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Air & Space Magazine

The 727 that Vanished

A case pursued by the FBI, the CIA, the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security, CENTCOM, and the sister of Ben Padilla.

  • By Tim Wright
  • Air & Space Magazine, September 01, 2010

Seven years after her brother disappeared from Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport in Angola, Benita Padilla-Kirkland is trying to persuade the FBI to re-open his case. She believes she has the “new information” agents told her they require. But she suspects that the agency already has more information than agents will admit to.
Kirkland’s brother, Ben Charles Padilla, a certified flight engineer, aircraft mechanic, and private pilot, disappeared while working in the Angolan capital, Luanda, for Florida-based Aerospace Sales and Leasing. On May 25, 2003, shortly before sunset, Padilla boarded the company’s Boeing 727-223, tail number N844AA. With him was a helper he had recently hired, John Mikel Mutantu, from the Republic of the Congo. The two had been working with Angolan mechanics to return the 727 to flight-ready status so they could reclaim it from a business deal gone bad, but neither could fly it. Mutantu was not a pilot, and Padilla had only a private pilot’s license. A 727 ordinarily requires three trained aircrew.
According to press reports, the aircraft began taxiing with no communication between the crew and the tower; maneuvering erratically, it entered a runway without clearance. With its lights off and its transponder not transmitting, 844AA took off to the southwest, and headed out over the Atlantic Ocean. The 727 and the two men have not been seen since.
Who was flying 844AA? Had something happened to make Padilla take that desperate chance? Or was someone waiting inside the airplane? Leased to deliver diesel fuel to diamond mines, the 727 carried 10 500-gallon fuel tanks and a few passenger seats in its cabin. Less than two years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 727’s freakish departure triggered a frantic search by U.S. security organizations for what intelligence sources said could have been a flying bomb.
Retired U.S. Marine General Mastin Robeson, commander of U.S. forces in the Horn of Africa when 844AA went missing, says word of the 727 “came up through the intelligence network.” According to Robeson, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) considered moving U.S. fighter aircraft to Djibouti on the Red Sea coast, where the Combined Joint Task Force shares a base with the French military. Robeson continues: “It was never [clear] whether it was stolen for insurance purposes&hellipby the owners, or whether it was stolen with the intent to make it available to unsavory characters, or whether it was a deliberate concerted terrorist attempt. There was speculation of all three.”
Speculation that the theft of 844AA posed a terrorist threat ended, though it’s unclear why. Perhaps National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency technicians saw signs of a crash in satellite imagery—debris or an oil slick in the Atlantic, for example—or evidence that a large aircraft had landed on one of a half-dozen unpaved, 8,000-foot runways in the Congo, north of Angola. Agency spokesperson Susan Meisner would not comment, saying that the NGIA was not the lead agency in the case. (A CIA spokesperson also declined comment, as did a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security. FBI agents also refused comment, citing national security concerns.) Perhaps the speculation ended more gradually, after weeks without clues or sightings stretched into months. The disturbed hornet’s nest of a global security alert—the searches, bulletins, and interrogations—quieted, and in 2005, the FBI closed its case. I have filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the CIA and FBI and have followed in at least some of the FBI’s footsteps, interviewing the people who flew 844AA to Angola and worked with it there, hoping to understand how a 727 could just disappear.
IT REALLY WAS in beautiful condition,” Keith Irwin says of the airliner he acquired in Miami in February 2002. Irwin, 57, a South African entrepreneur who ran a series of information technology companies and, until 2000, a small tourist airline with flights from South Africa to Mozambique, had come to Miami to pick up a different aircraft altogether. Representing a joint venture with a South African company called Cargo Air Transport Systems, Irwin had arranged to lease a 727 and two flight crews—pilot, first officer, and flight engineer—for a year. The air transport company had signed a contract to supply fuel to diamond mines in Angola, where a long civil war had made transporting goods by road almost impossible. The 727, therefore, was to have been delivered with fuel tanks installed in the cabin. The joint venture was backed by a single investor, who had deposited $450,000 in a U.S. bank. Irwin’s job was to manage the flight operations, but the deal for the airplane fell through. Irwin ended up with fuel tanks and no airplane.
That failure stranded six crewmen who had assembled in Miami. “The guys then were desperate for work,” says Irwin. “Most of those guys had not flown in a long time because of the 9/11 story. I said, ‘Look, I can take you on if we can find another aircraft.’ ” And Irwin met Maury Joseph, president of Aerospace Sales and Leasing, Inc. Joseph owned three 727s that had recently been retired by American Airlines. “All three aircraft were almost in mint condition,” says Irwin. “American Airlines had a very good maintenance program.”
New deal: Joseph sold 844AA to Irwin for $1 million and change. According to his records, he received a down payment of $125,000, and says he stipulated that the balance be paid within 30 days. He agreed to remove the passenger seats from the cabin and to allow Irwin to take the airliner to Africa. Irwin says he cannot remember the details of the agreement, but recalled it to be a lease arrangement. In any case, the joint venture made only two payments and defaulted.
Though the two men now differ over the terms of the contract, they agree on one detail: As a condition of the agreement, Irwin was required to take along one of Joseph’s employees, Mike Gabriel, whose job was to make sure that the deal was concluded. “I gave Mike $10,000 and told him to fly with them,” says Joseph. “Stay with the plane till you get the money, and then come on home, and if not, bring the plane home.”
On February 28, 2002, with most of the passenger seats removed and the 10 fuel tanks loaded, 844AA, still in the livery of American Airlines, with a blue stripe down the side and an AA logo fading on its tail, took off for Africa.
Because Irwin’s partners had not arranged a landing permit, it took two weeks for the crew to make their way to Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport, where they arrived on March 14. Irwin, who had not worked in Angola before, realized immediately that the deal was in trouble. The company hiring his partners for deliveries, Kuwachi Dundo, was supposed to pay $220,000 when the airplane and crew landed, but instead the company’s representative made excuses. (Irwin lost almost $140,000 in the first deal and had burned through the rest of the $450,000 by March.)
The crew endured accommodations in a dismal apartment without electricity or drinkable water, near an open sewer. (Gabriel and Irwin didn’t stay with the crew; they had rented an apartment in the back of a house owned by an Angolan air force general.) The only one of the men not troubled by the circumstances they found in Angola was Mike Gabriel. Gabriel, a dealer in aircraft parts and engines, had spent a considerable amount of time in West Africa, and was accustomed to the AK-47s the men saw everywhere, including stacked up behind the bar of a club they frequented. Most worrisome to the crew was that they were required to surrender their passports on arrival. Irwin explains that Kuwachi needed the passports to obtain Angolan licenses for the pilots and flight engineers.
“I was scared to death. I really thought I was going to die,” says Art Powell, one of the flight engineers with the project. Powell had been to Angola before and had spent a year working in Nairobi, Kenya, but this experience was different. He felt intimidated by the people who had hired the crew for the fuel-delivery job. His anxiety was intensified by the presence of a local “helper” who toted an AK-47. The helper was a guard whom Mike Gabriel says he hired because the crew repeatedly voiced concerns about safety.
When Kuwachi got wind of the crews’ unrest (several crew members have admitted that they were planning to steal the aircraft to escape to South Africa or return to the States), the company refused to return the passports. Irwin and members of the crew went to the U.S. Embassy; only then were the passports returned.
By Angolan regulations, Irwin says, 844AA was controlled by the clients who hired it. Prohibited from flying the aircraft out of the country, Irwin booked airline seats and flew the crew members to South Africa. From there, two of the men immediately flew home to the United States. One says he is still owed $17,000. The other four crewmen, still hoping for the money they’d been promised, stayed on.
By April, Irwin was extricating himself from the deal made by Cargo Air Transport Systems and had found a new backer, an Angolan who arranged deliveries for a different client. Irwin and the remaining crew returned to Luanda and began flying the shipments for the new company. Mike Gabriel placed the total number of flights made at 17.
“It’s the most dangerous flying in the world,” says a crewman who asked that his name be withheld because he fears for his career. A U.S. Air Force veteran, he likened the deliveries to flying into a combat zone. When they approached the airfields, the crew tried to stay at an altitude above small-arms fire for as long as possible, then spiraled down to land.
“I’ve been a [flight deck crew member] for 30 years,” he says. “For me, it was an opportunity to make a couple of bucks… and when everything started falling apart, I probably hung on twice as long as common sense dictated. But I had too much invested at that point to bail out.”
