Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category


Iranians believe that the mastery of [nuclear] science—rather than any other field of science, a bustling economy, and world-renowned industries and export goods, or a first-class educational system—will pave the way for Iran’s triumphant re-entry into the community of nations. Not a new microchip, or the cure for cancer, but a nuclear bomb—a weapon of mass destruction, meant to kill tens of thousands of people.


Turkey Hawks Bird as Israeli Mossad Spy Beacon, Ruffles Feathers

(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photos Shutterstock)

Last week, Turkish authorities released a kestrel after a thorough investigation showed it was not spying for Israel. It’s a good thing the Turks were 100 percent sure because, to hear Israel’s neighbors tell it, the Mossad often employs birds to do its dirty work. One vulture believed to be spying for Israel was detained in Saudi Arabia in 2011, another was apprehended in Sudan in December 2012, and the Turks believed they were also targeted previously, in May 2012, by a European bee-eater.
Like the kestrel, the other birds were all tagged with markers identifying them as research subjects, such as the study of migratory patterns. The very signs then that should have made plain they were part of scientific studies were instead taken as evidence that they had been enchanted by some secret Israeli spell.
The Mossad kestrel is only the latest creature to walk out of the Israeli bestiary, a compendium of God’s creatures lifted from nature and, the story goes, put to work by Jews against Muslims and Arabs. Perhaps the most famous of all Israel’s animal operatives was the shark who attacked German tourists off the coast of Sinai in the winter of 2010, presumably for the purpose of damaging the Egyptian tourism industry—a feat the Egyptians accomplished over the last two and a half years on their own, thanks to the chaos that they’ve unleashed on their now bloody streets, and without any animal collaborators.
If these shaggy dog conspiracy tales are sure to get a laugh from Western readers, it’s worth keeping in mind that magical fantasies seeing Jews as uncanny manipulators of the natural world partake of the same paranoid and sinister narrative structure that authored the blood libel.
There’s nothing funny about it for the Turks, either. Once upon a time, Turkey and Israel enjoyed a strategic relationship. Among other benefits that came from this alliance, Turkey purchased arms from Israel, including drones, of which Israel is the world’s largest exporter. Ankara wanted the unmanned aerial vehicles, among other reasons, to gather intelligence on and then target the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a bloody insurgency against Turkey since 1984. After Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cashiered the alliance as well as the defense contracts with Israel, the Turks turned to their own domestic industry for unmanned aerial vehicles. The problem, however, was that Turkish drones were unable to beat the nasty habit of crashing.
To say that Ankara has failed to master the science of flight is an understatement. The fact that Turkish authorities believed the bird last week was effectively a new kind of Israeli drone and only released it back into the wild after an X-ray showed it was carrying no surveillance equipment suggests that some in Turkey are incapable of distinguishing science from magic.
Of course some commentators reason that, even accounting for the appetite many Arabs and Muslims have for pre-scientific conspiracy theories, Israeli spies really do pull off some fantastic stunts. However, it’s useful to remember that if Israel, for instance, blew up Imad Mughniyeh in the middle of Damascus, the Mossad’s assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was captured on video cameras in Dubai. That is, the Israelis also make mistakes—they’re talented and proficient, but they’re people, not supermen, or warlocks and witches.
Still, hundreds of millions of Middle Eastern, African, and Asian Muslims can only understand the world as a large Harry Potter set in which they will never be among the initiates, the spell-casters. Paradoxically, the reason that this horrifying recognition boils to the surface only occasionally is the stunning success and availability of Western science and technology. It is because cell phones, for instance, are so cheap that even the tens of millions of Egyptians who, without government subsidies and foreign aid, couldn’t afford to put food on their plate can purchase technology designed in Palo Alto and Herzilya. Otherwise, the divide between a society that makes and one that simply consumes would be clear for all to see.
You can say that there is no such thing as Western science and technology, but that’s just a Western perspective based on hard-won Western values, like empiricism—either F=MA or it doesn’t. What is verifiable is true not just for so-called Westerners but is true for all men in all times. But this may not be how the vast majority of the Muslim world understands reality.
The 19th-century Muslim reform movement that arose after Napoleon’s 1798 conquest of Egypt was impressed with Western science—specifically the military technology that allowed French troops to overrun the lands of Islam so easily. The reformers counseled Muslims to make use of the science, medicine, and technology that the Westerners brought—but at all costs to avoid the Western values, like free thought, that had made those technological advances possible. In other words, Muslims were forever condemned to the role of eternal consumer, end-user, and never a producer. Perhaps their consolation is that, like servants, Westerners will make it for them anyway.
Two hundred years later, the United Nations’ 2003 Human Development Report on the Arab World, “Building a Knowledge Society,” delivered the bill. “Despite the presence of significant human capital in the region,” the paper explains, “disabling constraints hamper the acquisition, diffusion, and production of knowledge in Arab societies.”
“Between 1980 and 2000,” writes Hillel Ofek in The New Atlantis, “Korea granted 16,328 patents, while nine Arab countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E., granted a combined total of only 370, many of them registered by foreigners. A study in 1989 found that in one year, the United States published 10,481 scientific papers that were frequently cited, while the entire Arab world published only four.”
According to Pakistani physics professor Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, the 57 Organization of Islamic Congress “countries have 8.5 scientists, engineers, and technicians per 1,000 population, compared with a world average of 40.7, and 139.3 for countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Forty-six Muslim countries contributed 1.17 percent of the world’s science literature, whereas 1.66 percent came from India alone and 1.48 percent from Spain. Twenty Arab countries contributed 0.55 percent, compared with 0.89 percent by Israel alone.”
Typically, commentators note that since the Muslim world used to excel in science and technology, there is no reason that it can’t catch up today. The problem is that it’s slipping further behind—and fast. Fifty years ago the gap was costly, but today the price for not understanding science and innovation has increased exponentially. Consider, for instance, the favorite theme of the 19th-century Muslim reformers and rulers—military might. In June 1967, it took Israel six days to defeat the combined Arab armies, including Egypt’s. Despite more than 30 years and many billions of dollars of U.S. military aid, Egypt has fallen further behind the rest of the world, and even its benighted neighbors. Proof can be found in the country’s decision to buy the defective drones that Turkey can’t keep in the air.
Many commentators explain the popular Arab uprisings over the last two and a half years as a consequence of expectations that exceed conditions. This is what happens, Western journalists and analysts reason, when you have millions of college graduates who can only find jobs driving a taxi or pushing a food cart. The reality is that only the rarest of college graduates in Muslim countries is prepared for a Western-style profession.
Cyber-optimists claim that new information technologies will close the gap. Satellite TV, the Internet, Bluetooth will present Muslims with such a clear alternative to their pre-Copernican worldview that they’ll willingly choose to embrace open societies and free markets and become part of the West. But consider some of the ways in which those technologies are used: The Syrian regime used its cell-phone concession to enrich itself. Jihadis set up Internet websites to disseminate propaganda and plan operations. Gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar use their satellite networks not to promote alternative views of the world but to advance the narrow interests of the ruling family. In Egypt, tele-preachers parse passages of the Quran previously impenetrable to much of a population that has a literacy rate of 60 percent to explain why infidels should be killed.
That is, the technology gap isn’t a problem just for the Muslim world, for as the gap grows so does resentment. Consider the region’s most famous research project—the Iranian nuclear program. For decades now this oil-rich Persian Gulf power has been determined to go nuclear—to have a bomb, or as it claims, to provide nuclear energy for its people. Without taking any credit away from the Western intelligence services that have waged inventive clandestine operations to delay the program, including the alleged assassination of nuclear scientists, the reality is that if Iran hasn’t yet mastered the technology, there is something deeply wrong with the scientific culture of the Islamic Republic.
More important, there’s this: Iranians believe that the mastery of this particular field of science—rather than any other field of science, a bustling economy, and world-renowned industries and export goods, or a first-class educational system—will pave the way for Iran’s triumphant re-entry into the community of nations. Not a new microchip, or the cure for cancer, but a nuclear bomb—a weapon of mass destruction, meant to kill tens of thousands of people. A wise man once said never judge a man by his mistakes, but rather by his dreams. In the case of the Muslim Middle East, it is hard not to shudder.
***
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Lee Smith is a senior editor at the Weekly Standard and the author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.

