Tom Gross Mideast Media Analysis

If war with Iran comes, will the U.S. open its secret military depots in Israel?

August 26, 2012

* If Israel has to defend itself simultaneously from mass rocket attack from Iran, Lebanon and Gaza, and Israel runs out of ammunition, will America open its six secret bases in Israel to help supply the Jewish state with fresh stock?

* U.S. bases in Israel contain ammunition, smart bombs, missiles, an assortment of military vehicles and a military hospital with 500 beds

* Ariel Sharon, as Israeli Defense Minister in the early 1980s, was the first to conceive the idea of American emergency reserve depots in Israel. The U.S. has similar reserves elsewhere, including (according to some reports) Saudi Arabia, the Ras Banas port in Egypt, Oman, Somalia, Kenya, Diego Garcia, and Munich.

* Sharon suggested creating emergency reserves – called “advance positioning” – of tanks, aircraft carriers, ammunition and medical equipment to be close by and available to the American army in the event of a conflict in the Persian Gulf.

* There was an understanding that Israel could use equipment from these depots during an emergency.

* The U.S. began to build the depots in the early 1990s. Some were built as underground bunkers.

* In his book Code Names, former intelligence analyst for U.S. ground forces William Arkin, revealed the locations of some of the American bases in Israel, called “sites” in his book. Arkin writes that the sites do not appear on maps, and their exact locations are classified. But according to the book, four of them are located at Ben Gurion Airport, Nevatim and Ovda air bases, and in Herzliya Pituah.


* There is another longer dispatch about Iran today, with a variety of notes and articles, here:

The Iranian nuclear threat: “Israel is on its own” (& Facebook removes Hizbullah)

(You can comment on these dispatches here: Please also press “Like” on that page.)


I attach an article published last week in the Israeli paper Ma’ariv. (Such an article would not have appeared without the permission of the Israeli military censor.)

Open only in case of an emergency
By Sarah Leibovitz-Dar
August 17, 2012
Translated from Hebrew by Sandy Bloom

When the drums of war reach a fever pitch throughout the Middle East, cooperation with Israel’s most important ally assumes even more urgency than ever. The IDF is, of course, a powerful and independent army but in the event of an extensive confrontation, even Israel – a regional power – may run out of ammo. Meanwhile, six secret American bases are spread out throughout the country. According to foreign reports, these depots are chock-full of ammunition, smart bombs, missiles, an assortment of military vehicles and a military hospital with 500 beds. If Israel will be forced to take action against Iran, whether alone or together with the US, there is high probability that it will need a strategic home front – in the guise of those bases full of goodies.


According to the reports, the bases are situated in Herzliya Pituah (in the vicinity of Tel Aviv, on the coastline), Ben Gurion Airport, and air-force bases Ovda and Nevatim (Israeli Air Force bases in Southern Israel). These bases are crammed full of expensive equipment worth more than $1 billion. “These [supply] depots do not constitute the central consideration in deciding when to go to war, but they definitely figure in the overall calculations,” says David Ivri, former Israeli Air Force (IAF) Commander at the beginning of the negotiations with the Americans regarding establishing the depots. Later on, Ivri served as Director-General of the Defense Ministry and as Israel’s Ambassador to the US from 2000 to 2002.

Negotiations between Israel and the US over the emergency reserve depots in Israel extended over a 10-year period. The Israelis asked for huge depots filled with heavy equipment and tanks, while the Americans agreed at first only to store medical equipment. Finally, the US began to build the depots in the early 1990s; according to foreign reports, some were built as underground bunkers. High-echelon Israeli (and American) sources are very familiar with the emergency installations and their great importance to Israel’s warfare deployment. Three weeks ago, the White House issued a special announcement mentioning the existence of these storage sites: “The Israeli forces have access to the American emergency depots.” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, in internal discussions in the Defense Ministry, that the United States will allow Israel to use equipment from these depots during an emergency.

“The fact that we have these depots definitely improves the way we feel,” says Danny Yatom, former Knesset Member and former head of the Mossad, who served as the Head of the IDF’s Planning Directorate of the General Staff in the period when the US began to transfer emergency reserves to Israel. “I was in favor of the depots. My instincts told me it was a good idea. These depots give us the feeling that we have more equipment than we actually possess. Our military inventory is never sufficient, a prolonged war can lead to a shortage of shells, bombs and other [military] equipment but inventory is always slashed in the defense budget. When we have to decide between stocking up on inventory or transferring funds to [military] training or acquisition of MRPVs [Mini Remote-Piloted Vehicle] or tanks, inventory is usually the lowest priority. The American storage depots alleviate our planning of military operations because we can take into account the American equipment as well. Officially we are not allowed to use anything without American authorization, but there definitely might be someone out there who thinks that if we really will need this equipment, and the Americans won’t allow our access to the emergency depots, we’ll take it anyway.”

In his book Code Names (2005), military researcher and former intelligence analyst for US ground forces William Arkin revealed the locations of some of the American bases in Israel, called “sites” in his book. Arkin writes that the sites do not appear on maps, and their exact locations are classified. According to the book, some of the sites are located in the Ben Gurion Airport, Nevatim, the Ovda base, and in Herzliya Pituah. The sites are numbered as “site 51,” “site 53,” site 54,” “site 55” and “site 56.” Some of the depots are underground, others were built as open hangars. According to Arkin, site 51 holds ammunition and equipment in underground depots. Site 53 is found in the Israeli air-force bases, site 54 is an emergency military hospital near Tel Aviv with 500 beds. Sites 55 and 56 are ammunition depots.

“Israel can definitely rely on the emergency depots,” said Arkin this week to Maariv’s Saturday Supplement on August 17. “Israel can also rely on the United States to continue to do what it always did in the past: the American interest is that Israeli unilateral measures should have as little political effect as possible. If Iran will attack Israel the United States will recommend restraint, if Israel will attack without consulting with the United States, the current government will try to prevent an escalation.”