Many of the runways, says Mike Gabriel, aren’t paved and aren’t like the ones U.S. crews are accustomed to. “On some, you land uphill, then go downhill, then uphill again,” he says.
At one airstrip, the anonymous crewman says, just before 844AA arrived, a 727 flying for a competing company crashed on landing and skidded off the runway. Although the crew survived, he says, some local residents were killed. “We gave [the other flight crew] a lift out of there but not before going over to their airplane and stealing some parts that we needed. That’s when I decided it was time to go home.”
Before he left, he says, a “big African showed up with a briefcase full of hundred-dollar bills. It was payday.” Besides paying the crew, the money was supposed to pay off accumulated airport fees and fuel costs.
“After that,” the crewman says, “I created a family emergency&hellip. I said, ‘My mother is sick.’ ” He promised he’d return in two weeks and left. “I had no intentions of going back, of course. I didn’t get anywhere near full pay, but I got enough that I could pay my bills and make it not completely worthless.”
By the end of April, all of the Americans except Mike Gabriel had left.
Irwin hired a local crew and continued to deliver fuel to the mines, but he was ready to leave too. The civil war in Angola had ended. Competition among fuel haulers, Irwin says, had intensified, and he was growing more uncomfortable with the delivery deals. His partners were claiming part ownership of the aircraft, but Maury Joseph had not been paid. Joseph, meanwhile, sent a crew to swap an engine from the 727. Finally, Irwin says, he was being followed—by a local man named Antonio, who, Irwin believes, was working for one of his partners. “I would turn around,” Irwin says, “and spot Antonio watching me from a car.”
Irwin began wedging a chair under the door handle of his hotel room “just like you see in the movies.” One night, he heard a key card slide into the slot on the door. The lock released. “I started yelling and whoever it was ran,” he says. The hotel security guards questioned the night clerk and learned that he had accepted a bribe to provide the key card. Irwin left the country the next day and didn’t go back.
Maury Joseph fired Mike Gabriel some time that spring. “He kept convincing me that next week, next month…,” Joseph says, referring to the outstanding balance owed on the airplane.
In May 2002, the only part of the original 844AA project left at the Luanda airport was 844AA.
THE SON OF A FLORIDA MILLWRIGHT, Ben Charles Padilla Jr. was always mechanically gifted, says sister Benita Padilla-Kirkland, and from the time he was a boy, he loved airplanes. In his mid-20s he learned to fly and became certified as an airframe-and-powerplant mechanic. He lived in south Florida with two children, one his own, and a fiancée of 15 years. (Efforts to contact her were unsuccessful.) Though the two weren’t married, Padilla gave her power of attorney in his absence and made her the executor of his estate, according to Padilla-Kirkland, and left her almost everything in his will.
“He certainly knew the airplane,” says Maury Joseph. Padilla was a freelancer, who had worked for Joseph on two jobs before traveling to Angola to repossess 844AA. Padilla had worked extensively in Africa. He helped Joseph ferry a 727 to Nigeria for a sale and during the negotiations stayed to explain the aircraft systems. “If you said, ‘Go to Cambodia and do this’ or ‘Go to Indonesia and do this’ or ‘Go to South America and do this’ he would do it. [When in Nigeria] I was with Ben daily for a month or more,” says Joseph. “You become fairly close to somebody when you’re with them day and night.” Joseph trusted him.
But another employer formed a different opinion. Jeff Swain, who works near Miami in international aircraft sales and leasing, had hired Padilla in the late 1990s for an airline he was operating in Indonesia—and fired him. “We had certain standards of conduct we expected from flight engineers,” Swain says, adding, when pressed, “He was too involved in chasing the local girls. It was an unstructured environment, and he just went bad.” Swain says that after Padilla was fired, he stayed on in Indonesia for two months and racked up a $10,000 bill that he told the hotel the airline would pay. “We finally had him deported,” says Swain.
Padilla once showed Swain a photograph of a woman with small children and told him it was his wife in Mozambique, but Swain says, “I never believed it was real. Ben was always marveling everyone with his bullshit stories.” One of Padilla’s friends also saw a photograph of a wife, but insists that she lived in Tanzania. Another acquaintance was told that Padilla had a wife in Indonesia.
Benita Padilla-Kirkland says she’s heard the stories, but believes her brother would have told her if he’d had another family. She doesn’t doubt the relationships, but is convinced that Padilla was helping to support people he’d befriended. “There might have been more than one of those situations,” she says.
WHAT IN FEBRUARY 2002 had been a retired airliner in excellent condition had by fall become a junker worth only the price of its engines. And Maury Joseph found a buyer for them: Jeff Swain. Swain says that Irwin and the crews had ruined the airplane. “It would never be of any value again,” he says. “You can’t put water tanks full of fuel in an airplane and expect it to be good. Totally stupid. But it had really good engines on it—maybe 1,000 cycles since new.”
In November 2002, Joseph and Ben Padilla flew to Nigeria to deliver a 727, and Joseph hired Padilla to fly to Angola the following April to pay the outstanding fines and hire mechanics to return the 727 to service. “If [the company that contracted for fuel deliveries] wasn’t paying Mr. Irwin, you can assume he wasn’t paying anybody,” says Joseph. “He probably hadn’t paid the fuel bill. He didn’t pay the navigation fees, the landing fees, and certainly wasn’t paying the parking fees at the airport. So all of those became things that we had to resolve and I had to pay all those.”
Padilla worked with Air Gemini, a Luanda-based airline that operated a repair station. The return-to-service process was progressing steadily, according to Joseph, and in May 2003, acting as Joseph’s agent, Padilla hired a pilot and copilot from Air Gemini to help him deliver the aircraft to Johannesburg, South Africa, where Joseph was waiting with his new customer. A day or two before the aircraft was to leave Luanda, Padilla made plans with Air Gemini to take the aircraft from the company hangar out to the main runway, where he intended to run the three engines up to full power for a systems check.
Late in the morning on May 26, when Joseph and Swain were expecting 844AA to land, Joseph took a call from an Air Gemini employee, who demanded to know why another crew had flown the airplane out of Luanda. “He was kind of hard on me,” Joseph says. After the shock wore off, he telephoned the U.S. Embassy in South Africa to report the disappearance, then called his wife back in Florida to tell her to call the FBI. From Washington, D.C., the Department of State, notified by the U.S. Embassy in Angola, sent a message to every American embassy in Africa: Alert aviation officials that an airliner has been stolen, and call every airport with a runway long enough to handle a 727.
For the U.S. government, fraud was one theory that could explain the aircraft’s disappearance. “Part of the intelligence was that the airplane was in a bad state of repair,” says General Robeson. “That was one of the speculations, that it was an insurance fraud situation. You know, ‘Oops, my plane was hijacked/stolen by terrorists and now I can do an insurance claim on it.’ So, that was probably as valid of an explanation when all was said and done as anything. But we just left it as an unknown.”
Among intelligence officials, the suspicions of fraud may have been aroused by knowledge of an incident in Maury Joseph’s past. During the 1990s, Joseph was CEO of a cargo airline named Florida West (which later went bankrupt). The Securities and Exchange Commission charged him in a civil case with falsifying financial statements and defrauding investors. The court imposed a fine and barred Joseph from acting as an officer in a publicly held company.
But Joseph, when contacted by the FBI, volunteered to take a lie-detector test, and Swain, who was there when Joseph took the call from Air Gemini, is certain that Joseph had nothing to do with the airplane’s disappearance. “Look, nobody was more amazed by this situation than Maury,” Swain says. He describes Joseph as utterly confused by the information that the airplane was gone.
The suspicion that Ben Padilla could have played any part in an insurance fraud angers his younger brother. “If anybody would say to me that my brother was involved with this,” says Joe Padilla, his voice tightening, “they’re full of it. ’Cuz I know my brother. He’s not gonna do nothing crooked. I know that for a fact.” He is convinced that more than one person was already on board, waiting, and that they forcibly took the aircraft, and killed Ben and John Mutantu.
“I keep hoping against hope that maybe he’s tucked away somewhere,” says Benita Padilla-Kirkland. The new information she passed along to the FBI was a possible sighting of the aircraft, one of many reported over the years.
Mike Gabriel believes the airplane crashed in the Atlantic Ocean soon after takeoff. One crew member from the fuel delivery operation thinks the Angolan air force shot it down with a missile. A Luandan pilot says the word there is that the aircraft went north and vanished near Kinshasa, Congo. One of Ben Padilla’s friends says the airplane was disassembled for parts in Bujumbura, Burundi, on Tanzania’s western border.
Picking through the fragments of 844AA’s history, I found a story of broken deals, disappointments, and betrayals, but no real clues to the aircraft’s destination that day in 2003. We may never know for sure where it went. It is the largest aircraft ever to have disappeared without a trace.
Tim Wright is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia.

