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Terrorism & Security

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

An Afghan policeman inspects a wreckage of a car hit by a car bomb attack in Jalalabad province February 27. A suicide car bomber killed at least nine people in an attack on a military airport in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, officials said, the latest incident of violence and protests since copies of the Koran were inadvertently burned at a NATO base last week. (Parwiz/REUTERS)

Taliban claim Afghanistan suicide attack, citing 'revenge' for Quran burnings

By Staff writer / 02.27.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

An Afghan suicide bomber detonated his car outside the NATO base and airport in the eastern Afghanistan city of Jalalabad today. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge against the US soldiers who burned Qurans last week. 

His attack caps a deadly week in Afghanistan that has prompted NATO and others to recall hundreds of advisers from Afghan ministries who have been preparing the Afghan government and security forces to take on more responsibility as the drawdown of international forces begins, the Associated Press reports. Reuters cites a US Embassy warning of a "heightened" threat to US citizens in Afghanistan.

In today’s attack, the assailant drove his car into the gates of the airport, triggering a blast and killing nine Afghans.

US President Obama apologized for the Quran burnings, which took place at Bagram air base, north of Kabul, and which the US has said were inadvertent. His Afghan counterpart, President Hamid Karzai, called for the punishment of the soldiers who burned the holy books, but also urged Afghans to refrain from violence – a request that has not been heeded.

The Quran burnings spurred several days of deadly protests in Kabul and elsewhere in the country that killed dozens, including four international troops at the hands of Afghan counterparts, according to the AP. Two of them were US military advisers who were shot and killed at the Interior Ministry.

Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, said yesterday that the violence does not change American plans in the country and will not accelerate the US troops withdrawal process, Reuters reports. The US is currently scheduled to leave by the end of 2014.

Among European members of the coalition in particular, where the war is “deeply unpopular,” pressure is building for an earlier withdrawal, according to Reuters. NATO, Britain, and Germany withdrew their advisers from Afghan government ministries after the killing of the two advisers last week.

The killings within the Interior Ministry are particularly troubling because as international forces shift from a combat role to an advisory one, they are increasingly working within the Afghan government.

The Monitor’s Dan Murphy wrote two days ago that the reaction to the Quran burnings was “sadly predictable.”

The public fury unleashed by events is also a reminder that Afghans are chafing at the extended military occupation of the country. And now [Gen. John Allen, the US commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan] has been forced to concede with his orders today that agents of the Afghan government, NATO's local ally in its war against the Taliban, can't be trusted.

The simple fact is that after 10 years of war, hearts and minds have not been won. Legions of civilian and military advisers from Europe and the US, seeking to inculcate an outside political culture in the hearts of Afghans, have largely failed. The tinder of anger and humiliation is thick on the ground. And this is not just about Taliban supporters.

And, he adds, this crisis comes at a time of record low US public support for the war in Afghanistan.

The US president now has European allies tired of the war and grappling with economic crisis at home. With the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May, the US public's appetite for the Afghan war has also diminished. A CNN poll in October found domestic support for the war at its lowest point since it started in 2001, down to 34 percent. Over 1,900 US soldiers have now been killed in the Afghan war.

It bears repeating: The two latest US casualties were in the heart of the Afghan Interior ministry, killed by an Afghan whose gun and ammunition were paid for by the US taxpayer. 

The Taliban also claims that a cook on an eastern Afghanistan base poisoned the food of coalition troops, killing five. The coalition forces’ eastern regional command said that while trace amounts of bleach were found in food in the dining area, prompting a shutdown of the dining area for an investigation, there were no deaths or injuries, the Guardian reports. 

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An Afghan boy who works at a bakery watches a protest outside his window in Kabul on Friday. (Ahmad Masood/Reuters)

Kabul embroiled in day 4 of Quran burning protests (+video)

By Correspondent / 02.24.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Soldiers and police were on high alert in Kabul as thousands of Afghans took to the streets for a fourth day of protests over reports of NATO personnel burning of several copies of Islam's holy book. The continued protests come a day after two US soldiers were killed by a man wearing an Afghan Army uniform, indicating worsening fallout from the Qurans' burnings.

Demonstrators throwing rocks and shouting "Death to America!" and "Long live Islam!" marched toward the presidential palace after Friday prayers.  Police attempted to disperse the crowd by firing into the air; one protester was injured by the gunfire, Reuters reports.  The New York Times reports that some protesters waved Taliban flags and wore headbands bearing jihadist slogans.