Eight years ago, Hazofe (an Israeli right wing-religious daily) revealed the existence of an additional base on the border of Samaria, near the city of Elad. According to Hazofe, the base was built by a German company (with American funding) west of the Green Line. Yatom clearly recalls the infrastructure work that was executed by the Americans. “The American engineering corps built the bases, most of the contractors were Americans. There were some Israelis who participated in the work, but the American inspections were so stringent that the Israelis regretted taking on the project.”


The agreements between the US and Israel stipulate that the US finance the maintenance and guarding of the bases. Israeli soldiers and security companies guard the facilities with the help of sophisticated security devices, while American officers from the EUCOM headquarters in Germany oversee the maintenance. According to the EUCOM website, 150 American soldiers are in Israel “on various missions.” According to the site there are no American bases in Israel, but collaboration between Israel and the US includes military equipment reserves as part of the War Reserves Stock Allies-Israel agreement (WRSA-I). Incidentally, the American inspectors complained of negligence during a routine inspection five years ago: some of the doors lacked digital locks, some of the facilities lacked security cameras and other items. “The findings are being dealt with,” said an IDF spokesman in response.

Ariel Sharon, as Defense Minister in the early 1980s, was the first to conceive the idea of American emergency reserve depots in Israel. The US has similar reserves in Europe, Saudi Arabia and other places. Sharon suggested to create emergency reserves – called “advance positioning” – of tanks, aircraft carriers, ammunition and medical equipment to be close by and available to the American army in the event of a conflict in the Persian Gulf. In addition, he said, Israel could use the American equipment in the event of an emergency. In his talks with the Americans, Sharon emphasized that Israel was asking for emergency reserves but refused to have American soldiers stationed on its land, due to the concern of “a psychological weakening effect and unhealthy sense of dependence on a foreign agent to defend the country.” Sharon also viewed the bases as an economic opportunity. He proposed that the US underwrite the cost of their maintenance and that they acquire some of the ammunition in Israel. Then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin supported the idea. Begin, like many other government ministers, felt that the emergency bases would be a de facto expression of real American commitment to Israel’s security.

The Labor Party opposed the reserve depots with the argument that it indirectly might cause Israel to have to defend the US. The State of Israel is only obliged to defend the borders of its state and not American interests, claimed the opposition. Labor Knesset Members even worried that the emergency bases in Israel might be targets of a Soviet attack. The Americans were also not enthusiastic about the idea. Alexander Haig, American Secretary of State at the time, refused to commit himself though he expressed interest in some of the Israeli proposals. The Americans were concerned that these bases would damage US relations with the Arab world. On the other hand, they understood the logistic importance of having bases precisely in Israel.

An American expert who visited Israel in the early 1980s told the New York Times that not only was Israel more technologically advanced than the Arab countries, it could also offer better and cheaper maintenance and medical services than the Americans. A Pentagon study that was publicized in the New York Times in October 1981 stated that military equipment stored in Israel, could reach Western Europe and the Persian Gulf quickly. According to the study, the US could transfer 70 thousand tons of equipment from Israel to Saudi Arabia within several days. A parallel transfer from the Ras Banas port in Egypt would take 10 days; from Oman, 8 days; Somalia, 2 weeks; Kenya, 22 days; Diego Garcia on the Indian Ocean, 27 days; and 77 days from the US. The distances to Europe are shorter but even here, Israel has a relative advantage: the transfer of equipment from Israel to Munich takes 11 days, from Egypt, 12 days; from Oman and Somalia, 20 days; and from the US, 24 days.

The negotiation with the Americans about building the bases was long and cautious. In an interview with the American media in September 1981, Yitzhak Shamir (then Foreign Minister) said that the term “bases” should not be used. “The term ‘American bases’ is unclear. People talk about facilities.” Three months later, Sharon said in an interview with the New York Times that he demanded that a large inventory of tanks and heavy equipment be stored in Israel. According to the newspaper article, the Americans only wanted a general agreement of understanding to store only medical equipment in Israel. Israel refused; Israeli sources claimed that such an inventory would turn the agreements between Israel and the US “into a joke.”

Natan Sharoni, who was Head of the Planning Directorate of the General Staff at the beginning of the negotiations with the Americans, says that the peace agreement with Egypt was the foundation for the discussions with the US. “When there is progress in the political process, a relationship is formed in which these types of things also happen.” Sharoni says that Israel asked for three military hospitals during the negotiations. “We told the Americans that if something should happen in the Persian Gulf, they could send their wounded to Israel instead of to Germany, and that in an emergency we could also use the hospitals. The Americans didn’t agree – not for strategic reasons, but because of the people involved.”


Yatom says that Israel asked the Americans to fill the depots with the kinds of military equipment that Israel would need during an emergency. “We tried to tailor the contents of the depots to our own interests, but did not always succeed. They did not agree to introduce ammunition items that they refused to give us for our use. For example we asked for Tomahawk missiles, and they would not authorize that.”

At the beginning of the 1990s the US finally agreed to build emergency military depots in Israel for the use of its army, with the stipulation that Israel would also be able to use the equipment when necessary provided that it is given permission to do so. In a report of the US Congressional Research Service that was publicized in April 2012, an Israeli officer was quoted as saying that “officially all the equipment belongs to the United States but in the event of a conflict, the IDF can ask permission to use some of it.” According to the report, the US permitted Israeli access to the emergency reserves during the Second Lebanon War.