© Smithsonian Institution

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An excellent intelligence assessment from Stratfor. 


I completely agree: If the world – and notably the Middle Eastern countries – wants to contain Iran, this is the way to go forward.




Rethinking American Options on Iran http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20100830_rethinking_american_options_iran

August 31, 2010 | 0856 GMT

By George Friedman

 Public discussion of potential attacks on Iran’s nuclear development sites is surging again. This has happened before. On several occasions, leaks about potential airstrikes have created an atmosphere of impending war. These leaks normally coincided with diplomatic initiatives and were designed to intimidate the Iranians and facilitate a settlement favorable to the United States and Israel. These initiatives have failed in the past. It is therefore reasonable to associate the current avalanche of reports with the imposition of sanctions and view it as an attempt to increase the pressure on Iran and either force a policy shift or take advantage of divisions within the regime.

My first instinct is to dismiss the war talk as simply another round of psychological warfare against Iran, this time originating with Israel. Most of the reports indicate that Israel is on the verge of attacking Iran. From a psychological-warfare standpoint, this sets up the good-cop/bad-cop routine. The Israelis play the mad dog barely restrained by the more sober Americans, who urge the Iranians through intermediaries to make concessions and head off a war. As I said, we have been here before several times, and this hasn’t worked.

The worst sin of intelligence is complacency, the belief that simply because something has happened (or has not happened) several times before it is not going to happen this time. But each episode must be considered carefully in its own light and preconceptions from previous episodes must be banished. Indeed, the previous episodes might well have been intended to lull the Iranians into complacency themselves. Paradoxically, the very existence of another round of war talk could be intended to convince the Iranians that war is distant while covert war preparations take place. An attack may be in the offing, but the public displays neither confirm nor deny that possibility.

The Evolving Iranian Assessment
STRATFOR has gone through three phases in its evaluation of the possibility of war. The first, which was in place until July 2009, held that while Iran was working toward a nuclear weapon, its progress could not be judged by its accumulation of enriched uranium. While that would give you an underground explosion, the creation of a weapon required sophisticated technologies for ruggedizing and miniaturizing the device, along with a very reliable delivery system. In our view, Iran might be nearing a testable device but it was far from a deliverable weapon <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/nuclear_weapons_devices_and_deliverable_warheads?fn=1317026187> . Therefore, we dismissed war talk and argued that there was no meaningful pressure for an attack on Iran.

We modified this view somewhat in July 2009, after the Iranian elections and the demonstrations. While we dismissed the significance of the demonstrations, we noted close collaboration developing between Russia and Iran. That meant there could be no effective sanctions against Iran, so stalling for time in order for sanctions to work had no value. Therefore, the possibility of a strike increased.

But then Russian support stalled as well, and we turned back to our analysis, adding to it an evaluation of potential Iranian responses to any air attack. We noted three potential counters: activating Shiite militant groups (most notably Hezbollah), creating chaos in Iraq and blocking the Strait of Hormuz <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20091004_iran_and_strait_hormuz_part_1_strategy_deterrence?fn=1717026185> , through which 45 percent of global oil exports travel. Of the three Iranian counters, the last was the real “nuclear option.” Interfering with the supply of oil from the Persian Gulf would raise oil prices stunningly and would certainly abort the tepid global economic recovery. Iran would have the option of plunging the world into a global recession or worse.

There has been debate over whether Iran would choose to do the latter or whether the U.S. Navy could rapidly clear mines <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20091006_iran_and_strait_hormuz_part_3_psychology_naval_mines?fn=3417026171> . It is hard to imagine how an Iranian government could survive air attacks without countering them in some way. It is also a painful lesson of history that the confidence of any military force cannot be a guide to its performance. At the very least, there is a possibility that the Iranians could block the Strait of Hormuz, and that means the possibility of devastating global economic consequences. That is a massive risk for the United States to take, against an unknown probability of successful Iranian action. In our mind, it was not a risk that the United States could take, especially when added to the other Iranian counters. Therefore, we did not think the United States would strike.

Certainly, we did not believe that the Israelis would strike Iran alone. First, the Israelis are much less likely to succeed than the Americans would be, given the size of their force and their distance from Iran (not to mention the fact that they would have to traverse either Turkish, Iraqi or Saudi airspace). More important, Israel lacks the ability to mitigate any consequences. Any Israeli attack would have to be coordinated with the United States so that the United States could alert and deploy its counter-mine, anti-submarine and missile-suppression assets. For Israel to act without giving the United States time to mitigate the Hormuz option would put Israel in the position of triggering a global economic crisis. The political consequences of that would not be manageable by Israel. Therefore, we found an Israeli strike against Iran without U.S. involvement difficult to imagine.