Why Anti-Israeli Conspiracy Theories Keep a Foothold in the Arab Mideast – Tablet Magazine


Special Report: Hamas In Transition | STRATFOR

After more than five years of existing in political stalemate, Hamas is now trying to manage a worsening relationship with Iran and Syria and exploit the political rise of its Islamist parent organization, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Without a clear vision on how to proceed, Hamas is likely to undergo serious internal strains that could raise the potential for a splintering of the heretofore most tightly run organization of the Palestinian territories.
Six years ago, Hamas unexpectedly swept parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories and won the right to form a government. But the idea of a self-professed Islamist militant organization running the Palestinian government did not sit well with Israel and much of the West or with Hamas’ rival, Fatah. Sanctions on Hamas immediately intensified, and a civil war broke out between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas was driven into political isolation after it forcibly took over the Gaza Strip in mid-2007.
Hamas then entered a long period of political stagnation. As a heavily sanctioned political pariah, the group’s financial stresses rose. This provided Iran an opportunity to deepen its financial links with the Hamas regime. Though weapons and supplies still flowed to Gaza, the Egyptian regime of then-President Hosni Mubarak maintained a tight security grip over the Sinai-Gaza border to keep Hamas under control. When Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, Hamas was able to both resist and garner international sympathy, but the two-month operation still dealt a blow to Hamas militarily and did little to ease the group’s political constraints. Apart from a rampant smuggling trade via Gaza tunnels, Hamas had little space to exercise its political authority.
But regional events in 2011 brought about large changes in the challenges and opportunities faced by Hamas. Political demonstrations in Egypt led to the fall of Mubarak. After decades of being repressed by the Mubarak regime, the Egyptian MB entered the political mainstream. Though the military, which remains Egypt’s ultimate authority, wants to keep Hamas confined in Gaza, the MB’s rise has raised international acceptance of Islamists as political players. When Arab unrest reached Syria, Hamas’ refusal to publicly support the regime of President Bashar al Assad cost its exiled politburo its footing with the regime in Damascus; Hamas had to start seeking an alternative base. Meanwhile, as demonstrations continued to spread throughout the Arab world, Iran’s growing assertiveness in the region put the spotlight on Hamas, a Sunni entity, for its substantial ties with the Shiite Islamic Republic.
The group now finds itself at a turning point. Hamas has to balance deteriorating relationships with longtime patrons Iran and Syria, establish a new political vision, identify proper sources of funding and manage growing internal disagreements.

Picking Sides

When al Assad’s Alawite regime began resorting to more violent crackdowns against a growing, Sunni-dominated opposition, Hamas leaders in Damascus, led by politburo chief Khaled Meshaal, had reason to be nervous. Damascus has served as the exiled leadership’s main hub of operations since 2001, and it is the main channel for funding to reach Hamas. When unrest in Syria began, Hamas’ best option was to try to not appear involved in Syria’s internal affairs; the group could not risk its credibility by standing behind an Iranian-backed Alawite regime against Sunni resistance. Because of the overwhelming support in the Arab world for the Sunni-led uprising, Hamas could no longer ignore, as it did in the past, the al Assad regime’s intolerance of its comrades in Syria’s branch of the MB.
In August and September, Syria and Iran tried to pressure Hamas into organizing pro-Assad demonstrations in the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. It was time for Hamas to decide whom it would support. Hamas had two choices: It could follow orders and showcase its close alignment with the Iran and Syria, or it could create some distance from the Iranian-led coalition, use that distance to reinforce its relations with its Sunni Arab neighbors and, most critically, seize the opportunity to follow the MB’s lead out of political isolation.
Hamas chose the latter and refused to stage the demonstrations. The group could not afford to side against a wave of Sunni opposition without absorbing a hit to its legitimacy. Yet beyond the ideological discomfort it was experiencing, Hamas had a bigger vision in mind.

