Tom Gross Mideast Media Analysis

Weakness invites war (& “The coming attack on Iran”)

February 29, 2012


* WSJ: Is the Obama Administration more concerned that Iran may get a nuclear weapon, or that Israel may use military force to prevent Iran from doing so? … In a single sound bite, Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey managed to tell the Iranians they can breathe easier because Israel’s main ally is opposed to an attack on Iran, such attack isn’t likely to work in any case, and the U.S. fears Iran’s retaliation. It’s as if General Dempsey wanted to ratify Iran’s rhetoric that the regime is a fearsome global military threat.

* If the U.S. really wanted its diplomacy to work in lieu of force, it would say and do whatever it can to increase Iran’s fear of an attack. It would say publicly that Israel must be able to protect itself and that it has the means to do so.

* The general is not a freelancer, so his message was almost certainly guided by the White House. Like most of Obama’s Iran policy, General Dempsey’s comments will have the effect of making war more likely, not less… Weakness invites war, and Dempsey has helped the Administration send a message of weakness to Israel and Iran.

***

* Tod Lindberg: The United States and Iran have been on a collision course since the Iranian revolution in 1979, when elements of the newly proclaimed Islamic Republic took U.S. diplomats and Tehran embassy personnel hostage. U.S. relations with Iran have been bad ever since.

* “The situation in which the United States finds itself vis-à-vis Iran has acquired a logic of its own. And that logic points to U.S. military action against Iran within the next 12 months. It’s not that attacking Iran is a good option; it’s that all the other options are worse.”

* “The only real hope is that the current much-expanded debate in the United States, Israel, and Europe over a military move against Iran – a marked change from just a few months ago, when even well-informed observers mostly dismissed the idea of a U.S. attack – will finally succeed in deterring Iran from pursuing its nuclear weapons program. The chances are slim.”

* If it’s a nuclear suitcase bomb that concerns you, Tel Aviv is not the only place about which you might be concerned.

***

* Lee Smith: “The White House has put the squeeze on Iran with a serious sanctions regime in the past few months. But for Israel, it may be too little, too late.”

 

CONTENTS

1. “Containing Israel on Iran” (Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 21, 2012)
2. “The President has been given a false choice on Iran” (Edward Luttwak, WSJ, Feb. 20, 2012)
3. “The Coming attack on Iran” (Tod Lindberg, Weekly Standard, Feb. 21, 2012)
4. “Israel: Iran will have U.S.-range missile in 2-3 years” (Reuters, Feb. 22, 2012)
5. “Beat the clock” (Lee Smith, Tablet magazine, Feb. 23, 2012)
6. “Israel tests ‘doomsday’ sub for strike on Iran” (London Sunday Times, Feb. 26, 2012)


[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach six articles concerning the tense situation with Iran. (Because of a heavy work schedule, I don’t have time to write much commentary myself this week.)

The authors of three of these articles, Lee Smith, Tod Lindberg and the writer of the editorial at The Wall Street Journal, are subscribers to this email list.

Incidentally the Associated Press reported yesterday (citing an unnamed senior U.S. intelligence official as their source) that officials in Jerusalem have let it be known that Israel has decided it will not give advance warning to the U.S. if it decides to launch a preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear sites.

The pronouncement, said to have been delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations, is likely to set a tense tone ahead of talks next week in Washington between senior visiting Israelis (including Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak) and American officials, including President Obama, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser, and the director of national intelligence. Top U.S. lawmakers say they will try to close the “trust gap” that has developed in the last three years between Israel and the Obama administration.

While the disagreement between the U.S. and Israel apparently continues to deepen, the International Atomic Energy Agency has announced that Iran has increased its uranium enrichment at the new fortified underground Fordo installation.

Others believe that contrary to the appearance that the U.S. and Israel have sharp differences on the Iranian question, a successful Israeli mission would require American assistance which, if revealed in detail, could prove embarrassing to Washington.

-- Tom Gross


ARTICLES

GENERAL DEMPSEY SENDS A MESSAGE OF U.S. WEAKNESS TO TEHRAN

Containing Israel on Iran
General Dempsey sends a message of U.S. weakness to Tehran.
Editorial
The Wall Street Journal
February 21, 2012

Is the Obama Administration more concerned that Iran may get a nuclear weapon, or that Israel may use military force to prevent Iran from doing so? The answer is the latter, judging from comments on Sunday by Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.

Appearing on CNN, General Dempsey sent precisely the wrong message if the main U.S. strategic goal is convincing Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. He said the U.S. is urging Israel not to attack Iran – because Iran hasn’t decided to build a bomb, because an Israeli attack probably wouldn’t set back Iran by more than a couple of years, and because it would invite retaliation and be “destabilizing” throughout the Middle East.

“That’s the question with which we all wrestle. And the reason we think that it’s not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran,” the General said, referring to a possible Iranian response to an attack. “That’s been our counsel to our allies, the Israelis. And we also know or believe we know that the Iranian regime has not decided that they will embark on the capability – or the effort to weaponize their nuclear capability.”

In a single sound bite, General Dempsey managed to tell the Iranians they can breathe easier because Israel’s main ally is opposed to an attack on Iran, such attack isn’t likely to work in any case, and the U.S. fears Iran’s retaliation. It’s as if General Dempsey wanted to ratify Iran’s rhetoric that the regime is a fearsome global military threat.

If the U.S. really wanted its diplomacy to work in lieu of force, it would say and do whatever it can to increase Iran’s fear of an attack. It would say publicly that Israel must be able to protect itself and that it has the means to do so. America’s top military officer in particular should say that if Iran escalates in response to an Israeli attack, the U.S. would have no choice but to intervene on behalf of its ally. The point of coercive diplomacy is to make an adversary understand that the costs of its bad behavior will be very, very high.

The general is not a free-lancer, so his message was almost certainly guided by the White House. His remarks only make strategic sense if President Obama’s real priority is to contain Israel first – especially before the November election.

This might also explain General Dempsey’s comments that the U.S. doesn’t believe Iran’s regime has decided to build an atomic bomb and that it is a “rational” actor, like, say, the Dutch. This would be the same rational Iran that refuses to compromise on its nuclear plans despite increasingly damaging global sanctions, and the same prudent actor that has sent agents around the world to bomb Israeli and Saudi targets, allegedly including in a Washington, D.C. restaurant.

Iran doesn’t need to explode a bomb, or even declare that it has one, to win its nuclear standoff. All it needs to do is get to the brink and make everyone believe it can build a bomb when it wants to. Then the costs of deterring Iran go up exponentially, and the regime’s leverage multiplies in the Middle East and against American interests. General Dempsey’s assurances obscure that military and political reality.

Like most of Mr. Obama’s Iran policy, General Dempsey’s comments will have the effect of making war more likely, not less. They will increase Israel’s anxiety about U.S. support, especially if Mr. Obama is re-elected and he has a freer political hand. This may drive Israel’s leadership to strike sooner. Weakness invites war, and General Dempsey has helped the Administration send a message of weakness to Israel and Iran.

 

THE JOINT CHIEFS HAVE SAID A MASSIVE, SUSTAINED AIR CAMPAIGN WOULD BE NEEDED TO SET BACK THE NUCLEAR PROGRAM. NOT SO.

The president has been given a false choice on Iran
By Edward Luttwak
The Wall Street Journal
February 20, 2012

As the pros and cons of attacking Iran’s nuclear installations are debated, Americans are confronted by equally confident but contradictory assertions about the possible scope of Iran’s retaliation or the impact on the stability of the regime. Some hope the possession of nuclear weapons will moderate Tehran’s fanatics. They argue that’s what happened with China under Mao Zedong. Others note that extremism has never been reduced by empowerment.

And so the debate continues inconclusively while Iran’s nuclear efforts persist – along with daily threats of death to America, Israel, Britain, Saudi Arabia’s rulers, and more.

Yet everyone seems to assume the scope of the attack itself is a fixed parameter – a take-it-or-leave-it proposition that some fear to take and others dread to leave undone. That, by all accounts, is exactly how the issue was framed when the debate started in the last years of the second George W. Bush administration. This is misleading. The magnitude and intensity of an attack is a matter of choice, and it needs to be on the table.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff and their planners offered President Bush only one plan, a full-scale air offensive with all the trimmings – an air war rather than an air strike. While the plan was never publicly disclosed, its magnitude was widely known, and I have learned some of the details. Instead of identifying the few critical nodes of a nuclear-weapon program, the target list included every nuclear-related installation in Iran. And to ensure thorough destruction, each target was accorded multiple aiming points, each one then requiring a weapon of commensurate power, with one or more to follow until bomb-damage assessment photos would show the target obliterated.

That plan elevated the attack to a major operation, with several hundred primary strike sorties and many more support sorties for electronic suppression, refueling, air-sea rescue readiness, and overhead air defense. Given all those aiming points and the longest possible target list, casualties on the ground could run to the thousands.

And this was only the lesser part of the suggested air war, with many more targets, sorties and weapons justified by preliminary “Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses” attacks. In the name of not risking the loss of even one aircraft, planners put every combat airplane in the Iranian air force on the target list.

There was no distinction between operational aircraft and those in inventory and long immobilized by the lack of replacement parts. All 45 venerable F-14s, the youngest delivered in 1979, made the list, even though at least half have not flown in years. The same was true of geriatric F-4s mostly without engines, ex-Iraqi Mirages, and HESA Saeqeh, a clumsy local modification of the F-5. Some 2,000 antiaircraft guns were also on the list although most are mere machine guns, as well as some dozens of antiaircraft missiles, only a few of which could be operational given their great age.

The overall bill for this assault was thus hugely inflated into a veritable air armada that would last weeks rather than hours, require more than 20,000 sorties, and inevitably kill thousands of civilians on the ground.

With this, the Joint Chiefs made quite sure they would not be thrust into a third war as Iraq and Afghanistan were already consuming American military strength and burning through the Pentagon’s budget.

But this war planning denied to the president and American strategy the option of interrupting Iran’s nuclear efforts by a stealthy overnight attack against the handful of buildings that contain the least replaceable components of Iran’s uranium hexafluoride and centrifuge enrichment cycle – and which would rely on electronic countermeasures to protect aircraft instead of the massive bombardment of Iran’s air defenses.

That option was flatly ruled out as science fiction, while the claim that Iran’s rulers might be too embarrassed to react at all – they keep telling their people that Iran’s enemies are terrified by its immense might – was dismissed as political fiction.

Yet this kind of attack was carried out in September 2007, when the Israeli air force invisibly and inaudibly attacked the nuclear reactor that Syria’s Assad regime had imported from North Korea, wholly destroying it with no known casualties. To be sure, an equivalent attack on Iran’s critical nuclear nodes would have to be several times larger. But it could still be inaudible and invisible, start and end in one night, and kill very few on the ground.

The resulting humiliation of the regime might be worthwhile in itself – the real fantasy is a blindly nationalist reaction from a thoroughly disenchanted population. In fact, given the probability that an attack could only delay Iran’s nuclear efforts by several years, the only one worth considering at all is the small, overnight strike.

 

THE COMING ATTACK ON IRAN

The coming attack on Iran
When an irresistible force meets an immovable object, something’s gotta give.
By Tod Lindberg
The Weekly Standard
February 20, 2012

The United States and Iran have been on a collision course since the Iranian revolution in 1979, when elements of the newly proclaimed Islamic Republic took U.S. diplomats and Tehran embassy personnel hostage. U.S. relations with Iran have been bad ever since. The focus in recent years has been the Iranian program to develop a nuclear weapon, but the backdrop is Iran as a growing regional threat, not only to Israel and to U.S. and allied interests in the Persian Gulf region, but also to the many Sunni governments of the Gulf, which fear an increasingly powerful Shiite government in Tehran.