Also on Friday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with his political allies to attempt to rein in the violent protests, which have left nearly a dozen people dead. The Times writes that while Mr. Karzai and other Afghan politicians share the public's disgust over the burning of the Qurans, they fear that if the violence continues, police or military may use deadly force against protesters. That action could, in turn, set off a cycle of violence.

Karzai has indicated that he has accepted the apology of US President Obama, which was given in a letter Thursday.  One Afghan lawmaker told the Times that in Karzai's meeting with members of Parliament, he "said that ‘according to our investigation we have found that American soldiers mistakenly insulted the Koran and we will accept their apology.’”

The incident has already harmed US efforts in Afghanistan, both directly and indirectly.  A man that NATO described as wearing an Afghan Army uniform – which, Monitor reporter Dan Murphy notes, is a "boilerplate bit of epistemological doubt" that "has become common in ISAF statements over the past year, and the killers almost always turn out to be Afghan soldiers or police" – shot and killed two US soldiers on Thursday in apparent response to the burnings.  The Taliban called on more Afghan security forces to "turn their guns on the foreign infidel invaders."

And Pakistan and Iran have both turned up the political pressure on the US. Iranian cleric Ahmad Khatami said in a speech that the Quran burning "was not a mistake. It was an intentional move, done on purpose."  And the Pakistani Foreign Ministry called the burning "utterly irresponsible."

“On behalf of the government and the people of Pakistan, we condemn in strongest possible terms the desecration of Holy Quran in Afghanistan,” a spokesman said.

Matthew Fisher, a columnist for Canada's Postmedia Network, warns that the Quran burnings haven't just harmed American efforts in Afghanistan, but they've directed a blow to Western efforts more broadly

"Thanks to a staggering blunder by American troops, the jobs of all NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, including more than 900 Canadian military advisers scattered across more than a dozen bases in Kabul and western Afghanistan, got more complicated and dangerous," he wrote.  "Given the consequences of this colossally stupid act at Bagram, Obama might have also apologized to Canada and to the other coalition forces in Afghanistan for making the work of their troops more perilous."

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Iraqi firefighters try to extinguish a burning bus at the scene of a car bomb explosion in Karradah in downtown Baghdad, Iraq, Feb. 23. A swift series of bombings and shootings killed dozens of people across the Iraqi capital early Thursday in attacks that mostly appeared to target police, officials said. (Hadi Mizban/AP)

Wave of attacks in Iraq ends weeks of calm (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.23.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

A wave of bombings across Iraq today killed more than 50 people and wounded more than 200. Although not the deadliest day in the country since US troops completed their withdrawal, this morning’s attacks are the most far-reaching so far, according to the Washington Post.

The attacks, carried out with car bombs and small arms, targeted Iraqi security forces in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country – a hallmark of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Associated Press reports.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, as well as other Sunni insurgent groups, are “bent on destabilizing” the country and have launched attacks, mostly in Baghdad, every couple weeks since the US withdrawal. A senior Iraqi intelligence official told the AP that he predicted today’s attacks were meant to scare diplomats who plan on attending the Arab League summit scheduled to be held in Baghdad in late March. Last year’s summit, also planned for Baghdad, was canceled for that reason.

There were at least 14 separate attacks today, according to AP. Several of them targeted police checkpoints and patrols, and one of them targeted a police station. The deadliest hit, carried out by a car bomb in downtown Baghdad’s shopping district, killed nine and wounded 26, sending shockwaves several blocks. The police have been targeted frequently. Twenty were killed earlier this week by a suicide bomber who detonated outside the Baghdad police academy.

The Washington Post reports that today’s attacks were preceded by weeks of calm, which many Iraqis attribute to Sunni insurgents crossing the border into Syria to join the revolt against President Bashar al Assad.

McClatchy reported earlier this week that violence has declined sharply – in some areas it is down as much as 50 percent from autumn 2011 levels – particularly in the region along the Syrian border. The Obama administration said last week that it believes Al Qaeda is behind some of the most “spectacular” attacks against the Assad regime.

Concerns about another sectarian conflict were high earlier in the year, when Shiite Prime Minister Nour al Maliki tried to arrest the Sunni vice president, alleging that he ordered death squads targeting security forces. A bloc of Sunni lawmakers boycotted the parliament and Baghdad was rocked by a series of bombings. 

Reuters reports that Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish lawmakers have spent the last several weeks trying to negotiate an end to the political crisis, but their work was disrupted last week when a panel of judges released details of 150 attacks that they say were carried out by death squads under Vice President Tareq al Hashemi’s command.