The Current Evaluation
Our current view is that the accumulation of enough enriched uranium to build a weapon does not mean that the Iranians are anywhere close to having a weapon. Moreover, the risks inherent in an airstrike on its nuclear facilities outstrip the benefits (and even that assumes that the entire nuclear industry is destroyed in one fell swoop — an unsure outcome at best). It also assumes the absence of other necessary technologies. Assumptions of U.S. prowess against mines might be faulty, and so, too, could my assumption about weapon development. The calculus becomes murky, and one would expect all governments involved to be waffling.

There is, of course, a massive additional issue. Apart from the direct actions that Iran might make, there is the fact that the destruction of its nuclear capability would not solve the underlying strategic challenge that Iran poses. It has the largest military force in the Persian Gulf, absent the United States. The United States is in the process of withdrawing from Iraq, which would further diminish the ability of the United States to contain Iran. Therefore, a surgical strike on Iran’s nuclear capability combined with the continuing withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq would create a profound strategic crisis in the Persian Gulf.

The country most concerned about Iran is not Israel, but Saudi Arabia. The Saudis recall the result of the last strategic imbalance in the region, when Iraq, following its armistice with Iran, proceeded to invade Kuwait, opening the possibility that its next intention was to seize the northeastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia. In that case, the United States intervened. Given that the United States is now withdrawing from Iraq, intervention following withdrawal would be politically difficult unless the threat to the United States was clear. More important, the Iranians might not give the Saudis the present Saddam Hussein gave them by seizing Kuwait and then halting. They might continue. They certainly have the military capacity to try.

In a real sense, the Iranians would not have to execute such a military operation in order to gain the benefits. The simple imbalance of forces would compel the Saudis and others in the Persian Gulf to seek a political accommodation with the Iranians. Strategic domination of the Persian Gulf does not necessarily require military occupation — as the Americans have abundantly demonstrated over the past 40 years. It merely requires the ability to carry out those operations.

The Saudis, therefore, have been far quieter — and far more urgent — than the Israelis in asking the United States to do something about the Iranians. The Saudis certainly do not want the United States to leave Iraq. They want the Americans there as a blocking force protecting Saudi Arabia but not positioned on Saudi soil. They obviously are not happy about Iran’s nuclear efforts, but the Saudis see the conventional and nuclear threat as a single entity. The collapse of the Iran-Iraq balance of power has left the Arabian Peninsula in a precarious position.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia did an interesting thing a few weeks ago. He visited Lebanon personally and in the company of the president of Syria. The Syrian and Saudi regimes are not normally friendly, given different ideologies, Syria’s close relationship with Iran and their divergent interests in Lebanon. But there they were together, meeting with the Lebanese government and giving not very subtle warnings to Hezbollah <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100827_lebanon_syrias_plan_preempt_iran_and_hezbollah?fn=8617026155> . Saudi influence and money and the threat of Iran jeopardizing the Saudi regime by excessive adventurism seems to have created an anti-Hezbollah dynamic in Lebanon. Hezbollah is suddenly finding many of its supposed allies cooperating with some of its certain enemies. The threat of a Hezbollah response to an airstrike on Iran seems to be mitigated somewhat.

Eliminating Iranian Leverage In Hormuz
I said that there were three counters. One was Hezbollah, which is the least potent of the three from the American perspective. The other two are Iraq and Hormuz. If the Iraqis were able to form a government that boxed in pro-Iranian factions in a manner similar to how Hezbollah is being tentatively contained, then the second Iranian counter would be weakened. That would “just” leave the major issue — Hormuz.

The problem with Hormuz is that the United States cannot tolerate any risk there. The only way to control that risk is to destroy Iranian naval capability before airstrikes on nuclear targets take place. Since many of the Iranian mine layers would be small boats, this would mean an extensive air campaign and special operations forces raids against Iranian ports designed to destroy anything that could lay mines, along with any and all potential mine-storage facilities, anti-ship missile emplacements, submarines and aircraft. Put simply, any piece of infrastructure within a few miles of any port would need to be eliminated. The risk to Hormuz cannot be eliminated after the attack on nuclear sites. It must be eliminated before an attack on the nuclear sites. And the damage must be overwhelming.

There are two benefits to this strategy. First, the nuclear facilities aren’t going anywhere. It is the facilities that are producing the enriched uranium and other parts of the weapon that must be destroyed more than any uranium that has already been enriched. And the vast bulk of those facilities will remain where they are even if there is an attack on Iran’s maritime capabilities. Key personnel would undoubtedly escape, but considering that within minutes of the first American strike anywhere in Iran a mass evacuation of key scientists would be under way anyway, there is little appreciable difference between a first strike against nuclear sites and a first strike against maritime targets. (U.S. air assets are good, but even the United States cannot strike 100-plus targets simultaneously.)

Second, the counter-nuclear strategy wouldn’t deal with the more fundamental problem of Iran’s conventional military power. This opening gambit would necessarily attack Iran’s command-and-control, air-defense and offensive air capabilities as well as maritime capabilities. This would sequence with an attack on the nuclear capabilities and could be extended into a prolonged air campaign targeting Iran’s ground forces.

The United States is very good at gaining command of the air and attacking conventional military capabilities (see Yugoslavia in 1999). Its strategic air capability is massive and, unlike most of the U.S. military, underutilized. The United States also has substantial air forces deployed around Iran, along with special operations forces teams trained in penetration, evasion and targeting, and satellite surveillance. Far from the less-than-rewarding task of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, going after Iran would be the kind of war the United States excels at fighting. No conventional land invasion, no boots-on-the-ground occupation, just a very thorough bombing campaign. If regime change happens as a consequence, great, but that is not the primary goal. Defanging the Iranian state is.

It is also the only type of operation that could destroy the nuclear capabilities (and then some) while preventing an Iranian response. It would devastate Iran’s conventional military forces, eliminating the near-term threat to the Arabian Peninsula. Such an attack, properly executed, would be the worst-case scenario for Iran and, in my view, the only way an extended air campaign against nuclear facilities could be safely executed.

Just as Iran’s domination of the Persian Gulf rests on its ability to conduct military operations, not on its actually conducting the operations, the reverse is also true. It is the capacity and apparent will to conduct broadened military operations against Iran that can shape Iranian calculations and decision-making. So long as the only threat is to Iran’s nuclear facilities, its conventional forces remain intact and its counter options remain viable, Iran will not shift its strategy. Once its counter options are shut down and its conventional forces are put at risk, Iran must draw up another calculus.

In this scenario, Israel is a marginal player. The United States is the only significant actor, and it might not strike Iran simply over the nuclear issue. That’s not a major U.S. problem. But the continuing withdrawal from Iraq and Iran’s conventional forces are very much an American problem. Destroying Iran’s nuclear capability is merely an added benefit.