Meanwhile, Iran props up the Assad dictatorship in Syria, meddles in Lebanon through the Hezbollah militia, supports the radical Hamas regime in Gaza, and seeks to expand its divisive clout in neighboring Iraq, a task made easier by the decision of the Obama administration to end the deployment of U.S. combat forces there. The picture that emerges is of an Iran that is not so much a problem but the problem of the broader Middle East, eclipsing even the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The Iranian nuclear program is now variously estimated to be less than a year to three years away from a bomb, notwithstanding the U.N. Security Council-approved sanctions on Tehran, as well as tougher sanctions the United States and Europe have imposed. Iran also has a robust missile program underway. The Israeli vice prime minister recently disclosed that Tehran is working on a missile with a range of 6,200 miles, enough to reach the United States. Israel and other potential Middle East targets are already within range of Iranian missiles, as is Europe: The potential threat from Iran has served as a mainstay in the case for the deployment of a missile defense system in Europe, as well as Israel’s system. Add a murky plot disclosed last year to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States by blowing up a Georgetown restaurant – a terrorist attack on American soil that would have killed many Americans – and you have a serious problem that is quickly growing worse.

What will the United States do in response? The situation in which the United States finds itself vis-à-vis Iran has acquired a logic of its own. And that logic points to U.S. military action against Iran within the next 12 months. It’s not that attacking Iran is a good option; it’s that all the other options are worse. Policymakers and commentators who think we will have other, pacific approaches are in my view mistaken. The only real hope is that the current much-expanded debate in the United States, Israel, and Europe over a military move against Iran – a marked change from just a few months ago, when even well-informed observers mostly dismissed the idea of a U.S. attack – will finally succeed in deterring Iran from pursuing its nuclear weapons program. The chances are slim.

Iranian persistence in pursuit of a nuclear weapon is the heart of the problem. Senior Obama administration officials arrived in 2009 thinking that a major part of the Iran problem was the lack of diplomacy in the George W. Bush administration. Obama’s predecessor steadfastly rejected any opening toward Iran in the absence of evidence that Tehran was abandoning its nuclear weapons ambitions and complying with its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions. The Obama administration accordingly reached out to Iran. The implicit terms of the bargain were that, in exchange for compliance, Iran could look forward to an end to its international isolation and the milder sanctions then in place, renewal of diplomatic relations with the United States, and an opportunity for integration into the world economy and the investment (particularly for development of its oil resources) such a reopening would bring.

The assumptions underlying this policy change present a view of the world and an attendant approach to policymaking that characterize the Obama administration. The first element is the conviction that U.S. hostility can produce only hostility in return. Whatever may have justified American hostility in the first place, the result over time could only be a vicious circle. As George Mason’s Colin Dueck has noted, a consistent theme of Obama’s foreign policy has been accommodation – a gesture on the part of the United States toward its erstwhile adversaries in the hope of reciprocation and the emergence of a way out of the snare of mutual hostility.

A second element is the view of Iran as a rational actor. Put aside talk of “rogue states,” let alone the old “axis of evil”: The Iranian government would respond, in this view, to incentives positive and negative – carrots and sticks. If the cost of continuing its nuclear program is elevated and promises to keep mounting the longer Iran persists, and if the benefit from abandoning the program would be considerable in terms of reintegration into the world economy, one could reasonably expect Iran to give up its program.

The Obama administration’s early overture to Iran was worth a try (though not to the point of turning its back on the Iranian “Green Revolution” movement that took to the streets following fraudulent elections in summer 2009). But Iran has not budged in the face of tightening sanctions, nor does it appear to value reentry into the world community as highly as the security gains it believes a nuclear weapon would provide. This does not necessarily make Iran “irrational”; it may simply mean that Iran’s rulers calculate costs and benefits differently from Americans and Europeans.

In this context, the Western rumors of war in early 2012 could be construed in part as the last peaceable attempt to persuade Iran to change course. It appears to be failing. The Iranians want a nuke and appear to be pressing ahead as fast as they can.

The United States and its allies have said repeatedly that an Iranian nuclear weapon is “unacceptable.” One must ask: Why? There are two responses to this question. The first is that the Iranian regime is so dangerous, internally unstable, and ideologically inflamed that it might use a nuclear weapon if it had one, specifically against Israel. If not a missile, then a suitcase. If not directly, then indirectly through surrogates closer at hand.

What, then, about Israel’s undeclared but widely acknowledged nuclear arsenal, which would surely be unleashed in reprisal? Perhaps there are those in Iran who would be prepared to pay such a price for the destruction of the Jewish state. Surely the rhetoric of the Holocaust-denying Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calling for the annihilation of Israel is not reassuring. Iran might well be deterred from using a nuclear weapon against Israel by the prospect of nuclear retaliation. But what are the chances that it won’t be? Is one chance in five over the next 20 years an acceptable risk? Precise calculation of such a risk is impossible. Yet it may be worthwhile, even at considerable cost, to attempt to reduce the likelihood of a low-probability, high-impact event to zero at least for some period of time. This view is understandably more prevalent in Israel than among Americans – though if it’s a suitcase that concerns you, Tel Aviv is not the only place about which you might be concerned.

A more common worry among American analysts is the possibility that if Iran gets the bomb, Saudi Arabia will want one as a deterrent. Perhaps Iran’s neighbor Turkey will as well. From there, who knows? The fear is that Iran is the tipping point to a so-called polynuclear Middle East, which might easily extend into Central Asia. The stability of such a situation is highly open to question. If one state in the region goes on nuclear alert, all the other states will follow suit (as, likely, would the United States, Russia, and China). The regional nuclear arsenals in question will likely not be large, and each state will feel a certain “use ‘em or lose ‘em” pressure in fear of being attacked first. The chance of such fears leading to catastrophe – well, once again, it is incalculable, but it is not zero. Deterrence theory, even on the assumption that all of the states involved seek only to deter the others from attack, is not at all reassuring in such a scenario.

A polynuclear Middle East would be a potential second-order effect of an Iranian bomb. One could address it by trying to dissuade other states in the region from going nuclear through the extension of security guarantees. How credible they would be is another question. Would Saudi Arabia feel reassured under an American nuclear umbrella? A Pakistani nuclear umbrella? Would such an exercise in “extended deterrence” make sense to Americans?

Another undesirable second-order effect would be a nuclear-armed Iran’s throwing its weight around regionally. The Iranian government’s pernicious influence already extends well beyond its own people. An Iran that feels more secure, indeed immune from attack, would likely increase its demands on its neighbors. During the Cold War, the term “Finlandization” described a nominally independent state’s devolution under pressure to a near-satrapy of the Soviet Union. How well would the Gulf states bear up under pressure from a nuclear-armed Iran? In 2010, certainly in response to the Iranian threat, the United States began to double the size of its naval base in tiny Bahrain, home to the 5th Fleet. How welcome a presence will the United States be if Iran has the bomb and “uses” it to coerce other states in the region?

The United States (and Israel) could still, presumably, try to deter Iran both from the actual use of a nuclear weapon and from its use as an instrument of coercive diplomacy. Articles and study groups have explored the possibility of living with a nuclear Iran. Unfortunately, they generally flow from the premise that the United States must seem strong and resolute to Iran. Exactly how strong and resolute the United States and its allies will seem once Iran, in defiance of the top foreign policy priority of the United States and its allies, has tested a nuclear weapon is a question that answers itself. There is already a broad perception in the Middle East, shared by Israel and its Sunni neighbors – whose intelligence services and senior officials seem to get along rather well on matters in their mutual interest – that U.S. influence in the region is declining. They suspect this is a matter of deliberate U.S. policy. Of course, not only in the Middle East now but also in other places at other times, U.S. influence has appeared to many to be on the wane until the United States has acted emphatically to demonstrate otherwise. The United States could do so now by preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. But without question, Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon would mark the effective end of U.S. credibility in the region (at least until the United States did something even more dramatic to reassert it).

As recently as a year ago, Israelis usually framed their concern about a nuclear Iran in terms of these two second-order effects: a neighborhood full of nukes and an emboldened Iran. It seemed to me then that there was a sense of hesitation on their part, almost embarrassment, about bringing up what was really foremost in their minds, which is the existential threat they believe an Iranian nuclear weapon poses to them. This was problematic, as I’m not sure a war over second-order effects is worth risking if the immediate danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon isn’t self-evident.

By now, however, Israelis have found the – is it courage? forthrightness? – to speak up about the existential danger they personally perceive. I don’t think an Iranian nuclear weapon poses an existential danger to the United States or most of the rest of our allies. Iran is not Nazi Germany. But one can hardly fault Israelis for taking Iran personally. And the fact that an Iranian nuclear weapon is more dangerous to Israel than to any other American ally does not mean Iran is or should be exclusively an Israeli problem. Iran, at this moment, may in fact be relatively weak, not strong, as the former head of Mossad, Efraim Halevy, contends. If the Iran-backed Assad regime in Syria collapses, it will be a serious blow to Iran’s position. But an Iranian nuclear weapon would represent a substantial increase in the power of a dangerous regime. That’s a matter the United States and its allies around the world cannot ignore and must not acquiesce in.

If you say something is unacceptable, you are either bluffing or are obliged to do what you can to stop it. Increasingly tight sanctions have not worked, nor blandishments. Western capitals have come round to interpreting Iranian offers to talk further on the subject, as Iran recently proposed, as playing for time while the weapons program enters a decisive stage. In fact, the recent experience of India and Pakistan going nuclear may suggest to Tehran that the quickest way out from under sanctions is nothing other than a nuclear test: Iran will be more powerful, and the world will have to adjust. What happens, then, when sanctions have not worked as time is running out?

Both the United States and Israel believe they have viable military options against Iran. Neither promises to be capable of destroying the Iranian nuclear program altogether. Degrading the program substantially, however, and delaying it potentially for years are within the realm of practical achievability. Obviously, the United States has vastly more military resources it could bring to bear on the task than does Israel. But Israel needs nothing material from the United States in order to attack Iran, nor does it need the permission of the United States.

Of course, the United States may be able to punish Israel for striking Iran against the wishes of the United States. We could, potentially, reduce military assistance to Israel, deny access to parts for weapons systems, scale back military and intelligence cooperation, or cease to protect Israel at the United Nations Security Council as the inevitable resolution condemning the attack comes forward. We could also, in advance, threaten Israel with any and all of these and other consequences. It would be surprising if the United States were not currently engaged in a policy of dual containment or “pivotal deterrence”: We promise Israel that we will dissuade Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon while threatening Israel with abandonment if it acts on its own. Israel would have to be prepared to pay a price for taking military action, and it might be high.

But if Israel perceives a truly existential threat from the Iranian nuclear program, as it appears it does, then Israel may be willing to pay a very high price indeed and at the moment of truth, tell the United States as much. (Our subject here is not U.S. domestic politics, so we will bracket and set aside the question of the viability of the U.S. making good on its threat to punish Israel.) At some point – perhaps sooner, but at the latest as Israel’s F-16s are, so to speak, revving on the tarmac – the United States must confront a very basic question: If someone is going to strike Iran, who should that be?