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French photographer Remi Ochlik is seen in this photo taken November 2011. Ochlik and American correspondent Marie Colvin were killed on Wednesday, Feb. 22, in the besieged Syrian city of Homs when rockets fired by government forces hit the house they were staying in, opposition activists and witnesses said. (Julien de Rosa/Reuters/File)

American, French journalist killed in Syrian bombardment of Homs (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.22.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

As the Syrian city of Homs faced its 19th straight day of a government barrage, residents plead for a reprieve to allow women and children to leave the city and entry for aid convoys, while the Red Cross’s call for a two-hour daily truce received critical backing from Russia.

Moscow, which has been a staunch backer of President Bashar al-Assad, said today that it supported the International Committee of the Red Cross’s call for a daily, brief truce, expressing “serious concern” about the situation in Homs, Agence France-Presse reports.

Assaults across Syria left at least 68 dead yesterday, according to estimates from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The barrage continued today, killing two Western journalists when a shell hit a makeshift media center in the city where they were working, according to AFP. Human rights groups say the death toll since the uprising began in March 2011 is nearing 8,000.

Human Rights Watch told The Christian Science Monitor that videos from Homs indicate that government troops are deploying the Russian-made “Tulip” weapons system, “which fires the largest mortar round in any military’s arsenal” – 240 mm – from up to 12.5 miles away. When the Russians infamously used it during their siege of the Chechen capital in 1999, they killed thousands of civilians. The use of these mortars in “dense urban environments” is a war crime, the Monitor reports.

Many activists in Homs fear the shelling is only a precursor to a ground assault on the city, the BBC reports.

The two journalists killed in Homs were Sunday Times of London reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik. Their deaths were confirmed by the newspaper and the French foreign minister, respectively. Ms. Colvin, an American, was on air with CNN via phone the night before her death. She said Syria “was the worst conflict she had covered,” partly because of the sheer amount of shelling, according to CNN.

In a dispatch for The Sunday Times (paywalled) published over the weekend, Colvin wrote that Homs residents were “waiting for a massacre.” “The scale of human tragedy in the city is immense. The inhabitants are living in terror. Almost every family seems to have suffered the death or injury of a loved one... "On the lips of everyone was the question: 'Why have we been abandoned by the world?'" she wrote.

The Guardian writes that Colvin is considered Britain’s “foremost frontline war reporter” and has twice won the British press award for her foreign correspondent work.

At least two other journalists have been seriously wounded, according to several outlets, although their nationalities and the seriousness of their wounds have been reported differently by each.

The unrelenting nature of the assault on Homs coincides with the Obama administrationdropping” its previously unmovable opposition to arming anti-regime groups, the Associated Press reports. The White House and State Department coordinated their announcements that “additional measures” may be coming if a political solution remains out of reach.

“We don’t want to take actions that would contribute to the further militarization of Syria because that could take the country down a dangerous path,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “But we don’t rule out additional measures if the international community should wait too long and not take the kind of action that needs to be taken.”

The administration has previously said flatly that more weapons are not the answer to the Syrian situation. There had been no mention of “additional measures.”

Meanwhile, in addition to backing Red Cross assistance, Russia has also proposed the dispatch of a UN special envoy to the country to oversee humanitarian efforts, the Associated Press reports – the strongest move against Assad that Russia has so far taken. It has steadily provided arms to the regime throughout the uprising, selling $1 million worth of arms to the country in 2011, according to Reuters. 

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Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi (r.) and his Omani counterpart Yousef bin Alawi attend a joint news conference in Tehran on Tuesday, Feb. 21. (Raheb Homavandi/Reuters)

IAEA nuclear experts visit Iran - but no nuclear sites

By Staff writer / 02.21.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

UN nuclear inspectors in Iran will not visit any nuclear sites during their two-day visit, the Iranian foreign minister said today.

Ramin Mehmanparast said that the team was made up of “experts” – not inspectors, as they have been described in news reports – and that they were there for discussions that would lay the groundwork for negotiations between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding the country’s nuclear program, the Associated Press reports.

Iran views its nuclear program – which it insists is for peaceful purposes only – as a “non-negotiable right,” Agence France-Presse reports. The implication is that Iran will not give up its nuclear program, although it may consent to some controls or limits on it.