According to the report, the value of the equipment in the early years was insignificant, only a hundred million dollars. Arkin wrote in his book that the value of the equipment reached half a billion dollar. According to the Congressional Research Service Report, an increase in the quantity of equipment in the emergency reserves was authorized by the American Congress and House of Representatives in December 2006, a short time after the Second Lebanon War. Then in 2010 the US increased the inventory to $800 million. This year, Congress allowed the President to increase the inventory to $1.2 billion.

Almost everyone who dealt with or managed the bases, believes that the American depots are of priceless assistance to Israel. “I was in favor of these depots,” says Uzi Dayan [Res.Gen in the IDF, and Politician. (Nephew of General Moshe Dayan)], who served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Head of the IDF’s Planning Directorate of the General Staff. “It is an excellent thing. First of all, to give regional support to the Americans and also to us. No army in the world has enough [military] supplies of its own. Egypt, for example, has enough supplies for only a short time period. Some countries have enough for 3 weeks of warfare. You have to find the right balance between supplies, and the length of the war. Inventory is expensive and tends to become obsolete. Let’s assume that the army decides to establish inventory for a period of 40 days. It’s pretty clear that this inventory would be slashed in the defense budget. This American equipment is of enormous help. We don’t have to deal with it every week, they come for inspection and that’s it. It also supports cooperation with the United States.”

David Ivri agrees. “These bases are very important. During the Yom Kippur War it was necessary to organize special transports of military equipment, and most of the stuff arrived after the war was over. When you have emergency depots, you are not dependent on supplies transported across the ocean when you are fighting.”

Attorney Israel Chayut, who served as Chief Logistics Officer when the Americans built the depots, says that “the larger our inventory, the more the State of Israel will have capacity for endurance during an emergency, the better our position will be. Wars have become longer in recent years, no more once-and-for-all lightning wars as in the Six Day War. Therefore your quantity of supplies must match the length of the war.”

Dani Yatom makes it clear that the question is whether the Americans will authorize use of the equipment in the event of a war with Iran. “I assume that if we attack Iran without prior coordination [with the US], it is unlikely that they will authorize use of the emergency supplies. But if we are attacked by the Hezbollah, presumably they will agree. Iran has only several hundreds of missiles that can reach us, while Hezbollah has tens of thousands of rockets.”

“In a crisis situation, when Israel will need to be resupplied such as what happened during the Yom Kippur War, I assume that the Americans will allow us to use their supply depots,” says Itamar Rabinowitz, former Israeli Ambassador in the United States. Natan Sharoni suggests that we examine the issue from another vantage point. “It is clear that the emergency supply depots help us,” he says. “But our endurance-capacity is a function of the steadfastness of the home-front, more than the number of tanks [we possess]. As Colonel David Marcus used to say during the War of Independence ‘Our spirit fills the gaps.’ From this point of view, nothing has changed. Our national spirit and morale are more important than the American emergency depots.”

The Iranian nuclear threat: “Israel is on its own” (& Facebook removes Hizbullah)

* Israeli insiders: Netanyahu and Barak believe Obama would have no choice but to give backing for an Israeli attack before November’s U.S. presidential elections, but if Obama is re-elected he would greatly increase the pressure on Israel not to attack.

* It remains unclear whether Israel has the military capability to take on Iran’s nuclear threat alone. Nevertheless most Israelis say they would rather try to stop it, than to live under the impossible shadow of a nuclear Iran.

* The far left in Israel is speaking out against any military action by Israel. A petition signed by over 400 Israeli academics has called on pilots to refuse to obey orders to bomb Iran.

* Tom Gross: In recent days, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and prominent Iranian general Hajizadeh, all said that Israel must be destroyed. In spite of such incitement, many “experts” continue to deny that Iran constitutes a threat to Israel, just as experts in the past mistakenly dismissed the genocidal threats of other dictatorial madmen.

* Lee Smith: A Republican president is no more likely than a Democrat to stage a pre-emptive attack on Iran, and American support for an Israeli attack is the very best that Israeli leaders can hope to expect from the White House, regardless of which party inhabits it.

* Romney’s internal conversation with himself will look something like a combination of his two predecessors’: He doesn’t want to further burden the economy by destabilizing the Middle East and sending oil prices skyrocketing, and he doesn’t want to be tagged as a war-mongering Republican who bombed Iran only a few months after moving into his new digs. Like every other man who takes the job, Romney wants a second term.

* David Wurmser, who served in the Bush White House: Israel is mistaken if it thinks the U.S. will take an attack against Iran upon itself.

* Charles Krauthammer: Everyone wants to avoid military action, surely the Israelis above all. They can expect a massive counterattack from Iran, 50,000 rockets launched from Lebanon, Islamic Jihad firing from Gaza, and worldwide terror against Jewish and Israeli targets, as happened last month in Bulgaria.

* Yet Israel will not sit idly by in the face of the most virulent genocidal threats since Nazi Germany. The result then was 6 million murdered Jews. There are 6 million living in Israel today. Time is short. Last-ditch negotiations in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow have failed abjectly. All options are bad. Doing nothing is worse.


This is the latest in a series of dispatches about Iran, including items about its ever-growing nuclear threat.

(You can comment on this dispatch here: Please also press “Like” on that page.)

* There is another shorter dispatch about Iran today, here:
If war with Iran comes, will the U.S. open its secret military depots in Israel?