Hamas’ Political Vision

Hamas formally was created in 1987, largely as the result of two factors. First was public dissatisfaction with the secularist and corrupt Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The second was an effort by the MB to respond to the first intifada in a way that allowed it to remain politically insulated. The creation of a separate Gaza group that could engage in armed resistance answered the MB’s dilemma. However, Hamas’ original leadership still viewed militancy as a means to a political end. Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the leader of the MB and of the Islamic Center in Gaza, argued that Hamas was basically a political movement: It would fight for the rights of Palestinians, with the objective of eliminating Israel. The violent means Hamas has used make it highly controversial as a political player, but it is important to note that Hamas has held political ambitions since its inception.
Hamas’ core struggle is over how to proceed along that political path while presiding over a stateless entity — especially when its reputation has been primarily built on militant resistance, not on political credentials. As the organization learned after the 2006 election, even a sweeping political victory in the Palestinian territories yields limited results for an organization widely recognized as the premier Palestinian militant group. In other words, if Hamas was not prepared to abandon its militant arm and change its charter to recognize Israel, it needed to undergo a serious rebranding effort.
That opportunity came with the fall of Mubarak. The spread of unrest provided an opening for Islamist groups throughout the region to raise their political voice and force a wider acceptance of their growing role in the political affairs of the Arab world. The rise of the Egyptian MB in particular created an opening for Hamas to publicly reassert itself as a legitimate political player operating in the same league as its parent organization.
However, Hamas must make several difficult political decisions to achieve such a transition.

Coping with Finances

Hamas is highly secretive about its finances, but it has been unable to fully conceal the financial stress it has experienced over the past several months. It has been widely rumored that Iran began curtailing its monthly payments to Hamas after the group’s refusal to demonstrate on behalf of the Syrian regime. According to multiple sources, Iran had directed $25 million per month to Hamas; to put that in perspective, Hamas’ stated annual budget for administering the Gaza Strip is about $700 million.
In addition to the decline in Iranian financing, Hamas may also have reason to be concerned about the status of its investments in Syria. A number of Hamas members have business partnerships with members of the Syrian business community, including those close to the regime. Though the value of these assets is unknown, much of Syrian investment linked to Hamas is in real estate, resorts, food imports and olive oil exports.
Hamas may also be seeing less income from Islamic charities. Though a significant amount of funding is still likely earmarked for Hamas, a Stratfor source linked to the group said the rise of the MB and other regional Islamist opposition groups has attracted a major influx of money from donors looking to sustain the effects of the Arab Spring, making Hamas a lower priority.
These are not the only sources of Hamas funding. Hamas is believed to make about $50 million per year by taxing trade that runs through the Gaza Strip’s extensive tunnel system. The group also reaps an unknown amount of profits from local businesses in which it holds a significant stake, including the Gaza Strip’s only shopping mall and sea resorts and businesses spread throughout the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Central Asia.
Nonetheless, there are indications that Hamas is experiencing significant financial pain because of its worsening relationship with Iran and Syria. Meshaal and Gaza-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh have been taking tours throughout the region in recent weeks to meet with leaders from Jordan, Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Hamas has allegedly sought financing from these states to compensate for the drop in Iranian support. Due to the uncertainty faced by the Syrian regime, Meshaal’s faction also has reportedly been gauging these states’ willingness to provide a new base and office space for the group’s exiled leadership.

The Costs and Benefits of a Relationship with Hamas

Hamas can make a compelling offer to these states. With concern growing in the region over how to check Iran’s power, Hamas’ move to distance itself from Iran and its allies in Syria could significantly undermine Tehran’s influence in the Levant region. Additionally, these countries, particularly Egypt and Jordan, see a strategic interest in bringing Hamas closer. They can build leverage with the group — creating another mechanism to balance Israel’s power — but also use that increased influence to keep Hamas in check. However, the strict condition these states are attaching to any deal are giving Hamas pause.
Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey share an interest in keeping Hamas hemmed in Gaza. These states frequently express their support of the principle of Palestinian statehood, but Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia in particular are most concerned by the idea of a Palestinian polity emerging that could threaten their national security. Egypt, dealing with an emboldened MB, does not want Hamas to break free of its isolation and meddle in Egyptian affairs. The Egyptian military elite is already on alert for Hamas attempts to instigate a crisis between Egypt and Israel; such a crisis could rally Egyptians and Palestinians alike and provide the Islamist opposition with the means to discredit the military’s authority. In Jordan, where Palestinians constitute a majority of the population, the ethnically distinct Hashemite regime is facing a vociferous opposition led by the Jordanian MB and does not want to embolden its Palestinian population. Saudi Arabia has long had a tense relationship with Hamas and remembers well its past brushes with Palestinian militancy.
Building leverage with a militant group comes with risks. If any of these states agreed to start or increase funding for Hamas or host a Hamas office, they would not want to be held accountable for renegade actions by the group, especially by the United States and Israel. At the same time, they know Hamas is not ready to disarm, recognize Israel and make a full political transition.