Iranian state radio reported yesterday that the IAEA team asked to visit the Parchin military complex, suspected of being the site of covert weapon development, and to meet nuclear scientists, according to the Associated Press. The IAEA visit less than a month ago also did not include a visit to any Iranian nuclear sites.

In recent weeks, the tone of discussions about a military strike have escalated. An Iranian military leader warned today that Iran would stage a preemptive attack if it felt an attack on its nuclear program was imminent, Reuters reports.

“Our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran’s national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions,” said Mohammed Hejazi, the deputy armed forces head, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

The New York Times describes the recent heightened rhetoric as “a poker game with potentially lethal stakes, as both Iran and its adversaries maneuver for advantage with no way of knowing their opponent’s ultimate intentions.”

As the US and Britain have attempted to dissuade Israel from considering a strike, the Iranian government has boasted of improvements to its nuclear enrichment capabilities, according to the Times. Last week it announced that it was now using domestically produced fuel rods and had installed 3,000 new centrifuges.

Britain's Parliament yesterday debated a motion that would rule out a British strike on Iran, but Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke strongly against it, saying it would “boost Iran’s confidence” and make it more likely that Israel would attack.

Meanwhile, US officials have given interviews to American journalists in recent weeks criticizing Israel’s consideration of an attack on Iran – angering Israeli officials, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told CNN on Feb. 19 that it would be “destabilizing” and “not prudent” to launch an attack at this time and said the US has so far been unsuccessful at persuading Israel to give up the possibility of an attack on Iran. 

Israel has indicated that if the US wants it to stop making such preparations, the US needs to increase pressure on Iran further. "We made it clear that if we don't increase the pressure on the Iranians now, we might be in a situation in which the question how Iran obtained nuclear weapons would become an issue for commentators and historians," an Israeli official told Haaretz, implying that without more pressure, Iran will achieve weapons capability. 

Yesterday, The New York Times published a story laying out the steps necessary for a successful Israeli attack that made it clear current and former US military officials and exports thought it would be an extremely difficult task, although there were admissions that the US might not have full insight into Israel’s capabilities.

Should Israel decide to launch a strike on Iran, its pilots would have to fly more than 1,000 miles across unfriendly airspace, refuel in the air en route, fight off Iran’s air defenses, attack multiple underground sites simultaneously – and use at least 100 planes.

That is the assessment of American defense officials and military analysts close to the Pentagon, who say that an Israeli attack meant to set back Iran’s nuclear program would be a huge and highly complex operation.

“All the pundits who talk about ‘Oh, yeah, bomb Iran,’ it ain’t going to be that easy,” said Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, who retired last year as the Air Force’s top intelligence official and who planned the American air campaigns in 2001 in Afghanistan and in the 1991 Gulf War.

As one of many steps to increase pressure on Iran, the European Union agreed in January to impose an embargo on imports of Iranian oil, scheduled to go into effect this summer. In retaliation, Iran announced a ban on oil exports to Britain and France this week and said it might extend the ban to other countries unless they agree to “guarantees of payments, long-term contracts, and a ban on unilateral cancellation of contracts by buyers,” the Associated Press reports.

Iranian oil exports are much more critical to countries such as Spain and Italy, which get one-eighth of their oil from Iran, and Greece, which gets one-third of its oil from Iran, than they are to Britain or France, The New York Times notes.

RELATED: Imminent Iran nuclear threat? A timeline of warnings since 1979. 

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In this photo, Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Ja'afari can be seen on the monitor as he addresses the U. N. General Assembly, Thursday, Feb. 16, at United Nations Headquarters. The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to back an Arab League plan calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and strongly condemning human rights violations by his regime. (Devra Berkowitz/The United Nations/AP)

After UN condemns Syria abuses, Assad rains artillery down on Homs

By Staff writer / 02.17.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Syria's Bashar al-Assad delivered an emphatic and bloody response to the UN General Assembly vote yesterday calling for the Syrian leader to stop attacking civilians and step down from power.

Mr. Assad's forces rained down artillery shells on the city of Homs, a rebel bastion that has over the past week received one of the most withering and sustained government assaults of the war.

VOA reports that Assad retains powerful allies and has shown no signs of a willingness to step down.

General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, but reflect world opinion on major issues.  Eleven nations joined Syria in voting against the resolution, most notably Russia and China, which vetoed a similar measure in the U.N. Security Council earlier this month.  The VOA correspondent in New York says other nations whose ambassadors spoke against the General Assembly resolution included Iran, North Korea, Bolivia and Venezuela.