Sheerly from the point of view of military effectiveness, the answer must involve the United States. The Israelis know this. Our allies know this. We know it. And they know that we know, etc. Iran, once struck, will certainly want to respond. But even if the strike comes solely from Israel, will Iran confine its response to action against Israel? If not, then we are likely to find at a minimum our vital interests placed at risk. We would have to respond militarily to any attempt to, for example, shut down the Strait of Hormuz, to say nothing of an attack on a U.S. warship.

These considerations militate in favor of a U.S. decision to attack Iran should sanctions fail to dissuade the Iranians from further pursuit of a nuclear weapon. So does the fact that we already seem to have edged into a state of covert bellicosity with the Iranian government: dead scientists, mysterious explosions, Stuxnet. So does the regrettable fact that the threat of military force has entered our diplomacy only very recently; this has permitted the Iranians to dismiss the credibility of a military option, paradoxically increasing the likelihood of its necessity if we mean what we say when we say “unacceptable.”

Of course Israel would rather see the United States attack Iran than do so on its own, and not only for reasons of military effectiveness. But if an unattacked Iran is a nuclear-armed Iran, the latter would amount to a crippling failure of U.S. policy (always an option, I suppose). If an attack takes place and the United States is uninvolved, we are nevertheless unlikely to avoid involvement in the ensuing conflict. Our collision with Iran is imminent.

 

“IRAN WILL HAVE U.S.-RANGE MISSILE IN 2-3 YEARS”

Israel: Iran will have U.S.-range missile in 2-3 years
Reuters
February 22, 2012

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel believes that within 2-3 years Iran will have intercontinental missiles able to hit the United States, an Israeli minister said in remarks aimed at raising awareness of the threat it believes a nuclear Iran would pose to the world. Analysts now estimate the longest range of an Iranian missile to be about 2,400 km (1,500 miles), capable of reaching Tehran’s arch-enemy Israel as well as Europe.

But Israel has also been keen to persuade any allies who do not share their view of the risk posed by Iran that an Islamic Republic with atom bombs would also threaten the West.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz’s assessment, in an interview with CNBC, was in line with an unclassified U.S. Defense Department report in 2010 that estimated Iran may be able to build a U.S.-range missile by 2015. “They (the Iranians) are working now and investing a lot of billions of dollars in order to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles,” said Steinitz, a former chairman of the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee.

“And we estimate that in two to three years they will have the first intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the east coast of America. So their aim is to put a direct nuclear ballistic threat ... to Europe and to the United States of America,” he said in English.

Israeli intelligence services keep a close eye on Iran, whose nuclear program Israelis see as a mortal threat, and are widely believed to have been behind a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. Israel also has spy satellites.

Steinitz’s remarks coincided with stepped up U.S. efforts to persuade Israeli leaders that there is still time for diplomacy to keep Tehran from building a nuclear weapon and growing concerns Israel might opt to strike Iran pre-emptively. Three weeks ago, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said Iran had been working on developing a missile capable of striking the United States at a military base rocked by an explosion that killed 17 Iranian troops in November.

Yaalon, who is also minister of strategic affairs, said the base was a research and development facility where Iran was preparing to produce or develop a missile with a range of 10,000 km (6,000 miles).

 

“BUT FOR ISRAEL, THIS STILL FALLS WAY SHORT OF THE MARK”

Beat the Clock
The White House has put the squeeze on Iran with a serious sanctions regime in the past few months. But for Israel, it may be too little, too late.
By Lee Smith
Tablet magazine
February 23, 2012

From an American perspective, it seems that the White House has finally gotten serious about bringing the Iranian nuclear program to a halt. After President Obama’s policy of engagement came up empty, the administration, pressed by Senate leaders, finally implemented sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran and the Iranian energy sector on Dec. 31 and then leveled more sanctions against the bank earlier this month. The sanctions have sent the Iranian currency into freefall.

The squeeze continues: This month, Congress pressured the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, which provides tens of thousands of financial institutions with a system for transferring money around the world, to block Iranian institutions from using the service. SWIFT announced last week that it “stands ready to act and discontinue its services to sanctioned Iranian financial institutions as soon as it has clarity on EU legislation currently being drafted.”

From the American point of view, all this is a clear sign, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said recently that “The United States … does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. That’s a red line for us.”

But for Israel, this still falls way short of the mark.

If you want to understand how the Jewish state sees the nascent Iranian nuclear arms program, you need to stop thinking like a superpower with vast resources that inhabits a virtual island several thousand miles from the Persian Gulf – and start thinking like a tiny state with limited resources, formed in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and within ballistic missile range of Iran. You’re going to go along with your American patron as far as you can, but in the end, you’re going to keep your own counsel.

***

Last month at the annual Herzliya conference, which brings Israel’s top political, military, and security echelons together with their colleagues from around the world, the majority of Israeli officials and analysts I spoke with said they believe the sanctions have come too late. Perhaps five years ago, economic suffering might have forced the Iranian regime to reconsider its plans.

But now with Iran enriching uranium to 20 percent, moving it closer to producing weapons-grade uranium, and even Panetta admitting that the Iranians are a year away from building a nuclear weapon, there are two choices: Either accept that the Islamic Republic has joined the nuclear club, or bomb the country’s nuclear facilities in the hope of setting the program back, at least by a few years. If it’s become increasingly clear to Israel that the Obama Administration is not going to take military action, the question is: When does Israel pull the trigger?

Some experts make the case that Israel’s war against Iran’s nuclear program is already well under way. “Over the last decade Israel has spent a lot of money to prepare for all sorts of options on Iran,” David Wurmser, formerly Vice President Dick Cheney’s Middle East adviser, told me this week. Such options include computer worms, like Stuxnet, and covert operations, like the assassination of nuclear scientists and sabotaging military installations, as well as possible commando raids and air raids.

Now the head of a consulting group called Delphi, which has a few sensitive projects in Israel, Wurmser says it is crunch time for Israeli leaders. He’s seen a marked shift in Israel’s security establishment over the last few months. Perhaps the surest sign is that President Shimon Peres, not typically perceived as a hawk on Iran, has begun warning that a nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to Israel and is “a real danger to humanity as a whole.” Said Wurmser: “It’s not just about Bibi and his historical legacy anymore. He doesn’t need to be a leader in a Churchillian mode, because the consensus on attacking Iran is broad based.”

Up until last summer, Wurmser told me, the overriding sentiment among Israeli leaders was to give the Americans time. “Some thought that the sanctions might work, while others merely wanted to be patient in order to manage the White House in the aftermath of an attack,” he explained. But for Israel, there are other timelines to consider besides Iran’s ability to manufacture a bomb. In addition to its own budgetary concerns, most significant for Israel is Iran’s defensive capability, including advanced Russian anti-aircraft systems that the Iranians reportedly purchased a few years ago. Wurmser contends that “the Russians never actually sold that system to Iran, or anything that was significant.” However, Moscow’s decision to take a strong stand against the United States by backing Iran’s client, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, indicates that Russia is moving more aggressively against Israel and the West – and Jerusalem is sensitive to such geopolitical shifts.

Wurmser is among the few analysts who thinks that Israel is capable of setting the Iranian program back. But he believes the operation isn’t going to look like what people expect. Wurmser points to Israel’s history of innovative warfare and says it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the same pattern in a strike against Iran. “We might see really weird things, like one-way drones, Doolittle-raid type stuff, where pilots return but the planes don’t. That would mean ditching some really expensive aircraft but you need to consider what are the out-of-the-box crazy things Israeli planners might think of. No one thought Entebbe was possible, or that F-16s could be used to attack Osirak [Iraq’s nuclear reactor].”

That is, to understand what Israel might do, don’t think like a superpower. “The American debate over Israel’s ability to hit Iranian facilities is dominated by analysts who come from the U.S. Air Force,” said Wurmser, a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer. “There the idea is the utter destruction of infrastructure. And so their question is whether Israel can hit hardened targets. But you don’t need to.”

Instead, according to Wurmser, the issue is whether Israel knows precisely what targets to hit in order to destroy Iranian centrifuges. “If they’re not powered down properly, the cascade is destroyed. So, presumably Iran has hardened the power supplies and put generators in tunnels. But you don’t need to destroy the tunnels, only seal them off so that the lack of air shuts down the generators. It’s sort of a sophisticated way of putting a banana in a tail pipe.”

As Wurmser sees it, what Israel needs to make an attack work is not ordnance, but intelligence, which is what the Israelis have been gathering in their ongoing covert war against Iran, assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists and sabotaging military facilities. “The Israelis have mastered an intelligence loop,” said Wurmser. “The intelligence provides a target, like a nuclear scientist; and the Iranians respond by hardening other sensitive targets, which restarts the intelligence process, like a constant interactive circle.”

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA case officer, is far less confident of Israel’s ability to gather intelligence in Iran: “It is beyond Israel’s capacity to sustain a team inside Iran. There are problems with visas, security. They could bring in people on a short-term basis, run conservative operations and meetings, and bring some supplies in, but I’m not 100 percent convinced that all the attacks can be traced back to some type of Israeli effort.”

Some of the assassinations of Iranian scientists, Gerecht believes, were likely carried out by domestic opponents of the regime, perhaps working in tandem with Israel. And the major explosion at an advanced missile-research center in the desert near Tehran in November might well have been an accident. “The Iranians are extremely careless,” he told me. “We know it by watching them at war, how they handle the production of machinery and war materiel, how they handle themselves in clandestine operations. What they have going for them is that they just persevere.”

Gerecht says that the Israeli officials he’s spoken with contend that the “unnatural events” occurring inside Iran are indeed a sign that the war’s already begun, but Gerecht is skeptical. “In the big scheme of things, these operations are not that impressive, given how far advanced the Iranian program is. Like almost all covert operations, it’s too little, too late: They don’t have the scale to effect a program like this. In some sense, these operations signal the absence of war. They’re not doing it to soften Iranians for a big attack. It’s operational procrastination. When you don’t want to get involved in a military conflict, you go to covert action and special forces.”

Of course, it may also be that Israel’s secret war is also a psychological operation, destined to drive the regime to distraction and force its hand. And of late, Iran has warned that it will take preemptive action if its interests are threatened. If the Iranians do act out,

Israel might enjoy the luxury of being well-prepared for a hot conflict it doesn’t actually initiate.

 

ISRAEL TESTS ‘DOOMSDAY’ SUB FOR STRIKE ON IRAN

Israel tests ‘doomsday’ sub for strike on Iran
By Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv, and Bojan Pancevski
The (London) Sunday Times
February 26, 2012

A secret Israeli submarine capable of carrying nuclear cruise missiles is undergoing sea trials in a further sign of mounting tensions with Iran.

The Tannin (which means alligator in Hebrew), built in a shipyard in Kiel, northern Germany, will be delivered to Israel later this year and will be used to provide “second strike” capability against Iran in the event of war.

“Israel’s doomsday weapon revealed,” splashed Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper last week, saying the vessel was equipped with extra large torpedo tubes capable of carrying nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

The 223ft Dolphin class submarine, the largest built in Germany since the second world war, cost £466m, a third of it paid by the German taxpayer in war reparations.

Israel already has the means to deliver nuclear weapons through its air force, Jericho long-range ballistic missiles and three older Dolphin-type submarines.

As its airfields would probably come under attack in a future war and the Jericho missiles are also vulnerable, the submarine would provide the option of launching a second strike.

The diesel-electric powered Tannin is undergoing tests by German shipbuilders Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, and will join the older German-built craft already in service.

Israel’s existing submarines have propulsion systems that require them to surface frequently to recharge their batteries. But the Tannin, according to defence sources, will be fitted with a new propulsion system that will enable it to remain submerged for up to three weeks without refuelling.