1. Fayyad furious as Iran invites Hamas’ PM to attend non-aligned summit
2. Western anger as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he will go to Iran
3. Morsi set to become first Egyptian President in decades to visit Tehran
4. Iranian regime continues to threaten Israel with annihilation
5. Iran speeds up its nuclear program
6. British intelligence: Iran planning more terror attacks abroad
7. Israel: Sanctions, diplomacy have failed; now “closer than ever” to military action
8. Iran displays weapon upgrades in honor of ‘Defense Industry Day’
9. Globes: Attack on Iran will cost Israeli economy NIS 167bn
10. Facebook removes Hizbullah’s webpage
11. “The Cordesman criteria” (By Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, Aug 24, 2012)
12. “Why Romney won’t strike Iran” (By Lee Smith, Tablet magazine, Aug 22, 2012)
13. “In facing Iran, Israel is on its own and can’t rely on US” (By David Wurmser, Israel Hayom, Aug 24, 2012)
14. “How - and why - Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu became equals” (By Cliff May, National Post, Aug 23, 2012)

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has expressed his anger after the Iranian regime invited Hamas’ Gaza-based Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to attend the non-aligned nations summit in Tehran this week, instead of him.

Fayyad’s office released a press statement saying that the invitation is “a serious escalation by Iran against Palestinian unity and against the Palestinian Authority’s role as the guardian of the Palestinian people both in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank including Jerusalem.”

PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who had accepted an invitation to attend the summit, says he did so believing he would be heading the Palestinian delegation and now says he will not attend if Haniyeh does.



The U.S., Israel and other democratic governments say they are shocked and disappointed that United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also says he will attend the summit in Iran this week, which they say will be a propaganda event staged by the regime.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: “The fact that the meeting is happening in a country that’s in violation of so many of its international obligations and posing a threat to neighbors sends a very strange signal with regard to support for the international order, and the rule of law.”

Israeli officials say the fact that Ban, as well as so many other world leaders, are planning to visit Tehran this week and in effect bestow legitimacy on the regime there, despite its appalling human rights record, shows that the Obama administration policy of trying to isolate Tehran has failed.



Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has also said he will attend the conference of non-aligned nations in Tehran later this week.

Israel says that Tehran may use it as an opportunity to further destabilize Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak kept well clear of the Iranian regime, calling it a destabilizing force in the region and world.

In an interview with the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, Iranian Foreign Minister Akbar Salehi has said that his country will be seeking to restore diplomatic relations with Cairo.



In recent days:

* Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that “Israel is a malignant cancer” and an “insult to humanity” and said that “the black stain of Zionism must be removed”

* Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that “Israel will disappear from the map”

* And a prominent Iranian general, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, proclaimed that “Israel must be destroyed forever.”

In spite of such incitement, many “experts” continue to deny that Iran constitutes a threat to Israel, just as experts in the past mistakenly dismissed the genocidal threats of other dictatorial madmen.



The New York Times reported on Friday that international nuclear inspectors will soon report that Iran has installed hundreds of new centrifuges in recent months and is speeding up production of nuclear fuel.

Also on Friday, Israel’s highest circulation paper, Israel Hayom, reported that new satellite photos show that Iran has covered two buildings at Parchin Military base with pink material, in which they are conducting experiments in nuclear weapons development.

In spite of the fact that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned that a nuclear Iran would pose an enormous threat to the U.S. and the entire world, no country other than Israel appears to be prepared to stop Iran before it is too late.

It remains unclear whether Israel has the military capability to take on the Iranian nuclear threat alone. Yet most Israelis say they would rather try to stop it, than to live under the shadow of a nuclear Iran.

Only the far left in Israel is speaking out against any military action by Israel. A petition signed by over 400 Israeli academics has called on pilots to refuse to obey orders to bomb Iran.



Meanwhile, the (London) Daily Telegraph, relying on sources from within British intelligence, reports that Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei has ordered Unit 400 of the country’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, which runs special overseas operations, to intensify its campaign of terror attacks against the West and its allies in retaliation for their support of those who want to overthrow the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria.

Intelligence officials say Khamenei said he is contemplating attacks on “America, the Zionists, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others to show that they cannot act with impunity in Syria and elsewhere in the region.”

Last year, the U.S. accused the Quds Force of being behind a failed assassination attempt against the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington. It was also implicated in various bomb attacks against Israelis in a number of countries during the course of this year, and was planning to attack the Eurovision song contest in Azerbaijan.



Israel’s Channel 10 News’s military reporter Alon Ben-David claimed earlier this week that, since upgraded sanctions against Iran have failed to force a suspension of the Iranian nuclear program, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is determined to attack Iran before the U.S. elections,” and Israel is now “closer than ever” to a strike designed to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive. Ben-David was given extensive access to the Israel Air Force as it trained for a possible attack.

The report added that Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak believe Obama would have no choice but to give backing for an Israeli attack before the U.S. presidential elections in November, but if Obama is re-elected he would greatly increase the pressure on Israel not to go ahead. Netanyahu says Israel is determined to defend itself.



On Tuesday Iran showed off its new range of rockets, in honor of “Defense Industry Day.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi unveiled upgrades to six missile systems. These include improved versions of a short-range missile purportedly featuring greater accuracy; and a new, more powerful naval engine. Earlier this month, Iran test fired a Fateh-110 missile, which boasts a range of almost 200 miles.



Israel’s business daily newspaper, “Globes,” reports that the direct and indirect financial damage to the Israeli economy from an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities will be 167 billion shekels. It estimates the direct damage from an attack at 47 billion, plus 24 billion a year in lost GDP for five years after an attack, due to the collapse of businesses. (Four shekels is about one U.S. dollar.)

Globes used as a baseline the 32-day Second Lebanon War in 2006, which cost Israeli 0.5% of GDP in lost growth.

In a separate report, Globes says that fears over a war with Iran are already hitting Israeli suppliers, since foreign customers are demanding guarantees of continued production in the event of war.

Other experts say that the cost to the Israeli economy of allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons will be much greater, given the economic and existential uncertainty Israel will then have to live with.



Announcing that it will adhere to the U.S. State Department List of Foreign Terror Organizations in determining whether entities are inciting to violence, Facebook has said it is removing the Hizbullah Facebook page and that of Hizbullah’s television channel, Al Manar.