There are growing concerns that Syria's sectarian-tinged civil war could spread beyond its borders. Mr. Assad's regime is largely backed by the heterodox Alawite sect he belongs to, and is largely opposed by Syria's Sunni Arab majority. There has been scattered fighting between Alawites and Sunnis in Lebanese city of Tripoli recently, and some fear the regional implications are growing.

Reuters reports that support is beginning to flow from Iraq.

Smuggled guns are filtering into Syria but it is not clear if Arab or other governments are backing any such transfers. Iraqi security officials say there are signs Sunni Muslim insurgents are beginning to cross the border to join Syrian rebels. Smugglers are cashing in as prices double for weapons reaching Syria concealed in commercial traffic.

For now, however, such weaponry cannot match the firepower that Assad's military can bring to bear, analysts say, but that could change if Assad fails to heed Arab peace calls. A non-Gulf Arab ambassador said Qatar and Saudi Arabia had insisted on the "material support" wording to cover "all kinds of support including weapons in future", adding: "But we see this as a dangerous escalation."

A senior Arab diplomat voiced fears that such a step could ignite a conflagration in Syria, a nation of Sunnis, Alawites, Christians, Kurds and Druze at the heart of the Arab world.

Syria was a major supplier of Sunni jihaddis to the insurgency against the US occupation of Iraq, and there are signs that the Sunni Iraqis are now reciprocating. Sunni Islamists have long been repressed by Assad's regime, and the smuggling lines that kept arms and men flowing to battles in Iraq's Anbar province can run the other way.

At the government to government level, Iraq appears to be providing some support for Assad. The new Iraq's Shiite leaders are politically close to Iran, a major backer of Assad, and have avoided condemnation of his actions to this point. The Wall Street Journal reports:

On Thursday, U.S. intelligence officials said they now believe al Qaeda operatives are joining the battle against the Assad regime. "We believe that al Qaeda in Iraq is extending its reach into Syria," James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said in a Senate hearing, the most direct connection yet drawn by U.S. officials between terrorist groups and the Syrian opposition. Recent explosions on security and police installations in Damascus and Aleppo, he said, "had all the earmarks of an al Qaeda-like attack."

Iraqis, meanwhile, have allegedly been arming both sides of the Syrian conflict. Sunni leaders in Iraq have claimed to be arming the opposition to Mr. Assad. Syrian opposition members have accused Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of aiding Mr. Assad by turning a blind eye to the passage of Iraqi Shiite militiamen, as well as Iranian fighters and weapons transiting to Syria through Iraq, to assist Mr. Assad in his crackdown. Iraqi officials deny this.

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A Thai Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) official examines the bomb site in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Feb. 14. (Apichart Weerawong/AP)

Thai officials say Tuesday's Bangkok blasts were meant for Israeli diplomats

By Staff writer / 02.16.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

In a first since a bomb went off in Thailand and India within days of one another, Thai authorities have joined Israel and pointed to Iran. A top police official said several Iranian nationals planned to assassinate Israeli diplomats in Bangkok as tensions between Israel and Iran grow over Tehran's nuclear program.

As the Thai police announced they were searching for a fifth suspect in the botched terrorism plot in Bangkok, the statement by Thailand's top policeman was the first confirmation by local officials that the Iranians was plotting attacks in Thailand.  

Israel has been strongly accusing Iran of being behind the plot in Thailand as well as two other attempts in India and the former Soviet republic of Georgia this week, while Iran has denied any involvement. 

The plot in Bangkok was discovered Tuesday only by accident, when explosives stored in a house occupied by several Iranian men blew up by mistake, according to the Associated Press.

Iran, whose leaders had threatened to retaliate for Israel's alleged car-bomb assassination of several of its nuclear scientists, denied involvement in the attacks Monday and Tuesday, including a bomb that failed to explode in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Iran blamed them on Israel, according to Reuters.

Some 14 governments have issued travel warnings to their citizens visiting Thailand, Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said.

Thailand and Israel are both stepping up security measures, according to authorities in both countries.

Terror cells are "active" in India, a senior Israeli minister has said, underlining that the recent attack on a diplomat in New Delhi should spur the two nations to step up counter-terrorism cooperation.

"The incident (attack on an Israeli diplomat in Delhi on Monday) makes it clear that there are terrorist cells in India. They have targeted recently us but in the past they have also targeted Indian citizens and others.