This will allow the Tannin and two sister vessels, which will be delivered by 2013, to mount a permanent patrol off the Iranian coast. Although the hull is German-built, all communication systems in the submarine and the secret electronic warfare systems are Israeli-made.

The deal to build the submarines was signed by the Social Democrat government of the former chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2005.

Angela Merkel’s conservative-led government later tied the deal to concessions in the Palestinian territories and subsequently put it on hold when Israel failed to meet its demands.

Her surprise decision to give the delivery the go-ahead is widely seen in Germany as a gesture of support for Israel and its ever more likely confrontation with Iran over its nuclear programme.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency were refused permission to visit the Parchin military base, 18 miles southwest of Tehran, last week after satellite images suggested that high explosive tests for nuclear weapons were being conducted there.

But American intelligence agencies, including the CIA, believe that Iran’s leadership has yet to resolve whether to give a warhead design programme the go-ahead.

The New York Times reported yesterday that they believe there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a bomb.


Israel first country to have three political parties led by women (& NYT’s careless tweets)

February 17, 2012

* Before she takes up the Jerusalem post in April, the new New York Times bureau chief might want to stop tweeting to Hizbullah and extremist pro-Palestinian websites and read some mainstream histories of Israel and the Middle East

* NY Times travel writer: “Give me Iran [to write about], but Israel is… something I’d never do”

* Unlike some staff at The New York Times, pop superstar Madonna doesn’t have hang-ups about Israel

* Sale of “Western Wall stones” on eBay prompts outcry


Madonna performs at the Super Bowl 2012


 

There is another dispatch today, here: Mossad thwarts Iranian attempt to kill Barak in Singapore (& Saudi Valentine’s arrests)

(You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also first press “Like” on that page.)

 

CONTENTS

1. Three key Israeli political parties are now headed by women
2. NY Times travel writer: “Give me Iran [to write about], but Israel is… something I’d never do”
3. New NY Times Jerusalem bureau chief unsure whether Israel is an Apartheid state
4. Praising Beinart -- and linking to Hizbullah propaganda
5. Madonna to launch world tour in Israel
6. BBC wins court victory over calls to make public its internal report on Israel coverage
7. The Times of Israel debuts
8. Sale of “Western Wall stones” on eBay prompts outcry


[All notes below by Tom Gross]

THREE KEY ISRAELI POLITICAL PARTIES ARE NOW HEADED BY WOMEN

Israel is the first country in the world, as far as I am aware, to have three major political parties headed by women, after Zahava Gal-On won the leadership of the leftist Meretz party in recent days.

The centrist Kadima party (the Knesset’s largest party with 28 seats) is headed by Tzipi Livni and the left-leaning Labor party is headed by former journalist Shelly Yachimovich (pictured below) after the party ousted Ehud Barak as its leader last year.


The Israeli Supreme Court is also headed by a woman, Dorit Beinisch.

In spite of this, a number of international news outlets have run stories recently on how badly Israeli women are supposedly treated.

For example, the global edition of The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, took up most of one of its four “world news” pages to report on the supposed dire situation of Israeli women. It also ran an op-ed slamming Israel for the plight of its women on the same day. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who as a New York Times reader, may regularly be misinformed about Middle East affairs by the Times’ highly selective coverage, then even compared the situation of women in Israel with that of Iran.

Of course, there is a serious problem within some sections of Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jewish (and Muslim) communities in the way they treat women. But that’s a very small part of the overall picture of the achievements of Israeli women and minorities. But then prominent media such as The New York Times aren’t interested in highlighting the many positive aspects of Israeli society.

 

NY TIMES TRAVEL WRITER: “GIVE ME IRAN [TO WRITE ABOUT], BUT ISRAEL IS… SOMETHING I’D NEVER DO”

The New York Times’s utter distaste for Israel isn’t just confined to the news and opinion sections.

Last month, The New York Times Travel section featured a piece on Jerusalem by Times travel writer Matt Gross (no relation).

Gross said at the start of his piece that “I will go pretty much anywhere, anytime… Wander on horseback into the mountains of Kyrgyzstan? Why not? Spend the night in a sketchy Burmese border town? Sure! Eat my way through Bridgeport, Conn.? Loved it.” But “of the world’s roughly 200 nations, there was only one -- besides Afghanistan and Iraq (which my wife has deemed too dangerous) -- that I had absolutely zero interest in ever visiting: Israel.”

He continues: “For decades I’d tried to put as much distance between myself and Judaism as possible, and the idea that I was supposed to feel some connection to my ostensible homeland seemed ridiculous. Give me Montenegro, Chiapas, Iran even. But Israel was like Christmas: something I’d never do.”

Some might say that only a disgruntled Jew could show so little interest in visiting Jerusalem, one of the world’s most fascinating, historic and richly diverse cities, and Israel, one of the world’s most interesting countries, with its countless historical, archeological and outstanding natural sites.

For me, the bigger question is, why does The New York Times commission someone with such psychological baggage and identity conflicts to write its travel article on Israel?

It doesn’t, for example, send people with hang-ups about Turkey, India, Russia, Egypt or Kenya to write its travel articles about Istanbul, Mumbai, St. Petersburg, Cairo or Nairobi.

 

NEW NY TIMES JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF UNSURE WHETHER ISRAEL IS AN APARTHEID STATE

In interviews with the American news websites Politico and the Washington Free Beacon over the last two days, Jodi Rudoren, who will become The New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief in April, said she was not able to answer the question of whether Israel was an “Apartheid” state.

(Israel is, of course, not an “Apartheid state”. For example, Israel has a higher proportion of minority members of parliament than Britain and France do.)

Rudoren, who is Jewish, and was formerly The New York Times’s education editor, has come under fire this week for sending out a series of sympathetic tweets to some of Israel’s fiercest detractors.

Many bloggers are asking why exactly she reached out to Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada, a website that has called for the end of Israel’s existence. Rudoren wrote that she had “heard good things” about Abunimah. Abunimah advocates boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Israel and a one-state solution.

Abunimah has relentlessly attacked Rudoren’s predecessor, Ethan Bronner, on the grounds that he was pro-Israel. (I would disagree with that assessment.)

 

PRAISING BEINART -- AND LINKING TO HIZBULLAH PROPAGANDA

Rudoren is also being criticized for praising Peter Beinart’s forthcoming book “The Crisis of Zionism” on twitter as “terrific.” In recent years Beinart has also become one of Israel’s fiercest, and many would say extremely unfair, critics.

And on Wednesday night, Rudoren, who has been with the Times for more than 13 years (previously writing under her maiden name), promoted a message from a Twitter user whose profile reads: “I dabble in the art of Zionist-busting.” The tweet linked to a website called, “Palestine: Love in the Time of Apartheid.”

Rudoren also tweeted without comment to an article in a pro-Hizbullah Lebanese newspaper.

Friends of mine who know Rudoren tell me she is not anti-Israel, but just doesn’t know much about the conflict.

Before she takes up the Jerusalem post in April, Rudoren might want to stop tweeting and read some mainstream histories of Israel and the Middle East.

The Times’ outgoing Jerusalem bureau chief, Ethan Bronner, who is a subscriber to this email list, will be returning to the United States, where he will work as a legal affairs reporter for the Times. (Among past dispatches mentioning Bronner, please see here.)

For general past reporting on the Middle East by The New York Times, please see here.

 

MADONNA TO LAUNCH WORLD TOUR IN ISRAEL

Unlike some staff at The New York Times, pop superstar Madonna doesn’t have hang-ups about Israel. She says that because it is one of her favorite countries, she is planning to launch her world tour there with a show on May 31 at Ramat Gan Stadium near Tel Aviv.

The tour will promote the release of her upcoming album MDNA. (MDNA is an abbreviation of “Madonna”.) The Golden Globe winning artist released a new video “Gimme all your luvin’” this month, and is also promoting her new film W.E.

Last week, Madonna gave the halftime performance during the Super Bowl. She has favored Israel before, closing her 2009 “Sticky and Sweet” tour, which was the fourth-highest grossing tour by any pop band in history, and the highest grossing by a solo artist (taking $408 million in receipts), in Israel.

 

BBC WINS SUPREME COURT VICTORY OVER CALLS TO MAKE PUBLIC ITS INTERNAL REPORT ON ISRAEL COVERAGE

In a ruling that will disappoint those who believe in press freedom and in holding the publicly-funded BBC up to public scrutiny, the BBC on Wednesday won a claim in Britain’s Supreme Court that backed the BBC’s refusal to make public a 2004 internal BBC report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That report, known as the Balen report, is believed to conclude that the BBC is systematically biased against the state of Israel.

Michael Balen, a senior journalist and editorial adviser at the BBC, had been tasked by the BBC to examine “the quality and impartiality of BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

In 2005 a British-Jewish lawyer, Steven Sugar, made a “freedom of information” request for disclosure of the report under Britain’s Freedom of Information Act.

Sugar died of cancer in January 2011 but his widow, Fiona Paveley, pursued the case, in the interests of public broadcasting, and in the words of a friend of hers “to stop the BBC telling lies about Israel”.

The late Mr. Sugar, who was a subscriber to this email list, said after his earlier success in the House of Lords (a lower court) in BBC v Sugar:

“It is sad that the BBC felt it necessary to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money fighting for three years to try to load the system against those requesting information from it. I am very pleased that the House of Lords has ruled that such obvious unfairness is not the result of the Act.”

Five supreme court justices, overturning the decision by the House of Lords, unanimously upheld the BBC’s decision not to release the Balen report. Four of the judges, Lord Phillips, Lord Walker, Lord Brown and Lord Mance, dismissed the appeal on the basis that, “even if information is held only partly for the purposes of journalism, art or literature, it is outside the scope of freedom of information requests”.

The fifth justice, Lord Wilson, made the distinction that he would have dismissed it on the basis that, if information is held predominantly for the purposes of journalism, art or literature, it is outside the scope of such freedom of information requests and that the Balen report was held predominantly for those purposes.

The judgment left open the possibility that at some future date when the information is being held only for archival purposes, it might be open for release.

Phillips, the president of the supreme court, said in his decision: “Disclosure of material that is held only in the archives will not be likely to interfere with or inhibit the BBC’s broadcasting functions. It ought to be susceptible to disclosure under the act.”

Tom Gross adds: The BBC remains partisan in its coverage of Israel. As I have outlined in some detail before, Middle East correspondents such as Jeremy Bowen are frequently one-sided. But the BBC no longer has correspondents in the Middle East that broadcast the kind of extreme invective that was common by reporters such as Orla Guerin and Barbara Plett during the periods the Balen report was written.

For more on the BBC’s coverage during this period, please see here.

 

THE TIMES OF ISRAEL DEBUTS

David Horovitz, the former editor of The Jerusalem Post and The Jerusalem Report, on Wednesday officially launched a new online newspaper: The Times of Israel.

David tells me that in its first two days web traffic greatly exceeded expectations, in part because the Drudge Report linked to the site.

It seems that other English online papers based in Israel, including The Jerusalem Post, Ha’aretz, Ynet, and Israel Hayom, now face serious competition.

The Times of Israel is expected to adopt a more centrist position than these other papers.

 

Jerusalem’s Western Wall

SALE OF “WESTERN WALL STONES” ON EBAY PROMPTS OUTCRY

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, which (with the Temple Mount above it, is Judaism’s holiest site) has filed a police complaint after the Internet auction site eBay allowed the “fraudulent selling of stones from the holy site”. Rabinowitz also warned that anyone buying the stones from eBay would receive a curse, not a blessing.