This follows last month’s decision by Google and Apple to remove Al Manar’s apps.

Tom Gross adds: Facebook, Apple and Google all rely on Israeli-developed technology so it is puzzling why those who advocate a total boycott of the Jewish state were using them in the first place.

In a speech from Beirut last weekend, Hizbullah leader Nasrallah said that if Israel hit Iran’s nuclear program, his group would kill tens of thousands of Israelis by striking at “a number – not a large number – of strategic targets with precision rockets.”

The United States government last week said Hizbullah has trained and advised government forces inside Syria. Yesterday over 200 bodies were discovered in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus. They had been summarily executed, part of 550 Syrians killed so far this weekend, in what activists described as a scorched-earth campaign by Syrian troops aided by Iran and Hizbullah fighters.


I attach four articles below.

All four authors, Charles Krauthammer, Lee Smith, David Wurmser (who served as a special Middle East advisor in the Bush White House) and Cliff May, are subscribers to this list, as is Mitt Romney’s senior foreign policy campaign adviser Dan Senor, who is quoted in the second article.

-- Tom Gross



The Cordesman criteria
By Charles Krauthammer,
The Washington Post
August 24, 2012

Either Israel is engaged in the most elaborate ruse since the Trojan horse or it is on the cusp of a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

What’s alarming is not just Iran’s increasing store of enriched uranium or the growing sophistication of its rocketry. It’s also the increasingly menacing annihilationist threats emanating from Iran’s leaders. Israel’s existence is “an insult to all humanity,” says President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Anyone who loves freedom and justice must strive for the annihilation of the Zionist regime.” Explains the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Israel is “a true cancer tumor on this region that should be cut off.”

Iran’s quest to possess nuclear technology: Iran said it has made advances in nuclear technology, citing new uranium enrichment centrifuges and domestically made reactor fuel.

Everyone wants to avoid military action, surely the Israelis above all. They can expect a massive counterattack from Iran, 50,000 rockets launched from Lebanon, Islamic Jihad firing from Gaza, and worldwide terror against Jewish and Israeli targets, as happened last month in Bulgaria.

Yet Israel will not sit idly by in the face of the most virulent genocidal threats since Nazi Germany. The result then was 6 million murdered Jews. There are 6 million living in Israel today.

Time is short. Last-ditch negotiations in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow have failed abjectly. The Iranians are contemptuously playing with the process. The strategy is delay until they get the bomb.

What to do? The sagest advice comes from Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Cordesman is a hardheaded realist – severely critical of the Bush administration’s conduct of the Iraq war, skeptical of the “war on terror,” dismissive of the strategic importance of Afghanistan, and a believer that “multilateralism and soft power must still be the rule and not the exception.”

He may have found his exception. “There are times when the best way to prevent war is to clearly communicate that it is possible,” he argues. Today, the threat of a U.S. attack is not taken seriously. Not by the region. Not by Iran. Not by the Israelis, who therefore increasingly feel forced to act before Israel’s more limited munitions – far less powerful and effective than those in the U.S. arsenal – can no longer penetrate Iran’s ever-hardening facilities.

Cordesman therefore proposes threefold action.

1. “Clear U.S. red lines.”

It’s time to end the ambiguity about American intentions. Establish real limits on negotiations – to convince Iran that the only alternative to a deal is preemptive strikes and to persuade Israel to stay its hand.

2. “Make it clear to Iran that it has no successful options.”

Either its program must be abandoned in a negotiated deal (see No. 1 above) on generous terms from the West (see No. 3 below), or its facilities will be physically destroyed. Ostentatiously let Iran know about the range and power of our capacities – how deep and extensive a campaign we could conduct, extending beyond just nuclear facilities to military-industrial targets, refineries, power grids and other concentrations of regime power.

3. Give Iran a face-saving way out.

Offer Iran the most generous possible terms – economic, diplomatic and political. End of sanctions, assistance in economic and energy development, trade incentives and a regional security architecture. Even Russian nuclear fuel.

Tellingly, however, Cordesman does not join those who suggest yielding on nuclear enrichment. That’s important because a prominently leaked proposed “compromise” would guarantee Iran’s right to enrich, though not to high levels.

In my view, this would be disastrous. Iran would retain the means to potentially produce fissile material, either clandestinely or in a defiant breakout at a time of its choosing.

Would Iran believe a Cordesman-like ultimatum? Given the record of the Obama administration, maybe not. Some (though not Cordesman) have therefore suggested the further step of requesting congressional authorization for the use of force if Iran does not negotiate denuclearization.

First, that’s the right way to do it. No serious military action should be taken without congressional approval (contra Libya). Second, Iran might actually respond to a threat backed by a strong bipartisan majority of the American people – thus avoiding both war and the other nightmare scenario, a nuclear Iran.

If we simply continue to drift through kabuki negotiations, however, one thing is certain. Either America, Europe, the Gulf Arabs and the Israelis will forever be condemned to live under the threat of nuclear blackmail (even nuclear war) from a regime the State Department identifies as the world’s greatest exporter of terror. Or an imperiled Israel, with its more limited capabilities, will strike Iran – with correspondingly greater probability of failure and of triggering a regional war.

All options are bad. Doing nothing is worse. “The status quo may not prevent some form of war,” concludes Cordesman, “and may even be making it more likely.”



Why Romney won’t strike Iran: The three factors that explain why a Republican president is no more likely to stage a pre-emptive attack
By Lee Smith
Tablet magazine
August 22, 2012

Republican foreign-policy circles have hailed Mitt Romney’s choice of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running-mate, noting that he believes in free trade, a strong defense, and is thinking seriously about China. Moreover, unlike the current resident of the White House, Ryan is an unabashed advocate of American exceptionalism. “A world without U.S. leadership will be a more chaotic place,” Ryan said in a speech delivered to the Alexander Hamilton Society last June. “A place where we have less influence, and a place where our citizens face more dangers and fewer opportunities. Take a moment and imagine a world led by China and Russia.”