What one can see here is a growing joint interest of India and Israel, who are both exposed to terror threats," Israel's Minister for Energy and Water Resources Uzi Landau said ahead of his three day trip to India next week. Landau had earlier served as public security minister.

Landau's comment came as the Israeli Foreign Ministry said it had stepped up security for its diplomats posted overseas.

Based on security camera footage and information from eyewitnesses, Thailand's deputy police chief Pansiri Prapawat said on Thursday, they believe the fifth suspect was also a man of Middle-Eastern appearance. The other suspects have been identified as Iranians, one of them a woman. Two are being held in Thailand, and one has been detained in Malaysia.  

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) secretary-general Supachai Panitchpakdi said the government should impose more stringent immigration controls to prevent bad guys entering Thailand.

He said the three explosions reflected increasing global tensions, but Thailand had to stand firm in saying that this is not a problem stemming from domestic affairs.

Actually, intelligence authorities were already aware of Iranians operating in Bangkok, according to Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. The incident, however, has Thailand toying with the idea of stepping up immigration measures, comparable with US measures post-Sept 11.

"Iranians have been surveying US and Israeli targets for some time now," said Mr. Panitan, a former government spokesman. "They may have been here on vacation, but they were looking for loopholes in our security."

Days before the Thailand explosion, on Feb. 13, a motorcyclist rode up alongside the car of Israeli embassy staffer Tal Yehoshua-Koren and attached a magnetic “sticky bomb” to the vehicle in an attempt to assassinate the diplomat, according to the Associated Press. The blast injured but did not kill Ms. Yehoshua-Koren. Indian investigators have so far been unwilling to place any blame on Iran, as they continue to gather clues in New Delhi, in an apparent coordination with Israelis.

 “We have no information or evidence of any country, organization, entity and individual being involved,” said Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesperson of India’s Ministry of External Affairs. 

Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said that an Indian delegation would still visit Iran, according to Dawn.com.

Mr. Sharma told the AFP that terrorism and trade were “separate issues,” stressing that the perpetrators behind Monday’s bomb attack had yet to be established. “I am sure that our investigating agencies will identify and bring to justice the perpetrators,” said Sharma.

Israel said Tehran was responsible for the attack, but Sharma insisted the matter had to be dealt with through the legal process.

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In this file photo released by the Iranian President's Office, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, center, listens to a technician during his visit of the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility some 200 miles south of the capital Tehran. Iran said on Feb. 15 it is dramatically closer to mastering the production of nuclear fuel even as the U.S. weighs tougher pressures and Tehran's suspected shadow war with Israel brings probes far beyond the Middle East. (Iranian Presidents office/AP/File)

Israel, US dismiss Iran's most recent nuclear progress claims

By Staff writer / 02.16.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Both the US and Israel, who are leading the international community’s effort to block Iran’s nuclear progress, have said that Iran’s most recent announcement of a “nuclear breakthrough” is inflated.

Iran’s Press TV reported yesterday that 3,000 new centrifuges had been installed at the main enrichment site of Natanz and that the country had loaded domestically produced nuclear fuel rods into its medical research reactor, Bloomberg reports. The station broadcast photos of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad overseeing the loading of the fuel rod, according to the Associated Press.

“Our view on this is that it’s not terribly new and it’s not terribly impressive,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in Washington yesterday, describing the announcement as “hyped,” according to Bloomberg. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the presentation a “show,” saying that Iran wants its nuclear program to seem “irreversible,” according to Associated Press. “Iran is trying to "make it seem ... like the point of no return is already behind them, which is not the case," Mr. Barak said.

Israel's dismissals come as a surprise after months of dire Israeli warnings about Iran’s nuclear progress. Israel, the US, and much of Europe believe Iran is working toward a nuclear weapon – which Tehran has denied – and Israel has been the most strident voice.

Dennis Ross, until recently one of President Obama’s chief advisers on the Middle East, said that the Press TV report was “more symbolism than anything else” and an effort to prove that punishing US and EU sanctions are having little effect.

[Mr. Ross said that] Iran has “claimed for years that they are installing next generation centrifuges, and they continue to have material and technical problems that bedevil their operation.”

There is no evidence that Iran has overcome those failings, Ross said. They are trying “to create the image of progress even when they are not advancing, now because they want to suggest they are not being affected by the pressure and isolation” of sanctions, he said.

Iran’s announcements may have been timed for the day its leaders sent a letter to the EU about resuming talks to signal that the nation is “in a position of strength,” Peter Crail, a research analyst at the Arms Control Association in Washington, said in an interview. These were “posturing, more than real advances,” he said.