Given the Saudi intervention in Lebanese politics, this scenario now requires a radical change in Iraq, one in which a government would be quickly formed and Iranian influence quickly curtailed. Interestingly, we have heard recent comments by administration officials asserting that Iranian influence has, in fact, been dramatically reduced. At present, such a reduction is not obvious to us, but the first step of shifting perceptions tends to be propaganda. If such a reduction became real, then the two lesser Iranian counter moves would be blocked and the U.S. offensive option would become more viable.

Internal Tension in Tehran
At this point, we would expect to see the Iranians recalculating their position, with some of the clerical leadership using the shifting sands of Lebanon against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Indeed, there have been many indications of internal stress, not between the mythical democratic masses and the elite, but within the elite itself. This past weekend the Iranian speaker of the house attacked Ahmadinejad’s handling of special emissaries. For what purpose we don’t yet know, but the internal tension is growing.

The Iranians are not concerned about the sanctions. The destruction of their nuclear capacity would, from their point of view, be a pity. But the destruction of large amounts of their conventional forces would threaten not only their goals in the wider Islamic world but also their stability at home. That would be unacceptable and would require a shift in their general strategy.

From the Iranian point of view — and from ours — Washington’s intentions are opaque. But when we consider the Obama administration’s stated need to withdraw from Iraq, Saudi pressure on the United States not to withdraw while Iran remains a threat, Saudi moves against Hezbollah to split Syria from Iran and Israeli pressure on the United States to deal with nuclear weapons, the pieces for a new American strategy are emerging from the mist. Certainly the Iranians appear to be nervous. And the threat of a new strategy might just be enough to move the Iranians off dead center. If they don’t, logic would dictate the consideration of a broader treatment of the military problem posed by Iran.

Rethinking American Options on Iran  is republished with permission of STRATFOR.”




A refugee bombshell
By ZVI MAZEL
23/07/2010
Proposal to grant rights to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon would violate unanimous Arab consensus that they must return to Palestine.
Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druse leader who crossed the lines a year ago and left the pro- Western coalition to join the Syrian camp, has thrown another bombshell into the political arena. The aim is further exacerbating tensions and conflicts within Lebanese society. On June 19 he stunned the political community by submitting to parliament four bills which, if adopted, would grant Palestinian refugees a number of rights – not including citizenship.

They would be given the right to own a place of residence outside refugee camps, to be free to gain employment in whatever field they chose and to enjoy attendant social benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans.

The move was sure to heighten hostilities between Christians and Muslims and it did not fail. All Christian political parties – including that of Michel Aoun, the Christian general who joined the opposition led by Hizbullah – opposed the proposals and managed to send them to various parliamentary committees for further consideration. As to the Muslim parties, Hizbullah included, their reaction was muted and they let it be known they were open to discussion.

At the core of the problem is the fear shared by all that granting rights to Palestinian refugees would not only ultimately lead to their settling in Lebanon for good – thus destroying the fragile equilibrium between all communities – but also violate the unanimous Arab consensus against settling refugees in host countries, since they must return to Palestine.

According to UNRWA there are 425,000 Palestinian refugees – a number which includes those who fled in 1948 and their descendants – living in 12 camps scattered all over Lebanon. The number is probably inflated, since many managed to move to other Arab countries or to the West to find suitable employment.

FOLLOWING THE 1969 Cairo Agreement between the Lebanese government and the PLO and other understandings reached over the years between the Lebanese government and the PLO/Fatah under Yasser Arafat, the refugees must live in the camps, where they enjoy administrative autonomy, are allowed to have weapons and to “train toward the liberation of Palestine.” Lebanese security forces do not enter the camps but are posted around them.

Created in 1949, UNRWA sees to the welfare of the denizens of the camps, provides education and health services as well as food; however its budget is steadily shrinking. Buildings have replaced tents, but the refugees cannot leave to find work or buy a home outside, and the camps have turned into slums whose inhabitants are exploited by a number of Palestinian organizations with their own agendas. Fatah rules most of the camps, but Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and all the other groups are there; more recently jihadist organizations loosely affiliated with al- Qaida have also moved in. Quarrels often turn violent and can degenerate into gunfights.

It is from some of the camps that jihadist organizations planned their operations before going outside to fire rockets into Israel.

Lebanese authorities are forbidden to enter the camps and they can only watch helplessly. But in 2007 extremist elements in the Al-Barad camp near Tripoli, doing Syria’s bidding, planned a series of terror operations in northern Lebanon to further destabilize the country. Syria wanted to pressure the Lebanese government into stopping the operation of the international court of justice it had set up with the UN Security Council to investigate the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Damascus is the prime suspect.

There ensued three months of bloody fighting between the extremists and the Lebanese army, leaving 400 dead, including 168 soldiers. The camp was totally destroyed and tens of thousands of refugees were left homeless.

Pro-Syrian Palestinian factions, such as Ahmed Jibril’s PFLP-General Command, also set up fortified positions outside the camps, mainly in the eastern part of the Bekaa Valley along the Syrian border. The Syrians are using these positions, where the Lebanese army dares not enter, to stockpile ammunition and to train Jibril’s militants, who bear arms openly, to carry out subversive operations against Lebanon.

The overall picture is bleak, but no one in Lebanon or in the Arab world will acknowledge the fact that this situation is the result of the deliberate Arab policy not to settle the refugees in neighboring Arab states to preclude any attempt at putting an end to the conflict born of the Arab refusal to accept the partition plan which would have provided for a Palestinian state. It was the concerted attempt of Arab states to destroy the newly born State of Israel that created the plight of the Palestinian refugees.

MORE THAN 60 years later, Lebanon is the main victim of this impossible state of affairs that threatens its very existence.

Putting the refugees into camps was supposed to be a temporary solution. Successive Lebanese governments repeated that the refugees would ultimately go back to Palestine and refused to let them settle in the country. This was set in the constitution and included in the Taif agreement of 1989 that ended the Lebanese civil war.

The agreement also stipulated that all militias outside the camps – Hizbullah and Jibril’s organization included – would be stripped of their weapons. It did not happen. No Lebanese government was able to enforce that part of the agreement.

Poverty, terror and lack of hope have turned the camps not only into a festering sore in the heart of the country, but also a powder keg which could explode at any time, throwing Lebanon into chaos and threatening to splinter into a myriad of warring units.

All parties understand that this can’t go on much longer and that “something” has to be done. So far Lebanon is clinging to the so-called Saudi/Arab initiative which reiterated that the refugees would not be settled in their host countries – an empty statement by all accounts.

Now Jumblatt has dropped his bombshell, knowing full well that his country alone cannot solve the problem, and that even discussing it will only deepen the chasm between the communities and weaken the government.

The committee for legal affairs to which the proposals were submitted first postponed the debate, then scheduled it for July 15. The refugees, however, are restless and they held a mass demonstration in Beirut demanding civil rights “to be able to live decently.” Hamas chairman Khaled Mashaal told Palestinian students in Damascus that Palestinians must be given full civil rights, while adding that this by no means meant that the refugees would be settled in Lebanon, since the Palestinians would never give up their right of return.

UNRWA chairman Filippo Grandi, who was in the Lebanese capital at the end of June, also called on the Lebanese government to grant civil rights to the refugees, claiming that creating a stable Palestinian society was in the interest of Lebanon.

The purpose of his visit had been to collect funds to rebuild the Al-Barad camp, which had been destroyed in the fighting.