The eBay seller says the stones were not taken from the Western Wall itself, but merely picked up on the Western Wall Plaza. They may have crumbled off the wall, or be the stones that worshippers had left in the cracks in the wall. The stones are being offered for $4.99 each, or $9.95 if shipped outside the United States. They are billed as being one square inch in size, and include an “elegant” box in which to store them.

While the seller doesn’t claim that the stones have any special power, he does term them “blessed.”

Rabinowitz said that selling stones from the Wall is forbidden by the Torah, because it violates the religious prohibition against misusing sacred things.

[All notes above by Tom Gross]


Mossad thwarts Iranian attempt to kill Barak in Singapore (& Saudi Valentine’s arrests)

* Bangkok Post reveals pictures of the three Iranian men arrested for the Bangkok bomb attack cavorting with prostitutes on the night before the attempted assignation of Israeli diplomats

* Singapore security agencies holding three members of a joint Hizbullah-Iranian terror cell who tried to murder Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak this week

* Palestinians detained for daring to criticize Abbas on private Facebook accounts

* Saudis “severely punished” for celebrating Valentine’s Day

* The Saudi government “Organization for Promoting Virtue and Discouraging Evil” claims they were merely saving women from “deceiving men” who used Valentine’s Day to give the false impression that they were “harmless lambs”



 

There is another dispatch today, here: Israel first country to have three political parties led by women (& NYT’s careless tweets)

You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also first press “Like” on that page.

 

CONTENTS

1. Times of India: Mossad chief visited New Delhi days before attack
2. “Mossad thwarts assassination attempt on Ehud Barak in Singapore”
3. PA warns Palestinians: Write only nice things on Facebook about your leaders
4. Saudi blogger to be deported by Malaysia could face death penalty
5. Saudi Arabia, the “land of opportunity”
6. Saudis arrest more than 140 people for celebrating Valentine’s Day
7. Israel defense ministry team visits eastern Turkey to help victims


[All notes below by Tom Gross]

TIMES OF INDIA: MOSSAD CHIEF VISITED NEW DELHI DAYS BEFORE ATTACK

The Times of India reported yesterday that Tamir Pardo, the director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, together with other senior Mossad officials, visited New Delhi just days before the attack on Israeli diplomats in the Indian capital earlier this week. Sources said that Pardo’s discussions with Indian intelligence heads did not concern a potential terror attack in India.

On Monday, the wife of an Israeli diplomat was badly wounded when a car bomb exploded in New Delhi. The attack was one of three this week that targeted Israeli diplomats in Asia. There were failed attempts to kill Israeli diplomats on the same day in the Georgian capital Tbilisi and on the following day in the Thai capital Bangkok.

The Thai authorities have arrested three Iranians in connection with the Bangkok attack and yesterday Malaysia said they had arrested another Iranian over suspected links to that attack and would extradite him to Thailand.

The three Iranian men arrested for the Bangkok bomb attacks met with prostitutes on the night before the explosion. Pictures revealed today by the Bangkok Post show the three arrested suspects in the company of two female escorts.

For more on those attacks, please see here.

 

“MOSSAD THWARTS ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON EHUD BARAK IN SINGAPORE”

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported yesterday that Mossad officials, working with local intelligence chiefs in Singapore, have prevented a plot to assassinate Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak during his visit to Singapore this week.

Barak was in Singapore from Monday until Wednesday to attend the biennial Singapore Airshow.

Three members of a joint Hizbullah-Iranian cell were planning to kill Barak during the trip. Al-Jarida said the suspects were arrested by Singapore’s security agencies.

(Incidentally, the head of Singapore intelligence is a subscriber to this email list and has told me in the past that he is a keen reader of it.)


In the past, Al-Jarida has been considered to be a reliable source.

An enquiry is under way in Israel about how Hizbullah apparently managed to gain a copy of Barak’s schedule.

 

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY WARNS PALESTINIANS: WRITE ONLY NICE THINGS ON FACEBOOK ABOUT YOUR LEADERS

The Palestinian Authority has let it be known to the Palestinian population that its security forces are monitoring Palestinian users of Facebook.

It has warned Palestinians not to criticize Fatah leaders, and instead said they will only be permitted to criticize Israel. According to reports, those who fail to do this may, at best, lose their jobs, or worse, be imprisoned.

The Palestinian Authority security forces, under the overall control of President Mahmoud Abbas, are largely paid for by the U.S. and European countries.

Palestinian analysts say that the Palestinian leadership is aware of the power of Facebook and other social networking sites in rousing dissent against corrupt and dictatorial leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, and want to prevent similar protests against them.

After Rami Samara, from Ramallah, last week posted a comment on his private Facebook page saying “Ok, no joking now, do the members of the ‘sole legitimate leadership of the Palestinian people’ believe that this announcement is worth their sitting in their seats, turning on the heaters and drinking coffee and tea in their offices in Ramallah?” he was then taken in for interrogation by both Palestinian Military Intelligence and Palestinian General Intelligence.

Mamdouh Hamarneh, a TV journalist from Bethlehem, was held in custody for over 7 weeks last year after he compared Abbas on Facebook to a Syrian actor who portrayed a villain in a Syrian soap opera shown on Palestinian TV.

 

Hamza Kashgari faces death for daring to express his opinion


SAUDI BLOGGER TO BE DEPORTED BY MALAYSIA COULD FACE DEATH PENALTY

Malaysian authorities have arrested Hamza Kashgari, a blogger who fled his native Saudi Arabia after sending out tweets about the Prophet Mohammed. He now faces extradition to face blasphemy charges in Saudi Arabia and a possible death sentence.

Kashgari, 23, was detained in Malaysia as he boarded an early-morning flight to seek asylum in New Zealand. Interpol has also been criticized by human rights groups for helping the Saudis track Kashgari down in Malaysia.

Among Kashgari’s tweets for which he may be beheaded, are: “I have loved the rebel in you [Mohammed] but I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.”

In another tweet, sent on Mohammed’s birthday, he wrote: “On your birthday I find you in front of me wherever I go. I love many things about you and hate others, and there are many things about you I don’t understand.”

More than 15,000 people have joined a Facebook group titled (in Arabic) “The Saudi People Demand the Execution of Hamza Kashgari”.

Kashgari issued an apology and removed the tweets and closed down his account, but the Saudi king issued an arrest warrant for Kashgari.

 

SAUDI ARABIA, THE “LAND OF OPPORTUNITY”

In Saudi Arabia itself other users of twitter are continuing to call for Kashgari to be killed.

A popular new Twitter hash-tag in the kingdom translates as “Hamza Kashgari the dog.”

Former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, who is a subscriber to this email list, tells me he has offered to serve as Kashgari’s international legal counsel. In the past, Cotler has served as legal advisor to prominent dissidents elsewhere, including Natan Sharansky, Nelson Mandela and Sa’ad Eddin Ibrahim.

The controversy over Kashgari’s tweets is reminiscent of the 2005 furor against a Danish newspaper that published a series of cartoons about Mohammed. The Danish cartoonist in question continues to face death threats and lives under 24 hour police protection. (For a photo essay of those cartoons and the reaction to them, please see here.)

More recently, in November last year, the French magazine Charlie Hebdo published a satirical “Sharia Hebdo” edition that was “guest-edited” by Mohammed. Hours before publication of the issue, the magazine’s offices in Paris were almost entirely destroyed in a firebomb attack.

This week the Saudi ambassador to the United Nations, Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi, told a packed hall of students at New York University that Saudi Arabia was a “land of opportunity” where there was no oppression of dissidents.

Saudi Arabia regularly arrests, and sometimes beheads or whips liberals, women and dissidents that have displeased the regime.

 

SAUDIS ARREST MORE THAN 140 PEOPLE FOR CELEBRATING VALENTINE’S DAY

Saudi Arabia’s religious police have arrested more than 140 people for celebrating Valentine’s Day, the BBC reported.

The “Organization for Promoting Virtue and Discouraging Evil” says officers have punished those caught so far, and that its campaign of arrests is continuing as the week draws on.

In a six-page statement, the religious police said they were saving women from “deceiving men,” who used the day to give the fake impression that they loved a woman while pretending to be a “harmless lamb.”

The religious authorities say Muslims who take part in Valentine's Day are in fact “weak, lacking imagination”, and far removed from the “sublime and virtuous” objectives of their religion.

In advance of Valentine’s Day on Monday, the Saudi authorities confiscated all red roses from shops.



 

ISRAEL DEFENSE MINISTRY TEAM VISITS EASTERN TURKEY TO HELP VICTIMS

On Monday, a team from the Israeli Defense Ministry visited the Van district in Turkey to continue offering logistical help to the thousands of people who remain homeless, in freezing winter conditions, following the devastating earthquake there four months ago.

The team was led by the head of Israel’s Emergency Preparedness Department, and by Israel’s Coordinator of the Humanitarian Aid.

The government in Ankara, headed by the anti-Israel Prime Minister Erdogan, had initially refused Israeli and international aid, in part (critics said) because most of the victims were Kurds. (For more, see “Erdogan would rather see Turks die than have them rescued by Israelis” Oct. 24, 2011.)

But Erdogan relented after a few days and Israel has since built 50 mobile structures and 80 housing structures for victims.

The Vice-Governor of Van district, Ahmet Kazankyeh, said at a ceremony inaugurating the new Israeli-built housing on Monday: “After the harsh quake that occurred here, you came, you the Israelis, with a lot of material and a lot of willingness to help. And for this I thank you very much, from the bottom of my heart. You are our true friends, and the proof is what we see here. Only true friends can help so quickly and with such concern for their partners.”

He continued: “More than 800 people will now be able to inhabit the structures provided by the Israeli Defense Ministry. Thanks to these structures we will be able to put life back on track here.”

[All notes above by Tom Gross]


The Iranian threat to New York City (& Iran blames Israel for bombing itself)

February 15, 2012

Thai bomb squad officials inspect the site of an explosion in Bangkok yesterday


* Jewish film director Oliver Stone’s son converts to Islam in Iran

* Iranian foreign ministry spokesman: “The Zionist regime has bombed its own embassies in New Delhi and Tbilisi to tarnish Iran’s friendly ties with the host countries”

* After Argentina, India, Georgia, Thailand and elsewhere, America may be Iran’s next target

* On Feb. 3, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened the West. New York – especially with its large Jewish population – may be an increasingly attractive target

* This is neither an idle nor a new threat. Already in 2004, two security guards attached to the Iranian mission to the UN were sent home after being caught conducting surveillance of city subways and landmarks. Iran’s U.N. mission allows officials from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence to live and operate in New York with official diplomatic cover.

* In 2008, two Staten Island men pleaded guilty to providing material support to Hezbollah. Just down the road in Philadelphia, 26 people were indicted in federal court in 2009 for conspiring to provide material support to the terrorist group.

* “Tehran is not alone in downplaying the significance of the country’s weapons program. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter told Time magazine last month that a nuclear Iran wouldn’t be “a major catastrophe.” Others, such as journalist Fareed Zakaria and Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German diplomat, believe the danger could be contained.”

***

(You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please press “Like” on that page.)