David Albright, a physicist and former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, told Bloomberg that the fuel rods are not difficult to produce and don’t have military implications. Only a “handful” of countries – the US among them – can build the fuel plates needed for the reactor, Iranian officials said.

Yesterday, Iran also sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announcing that it was ready to resume talks, accepting an offer made in October. Agence France-Presse reports that the letter was likely intended to coincide with the nuclear announcement.

The declarations [of nuclear progress] were meant to underline Iran's progress in mastering all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle and underline its commitment to what it said was a purely peaceful atomic programme for energy generation and medical use.

They also underlined the Islamic republic's determination to push on with nuclear activities despite US and EU sanctions aimed at throttling its economy, especially its all-important oil exports – and despite speculation Israel or the United States could launch air strikes against its nuclear facilities.

AFP also noted that Iran's state-run media claimed that the nuclear progress gave Iran " 'the upper hand' in its future negotiations with the P5+1," a reference to the five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

The New York Times notes that the international community is watching Iran closely for signs of the effect that sanctions are having. It reported that this week’s events – on top of the nuclear announcements, Iran is suspected of attempting to assassinate Israelis abroad – “suggest that Iranian leaders are responding frantically, and with increasing unpredictability, to the tightening of sanctions by the West.”

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A policeman uses his mobile phone to take a photograph at the site of an explosion in the Ekamai area in central Bangkok on Feb. 15. Thai investigators believe they have found a link between this week's bomb blasts in Bangkok and New Delhi, a senior security official said on Wednesday, two of three attacks Israel has blamed on Iran. (Kerek Wongsa/Reuters)

Israel says Bangkok, Delhi, and Tbilisi attacks all linked – to Iran

By Staff writer / 02.15.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

The Israeli ambassador to Bangkok said today that bombs discovered in a house in Thailand were similar to those used in India and Georgia earlier this week, implying a link between the three attacks that Israel has blamed on Iran.

The Thai police said it was too early to draw links, The New York Times reports. After yesterday’s attacks, they caught two men carrying Iranian passports. They are still searching for two other suspects, whom they also believe are Iranian. One of them is said to have fled to Malaysia.

Itzhak Shoham, the Israeli ambassador, said the devices found in Bangkok were similar to the explosives used in New Delhi and Tbilisi, Georgia and had magnets that would allow them to be attached to metal objects. In both New Delhi and Tbilisi they were affixed to cars.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday at the Knesset that Iran is “undermining the world’s stability,” Haaretz reports.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Israel’s allegations were “baseless” and accused Israel of “trying to damage its relations with Thailand and fuel ‘conspiracy’ theories,” the Associated Press reports.

Will Hartley, the editor of Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center in London, said the attacks were all “highly amateurish” and lacked the “sophistication” of a typical operation by either Hezbollah or Iran’s Quds Force, according to The New York Times.

In yesterday’s Bangkok attack, one bomb went off accidentally in a home and another shortly afterward while a man was carrying it. The day before, a bomb wrecked the car carrying an Israeli diplomat’s wife in New Delhi, injuring her and the driver. An attempted attack in Tbilisi was thwarted when the bomb was spotted and defused.

Thai National Security Council head Wichean Potephosree said the type of explosives indicated that the targets were individuals, not buildings or large crowds, according to AP.

CBS News reports that Israel's Public Security Minister Yitzchak Aharonovitch implied the state would seek revenge for this week’s attacks.

"We know who carried out the terror attacks, we know who sent them, and Israel will settle the score with them," Mr. Aharonovitch said on Israel Radio. Israel’s Channel 10 TV quoted unnamed Thai officials as saying that the men captured in Bangkok confessed to targeting Israeli “interests,” according to CBS.

The attacks come amid weeks of heated talk about the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, which Israel says are being used to develop nuclear weapons that could target Israel. Iran denies the charge.

Against that backdrop, these attacks come at a dangerous time, writes Jackson Diehl, editorial page editor for The Washington Post. If Iran is indeed behind them, it is taking a huge risk – not just politically, but economically. India, as the largest buyer of Iranian oil and the supplier of a vast amount of Iran’s rice imports, is a critical ally, particularly in light of recent sanctions.

The bomb in New Delhi will escalate tensions at a time when Israel is said to be considering a full-scale military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. But it could also endanger a vital economic lifeline for Tehran. That Iran would risk a strike in such a sensitive place suggests that its leaders are panicked.