But let’s ask a practical question: How does Ryan’s selection affect Romney’s calculation in what is if not the most important foreign-policy issue for an American president, certainly the most pressing – the decision to use military force against Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities?

The answer: It doesn’t.

During Romney’s trip to Israel last month, campaign adviser Dan Senor said: “If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision.” But that’s an important hedge, and it throws into sharp relief the real truth: A Republican president is no more likely than a Democrat to stage a pre-emptive attack on Iran, and American support for an Israeli attack is the very best that Israeli leaders can hope to expect from the White House, regardless of which party inhabits it.

The explanation is based on three interrelated factors: domestic American politics, Washington’s history with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the U.S. record of containing and deterring nuclear powers.

Domestic politics. Bush did not attack Iran because he was already waging war in two Middle Eastern theaters and did not want to go down in the history books as the president who only waged wars on Muslims. Barack Obama has not attacked Iran in his first term and is highly unlikely to do so in his second term because his Middle East policy is one of extrication from the region, not further military involvement. Correctly or not, the Obama White House suspects that an attack on Iran will not only eventually entail landing ground troops but will also further inflame the Muslim world against America, and Obama is the president of outreach to the Muslim world.

Romney’s internal conversation with himself will look something like a combination of his two predecessors’: He doesn’t want to further burden the economy by destabilizing the Middle East and sending oil prices skyrocketing, and he doesn’t want to be tagged as a war-mongering Republican who bombed Iran only a few months after moving into his new digs. Like every other man who takes the job, Romney wants a second term, and if he gets it, then there’s going to be another reason not to do it.

History’s lessons. The record shows that there is always a reason for American presidents of both parties to look the other way when Iran is up to no good. No American president has ever drawn red lines for Tehran and enforced them by showing that transgressions are swiftly and severely punished.

It’s true that it was a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, who sat by idly when Ayatollah Khomeini and the founders of the Islamic Republic stormed the U.S. embassy and held Americans hostage for 444 days. But GOP hero Ronald Reagan provided the Iranians with arms – after the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese asset, Hezbollah, killed 241 U.S. Marines in the 1983 bombing of their barracks at the Beirut airport. When the FBI said Tehran was responsible for the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers, Bill Clinton failed to respond or even name Iran, lest it derail the “dialogue of civilizations” promised by the newly elected reform-minded president Muhammad Khatami. And the last Republican in the White House was no more proactive in countering Iran’s actual attacks on Americans: The more than 100,000 American servicemen and -women that Bush had dispatched to Iraq were targeted by the IRGC and their local allies, a fact that U.S. officials tended to obscure and did little to change when they did acknowledge it.

The current administration, unsurprisingly, hardly broke this mold. After the Obama White House revealed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps plot against the Saudi ambassador in Washington, it exacted no price from Iran for planning an operation in the American capital that might have cost the lives of hundreds of American citizens.

General nuclear deterrence. If you can kill Americans without any consequences and the Americans will in fact collaborate in covering up your malfeasance, you can certainly build a nuclear weapons facility without too much concern that the Americans are really keeping “all options on the table”; the White House is not and almost surely never will – no matter who’s calling the shots. Short of an American city suffering thousands of casualties in a nuclear attack that the Iranians boast of publicly, it is difficult to know what would compel a U.S. president to take military action against Iran.

Maybe U.S. policymakers just believe, in spite of what they say publicly, that Iran really isn’t that big a deal. Remember that even today, a number of American officials, civilian and military, cut their teeth on Cold War strategy, an era when the United States faced off against a real superpower. Washington and Moscow fought proxy wars against each other on four continents with the fear of an eventual nuclear exchange leading to mutually assured destruction looming in the background. Perhaps, if seen in this context, for American policymakers Iran just doesn’t rise to a genuine threat level.

The Obama Administration says its policy is not to deter and contain an Iranian nuclear weapons program but to prevent it. But that’s just what they’re saying. What they believe surely must be something else. If the United States was able to contain and deter the Soviets, we can certainly do the same with a crummy little third-world regime like Iran’s. Or perhaps American policymakers just see it like this: If we take military action against Iran, the likeliest scenario is a region-wide war and an Iranian terror campaign against the United States and its allies, especially Israel. If we do nothing, the worst-case scenario is that emboldened Iranian action leads to a region-wide war and global terror. Common sense tells you that if someone believes he will get the same results by doing nothing and doing something, then he will choose the path of least resistance, by doing nothing.

Surely by now Israeli leaders know that, given the various trend-lines of American policy toward Iran, no U.S. president is going to take military action against Iran. The most Israeli leaders can expect is for the White House to provide them with certain weapons and military hardware that might make the operation easier, and in the aftermath to provide plenty of diplomatic support.

Earlier this week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said of the Israelis: “They are living with an existential concern that we are not living with.” That’s an honest assessment, and so an honest conversation between allies could perhaps go like this: “It’s just not that big a deal to us, but if you guys feel you need to act, then go ahead. We’ll stand with you.” That seems to be what Senor was signaling when he said Romney as president would “respect” Israel’s decision.

If Israeli leaders really thought Romney was much more likely than Obama to bomb Iran, there wouldn’t be so much chatter now right now about how it’s become crunch time for Israel. Bibi Netanyahu would at least give Romney the benefit of a few months after the November elections. But the Israeli half of the conversation is no longer about pressuring their American allies. Rather, it seems to be preparing the Israeli public for an attack.



