omar Bashir, the president of Sudan], if I am to use those words.”

The LRA has been on the run since its camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo was bombed in 2008. Since then the group has splintered and is accused of butchering civilians and kidnapping local children to act as servants and sex slaves, reported The Christian Science Monitor earlier this month.

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Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday. (Uriel Sinai/Reuters)

Israeli leadership denies divisions on Iran, after army chief made a stir

By Staff writer / 04.27.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Israeli leaders scrambled to present a united front on Iran yesterday, after Israel's army chief earlier this week appeared to contradict the government's assertions that Iran poses an imminent threat to Israel's existence.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Iranian leaders are not "rational in the Western sense of the word – connoting … the peaceful resolution of problems" and said that to believe anything different "borders on blindness or irresponsibility."

His comments, made on Israeli Independence Day to foreign diplomats, were seen as a direct rebuttal to remarks earlier this week from Israeli Defense Forces chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. He said in an interview with Israeli newspaper Haaretz published Wednesday that he does not believe Iran is making a nuclear bomb yet and that it would probably not decide to do so because "the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people."

An Israeli official told Reuters that Barak's briefing was meant to "set things straight" after Gantz's comments. Earlier this week, in an interview with CNN, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not pin "the security of the world on Iran's rational behavior," saying Iranian leaders "can put their ideology before their survival."

The Netanyahu administration has consistently sought to portray Iran as an irrational actor, willing to risk "catastrophic retaliation." Such a portrayal could boost support for a preemptive military strike on Iran by Israel, according to Reuters.

The New York Times reports that Israeli leaders are now seeking to "erase" the perception that they are not united on the issue of Iran's nuclear program, with Gantz telling reporters "there is really no distance" between him and Netanyahu.

"It was unclear whether the general was being pressed to walk back from his comments, if he felt his message was misconstrued, or if it was all part of a broader strategy of trying to offer dual messages for different audiences," the NYT reports.

Aides to all three leaders insisted that there was no disagreement on Iran. An aide in General Gantz’s office said that his words had been taken out of context and that he sought out a reporter for The Associated Press at an Independence Day event Thursday morning “to correct that wrong image or that wrong headline.”

The headlines that were trying to be made that there’s difference of opinions between the leaders, and that’s not true,” the aide said. “They both view Iran in the same way. There is really no difference in the fact that Iran is the main threat for Israel and Israel is ready to cope with Iran.”

The prime minister’s office appeared to be satisfied with the clarification. “We’ve noted in his comments that he says there is no difference,” said one top official. Similarly, a senior aide to Mr. Barak said “the minister of defense and the chief of staff are completely on the same page.”

Former chief of military intelligence Amos Yadlin told the NYT that any differences between Gantz and the government are because "you hear different music from the political level and professional level," implying that any differences were not substantive.

Gantz's comments to Haaretz came in the context of an explanation that Iran is aware it's program could be destroyed if it antagonized Israel:

As long as its facilities are not bomb-proof, "the program is too vulnerable, in Iran's view. If the supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants, he will advance it to the acquisition of a nuclear bomb, but the decision must first be taken. It will happen if Khamenei judges that he is invulnerable to a response. I believe he would be making an enormous mistake, and I don't think he will want to go the extra mile. I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous."

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A girl takes part in a protest against Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Kafranbel, near Idlib April 25. The words on the girl's palms: "Freedom forever." (Raad Al Fares/Shaam News Network/REUTERS)

Syrian regime fights on, but is running out of money

By Correspondent / 04.26.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

The United Nations peace plan for Syria, created by special envoy Kofi Annan, appears to be coming apart amid reports of renewed fighting throughout the war-ravaged country.

The plan called for an end to violence, but opposition groups continue to report lethal harassment by government snipers and tank attacks. Meanwhile, a blast in the Syrian city of Hama reportedly left at least 69 people dead today.

Amid the ongoing violence, CNN reports that the Arab League called an emergency meeting in Cairo today to discuss the situation in Syria.

As the situation in Syria continues to drag on without any significant change, there is growing debate about whether to give the UN plan more time or to pursue other options.

In a testimony before Congress yesterday, Middle East expert Marc Lynch urged American lawmakers to give the UN peace plan a chance despite its apparent inability to bring stability thus far. Mr. Lynch said any potential military interventions were unlikely to bring about a quick fall of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and other “military half-measures,” such as arming opposition groups or creating safe zones, would risk spreading violence.

“It is far too soon to give up on a diplomatic process which has just begun. Rather than rush into a risky, costly, and potentially counter-productive military intervention, the United States should give the current plan time to work,” said Lynch in his testimony, which was posted on Foreign Policy's website. “It should continue to lead international efforts at the United Nations, promote the demilitarization of the conflict, continue to increase the pressure on the Assad regime, build on the efforts under way with the ‘Friends of Syria’ group, support the political development of the Syrian opposition, and prepare the ground for future accountability for war crimes.”