In a press conference he said that he had only been able to raise half of the $450 million needed. In other words, in spite of all the problems the UN is willing to rebuild the camp, thus perpetuating the refugee status of the Palestinians.

Christian political parties are standing firm in their opposition. Aoun declared at a recent congress of his party that he will never agree to a measure which would let Palestinians buy real estate in his country.

It is worth mentioning no human rights organization has seen fit to comment on the plight of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Arab countries feel bad about a situation which is of their making, and choose not to interfere.

The end of June also saw a meeting of the Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue committee in Beirut. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent a delegation headed by Azzam al-Ahmed, a member of the Fatah central committee, which was joined by representatives of the PLO in Lebanon. The delegation met with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Saad Hariri as well as with Christian party representatives Amin Gemayel and Aoun. They had the same message for all: Palestinian refugees would remain guests in Lebanon according to the laws of the country and would not abandon their right of return – but they demanded civil rights to enable them to live decently.

All were waiting to see what the prime minister would have to say when he rose to speak at the meeting. They were disappointed: There was nothing new in his speech. Hariri repeated that though the Lebanese government was responsible for the Palestinians living in Lebanon, the international community must assume its share and ensure that they are given their right to return to Palestine.

He added that the government and the parliament would do what they have to do, but the world must do the same.

The Lebanese prime minister has no miracle solution and is in deep trouble.

Granting refugees the right to buy real estate throughout the country and to work in whichever profession they choose would be a blow to young Lebanese who are trying to buy a home and find a job. It would also be a first step toward settling in Lebanon for good. The Christian parties are opposed to such a move and the Muslim parties are not keen either: They know only too well that it would only deepen Christian antagonism and could lead to a renewed civil war. Tearing the country apart is just what the Syrians want because it would leave Lebanon weak and helpless.

Nobody knows how to deal with Jumblatt’s bombshell or how to defuse it. For the present, the Lebanese will deal with it in the traditional way – by doing nothing and hoping that the camps do not blow up in their face.

The writer is a former ambassador to Egypt and Sweden.

A refugee bombshell

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The MasterBlog




Lebanon: Palestinian refugees can work 
By GIL HOFFMAN AND AP

18/08/2010

Danny Ayalon hopes move is first step toward citizenship.



The Lebanese parliament voted on Tuesday to grant the country’s 400,000 Palestinian refugees the right to work in the same professions as other foreigners, lifting a decades-old ban that had relegated the refugees to the most menial jobs.

The bill was intended to transform Lebanese policies toward the refugees, although Palestinian leaders in Lebanon and human rights workers say it was only a first step that leaves significant stumbling blocks in place.

RELATED:
Opinion: A refugee bombshell
Palestinian refugees protest for rights in Beirut

The Palestinians living in Lebanon are isolated from the rest of the country in refugee camps to a higher degree than anywhere else in the Arab world.

“I was born in Lebanon and I have never known Palestine,” said Ahmed al- Mehdawi, 45, a taxi driver who lives in the Ein el- Hilweh refugee camp, which is notorious for its lawlessness.

“What we want is to live like Lebanese. We are human beings and we need civil rights.”

Ein el-Hilweh, the largest camp in Lebanon with about 70,000 inhabitants, is located on the outskirts of Sidon.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Israel Beiteinu) praised the Lebanese parliament’s decision and expressed hope that Lebanon and other Arab states would give the Palestinians living in their countries full rights.

There was no reason for them to be considered refugees after 62 years, he said.

“This is only a small step that is long overdue on the way to completely naturalizing them in Lebanon and in other places around the world that host Palestinians,” Ayalon said. “History shows that displaced people eventually get adopted where they live.”

Ayalon wrote an article that was published in The Wall Street Journal’s American, European and Asian editions on July 29 in which he highlighted the poor treatment of Palestinians in Lebanon at a time when a Lebanese flotilla was said to be bound for the Gaza Strip.

“Today, there are more than 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon who are deprived of their most basic rights,” Ayalon wrote. “The Lebanese government has a list of tens of professions that a Palestinian is forbidden from being engaged in, including professions such as medicine, law and engineering. Palestinians are forbidden from owning property and need a special permit to leave their towns. Unlike all other foreign nationals in Lebanon, they are denied access to the health-care system.”

Ayalon said he could not assess whether his article and the international pressure on Lebanon it caused had a significant impact on the parliament’s decision, but he said that “even if the impact was marginal, I am satisfied.”

According to UN figures, around 4.7 million Palestinians claiming to be refugees – who fled or were driven from their homes during the 1948-9 and 1967 wars – and their descendants are scattered across the Middle East. They live mostly in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Palestinian negotiators have demanded at least partial repatriation, but Israel has refused, saying an influx of refugees would dilute its Jewish majority and threaten the existence of the state.

Unlike in neighboring Syria and Jordan, where Palestinians enjoy more rights, the refugees in Lebanon live mostly on UN handouts and payments from the rival Palestinian factions. Those who do work are generally either employed by the UN agency UNRWA or as laborers at menial jobs such as construction.

Parliament on Tuesday lifted the restrictions that kept Palestinians almost entirely out of the formal labor market, although they are still subject to the same regulations as other foreign workers.

Lebanon’s National News agency said the lawmakers amended a segment of the labor law that dates back to 1946.

But the laws governing foreign workers in Lebanon pose a unique problem for Palestinians, who are stateless.

Lebanese law restricts some professions only to Lebanese, while many other professions – such as law, medicine and engineering – require the employees to be members of the relevant professional association.

But most of these associations say foreign membership depends on reciprocity in their home country – which effectively bars Palestinians, who don’t have one.

“If you’re a Palestinian born and raised in Lebanon and your dream is to become a doctor, you’re out of luck,” said Nadim Houry, the Beirut director at Human Rights Watch.



Houry said Tuesday’s vote was a welcome step, but more needed to be done.

Ali Hamdan, an aide to the speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Nabih Berri, said Tuesday’s vote would legalize much of the work that many Palestinians already were doing and open up positions in fields such as insurance and banking.

“For the first time, Lebanon, which is a small country, is trying to solve a historic crisis for the Palestinian refugees,” Hamdan said.