 

CONTENTS

1. Another hate mail for Alan Dershowitz
2. Oliver Stone’s son converts to Islam in Iran
3. Iranians denied access to their Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail accounts
4. “The Iranian threat to New York City” (By Mitchell Silber, Wall St. Journal, Feb. 14, 2012)
5. “Containment won’t work against Iran” (By Daniel Schwammenthal, WSJ Europe, Feb. 15, 2012)
6. “Iran prepares suicide bomb boats in Gulf” (Arab News, Feb. 13, 2012)
7. “Iranian blogger sentenced to 14 years in prison” (RFE/RL, Feb. 7, 2012)
8. Iran blames Israel for bombing its own embassies (Islamic Republic News Agency)


[Note below by Tom Gross]

I attach eight items below connected to Iran.

Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz regularly receives hate mail for standing up for Israel and for human rights in general. (I receive quite a few myself, but nowhere near as many as Prof. Dershowitz.) Almost every day, Prof. Dershowitz shares some of these hate messages with me.

I attach one of these below, which followed Dershowitz’s Wall Street Journal article on Monday. (I have removed Mr. Kettler’s email address from the email below to protect his privacy.)

In that article, Dershowitz wrote that Israeli and American authorities believe “Iran is preparing attacks against Israeli embassies and consultants worldwide, as well as Jewish houses of prayer, schools, community centers, restaurants and other soft targets”. A few hours later on Monday Iranian agents launched terror attacks at Israeli targets in India and Georgia. Yesterday in Thailand, an Iranian man severely injured himself when his explosive device went off prematurely. Five other people were wounded in that attack.

The explosive used in Thailand, like the ones used the day before in New Delhi and Tbilisi, were in magnetic containers allowing them to be attached quickly to vehicles on the move. A Thai official confirmed that two other Iranians arrested in Bangkok yesterday were accomplices of the injured man and that an Iranian hit team had planned to assassinate Israeli diplomats including the ambassador.

These acts of terror follow the recent thwarted attack on the Israeli embassy in Azerbaijan.


THERE HE GOES AGAIN

From: Karl Kettler
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2012 13:58:07 -0500
To: Alan Dershowitz
Cc:
Subject: There He Goes Again

14 February 2012

Prof. Alan Dershowitz
Harvard School of Law

Prof. Dershowitz,

Really Alan do you have to keep shouting fire-again? (your latest WSJ tirade) The world managed quite nicely to contain the Super Nuke Power USSR for 45 years. It contained N. Korea. It has been successful in having other nations back off their Nuke programs except for that Jewish State of Israel pariah in the Middle East and now America is supposed to quiver because that backwater Iran has a Nuke program. Really Alan? Oh but that’s not all . Even if Iran isn’t developing Nuke weapons you still seem to want America to trash them anyway because they’ve said some really nasty things about your beloved Israel. By the way are you an Israeli citizen??? Well if you and Israel are so upset why don’t you go after Iran yourselves. Oh no guts ah?? Well I doubt that America is inclined any more to do Israel’s dirty work as it did with Iraq that cost America $trillions & thousands of lives and a whole lot of enemies. Israel is doomed in the long run and it is doomed because of its own stupid self-serving attitude and people like you who thing the world exists to serve the interests of Israel . In fact the world is sick of the Jew’s self-serving attitude just like Hitler got sick of it in Germany ! Throughout the centuries the Jews have been getting trashed because they just have never learned to back off. There are no people on the planet that seem to be so despised as the Jews. Don’t you think it’s time that they got the message?

Karl Kettler

 

Sean Stone, pictured in Tehran, has converted Islam in a ceremony in the city of Esfahan in central Iran


OLIVER STONE’S SON CONVERTS TO ISLAM IN IRAN

Sean Stone, the son of Oscar-winning film director Oliver Stone (who is of Jewish heritage), has converted to Islam while in Iran to film a documentary. Sean Stone, 27, told the French news agency AFP that he has “accepted Mohammad and other prophets”.

Iran’s government-run FARS News Agency noted that Stone has become a Shiite and has taken the Arabic name “Ali.”

Stone is also a filmmaker and has collaborated on his father’s projects. His father is Jewish and his mother, Christian. Oliver Stone directed “Platoon,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and “JFK.”

 

IRANIANS DENIED ACCESS TO THEIR GMAIL, YAHOO AND HOTMAIL ACCOUNTS

Over the last few days, about 30 million Iranians have been denied access to their international email accounts, including Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail. Iran’s Mehr news agency reported that the denial of access outage began on Thursday, and has spread since.

Sources in Iran said the Iranian government was behind the closures.

 

THE IRANIAN THREAT TO NEW YORK CITY

The Iranian Threat to New York City
As the West’s conflict with Iran over its nuclear program heats up, New York City – with its large Jewish population – becomes an increasingly attractive target.
By Mitchell D. Silber
The Wall Street Journal
February 14, 2012

On Monday, Israeli embassy workers in the capital cities of India and Georgia were targeted in terrorist attacks that Israeli officials believe were planned and carried out by Iran and its client, the militant group Hezbollah. The bomb in Tbilisi was defused, but the bomb in New Delhi, planted in an embassy worker’s car, exploded and injured at least two.

Iran’s next target could well be on American soil. In Senate testimony last month, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated that Iranian officials “are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime.”

As evidence, Mr. Clapper cited an alleged plot foiled last October in which a naturalized U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, hired a member of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. The plan involved blowing up a Washington, D.C., restaurant – potentially killing hundreds of Americans in the process.

Iran has a proven record of using its official presence in a foreign city to coordinate attacks, which are then carried out by Hezbollah agents from abroad, often leveraging the local community – whether wittingly or not – as facilitators. Most notable are the 1992 and 1994 bombings of Israeli and Jewish targets in Argentina, which killed 29 and 85 people, respectively. The New York City Police Department, where I work as director of Intelligence Analysis, sent a team to Argentina to study the modus operandi of those attacks and to meet with Argentine security officials who worked the investigations. Coupled with open source information, this is what the NYPD learned:

Iranian agents were sent to Argentina years before the attacks, where they integrated into society and became Argentine nationals. Mohsen Rabbani is believed to have been in charge of coordinating the 1994 attack and is subject to an Interpol arrest warrant for his involvement. He first came to Argentina in 1983, where he subsequently became the main imam at At-Tauhid, an Iranian-funded mosque in Buenos Aires.

After traveling to Iran in August 1993 to participate in a meeting that allegedly gave the planned attack the green light, Mr. Rabbani returned to Argentina as a cultural attaché to the Iranian Embassy, conveniently providing him diplomatic immunity. Then, Hezbollah agents from abroad received logistical support from members of the local Lebanese-Shiite community and the Iranian Embassy to carry out the attack.

The Argentine attacks were by no means isolated incidents. Hezbollah has been tied to failed attacks in 2009 against Israeli and Jewish interests in Azerbaijan, Egypt and Turkey. Last month, Thai officials arrested a suspected Hezbollah militant for possibly planning attacks there or perhaps facilitating the movement of weapons through Bangkok.

The NYPD must assume that New York City could be targeted by Iran or Hezbollah. On Feb. 3, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened that Iran “had its own tools” to respond to sanctions and threats of military action against it. Indeed, as the West’s conflict with Iran over its nuclear program continues to heat up, New York City – especially with its large Jewish population – becomes an increasingly attractive target.

This is neither an idle nor a new threat. As one example of Iranian agents acting in New York, in 2004 two security guards attached to the Iranian mission to the United Nations were sent home by the State Department after being caught conducting surveillance of city subways and landmarks. Iran’s U.N. mission allows officials from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence to live and operate in New York with official diplomatic cover.

Iran also has a presence in New York via the Alavi Foundation, a nonprofit ostensibly devoted to charity works and promoting Islamic culture. In December 2009, Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, described Alavi as having “effectively been a front for the government of Iran.” A contemporaneous complaint filed by Mr. Bharara’s office led to the seizure of Alavi’s assets – including the Islamic Institute of New York, the largest Shiite mosque in the city and the location most closely affiliated with Iran’s U.N. mission. The NYPD Intelligence Division also played a role during the initial stages of the Alavi investigation.

Hezbollah and its supporters have a presence in New York and the surrounding area as well. In 2008, two Staten Island men pleaded guilty to providing material support to Hezbollah. Just down the road in Philadelphia, 26 people – including a former Brooklyn resident – were indicted in federal court in 2009 for conspiring to provide material support to the terrorist group.

Lebanese-linked businesses in the tri-state area and elsewhere have been implicated in a massive money-laundering scheme benefiting Hezbollah. This scheme was revealed in a civil suit filed against several Lebanese financial institutions last December by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Meanwhile, at least 18 other Hezbollah-related cases have been brought in federal courts across the United States since 2000.

Given the alleged plot against a foreign diplomat in Washington, Iran’s increasingly bellicose rhetoric and its long history of sponsoring terror attacks abroad, the NYPD must remain vigilant in attempting to detect and disrupt any attack by Iran or its proxies. Anything less would be abdicating our duty to protect New York City and its residents.

(Mr. Silber is director of intelligence analysis for the New York City Police Department.)

 

CONTAINMENT WON’T WORK AGAINST IRAN

Containment Won’t Work Against Iran
Mutually assured destruction might be more of an incentive than a deterrent for Ahmadinejad and those around him.
By Daniel Schwammenthal
The Wall Street Journal Europe
February 15, 2012

Tehran’s first semi-official acknowledgment of its atomic ambitions appeared last April, in a bizarre article on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Gerdab website. “The day after Iran’s first nuclear test is a normal day,” read the article, which went on to suggest that far from spelling disaster, the bomb would cause life to go on much as before, except that Iranians would have a little extra national pride.

But Tehran is not alone in downplaying the significance of the country’s weapons program. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter told Time magazine last month that a nuclear Iran wouldn’t be “a major catastrophe.” Others, such as journalist Fareed Zakaria and Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German diplomat, believe the danger could be contained. “If it was possible to deter the Soviet Union successfully, then that will probably be possible with Iran as well,” Mr. Ischinger told the Berliner Morgenpost just ahead of the Feb. 3-5 Munich Security Conference, which he chairs.

As concerns grow that diplomacy and sanctions – including the recent European oil ban – may not stop Iran’s nuclear program, it is becoming popular to invoke the Cold War, when the policy of containment managed to avoid all-out war with a nuclear Soviet Union. But the analogy fails on several grounds, and simply accepting the previously unacceptable is not a policy option.

First, the fact that we survived the previous nuclear standoff is hardly evidence that deterrence was bound to succeed. On more than one occasion during the West’s struggle with Communism, the threat of mutually assured destruction did not prevent the two sides from stepping right to the brink, most famously during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

It would be a deadly game to try to replay MAD with Iran, in an international environment lacking many of the necessary conditions that helped keep the Cold War from unraveling into chaos. This is not just because mutually assured destruction might be more of an incentive than a deterrent for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and those around him. Even assuming Tehran will act “rationally,” MAD would still be too dangerous to contemplate.

Crucially, a nuclear standoff with Iran would lack a key component that helped keep the Cold War from turning hot: a modicum of mutual trust. Although they were ideological enemies, the Soviet Union and the U.S. had full diplomatic relations and clear channels of communication. Remember those famous red telephones?

Nothing of this sort exists between the U.S. and Israel on one side and Iran on the other. Even in promising to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, Tehran can’t even bring itself to so much as call the country by its proper name, referring to it as the “Zionist entity.” The absence of direct contacts raises the chance of either side misreading its opponent’s intentions.

In addition, Iran lacks second-strike capability and Israel is too small to absorb a nuclear attack. The temptation to launch a preemptive attack will therefore be far greater than that faced by the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Add to that the much shorter flight times for missiles between Iran and Israel than between the U.S. and the Soviet Union – giving both sides much less time to think and react – and the chances for conflict or mishap spiraling out of control grow exponentially. Even if the Iranian regime has no intention of launching an atomic strike, the risks of nuclear war by misinterpretation, technical error or miscalculation could prove unmanageable.