Sending Mixed Signals to Tehran

These states also understand that Hamas is unlikely to completely sever its ties with Iran. Beyond the money, weapons and training it has received from Iran and its allies, Hamas needs to maintain a decent working relationship with Iran to avoid creating greater complications for itself in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a much smaller militant outfit than Hamas, has had a tight financial, ideological and logistical relationship with the Islamic Republic since the group’s inception in 1980. PIJ is firmly committed to its militant campaign. The group openly rejects building ties with surrounding Arab states due to their perceived hypocrisy toward Palestinian statehood and the Arab states’ alleged collusion with Israel. PIJ is thus the most likely Palestinian recipient of Iranian aid no longer destined for Hamas. PIJ and Hamas have long cooperated. Hamas is even suspected of occasionally relying on PIJ to carry out attacks, in an effort for Hamas to maintain plausible deniability in dealing with Israel. However, Hamas may have a decreased ability to control PIJ actions within Gaza if Hamas is no longer cooperating closely with PIJ’s main backer, Iran. So long as Hamas controls Gaza, Israel will likely hold Hamas accountable for any attacks that emanate from there. A significant loss of control over militancy in Gaza could thus leave Hamas in a much more precarious position with regard to Israel.
Hamas’ leadership seems to have been sending mixed signals to Tehran — rather than running the risks involved in an outright break — while waiting for agreements to come through with the Arab states. However, these states first want real assurances that Hamas will behave according to their standards and fundamentally shift away from the Iran-Syria axis. Indeed, according to the Palestinian Al Quds daily, Haniyeh was allegedly strongly advised by the leaders of Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait to cancel his upcoming visit to Tehran if Hamas is serious about making a deal. Haniyeh’s arrival in Tehran on Feb. 10, despite the demands of the Arab states, shows that Hamas still feels the need to keep its options open with Iran.
Hamas knows the opportunity the MB’s political elevation presents, but several complications apparently are preventing Hamas from making any clear, hard decisions.
While struggling to balance between Sunni states and Iran, Hamas is also trying to find a way to moderate its political position at home. Ongoing Hamas efforts to reconcile with Fatah and become part of the PLO are designed to insulate Hamas from the drawbacks of ruling Gaza alone. Hamas will not capitulate to Fatah for the sake of reverting to a more comfortable opposition posture. The group wants to share enough power – and present itself in enough of a pragmatic light – to resume financial flows and provide Hamas with some plausible deniability in dealing with Israeli military reprisals against the Gaza Strip.
However, this is placing a lot of pressure on the group. In trying to reintegrate itself with Fatah under the PLO umbrella and reinforce its relations with the surrounding Arab states, Hamas risks developing a crisis in legitimacy among Palestinians. The group already has accomplished little during its time in political office. Should a power-sharing government with Fatah fail to yield results, Hamas could be susceptible to the same criticism levied against its secularist rivals. Money is still sorely lacking in the Gaza Strip, and middle class members of Hamas who are making money are increasingly viewed as corrupt in the Palestinian territories. Hamas does not want to risk being put in the same light as Fatah and thereby seeing its credibility erode among its own supporters.

A Hamas Splintering?

Stresses within Hamas are already beginning to manifest in the form of public spats between the group’s Gaza-based leadership and its exiled leadership over which political course to take with Fatah, how to manage the group’s finances and what terms Hamas should agree to in dealing with foreign backers. Deep, personal rivalries have long existed within these factions, but the strains appear to be turning more severe. This dynamic was most recently illustrated the week of Feb. 6, when Meshaal signed a power-sharing agreement with Fatah leader and Palestinian National Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Doha, Qatar. Haniyeh and his deputy Mahmoud Zahar did not attend the Doha summit, and their parliamentary bloc strongly rejected the deal two days later, citing a clause that said Abbas would remain both president and prime minister in a future government. Haniyeh has since denied any rifts within his movement, but the more Hamas insists on its unity, the more doubts are raised regarding its internal coherence.
Aside from questions about how to reconcile with Fatah, there is also the important question of who will handle Hamas’ finances if the exiled leadership moves from its financial base in Damascus. It appears that Hamas is looking to set up multiple offices in countries that agree to host Hamas and help fund the organization. This could see the exiled leadership spread across Cairo, Amman and possibly Doha. Meshaal, who has Jordanian citizenship, is likely to end up in Amman while Mousa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, has already reportedly moved with his family to Cairo. A scattering of Hamas’ exiled leadership to these capitals may serve to enhance the group’s ties with each of these states and encourage them to increase their funding to Hamas, but it also leaves the group beholden to the interests of multiple states that share a desire to keep the group contained. Moreover, the wider Hamas’ exiled leadership is spread, the more difficult these leaders will find it to coordinate and remain relevant compared to the Gaza-based leadership.