Lebanon: Palestinian refugees can work

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Behold brilliant Beirut

By Tyler Brûlé
Published: August 14 2010 00:47 | Last updated: August 14 2010 00:47
The last week has been something of a hot, hazy blur. When I landed in Beirut on Wednesday, the air over the city was so thick and heavy that it felt as if I were being pushed downwards through the soft, mushy pavement. Still, a super-humid evening didn’t stop us (me, Mom, Mats, my magazine colleagues Todd, Bruce and new friend Moritz) from co-hosting a party at Papercup in Mar Mikhael, commandeering a wonderful new Armenian restaurant a few streets away and then enjoying the crowd, fire-show, sounds, sparklers and impossibly large bottles of vodka at Skybar above Beirut’s harbour.
While the quick stop in Lebanon was mostly work, it also marked the official handover of the flat I fell for back in May. If you caught the dispatch from my trip in early June, you’ll recall that I found two flats in the Ashrafieh district but hadn’t managed to secure the one I wanted before I departed.
Fortunately, I now have the keys to the better of the two and have set to work scouring the city’s market, galleries, antique dealers and rubbish heaps for choice pieces to populate the terrace, reception rooms and hotel-size kitchen. My friend Kamal bundled me into his car before I left to select the essentials for the kitchen, and assured me that anything I couldn’t find in the country could be easily made. “Whatever you want,” he said. “Furniture for the terrace, deep sofas for lounging, bed-linen, lamps, storage units. We still know how to make things here.”
Aside from Lebanon’s winning sense of hospitality and an anything-goes lifestyle (elements that should be at the cornerstone of its tourism campaign), it’s the rich culture of craft that makes it a potentially interesting case-study for a country at the cross-roads of Europe and Asia.
A lack of investment in basic infrastructure over the past three decades has turned into a bonus for everyone from book publishers to furniture designers. A young woman who has a stationery business is able to print and hone her craft in the suburbs of Beirut on machines that were long ago replaced by digital equipment in more developed economies. The final product is luxurious and wonderfully tactile – and also incredibly rare.
Across town in Hamra, a furniture gallery that deals in pieces from Jean Royère has started adapting the designs of the respected French furniture designer from the 1950s and launched a local production facility. Boomerang-style tables that have been altered for 21st-century living are covered in plastic laminates that would have been consigned to the bin decades ago but are still found in warehouses around the country. Indeed, small-scale Lebanese furniture manufacturers are now winning jobs that might have otherwise gone to factories in China.
If Turkey is focused on going for volume when it comes to manufacturing clothes, furniture and houseware, then “Made in Lebanon” could become a mark of quality for ceramics, tailored garments, printing, food, even footwear. Lina Audi’s Liwan brand, L’Artisan du Liban, Orient 499, the couture of Rabih Kayrouz, the rustic leather goods of Johnny Farah, Rouba Mourtada’s stationery and Karim Bekdaches’ storage systems are all examples of businesses that combine Lebanese design talent with homegrown manufacturing.
The country has plenty to fix, but a focus on encouraging a culture of craft, which not only bolsters the small and medium-sized business sector but also maintains a sustainable base that allows for a differentiated tourism experience, is a good place to start building. It also puts Beirut in a unique position across the whole region (save for Syria perhaps) by offering up products and experiences that are wholly original.
As more restaurants pop up and hotels start to emerge from the ruins of derelict buildings, Lebanon will need to decide what type of tourists it wants to attract and how it will get them there. For the moment, and not through engineering, it’s a premium destination that’s avoided the hen-party and stag-weekend set or package tours in search of cheap buffets.
Two weeks ago, the government announced an expansion plan that will see the airport almost double in size. As there seemed to be some excitement about building an infrastructure to support big A380s, the government and Lebanon Inc would be wise also to ensure that they support their home-grown carrier MEA (Middle East Airlines) – something of a national treasure. One of my most memorable flights was the first time I flew with them in 1991 from Heathrow to Beirut where the service included a Sunday roast trolley – complete with huge carving utensils and chic flight attendants who smoked in the galley. On my MEA flight to Abu Dhabi last Sunday, I was greeted by an elegant woman with a French twist, deep tan and smoky voice who looked like a poster lady for the “golden age of flying” – and she was. All that was missing was the cigarette.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle
More columns at www.ft.com/brule

FT.com / Columnists / Tyler Brûlé – Behold brilliant Beirut

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The MasterLiving Blog


Guest Post: 
Clash On Israel-Lebanon Border Holds Potential For Strategic Escalation

Submitted by Yossef Bodansky for www.oilprice.com


The August 3, 2010, armed clash along the Israeli-Lebanese border was a significant strategic incident.

On Thursday, July 29, 2010, Israel notified UNIFIL that a few Israeli soldiers would be crossing the security fence in order to cut a tree and remove a few shrubs in Israeli territory but near the Blue Line (the actual border between Israel and Lebanon). This foliage blocks the view of Israeli security cameras positioned deep inside Israel. Israel also notified UNIFIL that these soldiers would be escorted by a small patrol which would stay south of the security fence.

The Israeli notification was in accordance with UNSC resolution 1701. UNIFIL then informed the nearby positions of the Lebanese Armed Forces about the planned Israeli activities in order to ensure that there was no misunderstanding. The Lebanese Army notified the local HizbAllah force.

Significantly, the Lebanese Army unit deployed along the border with Israel is the 9th Division, whose commanders and troops are Shi’ites and recruited from the same manpower pool as the HizbAllah.

Around 10:30am on August 3, 2010, about 10 Israeli soldiers with saws crossed the gate in the security fence on foot. This detachment was covered by an Israeli patrol which included a few tanks, armored vehicles, and a command vehicle. As UNIFIL had been informed, the patrol stayed 200-300 meters south of the fence.

When the soldiers approached the tree, they were attacked by small arms automatic fire from both the Lebanese Army’s position just across the border and “civilians” (HizbAllah fighters) in the nearby village of Adissyeh.

Immediately, a few Israeli commanders ran from the command vehicle toward the fence to see what was happening. Snipers hiding in the bush adjacent to the Lebanese Army position fired on them, killing the Israeli battalion commander (a lieutenant-colonel) and critically wounding the company commander (a captain). The sniper fire came from a professional ambush that had been organized on the basis of the advance warning provided by UNIFIL.

Meanwhile, the shooting at the Israeli soldiers north of the fence intensified. Israeli forces opened small-arms and mortar fire on the sources of fire in the Lebanese Army position and in a couple of unfinished houses in Adissyeh. Two Israeli tanks and an armored personnel carrier moved forward toward the fence in order to evacuate the stranded soldiers. At this point a UNIFIL patrol arrived on the scene and the UN officers urged both sides to ceasefire. The firing stopped a few minutes later.

Escorted by the UN patrol, the two Israeli tanks and the armored personnel carrier continued to advance toward the gate in the fence in order to evacuate the soldiers. Suddenly an anti-tank missile was fired from either the Lebanese Army position or the bush immediately near it. The missile barely missed the UNIFIL vehicle and the tanks. The Israeli tanks opened fire on the missile launcher.

Major activity followed. Intense fire — small arms, heavy machineguns, mortars, and RPGs — was opened from both several Lebanese Army positions as well as HizbAllah positions in Adissyeh. Israel rushed additional tanks and artillery to the area and started bombarding all Lebanese positions. One or two Katyusha rockets were launched toward Israel, impacted in open space and caused no damage.

A pair of Israeli combat helicopters arrived on the scene. They attacked the main Lebanese Army position near Adissyeh, and subsequently the Lebanese Army battalion headquarters in the village of Al-Taybeh. The helicopters also attacked and destroyed several Lebanese Army armored vehicles which were parked near the headquarters. Three Lebanese soldiers and a journalist (from the pro-HizbAllah newspaper Al-Akhbar) who was with the troops in Al-Taybeh were killed. Another soldier was killed in the position near Adissyeh. A total of five to six soldiers were wounded. There is no reliable information about HizbAllah casualties.

The fire subsided after little over two and a half hours.

This was a very serious incident for two reasons:

1. The incident started as a pre-planned pre-meditated provocation against the Israeli patrol on the basis of information provided via UNIFIL. The mere invitation by the Army of the Al-Akhbar correspondent to cover the clash suggests that this was a pre-planned incident. The incident was conducted jointly by Lebanese Army forces and HizbAllah forces, proving that the close cooperation which HizbAllah leader Hassan Nasrallah had boasted about repeatedly is indeed working (at least with the Army’s Shi’ite units such as the 9th Division).