And unlike during the Cold War, in which there were only two main nuclear players, an Iranian bomb would inevitably lead other neighboring states to follow suit, producing a fragile standoff between several actors. Wolfgang Ischinger and other advocates of containment argue that U.S. security guarantees will not only deter Iran but also prevent further nuclear proliferation.

But will any country rely on Western promises to protect them from a nuclear Iran after the same promises failed to curtail a conventionally armed Iran? Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey would seek their own nuclear bombs, greatly complicating the game of deterrence. Back in 2008, the International Institute for Strategic Studies reported that at least 13 countries in the greater Middle East had announced new or revived plans to explore civilian nuclear energy. With so many nuclear actors, any of the region’s several unresolved conflicts could suddenly become the trigger for a nuclear exchange.

Not to mention that the Iranian regime can circumvent the logic of MAD by passing on a nuclear device to terrorists. Following an atomic attack against a Western city, it would take investigators weeks if not months to determine the culprits, who may never be identified beyond reasonable doubt. It is hard to imagine any Western leader ordering a retaliatory nuclear strike, and thus the deaths of untold numbers of Iranian civilians, on the basis of inconclusive evidence months after the initial attack. Tehran would be quite rational to count on Western scruples in such a case.

The day after Iran’s first nuclear test would not be a normal day. Nor could the danger be contained.

(Mr. Schwammenthal is director of the AJC Transatlantic Institute in Brussels.)

 

IRAN PREPARES SUICIDE BOMB BOATS IN GULF: US NAVY

Iran prepares suicide bomb boats in Gulf: US Navy
Arab News (Saudi Arabia)
February 13, 2012

Iran has built up its naval forces in the Gulf and prepared boats that could be used in suicide attacks, but the US Navy can prevent it from blocking the Strait of Hormuz, the commander of US naval forces in the region said on Sunday.

Iran has made a series of threats in recent weeks to disrupt shipping in the Gulf or strike US forces in retaliation if its oil trade is shut down by sanctions, or if its disputed nuclear program comes under attack.

“They have increased the number of submarines ... they increased the number of fast attack craft,” Vice Admiral Mark Fox told reporters. “Some of the small boats have been outfitted with a large warhead that could be used as a suicide explosive device. The Iranians have a large mine inventory.”

“We have watched with interest their development of long range rockets and short, medium and long range ballistic missiles and of course ... the development of their nuclear program,” Fox, who heads the US Fifth Fleet, said at a briefing on the fleet’s base in the Gulf state of Bahrain.

Iran now has 10 small submarines, he said.

Military experts say the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet patrolling the Gulf - which always has at least one giant supercarrier accompanied by scores of jets and a fleet of frigates and destroyers - is overwhelmingly more powerful than Iran’s navy.

But ever since Al-Qaeda suicide bombers in a small boat killed 17 sailors on board the destroyer USS. Cole in a port in Yemen in 1996, Washington has been wary of the vulnerability of its huge battleships to bomb attacks by small enemy craft.

Asked whether the US Navy was prepared for an attack or other trouble in the Gulf, Fox said: “We are very vigilant, we have built a wide range of options to give the president and we are ready... What if it happened tonight? We are ready today.”

Iranian officials have threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, the outlet to the Gulf through which nearly all of the Middle East’s oil sails.

Asked if he took Iran’s threats seriously, Fox Said: “Could they make like extremely difficult for us? Yes they could. If we did nothing and they were able to operate without being inhibited, yeah they could close it, but I can’t see that we would ever be in that position.”

He added that diplomacy should be given priority in resolving the tension.

“So when you hear discussion about all this overheated rhetoric from Iran we really believe that the best way to handle this is with diplomacy... I am absolutely convinced that is the way to go. It is our job to be prepared. We are vigilant.”

Contacts between the US Navy and Iranian craft in the Gulf region were routine, Fox said, referring to cases where his sailors helped Iranian ships that were in distress or threatened by pirates.

In addition to commanding the Fifth Fleet, Fox is also the commander of a multinational naval task force charged with ensuring Gulf shipping routes stay open. Although most of its firepower is American, the task force also includes other Western countries and the Gulf Arab states.

The European Union slapped an embargo on Iranian oil last month, which is due to kick in completely by July 1. The United States and EU have both imposed new sanctions on Iran’s central bank which make it difficult for countries to pay Tehran for oil and for Iran to pay for the goods it imports.

 

IRANIAN BLOGGER MEHDI KHAZALI SENTENCED TO 14 YEARS IN PRISON

Iranian Blogger Mehdi Khazali Sentenced To 14 Years In Prison
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
February 7, 2012

Iranian blogger Mehdi Khazali has been sentenced to 13 years and 10 months in prison and 10 years in exile.

In his blog, Khazali has criticized Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s state policies.

Khazali’s lawyer told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that he will appeal against the sentence.

Khazali was arrested about a month ago and is currently on a hunger strike. The outspoken blogger and ophthalmologist has been detained a number of times in the past two years.

Meanwhile, Iranian authorities have arrested several people over alleged links to the BBC’s Persian service, Iran’s semiofficial Mehr news agency reported on February 6.

Quoting an unnamed “informed source,” Mehr said the detainees produced content and reported to the BBC. It is not clear how many people have been arrested.

In London, the BBC said in a statement it has “no BBC Persian staff members or stringers working inside Iran.”

The BBC said the report “should be of deep concern to all those who believe in a free and independent media.”

In October, Iran released two filmmakers who were jailed on similar charges. Last week, the BBC accused Iran of pressuring the staff members of its Persian service by targeting their relatives in Iran.

 

IRAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON: THE ZIONIST REGIME HAS BOMBED ITS OWN EMBASSIES

Any terrorist attack is condemned: IRI Envoy in India
Islamic Republic News Agency
February 14, 2012

www.irna.ir/News/Politic/Any-terrorist-attack-is-condemned,-IRI-Envoy-in-India/30816257

New Delhi, Feb 14, IRNA (Iran news agency) - Any terrorist attack anywhere in the world is condemned, Iranian Ambassador to India Mehdi Nabizadeh said here on Monday.

The official has categorically denied Iran’s any type of involvement in the attack on the New Delhi embassy, whatsoever.

“Any terrorist attack is condemned and we strongly reject the untrue and irresponsible comments by an Israeli official; these accusations are untrue and sheer lies, like the previous times,” Nabizadeh added.

Iran Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast also in reaction to the Zionist regime claims noted that Tel-Aviv as source of international terrorism is trying to deviate world public opinion from its criminal acts by accusing Iran of terrorism.

“Recent Zionist regime terror scenarios in India and Georgia and claims by this regime about Iran’s role in these terrorist operations is another phase of psychological war against Tehran and meanwhile, a fruitless effort to deviate the world opinion from the Zionists’ crimes, such as this regime assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientists as well as the innocent Palestinians,” he underlined.

Iran foreign ministry spokesperson noted that existence of Zionist regime depends on dangerous adventurism and terrorism.

“Islamic Republic response to any illogical action by the Zionist regime would be discouraging,” the official underlined.

He added that the Zionist regime has bombed its embassies in New Delhi and Tbilisi to tarnish Iran’s friendly ties with the host countries.

Mehmanparast brushed aside Zionist regime’s accusation on Iranian involvement in the bombing and said that Israel perpetrated the terrorist actions to launch a new psychological war against Iran.

He said that such terrorist actions reflected the innate nature of Tel Aviv regime.

‘Tehran condemns terrorism in strongest term as Iran has been a victim of terrorism.’

The Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson said ‘The Zionist regime itself is based on state terrorism and occupation’ in reference to Israeli occupation of the Palestinians’ lands.

Referring to the removal of some well-known terrorist groups including the armed terrorist group of MKO from the blacklists of some western countries, Mehmanparast added that those countries which support the Zionist regime state’s terrorism as well as terrorist groups in Iran and the region should be held responsible for their advocacy on behalf of the terrorist groups.

“The Zionist regime has a high record of criminal actions against humanity and it is the first suspect of any terrorist operation in the world,” he continued.

The foreign ministry spokesperson underlined that eliminating the roots of terrorism in the world needs an international commitment.

Speaking to some members of his rightwing Likud party, Zionist regime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly blamed Iran for the attacks that wounded at least two people, one of them an Israeli woman.

A hitman on a motorbike fixed a suspected magnetic bomb on an Israeli embassy car in the Indian capital on Monday, police said.

Separately, the Georgian interior ministry confirmed that police in the capital Tbilisi had defused an explosive device found in the car of an Israeli embassy employee.

In the Georgian capital Tbilisi, 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) to the west, an embassy employee found a suspicious device in his car and contacted police who were able to defuse the bomb before it went off.

The embassy car exploded in a ball of flames in central New Delhi, injuring a 42-year-old female embassy employee and her Indian driver who was pulled from the wreckage by bystanders, police and witnesses said.

Witnesses described hearing an explosion in the middle of the afternoon around 3:30 pm (01:00 GMT) and then seeing the car on fire.

The blast was of relatively low intensity. The charred remains of the car surrounded by debris stood in the street until the early evening, with the roof still intact but the back door missing.

‘We heard a huge explosion and then me and my workers ran to the site where we found the car on fire,’ petrol pump supervisor Ravi Singh told reporters.

‘I think there was a woman and a driver in the car and I think (other) people pulled her out. And then the fire tenders (trucks) arrived at the site,’ he said.

A Jewish center run by the the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch movement was among the targets in the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai blamed on the Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba in which 10 gunmen killed at least 166 people.

The last militant strike in New Delhi was last September when a bomb outside the High Court killed 14 people -- the latest in a series of blasts that has shaken public confidence in the Indian government’s counter-terror capabilities.

This new round of anti-Iranian scenarios follows another scenario in which US officials claimed that Iran has tried a plot including an assassination attempt against the Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel Al-Jubeir, with a bomb and subsequent bomb attacks on Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington. Bombings of the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires, Argentina, were also discussed, according to US officials.

Iranian officials had strongly dismissed the US allegations as a fabricated scenario which is totally unfounded and described it as worn-out approaches which are based on the old hostile American-Zionist attempt to sow discord among Muslims.

While Iran is allegedly accused of terrorism, western states are real supporters of world terrorism. The EU removed the MKO terrorist group from its terrorism list in 2009, but it is still considered a terrorist organization by some countries, including the United States and Iran.

The MKO is designated as a terrorist organization under the United States law, and has been described by State Department officials as a repressive cult. The group fled to Iraq in 1986, where it enjoyed the support of Iraq’s executed dictator, Saddam Hussein. The MKO is also known to have cooperated with Saddam in suppressing the 1991 uprisings in southern Iraq and the massacre of Iraqi Kurds. The group has carried out numerous acts of violence against Iranian civilians and government officials.

9191**2329

Islamic Republic News Agency/IRNA NewsCode: 30816257


Assad emails leaked, tips for misleading Western media revealed; & other items

February 08, 2012

* Leaked email from Assad’s media advisor: “American psyche can be easily manipulated”
* Iranian news agency publishes maps of civilian targets to be hit in Israel
* EU denies money to Greece, but pours more money into the West Bank
* Not a story from The Onion: A cardboard cutout Khomeini comes home
* Netanyahu chats with hundreds of Egyptians, Jordanians, Iraqis and Palestinians on Facebook


Iranians commemorate the 33rd anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s triumphant return to Iran in 1979 with a cardboard cutout


(You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also first press “Like” on that page.)