\Special Report: Hamas In Transition | STRATFOR

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Posted By Uri Friedman

Yes, it’s Oman to the rescue yet again. Today we’re learning that the Omani government helped negotiate the release of three French aid workers held by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen. A Yemeni tribal mediator tells the Associated Press that Oman and a Yemeni businessman paid an unspecified sum to the militants, who had been demanding $12 million in exchange for the hostages.
The state-run Oman News Agency reports that Oman’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, directed officials to “provide all facilities” to help France in recognition of the “distinguished relations” between the two countries. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for his part, has “warmly” thanked the sultan for his “decisive help.” The aid workers crossed the Yemeni-Omani border by car, flew to Muscat on an Omani military plane, and then left for France.
If this scenario sounds familiar, that’s because it is. In 2010, Omani sources paid $500,000 bail to win the release of American hiker Sarah Shourd, who had been detained by Iran along with her fiancé Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal a year earlier for straying across the Iran-Iraq border. This fall, Oman shelled out close to $1 million for the release of Bauer and Fattal. A diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks indicates that Oman helped secure the release of British sailors captured by Iranian forces in 2007 as well.
How did Oman become the Denzel Washington of Middle East hostage situations? The answer lies in Oman’s pragmatic, Switzerland-esque approach to foreign policy. In 1970, Qaboos — who maintains a tight grip on power and who Robert Kaplan has described as the “most worldly and best-informed leader in the Arab world” — overthrew his father in a palace coup and set about transforming an isolated and unstable country into a nonaligned regional power. In the 1980s, for example, Oman somehow managed to maintain diplomatic relations with both sides in the Iran-Iraq war while backing U.N. Security Council calls to end the conflict.
This diplomatic balancing act has enabled Oman to enjoy good (but not excessively cozy) relations with both Iran and the U.S. and its Western allies. Qaboos, a supporter of the Shah before the Iranian revolution, has eschewed the hostile stance that Gulf neighbors like Saudi Arabia have adopted toward the Islamic regime. Instead, Oman and Iran cooperate to secure the Strait of Hormuz, which divides the two countries and transports 40 percent of the world’s oil and gas.
“Oman views Iran as the strategic threat to the region but has chosen to manage the threat by fostering strong working relations with Tehran,” a 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable explained. Iran, for its part, may not view the small sultanate as much of a threat and may value the alliance as it grows increasingly isolated. Oman has pressed Iran to negotiate with the U.S. over its nuclear program and even offered to facilitate secret talks.
America’s friendly relationship with Oman, meanwhile, dates back to at least 1841, when Oman became the first Arab nation to recognize the U.S. The sultanate has a free trade agreement with the U.S. and has permitted American forces to use its military bases in the past (in 2010, however, Omani officials strongly denied reports that they had discussed deploying U.S. missile defenses in the country). Oman’s role as a key interlocutor between Iran and the U.S. was underscored last month when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Qaboos following the revelation of an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. “We would expect that Omanis would use their relationship with Iran, as they have in the past, to help the Iranians understand the implications of what they’re doing,” a U.S. State Department official noted during the visit.
The hostage deals, then, may represent just one more weapon in Oman’s arsenal for neutralizing threats to regional stability like the political paralysis in Yemen and deteriorating U.S.-Iranian relations. In a 2009 diplomatic cable, the U.S. ambassador to Oman informed an Omani foreign affairs official that securing the release of the three American hikers in Iran would “remove an unhelpful irritant” between Washington and Tehran. When Bauer and Fattal arrived safely in Muscat two years later, an Omani foreign ministry statement expressed hope that the deal would promote a “rapprochement between both the Americans and the Iranians” and “stability in the region.” Oman’s millions have yet to accomplish those elusive goals, but they have purchased several people their freedom.
Oman: The world’s hostage negotiator | FP Passport

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Iran is Building a Secret Missile Installation in Venezuela – Opinion FoxNews.com

This photo released by the Iranian Defense Ministry, alledgedly shows a Nasr1 (Victory) missile in a factory in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, March 7, 2010. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi announced on state TV Sunday a new production line of highly accurate, short range cruise missiles capable of evading radar. The missile named Nasr 1 (Victory) will be capable of destroying targets up to 3,000 tons in size according to Vahidi. Iran frequently makes announcements about new advances in military technology that cannot be independently verified.

AP Photo/Iranian Defense Ministry, Vahid Reza Alaei, HO

This photo released by the Iranian Defense Ministry, alledgedly shows a Nasr1 (Victory) missile in a factory in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, March 7, 2010. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi announced on state TV Sunday a new production line of highly accurate, short range cruise missiles capable of evading radar. The missile named Nasr 1 (Victory) will be capable of destroying targets up to 3,000 tons in size according to Vahidi. Iran frequently makes announcements about new advances in military technology that cannot be independently verified.


In November of last year, the German daily Die Welt reported that a secret agreement between the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had been signed.
The agreement was said to have been signed and finalized on October 19 by both parties, though no details were offered. Hugo Chávez, who had traveled to Iran on what was called expansion of relations between the two countries, acknowledged that the details of the latest accords were not released, and that some agreements went beyond those put on paper.
The leaders of Iran and Venezuela hailed what they called their strong strategic relationship, saying they are united in efforts to establish a “New World Order” that will eliminate Western dominance over global affairs.
Now, the German newspaper, however, confirms that the bilateral agreement signed in October was for a missile installation to be built inside Venezuela. Quoting diplomatic sources, Die Welt reports that, at present, the area earmarked for the missile base is the Paraguaná Peninsula, located 120 kilometers from the Colombian border.
A group of engineers from Khatam Al-Anbia, the construction arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, covertly traveled to this area on the orders of Amir Hajizadeh, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard Air Force.

Die Welt writes that the Iranian delegation had been ordered to focus on the plan for building the necessary foundations for air strikes. The planning and building of command stations, control bases, residential buildings, security towers, bunkers and dugouts, warheads, rocket fuel and other cloaking constructs has been assigned to other members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps of Engineers. The IRGC engineers will also be interfacing with their Venezuelan counterparts in fabricating missile depots that are said to go as deep as 20 meters in the ground.
The report maintains that building such depots is not easy and that they must be built to accommodate a network of special pipes necessary for the transfer of fuel within the installation, while expelling poisonous materials to the outside. At the same time, necessary precautions must be taken to withstand all possible air strikes.
Security sources have stated that the plans for the underground missile depots will be prepared by experts from the chemical engineering department of the Sharif Industrial University and Tehran Polytechnic. Apparently, these experts have produced and presented their first proposal to the Revolutionary Guards’ Khatam Al-Anbia headquarters.
Based on sources inside Iran, reports indicate that the Revolutionary Guards have established many entities and facilities in Venezuela as front companies involved in covert operations, such as exploration of uranium.
Venezuela is said to have significant reserves, something that Iran is desperately in need of for the continuation of their nuclear bomb project. Other activities include housing of the Quds forces, along with Hezbollah cells in these facilities, so they can expand their activities throughout Latin America and form collaborations with drug cartels in Mexico and then enter America.
Many of the Iranian so-called commercial facilities in Venezuela are under strict no-fly zone regulations by the Venezuelan government, and are only accessible by the Iranians in charge of those facilities!
With Iran’s refusal to halt its nuclear program and the progress they’re making with their missile delivery system, this new military alliance with Venezuela is most alarming for our national security here in America.
Based on my sources, I believe the radicals ruling Iran are emboldened by the confusion of the Obama administration in confronting Iran’s nuclear program. The Iranian regime feels that America has exhausted all of its options with its negotiation and sanctions approach and therefore no longer poses a serious threat to Iran’s nuclear drive.
The Iranian officials recently announced that Iran will continue enriching uranium to the 20 percent level (enriching uranium to 20 percent is going 80 percent of the way to nuclear bomb material), and that it also intends to install centrifuges in the previously secret site at the Fardo enrichment plant.
With Iran’s pursuit of the bomb, its collaboration with rogue states, and its continuous support of terrorist groups in the Middle East and around the world, it is time to realize that the Iranian regime poses the gravest danger to world peace, global stability and our national security.
The Obama administration needs to take immediate action to stop the jihadists in Tehran from acquiring the nuclear bomb. Failing to do that means we will face a new brand of terrorism on a scale that will dwarf 9/11 by comparison!
Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for an ex-CIA spy who requires anonymity for safety reasons. He is the author of “A Time to Betray,” a book about his double life as a CIA agent in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, published by Threshold Editions, Simon & Schuster, April 2010.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/latino/news/2011/05/17/iran-building-secret-missile-installation-venezuela/#ixzz1MfT1V268