2. Earlier, on Monday, August 2, 2010, HizbAllah and Iranian media warned that the Israeli cabinet had considered “the prospects of an upcoming war on the Lebanese, Syrian and Gaza fronts in anticipation of tensions on the Lebanese domestic scene” because of the impending indictment of senior HizbAllah officials by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). The HizbAllah, Syria, and Iran are calling on all Lebanese to ignore the STL and instead rally and close ranks behind the “Resistance” in order to confront the Israeli threat. Under these circumstances, the incident on the Israeli-Lebanese border should be considered a made-to-order “proof” of the HizbAllah and Iranian warnings.

Indeed, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman denounced the fighting and urged the Army and all Lebanese to “stand up to Israel’s violation of Resolution 1701, whatever the price”. According to the Syrian Arab News Agency, Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad stated that the “Israeli attack proves once again that Israel is constantly working to destabilize security in Lebanon and the region. Syria stresses that it is standing by its sister Lebanon in the face of the criminal Israeli aggression and calls on the UN to condemn and stop this aggression.”

However, the main event in the aftermath of the clash is an anticipated major speech by Hassan Nasrallah. The speech was scheduled for 20:30 on August 3, 2010 (Lebanon time), but its exact time was being constantly changed. Senior HizbAllah officials predict that Nasrallah’s speech “will mark a turning point” for Lebanon and the entire Middle East. They explained that Nasrallah would “focus on the national and Islamic dimension of the July [2006] war” and its implications for the current situation in the entire region. Nasrallah’s speech, the Senior HizbAllah officials stress, “will mainly be devoted to talk about the meaning of victory against Israel” in both past wars and in the historic confrontation still to come.

Given the above, the August 2, 2010, rocket firing from southern Sinai of Aqaba, Eilat, and a base of the US-led Multinational Force & Observers Organization in Sinai might also be part of this kind of made-to-order “proof” of Israeli aggression. Significantly, the six 122mm GRAD rockets fired from Sinai were made in Iran or North Korea, strongly suggesting that the perpetrators were Iran-sponsored main group rather than a Palestinian fringe entity.

Source: http://oilprice.com/Geo-Politics/Middle-East/Clash-on-Israel-Lebanon-Border-Holds-Potential-for-Strategic-Escalation.html

by Yossef Bodansky for OilPrice.com who offer detailed analysis on Oil, alternative Energy, Commodities, Finance and Geopolitics. They also provide free Geopolitical intelligence to help investors gain a greater understanding of world events and the impact they have on certain regions and sectors. Visit: http://www.oilprice.com

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from the archive of the Jerusalem Post

Assad’s Lebanon By JERUSALEM POST EDITORIAL 20/03/2010

Photo by: AP
Hariri and Jumblatt’s capitulation marks the demise of the tattered remains of Lebanese independence.

While Syria steadily makes strides toward breaking free from international isolation, and while its leaders purport to espouse the spirit of peaceful reconciliation, Damascus is teaching the world an object lesson in how it reaches understandings and what it considers accommodation. But is the world listening? There was a marked absence of shock, to say nothing of censure, when Lebanese Druse leader Walid Jumblatt apologized last week to Syrian President Bashar Assad for having dared accuse him of assassinating former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in 2005. Jumblatt had previously “forgiven” Assad’s father, Hafez Assad, for assassinating his own father, Kamal Jumblatt, in 1977. In the wake of Hariri’s murder, the Bush administration withdrew its ambassador from Damascus. Recently, the Obama administration pointedly opted to reinstate an American ambassador in the Syrian capital, with no quid-for-quo. Indeed, rather than cleaning up its act, Damascus thumbed its nose at the new US efforts at engagement when Assad two weeks ago held a much-hyped powwow with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Hizbullah chieftain Hassan Nasrallah. This, too, failed to elicit even a murmur of protest, much less a symbolic slap on the wrist. Seasoned political player Jumblatt has evidently internalized that Assad’s star is in the ascendent, his misbehavior notwithstanding. The Druse leader, after all, is an experienced hand at surviving amid the convoluted contortions of Lebanese affairs. With Washington pulling the rug from under him, Jumblatt plainly realized that the key to staying alive was to bow down wretchedly to Syrian dominance. To earn his ticket of admission to the reinvigorated and self-assured Damascus, Jumblatt, until recently a mainstay of Lebanon’s anti-Syrian coalition, was ordered – significantly via Nasrallah’s “mediation” – to apologize to Assad. No less. Jumblatt did so obsequiously after Hizbullah announced his “courageous review of his past stance.” Jumblatt had for years urged revenge against Syria and branded Assad a “snake” and a “tyrant.” Under Nasrallah’s supervision, Jumblatt has now atoned for “saying, at a moment of anger, what is improper and illogical against President Bashar Assad. It was a moment of ultimate internal tension and division in Lebanon.” Like a supplicant before an all-powerful despot, Jumblatt promised to both “forgive and forget” and implored that “a new page be turned.” THE DRUSE leader is not the only one to have come cap in hand to Assad recently, pleading for “a new page.” Sa’ad Hariri – Lebanon’s prime minister and Jumblatt’s principal partner in the anti-Syrian front that was established with much fanfare on March 14, 2005 – did exactly the same. He, too, extolled the virtues of the “new page,” went to Damascus, embraced the very honchos he had accused of murdering his father, Rafik, and is reportedly soon bound for Teheran as well. That’s how Syria defines compromise – unquestionable subjugation of any hint of dissent. After Syria’s opponents have been manifestly tamed and humiliated, they may be tolerated and enjoy the Godfather’s protection. Before Jumblatt saw the light, he repeatedly expressed fear of assassination. His political volte-face may have prolonged his life. But the capitulation of Hariri and Jumblatt – both sons of leaders eliminated gangland-style to the Assads’ satisfaction – underscores more than personal vicissitudes. It marks the effective end of the March 14 camp and with it the demise of the tattered remains of Lebanese independence. Although, pro forma, Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon in 2005, its stranglehold on its small neighbor has only tightened of late, with Hizbullah actively abetting Syrian hegemony. Lebanon is today sovereign in name only. In effect, it is again nothing less than Damascus’s hand puppet. And as the international community clamors hoarsely for the establishment of a brand new state, Palestine, it acquiesces with extraordinary equanimity to the destruction of another, established Arab state’s self-determination. This is something to be pondered carefully by all those at home and abroad who urge Israel to make concessions to Damascus. Many in the security establishment argue fiercely that it is in Israel’s vital interest to seek an accord with Syria, in large part to try to peel Damascus away from Teheran, and there is indeed such an interest, if it is feasible. But the grim evidence is that not only has the Assad regime not reformed, but its attachment to the Axis of Evil is being patently reinforced. Meanwhile, the chastened Jumblatt has now remembered who to blame for Lebanon’s ills – Israel. Not coincidentally, Hariri is chanting the identical mantra. “All of Lebanon’s woes,” he intoned last week, “are Israel’s fault.” Assad must be delighted.

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Assad’s Lebanon

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