Sadly, in facing Iran, Israel is on its own and can’t rely on US

We’ve been here before, says former Bush administration official, David Wurmser • Time and again, the message was sent to hold fire, give diplomacy a bit more time – if it does not work, the whole world will be behind preemptive action • But Iran never budged or changed, the international community never really rallied, and the West never acted • And Iran came to understand that its nuclear program is not a genuine Western red-line.

By David Wurmser
Israel Hayom
August 24, 2012

Over the last few weeks, I have read with great curiosity statements by a parade of Israeli experts and former officials, all of whom assert with considerable confidence that at the end of the day, the United States is committed to denying Iran a nuclear capability, and that when the moment of truth arrives, Washington will act – unilaterally if necessary.

Having served in the previous White House – an administration generally accused of being too much the cowboy rather than being timid – and having been charged primarily with following Iran policy and even coordinating it with European capitals, I fear these Israeli officials are misguided. In the post I held, it became clear to me that the Bush administration would leave office in early 2009 having left the Iran portfolio open and unfinished, and that the following administration could in no way go where President Bush dared not venture.

Since 2003, the political opposition in Washington flatly rejected the very concept of preemptive war. Indeed, this rejection of preemption as legitimate became the eclipsing idea on foreign policy and battle cry for the opposition as it geared up for 2006 congressional and 2008 presidential elections. Along the way, rejection or preemption and unilateral action became the defining elements in the DNA of the democrats’ foreign policy establishment. But if the views of the Democratic establishment were all that constituted opposition to preemptive action, I would have had more confidence leaving office that this was an issue which either my remaining colleagues, or the following administration, would take care of.

But it wasn’t so. There was just as determined opposition from just about every quarter. In virtually every negotiation in which I was involved, my interlocutors in European capitals were laser-focused on securing from us a commitment that any move by them to toughen their policies on Iran would not be understood, or manipulated, into eventually legitimizing a military action against Iran.

Even the 2005 turnabout on Libya and the following agreements on North Korea were aggressively pursued and then posited by certain European diplomats as evidence that diplomacy can solve such problems and that preemptive military actions do more harm than good. In the background lurked always the nervousness that the United States might again “go off the rails,” and preemptively strike Iran.

More disconcerting, however, were those moments when it could no longer be denied that Iran respected agreements and the diplomatic process which produced them about as much as it upheld the finer points of diplomatic immunity in 1979. Those moments occurred almost like clockwork leading up to every September’s IAEA Board of Governor’s meeting from 2002 to 2007, when Iran was “boxed in” or told its case would be referred to the United Nations Security Council. These were moments of truth: diplomacy and pressures, including sanctions, were either going to produce a change in Iranian policy, or the international community, in unity, would move to the next level of confrontation. But every August, when it was inescapable that Iran had no intention of budging, the international community faced a choice: escalate or acquiesce in Iran’s new level of atomic mastery.

Like clockwork, the diplomats punted, digested the new level of nuclear mastery in Iran, and focused not on answering the choice Iran had forced on them, but instead turned their attentions primarily on formulating a somewhat tougher position which, though utterly inadequate to stop Iran, was calibrated mostly to deflate any momentum building within the U.S. administration to a more robust policy. In short, the international community had a containment strategy; not of Iran, but of U.S. hardliners they feared would push the United States into a preemptive war to stop Iran’s nuclear power.


Again, were the international diplomats only joined by the U.S. opposition party in opposing a more muscular response, it was my impression that a preemptive U.S. attack on Iran might still have been possible. But most unnerving was that most of the established bureaucracy within Washington, as well as half of the Republican establishment, was as determined as the opposition to prevent the United States from acting preemptively. Consistently, our diplomatic and security structures produced analysis after analysis “proving” that diplomacy was working, or that Iran had no intention of pursuing a nuclear option – the most famous incident of which was the infamous autumn 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, muchly revealed portions of which asserted Iran had abandoned a nuclear option, but less leaked portions of which were exposed by some in the press to have essentially concluded the opposite.

Some officials who had served in the Bush administration took to referring to this episode as a “soft coup” by leaders of the intelligence and diplomatic bureaucracy (though not by its rank and file intelligence officers, whose professionalism would have prevented them from asserting something so contradicted by indications) against the elected officials they did not trust. The 2007 NIE, however, served the same role as last-minute diplomatic initiatives did in so many of the previous rounds of potential escalation with Iran.

The period of September 2007 was another moment in which Iran had maneuvered itself into a moment of truth for the international community, and again that community – rather than force the choice on Iran – instead retreated into dedicating its full efforts to puncturing the momentum building within the Bush administration toward a more robust policy. In short, for the bureaucracy, and for many Republican officials within the administration, terminating the danger that “hardliners” would convince President Bush to act preemptively became the highest priority, not actually halting Iran.

For the opposition in Washington, the international community of diplomats, the Washington established bureaucracy, and even for half the Republican party, the end was always the same: prevent the hardliners from prevailing. The means were consistent: public press leaks about the “crazies” in the White House, leaks from within the intelligence community that Iran was not pursuing a bomb at this point, scholars and experts being mobilized to pronounce that “hardliners” in Iran were losing ground to “moderates” who were about to prevail and abandon the nuclear program, diplomats yielding to slightly tougher policies with promises of more to come to prove the moribund diplomatic process still had life, and so forth. And the message was the same to the targeted “hardliners” too: Hold your fire, give diplomacy a bit more time, because it is working, and Iran is budging, or its leadership is changing. And if it does not work in the end, then the whole world will be behind preemptive action. Trust us. But Iran never budged or changed, the international community never really rallied, and the West never acted. And Iran came to understand the nuclear program is not a genuine Western red-line.