Opinion: Iran is Building a Secret Missile Installation in Venezuela – FoxNews.com


These are the guys that run the racket and repression in Syria…

Although Bashar al-Assad inherited Syria’s presidency on his father’s death in 2000, analysts say he does not have Hafez al-Assad’s absolute grip on power. He is surrounded by military and intelligence figures, most of whom are either related to the president or are members of his minority Alawite community.

Here are some excerpts on two of, if not THE, main men from Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle as reported by the BBC.

Maher al-Assad, Republican Guard chief

The president’s youngest brother is said to be Syria’s second most powerful man. He heads the Republican Guard, the elite force which protects the regime from domestic threats and is the only one permitted to enter Damascus, and commands the fourth armoured division. […]

He has a reputation for being excessively violent and emotionally unstable, and allegedly shot [!!] and wounded his brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat. […]

In 2005, Maher and Shawkat were both mentioned in a preliminary report by UN investigators as one of the people who might have planned the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.

When mass pro-democracy protests began in the southern city of Deraa in March 2011, Maher’s fourth armoured division – which is deployed on Syrian territory bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and controls the capital’s approaches – was sent in to crush them.

Rumours persist that Maher might challenge his brother’s rule – much like his uncle Rifaat attempted to seize power from Hafez in 1983 – but there is no evidence that he has sufficient power to challenge his rule.

Rami Makhlouf

A first cousin of Bashar al-Assad, Mr Makhlouf is arguably the most powerful economic figure in Syria. He has been the subject of persistent accusations of corruption and cronyism, and analysts say no foreign companies can do business in Syria without his consent. […]

In 2001, he and the Egyptian telecommunications company, Orascom, were awarded one of Syria’s two mobile phone operator licences. After a court dispute over control of Syriatel, Orascom was forced to sell its 25% stake. […]

In addition to Syriatel, Mr Makhlouf is believed to control two banks, free trade zones, duty free shops, a construction company, an airline, two TV channels, and imports luxury cars and tobacco. He is also vice-chairman of Cham Holding, considered Syria’s largest private company, and has stakes in several oil and gas companies.

In 2008, the US treasury banned US firms and individuals from doing business with Mr Makhlouf, and froze his US-based assets. It accused him of “corrupt behaviour” […]

“Makhlouf has manipulated the Syrian judicial system and used Syrian intelligence officials to intimidate his business rivals. He employed these techniques when trying to acquire exclusive licenses to represent foreign companies in Syria and to obtain contract awards,” a statement said. […]

Former Vice-President Abdul Halim Khaddam said in 2009 that Bashar’s rule had been marked by “transforming corruption into an institution” headed by Mr Makhlouf.

Two years later, anti-government protesters in Deraa initially directed their wrath at Mr Makhlouf, some chanting: “We’ll say it clearly, Rami Makhlouf is robbing us”. A branch of Syriatel in Deraa was set on fire.
Opposition websites later accused Mr Makhlouf of financing pro-government demonstrations both across Syria and abroad, by providing flags, meals and money for those participating.

See the full article here: BBC News – Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle


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Israeli Test on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay

This article is by William J. Broad, John Markoff and David E. Sanger.
The Dimona complex in the Negev desert is famous as the heavily guarded heart of Israel’s never-acknowledged nuclear arms program, where neat rows of factories make atomic fuel for the arsenal.
Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role — as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermine Iran’s efforts to make a bomb of its own.
Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms.
“To check out the worm, you have to know the machines,” said an American expert on nuclear intelligence. “The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.”
Though American and Israeli officials refuse to talk publicly about what goes on at Dimona, the operations there, as well as related efforts in the United States, are among the newest and strongest clues suggesting that the virus was designed as an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian program.