 

CONTENTS

1. Assad emails leaked, tips for misleading Western media revealed
2. International media finally reporting properly on Syria
3. Iranian news agency: “Israeli people must be annihilated”
4. Cardboard Khomeini returns to Iran from exile
5. Yet more no-strings-attached European money to PA while Greece denied funds
6. Correction from The Daily Beast
7. Netanyahu’s Arab Facebook fans
8. Netanyahu condemns latest anti-Semitic incitement by the Mufti of Jerusalem
9. Where is the follow-up on Libya by Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama?
10. More ill will from Egypt


[All notes below by Tom Gross]

ASSAD EMAILS LEAKED, TIPS FOR MISLEADING WESTERN MEDIA REVEALED

Hundreds of emails from Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s office have been leaked after a cyber attack by the hacker group “Anonymous”. One of the emails contains a document preparing Assad for his interview with ABC TV’s Barbara Walters last December.

In his interview with Walters, Assad denied that Syrian citizens were being killed. “We don’t kill our people. No government in the world kills its people, unless it’s led by a crazy person,” Assad told Walters.

A week before the interview, Sheherazad Jaafari, who works as a press attaché at the Syrian mission to the United Nations in New York, sent a long email to former Al Jazeera journalist Luna Chebel, who now works in Assad’s bureau. Jaafari, who helped set up the interview with Walters, is also the daughter of the Syrian ambassador to the UN, Dr. Bashar Jaafari.

The younger Jaafari wrote: “It is hugely important and worth mentioning that ‘mistakes’ have been done in the beginning of the crises because we did not have a well-organized ‘police force.’ American psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear that there are ‘mistakes’ done and now we are ‘fixing it.’ It’s worth mentioning also what is happening now in Wall Street and the way the demonstrations are been suppressed by policemen, police dogs and beatings.”

Jaafari also recommended that Assad say: “Syria doesn’t have a policy to torture people, unlike the USA, where there are courses and schools that specialize in teaching policemen and officers how to torture.”

She continued: “It would be worth mentioning how your personality has been attacked and praised in the last decade according to the media. At one point H.E. was viewed as a hero and in other times H.E. was the ‘bad guy’. Americans love these kinds of things get convinced by it.”

Jaafari also stressed that Facebook and YouTube are important to “the American mindset”.

Bashar Assad and Barbara Walters

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA FINALLY REPORTING PROPERLY ON SYRIA

I have previously criticized the BBC and other prominent international news media for failing to report properly on the Syrian uprising, even though some periods last year were as bloody as what we have witnessed this week, if not worse. I am glad to see they are now doing so.

It is worth reading this BBC report and watching the embedded videos (including one by the excellent Paul Wood).

It is also slightly strange to hear other Western news networks report that this week was the first time that Syrians burned Russian, Chinese, and Iranian flags.

I have reported on this several times, and posted videos such as these in May 2011:

Video Dispatch 8: Syrians burn Iranian and Russian Flags (Not Israeli and U.S. ones)

***

Please also see:

Freedom, Freedom!” How some foreign media are reporting the truth about Syria: This is the kind of reporting you won’t see from the BBC or New York Times -- or from ABC’s Barbara Walters (Dec. 9, 2011):

 

IRANIAN NEWS AGENCY: “ISRAELI PEOPLE MUST BE ANNIHILATED”

A report on Monday by Iran’s Alef News Agency website included detailed maps of military and civilian targets in what it called the “Zionist entity” (i.e. Israel). The report was headlined: “Israeli People Must be Annihilated.”

You can scroll down here to see the maps.

 

CARDBOARD KHOMEINI RETURNS TO IRAN FROM EXILE

In February 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – the leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution – returned triumphantly to Tehran on an Air France flight from Paris after 14 years in exile.

To mark the 33rd anniversary of the “glorious occasion,” that return has been re-enacted in a ceremony. Republican guards carried a life-size cardboard cutout of Khomeini down the steps of a passenger plane while a waiting crowd cheered and a marching band played music in the background.

Among those welcoming the cardboard Khomeini was Education Minister Hamid Reza Haj Babayi.

(No, this story is not from The Onion.)

 

YET MORE NO-STRINGS-ATTACHED EUROPEAN MONEY TO PA WHILE GREECE DENIED FUNDS

The Palestinian news agency WAFA reported yesterday that:

english.wafa.ps/index.php?action=detail&id=18923

“The European Union and Sweden Tuesday contributed €24.7 million to the payment of the January salaries and pensions of around 84,300 Palestinian civil servants and pensioners in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, according to an EU press release. The European Commission made €22.5 million contribution and Sweden made €2.2 million.

“The European Commission’s contribution comes from the €155 million package of financial assistance to the recurrent expenditures of the Palestinian Authority committed for 2012, said the release.

“Most of the European Union’s assistance to the Palestinian Authority is channeled through PEGASE… Since February 2008, €1.23 billion have been disbursed through the PEGASE Direct Financial Support programs.”

Above: One of Ramallah’s many nice cafes


Tom Gross adds: Besides the disturbing fact that in the past large amounts of European taxpayers’ money has been siphoned off into the bank accounts of corrupt Palestinian officials, or used to buy arms, what is startling is that the decision was made on the same day that the EU leadership announced that it can’t give Greece previously promised funds to pay its debts until it takes additional austerity measures, including the dismissal of thousands of superfluous civil servants and a cut in health expenditures.

And yet the EU prefers not to notice how many Palestinian civil servants are superfluous and, as reader Elliot Green notes, some of them are involved in creating and spreading hate propaganda against Jews.

As noted in a dispatch on this website last summer, “the billions that pour into the West Bank mean the Palestinian Authority does not need to try very hard to deliver the services expected by voters, it also stifles the private sector, inflates wages and causes an internal ‘brain drain’. No Palestinian business can compete with European and American-funded NGOs which routinely triple what a local firm would pay. Many NGOs fork out ‘danger money’ and even ‘hardship payments’ to both local and international staff (who then dine daily at the many expensive West Bank and Gaza restaurants) which further undermines the ability of local private businesses to hire.”

The Greeks are held to standards and demands are made of them. But (as Green points out) there are no ultimatums made to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who continues to hold rallies honoring terrorists, name public institutions after suicide bombers, and teach hatred and incitement to Palestinian children.


***

Fatah’s official Facebook page last week put up pictures of 8 terrorists who carried out the terror attack on the Savoy Hotel in Tel Aviv in 1975, calling them heroes.

Fatah’s Facebook page also includes a map of “Palestine” which includes all of Israel.

 

CORRECTION FROM THE DAILY BEAST

This correction appeared at the bottom of an American election in The Daily Beast/Newsweek:

“Correction: The original version of this story included an embedded link in the text to a blog called the ‘Neocon Zionist Threat’. The author did not use this site in the reporting of the piece, and does not support the views expressed.”

www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/01/30/newt-gingrich-s-deep-neocon-ties-drive-his-bellicose-middle-east-policy.html

As one reader notes: “The website ‘Neocon Zionist Threat’ argues that a cabal of Jews is trying to drive the U.S. into a war with Iran. The Daily Beast article, on the other hand, argues that a cabal of Jews is trying to drive the U.S. into a war with Iran.”

 

NETANYAHU’S ARAB FACEBOOK FANS

For the first time, in what looks as though it will become a regular occurrence, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu answered questions on Facebook last week from web surfers in the Arab world

Hundreds of readers from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, the Gulf states, North Africa and the Palestinian Authority responded to a call on Facebook by Netanyahu to ask him questions in Arabic.

The questions covered a broad range of issues including the Arab Spring, the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, Iran, and relations between Israel and Arab countries. Readers expressed interest in learning more about Israel and its policies in a range of areas. Ofir Gendelman, Netanyahu’s Arabic Media Adviser, translated the questions and answers for Netanyahu and the web surfers.

In response to a question about the diplomatic process, Netanyahu said that, “I am ready at this moment to go to Ramallah and begin talks with Abu Mazen (Abbas) without preconditions. To my regret, Abu Mazen is not prepared to come to my office. I think that this is a mistake.”

Asked about the Arab Spring Netanyahu said that, “Increasing freedom within these countries will aid their prosperity. Increasing freedom of information could aid peace because at the moment, the Arab world still has stigmas and stereotypes about the State of Israel that have no bearing on reality.”

Regarding Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu said: “We have many common interests that we could advance regarding the economy and regional policy. I believe that, like us, Saudi Arabia sees that there is a great danger in the spread of terrorism by extremist elements.”

 

NETANYAHU CONDEMNS LATEST ANTI-SEMITIC INCITEMENT BY THE MUFTI OF JERUSALEM

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked why “more governments around the world have not condemned calls by the Palestinian mufti to kill Jews simply because they are Jews.”

He said: “What is most chilling is the fact that there is here a legacy of hatred and annihilation because this mufti is following in the footsteps of that previous mufti. Haj Amin al-Husseini was one of the architects of the Final Solution. He traveled to Berlin. He lobbied and implored Hitler, as was stated by Adolf Eichmann’s deputy at the Nuremberg trials, and is documented in other sources, and persuaded him more than anyone else to carry out the Final Solution.

“Not to allow the Jews to leave lest they come here but to annihilate them, to incinerate them. He established Balkan Muslim Waffen-SS units. He broadcast and preached the annihilation of Jews and, more than anyone else, poisoned Arab leaders against Zionism and against the Jewish People. And here is his successor, today, instead of calling for peace and reconciliation, calling for the annihilation of Jews simply because they are Jews.

“I hear condemnations if there is a house in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo or a balcony in Ramot, I hear this from everyone. Where are condemnations of the mufti? Not the previous mufti but the current one?”

 

WHERE IS THE FOLLOW-UP ON LIBYA BY SARKOZY, CAMERON AND OBAMA?

Several Libyans have died after being tortured by militias in Libyan detention centers, Amnesty International has said.

It said its representatives had seen detainees in Tripoli, Misrata and Gheryan with open wounds to their head, limbs and back.

Meanwhile, French charity Medecins Sans Frontieres has suspended operations in Misrata after treating 115 patients with torture-related wounds.

“Our role is to provide medical care to war casualties and sick detainees, not to repeatedly treat the same patients between torture sessions,” said Medecins Sans Frontieres director Christopher Stokes.

More than 8,500 Libyans have been taken into custody by the British, American and French-backed militia groups in Libya, according to the UN.

***

Caroline Hawley reports on the BBC News website:

“In a detention facility in Misrata, I met a man with deep scars all over his back. He had been whipped with electric cables shortly after his capture, on simple suspicion of supporting Muammar al-Gaddafi. In another prison, in Tripoli, a former pilot showed me the results of electric shocks on his arm… This is not the new page for human rights that many had hoped for in Libya.”

 

MORE ILL WILL FROM EGYPT

Egypt’s Committee of Foreign Relations of the People’s Assembly decided on Monday that it would boycott any parliamentary events and activities if Israelis were present, describing Egypt’s neighbor as a “Zionist entity.”

Essam el-Erian, chairman of the committee and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), said “normalization with the Zionist entity” is rejected unequivocally and this “is the decision of the Egyptian People”. He said that the committee “refuses to participate in any parliamentary or political events that include the Israeli participation.”

A few Egyptian parliamentarians have condemned the decision. MP Emad Gad said that “there are international conferences that have to be attended even if Israelis are participating,” adding that “sometimes boycotting is not the right step to take.”

[All notes above by Tom Gross]