Patience is wearing thin among other international observers, however, with France potentially calling for a military intervention in little more than a week if peace efforts continue to stall, reports Agence France-Presse.

Alain Juppé, France’s minister of foreign affairs, has said that without a 300-strong observer mission in place by May 5, his nation’s leaders may begin communicating with other powers about invoking Chapter 7 of the UN Charter that allows for military enforcement.

“We cannot allow ourselves to be ignored by the regime in place which has adhered to none of the six points of the Kofi Annan [UN peace] plan. We'd have to move into a new phase,” said Mr. Juppé, according to Al Jazeera.

Many Syrians say they are increasingly disillusioned with the UN plan. In some instances they say that monitors have made the situation worse, because activists say the government waits for the monitors to leave an area and then attacks those who spoke to them.

“I'm very disappointed, and people here are disappointed. It will be too late. Maybe 1,000 or 2,000 will be dead by then,” said Mousab Hamadi, an activist in the city of Hama, according to the Los Angeles Times. “How can the world stand by and watch tens being killed every day?”

Meanwhile, there are signs that sanctions have taken a toll on the Assad regime, with a number of intelligence and financial analysts saying the Syrian government is running out of money, reports the Washington Post. The financial strain has put pressure on the government, but the Post reports that its not yet enough to stop the government’s military operations or erode the power of Syria’s political elite. 

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On Monday, Syrian protesters gather around UN observers during their visit in Douma near the capital of Damascus, Syria. (AP)

Observers in Syria having an impact, but only 11 on the ground so far (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.25.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Reports on the ground indicate that Syrian government troops have been resuming assaults on towns and cities once United Nations observers leave the area, giving weight to accusations that the observer mission is being used as a distraction from the brutal crackdown that continues in Syria.

Kofi Annan, the UN special envoy to Syria, acknowledged the reports when speaking to Security Council members yesterday, "I am particularly alarmed by reports that government troops entered Hama [Monday] after observers departed, firing automatic weapons and killing a significant number of people," he said, according to CNN. "If confirmed, this is totally unacceptable and reprehensible."

“We have credible reports that when they leave, the exchanges start again, that these people who approach the observers may be approached by the Syrian security forces or the Syrian Army or even worse, perhaps killed, and this is totally unacceptable,” said Ahmad Fawzi, Mr. Annan’s spokesman, according to The New York Times

Mr. Annan also expressed skepticism about the assertion of the Syrian foreign minister, who wrote in a letter that the government had withdrawn its troops from cities and towns, as required in the peace plan which it accepted, Reuters reports.

"The situation in Syria continues to be unacceptable. The Syria authorities must implement their commitments in full, and a cessation of violation in all its forms must be respected by all parties," he said. 

The American ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, speculated that the heavy weapons that have supposedly been removed may have just been covered up so that they do not appear on satellite images. Her Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, said he "considered the possibility" that Damascus was not following through on its promises and suggested he would raise the issue in Moscow, according to Reuters.

Despite accusations that the monitors have not been able to bring about the cessation in violence that was hoped, those in attendance at the UN yesterday advocated for an increase in their numbers. According to Reuters, there are only 11 monitors on the ground right now of the 300 approved. In another month, 100 more are slated to be deployed.

Violence has certainly continued since the initial deployment. The Damascus suburb of Douma was shelled today, according to The New York Times, and government troops raided two Hama neighborhoods yesterday after observers left. Syrians are "souring" on the idea that the monitors can do much for them.

“The observers were received in a very different way today,” said Manhal, an activist reached via Skype, who used only one name out of fear of retribution. “Anger and sorrow surrounds Hama, and they are the reason behind the killing,” he said. “People know if they meet them they will either be killed or arrested. I have lost faith in these visits.”

In northern Idlib Province, where the monitors have yet to visit, protesters in the town of Binnish used sarcasm to convey their message. In the midst of an antigovernment protest, a small group of students, dressed like observers in eggshell-blue berets and vests, wandered through the crowd. They were wearing sunglasses and tapping walking sticks, as if they were blind, and had toilet paper stuffed in their ears. “There is nothing new on the ground,” said one of the students in the video, shown on Al Jazeera.

"Our reaction to UN monitors depends on whether they are active or not," said Mousab al-Hamadi, an opposition resident from Hama. Reuters reports that, according to activists, 31 people were killed by Army shelling there on April 23, the day after the monitors visited. 