In recent days, the retiring chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton separately announced that they believed Iran’s efforts had been set back by several years. Mrs. Clinton cited American-led sanctions, which have hurt Iran’s ability to buy components and do business around the world.
The gruff Mr. Dagan, whose organization has been accused by Iran of being behind the deaths of several Iranian scientists, told the Israeli Knesset in recent days that Iran had run into technological difficulties that could delay a bomb until 2015. That represented a sharp reversal from Israel’s long-held argument that Iran was on the cusp of success.
The biggest single factor in putting time on the nuclear clock appears to be Stuxnet, the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed.
In interviews over the past three months in the United States and Europe, experts who have picked apart the computer worm describe it as far more complex — and ingenious — than anything they had imagined when it began circulating around the world, unexplained, in mid-2009.
Many mysteries remain, chief among them, exactly who constructed a computer worm that appears to have several authors on several continents. But the digital trail is littered with intriguing bits of evidence.
In early 2008 the German company Siemens cooperated with one of the United States’ premier national laboratories, in Idaho, to identify the vulnerabilities of computer controllers that the company sells to operate industrial machinery around the world — and that American intelligence agencies have identified as key equipment in Iran’s enrichment facilities.
Siemens says that program was part of routine efforts to secure its products against cyberattacks. Nonetheless, it gave the Idaho National Laboratory — which is part of the Energy Department, responsible for America’s nuclear arms — the chance to identify well-hidden holes in the Siemens systems that were exploited the next year by Stuxnet.
The worm itself now appears to have included two major components. One was designed to send Iran’s nuclear centrifuges spinning wildly out of control. Another seems right out of the movies: The computer program also secretly recorded what normal operations at the nuclear plant looked like, then played those readings back to plant operators, like a pre-recorded security tape in a bank heist, so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually tearing themselves apart.
The attacks were not fully successful: Some parts of Iran’s operations ground to a halt, while others survived, according to the reports of international nuclear inspectors. Nor is it clear the attacks are over: Some experts who have examined the code believe it contains the seeds for yet more versions and assaults.
“It’s like a playbook,” said Ralph Langner, an independent computer security expert in Hamburg, Germany, who was among the first to decode Stuxnet. “Anyone who looks at it carefully can build something like it.” Mr. Langner is among the experts who expressed fear that the attack had legitimized a new form of industrial warfare, one to which the United States is also highly vulnerable.
Officially, neither American nor Israeli officials will even utter the name of the malicious computer program, much less describe any role in designing it.
But Israeli officials grin widely when asked about its effects. Mr. Obama’s chief strategist for combating weapons of mass destruction, Gary Samore, sidestepped a Stuxnet question at a recent conference about Iran, but added with a smile: “I’m glad to hear they are having troubles with their centrifuge machines, and the U.S. and its allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated.”
In recent days, American officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity have said in interviews that they believe Iran’s setbacks have been underreported. That may explain why Mrs. Clinton provided her public assessment while traveling in the Middle East last week.
By the accounts of a number of computer scientists, nuclear enrichment experts and former officials, the covert race to create Stuxnet was a joint project between the Americans and the Israelis, with some help, knowing or unknowing, from the Germans and the British.
The project’s political origins can be found in the last months of the Bush administration. In January 2009, The New York Times reported that Mr. Bush authorized a covert program to undermine the electrical and computer systems around Natanz, Iran’s major enrichment center. President Obama, first briefed on the program even before taking office, sped it up, according to officials familiar with the administration’s Iran strategy. So did the Israelis, other officials said. Israel has long been seeking a way to cripple Iran’s capability without triggering the opprobrium, or the war, that might follow an overt military strike of the kind they conducted against nuclear facilities in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007.
Two years ago, when Israel still thought its only solution was a military one and approached Mr. Bush for the bunker-busting bombs and other equipment it believed it would need for an air attack, its officials told the White House that such a strike would set back Iran’s programs by roughly three years. Its request was turned down.
Now, Mr. Dagan’s statement suggests that Israel believes it has gained at least that much time, without mounting an attack. So does the Obama administration.
For years, Washington’s approach to Tehran’s program has been one of attempting “to put time on the clock,” a senior administration official said, even while refusing to discuss Stuxnet. “And now, we have a bit more.”
Finding Weaknesses
Paranoia helped, as it turns out.
Years before the worm hit Iran, Washington had become deeply worried about the vulnerability of the millions of computers that run everything in the United States from bank transactions to the power grid.
Computers known as controllers run all kinds of industrial machinery. By early 2008, the Department of Homeland Security had teamed up with the Idaho National Laboratory to study a widely used Siemens controller known as P.C.S.-7, for Process Control System 7. Its complex software, called Step 7, can run whole symphonies of industrial instruments, sensors and machines.
The vulnerability of the controller to cyberattack was an open secret. In July 2008, the Idaho lab and Siemens teamed up on a PowerPoint presentation on the controller’s vulnerabilities that was made to a conference in Chicago at Navy Pier, a top tourist attraction.
“Goal is for attacker to gain control,” the July paper said in describing the many kinds of maneuvers that could exploit system holes. The paper was 62 pages long, including pictures of the controllers as they were examined and tested in Idaho.
In a statement on Friday, the Idaho National Laboratory confirmed that it formed a partnership with Siemens but said it was one of many with manufacturers to identify cybervulnerabilities. It argued that the report did not detail specific flaws that attackers could exploit. But it also said it could not comment on the laboratory’s classified missions, leaving unanswered the question of whether it passed what it learned about the Siemens systems to other parts of the nation’s intelligence apparatus.
The presentation at the Chicago conference, which recently disappeared from a Siemens Web site, never discussed specific places where the machines were used.
But Washington knew. The controllers were critical to operations at Natanz, a sprawling enrichment site in the desert. “If you look for the weak links in the system,” said one former American official, “this one jumps out.”
Controllers, and the electrical regulators they run, became a focus of sanctions efforts. The trove of State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks describes urgent efforts in April 2009 to stop a shipment of Siemens controllers, contained in 111 boxes at the port of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. They were headed for Iran, one cable said, and were meant to control “uranium enrichment cascades” — the term for groups of spinning centrifuges.