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A policeman checks the identity of a motorcycle rider at a checkpoint near the Israeli embassy in New Delhi, India, Feb. 14. Indian investigators were searching Tuesday for the motorcycle assailant who attached a bomb to an Israeli diplomatic car in the heart of New Delhi in an attack Israel blamed on Iran. (Saurabh Das/AP)

Iran accuses Israel of setting up attacks on its own diplomats

By Staff writer / 02.14.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has unequivocally blamed Iran for bombing attacks on Israeli diplomatic targets in India and Georgia yesterday, intensifying an already contentious standoff between Israel and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program.

“Iran is behind these attacks,” Mr. Netanyahu said in an emailed statement, according to Bloomberg. “Israel will act methodically and take strong yet patient action against the international terrorism that originates in Iran.”

Iranian officials have accused Israel of a false flag operation, executing the attacks itself in order to “stir up sympathy from other countries,” Iran’s PressTV reports.

The past record of the Israeli regime clearly demonstrates that its elements have previously carried out such operations to gain popularity and evoke sympathy from other nations, said Deputy Chairman of the Majlis Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy Ismail Kowsari on Tuesday.
Kowsari reiterated that Israelis stage such attacks against themselves in an attempt to accuse other countries, particularly Iran, and score political gains for their ominous objectives.

Neither the deputy chairman nor PressTV enumerated any such attacks, however, mentioning only the recent assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist – one of at least four recent murders of nuclear scientists which Iran blames on Israel. However, the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that Israel is not expected to react harshly to yesterday’s bombings.

One reason for this is that if, as is widely believed, Israel is behind a recent series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran, government officials presumably knew that Iranian revenge attacks were likely and took that possibility into account. Though an innocent diplomat's wife cannot be compared to a scientist directly involved in Iran's nuclear program, Monday's attacks were still limited enough that they didn't violate the "rules of the game." Indeed, the modus operandi of the New Delhi bombing exactly mimicked that used to kill several of the Iranian scientists. Hence a direct [retaliatory] Israeli military strike on either Hezbollah or Iran seems unlikely.

Nevertheless, two caveats are in order. First, these attacks may not be the last, but rather the first in a series. Second, it could be that the planners were capable of wreaking greater harm, but deliberately chose to cause only modest damage. Israel has repeatedly warned that a mass-casualty Hezbollah attack on Israeli targets overseas would spark a massive Israeli assault on Lebanon, and that is something Iran doesn't seem to want right now.

India is in a difficult spot, with strong ties to both countries.

Indian security experts say that India’s “less-than-stellar intelligence and surveillance capabilities” make it an easier place to stage an attack, the Wall Street Journal reports on its “India Real Time” blog.  “It would be fairly difficult to mount [Monday’s attack] in better policed countries and countries with a better intelligence apparatus,” Ajai Sahni, executive director of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, told the Journal. “India’s vulnerabilities to terrorism are very, very high.”

[Bharat Karnad, a professor of national security studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research] said that India could become “easy ground” for more such attacks if it doesn’t take strong measures. It also needs to send “strong messages to nations to fight their wars in their own land,” he said. Otherwise, “India could see many more attacks of this kind in the future.”

India will likely be under substantial pressure now to weaken its ties to Iran, which it has assiduously maintained despite European and US sanctions, India’s Economic Times reports.

India, the sources said, does not want to be drawn into a diplomatic war of words between Tehran and Tel Aviv. Iran has rubbished Israeli charges as "empty lies."
 
But with Israel launching a diplomatic offensive and the American Jewish Congress (AJC) asking India to scale down its engagement with Iran, New Delhi could come under renewed pressure from the West to cut off ties with what the Americans say is a rogue regime.

The president of the All India Rice Exporters’ Association will undermine willingness to deal with the  “elaborate” agreements necessary for the two countries to trade despite sanctions that have eliminated many channels of payment they used to use, Reuters reports.

India is Iran’s biggest oil buyer and supplier of rice and it is Iran’s second-largest arms supplier, according to Reuters. The Commerce Ministry is still planning to send a business delegation to Iran this month to look into ways to boost exports to Iran.

In Israel, the whole country has been placed on an increased state of alert, the Associated Press reports, and Israeli officials believe that yesterday’s bombings are the first in “a wave of terror.” This morning, Thailand's capital of Bangkok was rocked by a series of bombings, but there is little conclusive information available regarding those attacks, aside from an identity card found on one of the bombers indicating that he may be Iranian, according to a separate AP report.

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