"Yesterday, they came to (Hama). After they left, the people began to flee because they know that after the UN monitors leave the security forces will come and arrest people who have talked to them," Mr. al-Hamadi said.

However, according to a separate Reuters report, when observers are actually in the cities, they are having an impact. One activist acknowledged that since a group of monitors arrived in Homs on April 21, government shelling had stopped. "We have two monitors in the city and look at the impact it has had. Imagine if the number was raised," he said, expressing frustration with the slow pace of the monitors' deployment. "It takes them a month to arrive? Are they coming on horses?"

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said preparation for the possible failure of Annan's peace plan is under way because while the US and its allies support the plan, the US does not expect the Syrian government to comply. Additional US sanctions on the Assad regime are in the works, Mrs. Clinton said, according to the Associated Press.

The Christian Science Monitor reported Monday that Assad's actions have pushed the Obama administration to consider weightier measures against the Syrian regime, partially out of concern that worsening violence would have "serious ramifications for regional security."

“A direct US military intervention does not seem to be there right now,” Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told the Monitor. “But ironically, Assad’s actions have spurred the US into thinking along those terms.”

Reuters reports that France said it could not "forever" support Annan's peace plan without seeing some results on the ground. "The regime must not get it wrong this time," French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said. "It cannot continue to mislead the international community for much longer. When the time comes, we will have to take the necessary measures required if the situation on the ground continues."

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Chinese President Hu Jintao (r.) greets North Korean envoy Kim Yong-il, head of the international department of the Workers' Party of Korea, during their meeting in Beijing Monday, April 23. The meeting was held in a reaffirmation of traditional ties following Chinese pique over Pyongyang's recent attempted rocket launch. (Li Xueren/Xinhua/AP)

North Korea threat: China reaches out to agitated Pyongyang

By Staff writer / 04.24.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

China's acquiescence to international condemnation of North Korea for its recent rocket launch has been lauded, but Chinese leadership seemed to make it clear yesterday that North Korea could still count on its closest ally.

At a meeting in Beijing with a top official from North Korea's Workers' Party, Chinese President Hu Jintao reiterated his interest in maintaining close ties between the two countries. "We will carry on this tradition... boost strategic communication and coordination on key international issues and work for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula," state television quoted him as saying, according to the BBC.

The day before, while speaking with Kim Yong-il, the Korean Workers' Party director of international affairs, Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo called the alliance between the two countries a "precious treasure" and said China wanted to take their "friendly cooperation to new heights," according to Reuters. Mr. Dai also said that he expected North Korea under Kim Jong-un to "constantly score new successes in building a strong and prosperous country."

Because of their close ties, China is considered the country with the most sway in North Korea, and it has made concerted calls for calm on the Korean Peninsula, but to little noticeable effect. Yesterday North Korea said it would "soon" take "unprecedented" action against the South Korean government and "reduce its target to ashes." It called for the death of the South Korean president at a rally last week, BBC reports.

But there is also concern in the international community, based on evidence that a Chinese company sold North Korea hardware used to transport missiles, that China is lax in its enforcement of sanctions intended to prevent North Korea from obtaining military and nuclear weapon equipment, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Videos from a recent North Korean military parade show missiles being transported on trucks built with what the US believes were some critical Chinese-made parts, such as a chassis, from the company Hubei Sanjiang. According to WSJ, the Obama administration does not believe the sale was made with permission from Beijing, but the US is concerned that China is unable to fully enforce the United Nations sanctions because of the large number of Chinese companies producing equipment that has both civilian and military uses.

The vehicle carrying the chassis raises concerns because its use implies that North Korea has "made progress" producing long-range ballistic missiles that can be transported – an outcome the US has long fretted about, because mobile weapons will be harder to deter, according to The New York Times

China denied that any of its companies are in violation of the sanctions.

“We think this is poor Chinese performance in sanctions implementation, and not willful proliferation,” a US official told The New York Times. “The Chinese system is so sprawling and poorly organized that they are not good at enforcing sanctions.”

However elaborate the efforts to disguise the sale, analysts said, it vividly demonstrates China’s continuing trouble in enforcing sanctions. The Chinese government, experts say, has little control over companies that have dealings with North Korea, particularly those with ties to the People’s Liberation Army of China.

“It’s so huge, there’s so much corruption and state-owned companies have lots of autonomy,” said Michael J. Green, a China policy adviser in the George W. Bush administration. “The Chinese are incapable of being transparent with us on this system because they don’t understand it themselves.”

A US official told Reuters that Washington does not think Hubei Sanjiang intentionally flouted the sanctions either. They believe that a front company may have been involved, and that the company thought the equipment was for civilian use. 

He also said that Washington plans to use the issue as leverage to convince China to ratchet up its enforcement of sanctions on Pyongyang

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