Subsequent cables showed that the United Arab Emirates blocked the transfer of the Siemens computers across the Strait of Hormuz to Bandar Abbas, a major Iranian port.
Only months later, in June, Stuxnet began to pop up around the globe. The Symantec Corporation, a maker of computer security software and services based in Silicon Valley, snared it in a global malware collection system. The worm hit primarily inside Iran, Symantec reported, but also in time appeared in India, Indonesia and other countries.
But unlike most malware, it seemed to be doing little harm. It did not slow computer networks or wreak general havoc.
That deepened the mystery.
A ‘Dual Warhead’
No one was more intrigued than Mr. Langner, a former psychologist who runs a small computer security company in a suburb of Hamburg. Eager to design protective software for his clients, he had his five employees focus on picking apart the code and running it on the series of Siemens controllers neatly stacked in racks, their lights blinking.
He quickly discovered that the worm only kicked into gear when it detected the presence of a specific configuration of controllers, running a set of processes that appear to exist only in a centrifuge plant. “The attackers took great care to make sure that only their designated targets were hit,” he said. “It was a marksman’s job.”
For example, one small section of the code appears designed to send commands to 984 machines linked together.
Curiously, when international inspectors visited Natanz in late 2009, they found that the Iranians had taken out of service a total of exactly 984 machines that had been running the previous summer.
But as Mr. Langner kept peeling back the layers, he found more — what he calls the “dual warhead.” One part of the program is designed to lie dormant for long periods, then speed up the machines so that the spinning rotors in the centrifuges wobble and then destroy themselves. Another part, called a “man in the middle” in the computer world, sends out those false sensor signals to make the system believe everything is running smoothly. That prevents a safety system from kicking in, which would shut down the plant before it could self-destruct.
“Code analysis makes it clear that Stuxnet is not about sending a message or proving a concept,” Mr. Langner later wrote. “It is about destroying its targets with utmost determination in military style.”
This was not the work of hackers, he quickly concluded. It had to be the work of someone who knew his way around the specific quirks of the Siemens controllers and had an intimate understanding of exactly how the Iranians had designed their enrichment operations.
In fact, the Americans and the Israelis had a pretty good idea.
Testing the Worm
Perhaps the most secretive part of the Stuxnet story centers on how the theory of cyberdestruction was tested on enrichment machines to make sure the malicious software did its intended job.
The account starts in the Netherlands. In the 1970s, the Dutch designed a tall, thin machine for enriching uranium. As is well known, A. Q. Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist working for the Dutch, stole the design and in 1976 fled to Pakistan.
The resulting machine, known as the P-1, for Pakistan’s first-generation centrifuge, helped the country get the bomb. And when Dr. Khan later founded an atomic black market, he illegally sold P-1’s to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.
The P-1 is more than six feet tall. Inside, a rotor of aluminum spins uranium gas to blinding speeds, slowly concentrating the rare part of the uranium that can fuel reactors and bombs.
How and when Israel obtained this kind of first-generation centrifuge remains unclear, whether from Europe, or the Khan network, or by other means. But nuclear experts agree that Dimona came to hold row upon row of spinning centrifuges.
“They’ve long been an important part of the complex,” said Avner Cohen, author of “The Worst-Kept Secret” (2010), a book about the Israeli bomb program, and a senior fellow at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He added that Israeli intelligence had asked retired senior Dimona personnel to help on the Iranian issue, and that some apparently came from the enrichment program.
“I have no specific knowledge,” Dr. Cohen said of Israel and the Stuxnet worm. “But I see a strong Israeli signature and think that the centrifuge knowledge was critical.”
Another clue involves the United States. It obtained a cache of P-1’s after Libya gave up its nuclear program in late 2003, and the machines were sent to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, another arm of the Energy Department.
By early 2004, a variety of federal and private nuclear experts assembled by the Central Intelligence Agency were calling for the United States to build a secret plant where scientists could set up the P-1’s and study their vulnerabilities. “The notion of a test bed was really pushed,” a participant at the C.I.A. meeting recalled.
The resulting plant, nuclear experts said last week, may also have played a role in Stuxnet testing.
But the United States and its allies ran into the same problem the Iranians have grappled with: the P-1 is a balky, badly designed machine. When the Tennessee laboratory shipped some of its P-1’s to England, in hopes of working with the British on a program of general P-1 testing, they stumbled, according to nuclear experts.
“They failed hopelessly,” one recalled, saying that the machines proved too crude and temperamental to spin properly.
Dr. Cohen said his sources told him that Israel succeeded — with great difficulty — in mastering the centrifuge technology. And the American expert in nuclear intelligence, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Israelis used machines of the P-1 style to test the effectiveness of Stuxnet.
The expert added that Israel worked in collaboration with the United States in targeting Iran, but that Washington was eager for “plausible deniability.”
In November, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, broke the country’s silence about the worm’s impact on its enrichment program, saying a cyberattack had caused “minor problems with some of our centrifuges.” Fortunately, he added, “our experts discovered it.”
The most detailed portrait of the damage comes from the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington. Last month, it issued a lengthy Stuxnet report that said Iran’s P-1 machines at Natanz suffered a series of failures in mid- to late 2009 that culminated in technicians taking 984 machines out of action.
The report called the failures “a major problem” and identified Stuxnet as the likely culprit.
Stuxnet is not the only blow to Iran. Sanctions have hurt its effort to build more advanced (and less temperamental) centrifuges. And last January, and again in November, two scientists who were believed to be central to the nuclear program were killed in Tehran.
The man widely believed to be responsible for much of Iran’s program, Mohsen Fakrizadeh, a college professor, has been hidden away by the Iranians, who know he is high on the target list.
Publicly, Israeli officials make no explicit ties between Stuxnet and Iran’s problems. But in recent weeks, they have given revised and surprisingly upbeat assessments of Tehran’s nuclear status.
“A number of technological challenges and difficulties” have beset Iran’s program, Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, told Israeli public radio late last month.
The troubles, he added, “have postponed the timetable.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 17, 2011
An earlier version of this story misspelled, at one point, the name of the German company whose computer controller systems were exploited by the Stuxnet computer worm. It is Siemens, not Seimens.

Stuxnet Worm Used Against Iran Was Tested in Israel – NYTimes.com

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From The New York Times:
Iran Is Said to Give Top Karzai Aide Cash by the Bagful
A secret stream of Iranian cash intended to promote Iran’s interests in the Afghan presidential palace is seen as an effort to divide the U.S. and Afghanistan.
http://nyti.ms/9yGRGy

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