Again, this was the history of the last five years of an administration accused of first shooting in a trigger-happy way, and only then gathering the facts. And even in that administration, it was clear to me as early as 2006 that the United States was not going to act to halt Iran. Simply, the political and bureaucratic establishments in Washington, the international community, and even many Republicans, viewed Iran’s nuclear program – as undesirable as it was – as a lower order of threat than the danger of preemptive action. And unless there was a president willing to act on a deep conviction to preempt and thus to buck the Washington establishment, the bureaucracy, the international community and even many in his own party, Washington would remain paralyzed.

Later in 2010, in an amicable chat with one of my successors in the new Obama administration, I listened to him explaining to me how the policy he was crafting – eerily identical to the ones pursued cyclically in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and so on by the administration I was in – was this time going to work, and would, this time bring even Moscow along (strangely forgetting that Moscow already had come along in UNSC resolutions in 2006 in order not to lose its role and influence on the matter). At the end, I asked simply: “if the policy doesn’t work, what is your backup plan?” There was no answer; while he noted the failure of sanctions and pressure were possible, and indeed admittedly even likely, no Plan B was fathomable to him. He could only contemplate more of the same since at some point, “some pressure must work.”

It was, as the great American baseball figure Yogi Berra once said, “déjà vu all over again.” In short, all the factors I witnessed from 2002-2007, when I was deeply involved in the Iran portfolio, had not changed. All but one, that is: In the new administration, there were no more “crazy” hardliners against whom to act. Nobody argued with conviction the imperative of preemption. Washington was at last unified — with the administration and the bureaucracy agreeing without internal dissent — and aligned with the international community that while it would be awful if Iran went nuclear, a preemptive action against Iran was still worse.

Thus, to the bandwagon of Israeli analysts who simply cannot believe that the United States would balk at stopping Iran when it became clear there was no alternative to preemptive action other than acquiescence, I can only say that I have all my life counted on the greatness of America and its tradition of doing the right thing, if even at the last moment. But right now, the cavalry is not going to ride to Israel’s side, even at the last moment. There is nobody of influence within the establishment or bureaucracy in Washington, let alone abroad, seriously arguing for preemptive action, nor are there any factors in the next half year – or even longer – which will change that. While America is not done as the great superpower, we have again become a sleeping giant, like the 1930s in terms of proactive foreign policy. Something much worse and more personally affecting will have to afflict the United States before it acts preemptively stop Iran or other extremely dangerous nations from building armies to threaten and pursuing the most destructive weapons. Until then, sadly, our allies are on their own.



How -- and why -- Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu became equals
By Clifford D. May
The National Post (Canada)
August 23, 2012

Iran or Israel: Which is more deserving of censure? On the one hand, as the French news agency Agence France-Presse reported last week, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is calling Israel “a cancerous tumor” that, he threatened, will “soon be excised.” He added: “The nations of the region will soon finish off the usurper Zionists. . . . With the grace of God and help of the nations, in the new Middle East there will be no trace of the Americans and Zionists.”

On the other hand, the AFP article goes on to say: “Israel has been employing its own invective against Iran and its leaders, invoking the image of Hitler and the Nazis on the eve of World War II and accusing Tehran of being bent on Israeli genocide.”

So let’s place these statements on the scale. Dehumanizing Israelis, likening them to a disease, vowing to exterminate them . . . well, that does sound a tad extreme. But the Israeli response . . . well, it is pretty darn insulting! And really, what is the basis for the Israeli charge?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that Ahmadinejad’s words are identical to those used by Nazi propagandists? For example, in 1941 Hitler ordered the excising of what he called “the Jewish cancer” from Germany. After that came the murder of six million European Jews – genocide.

Ahmadinejad also accused “Zionists” of having started World War I and World War II – just as Hitler blamed the Jews for these conflicts even as his troops were raping Czechoslovakia. Still, does that justify drawing a comparison between Iranian Islamists and German Nazis?

Logically, of course it does, but in AFP’s eyes, no. How to explain this departure from reality and morality? Several possibilities come to mind.

It could be that AFP reporters and editors are simply ignorant – that they have no idea what the Nazis said, believed, or did. I’m sure these journalists attended good schools (not everyone uses a word like “invective”), but perhaps they majored in 17th-century French literature and know nothing of modern history. The one lesson they have learned: It’s gauche, a faux pas, to call someone a Nazi, or to compare someone with Hitler – even when such a comparison is justified.

A second possibility: Multiculturalism requires moral equivalence – which means no Third World society can ever be described as in any way inferior to any Western society. So if Iranians are to be criticized for threatening to kill Israelis, then Israelis must be criticized for something.

A third explanation: To acknowledge that Iran’s rulers are akin to Nazis and are threatening genocide carries disagreeable policy implications. Among other things, it suggests that Iran’s rulers should, at all costs, be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons. But anyone who says that risks being labeled a warmonger, a neoconservative, or something equally unfashionable.

There is this possibility, too: The AFP article expresses anti-Israelism and, perhaps, also, the most ancient and durable of biases. Don’t get me wrong: Not everyone who criticizes Israel is a Jew-hater. Not everyone who hates Israel is a Jew-hater. But all Jew-haters do criticize and hate Israel.

Revolutionary Islamists are candid in this regard. Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese-based terrorist organization, has said: “If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology, and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice I do not say the Israeli.” Nasrallah also has said that if all Jews gather in Israel, “it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

One final point that the good folks at AFP ought to understand: Any serious concept of free speech includes the right to insult and offend – to “employ invective.” But for leaders of a nation to incite genocide is a crime under international law – the same international law so beloved of the major media when they think it has application to Israel (or the United States).

The well-known international human-rights lawyer Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian minister of justice and attorney general, has been making a strenuous effort to remind Western leaders that there is a Genocide Convention that they have an obligation – legal, moral, and strategic – to enforce.

“The Iranian regime’s criminal incitement has been persistent, pervasive, and pernicious,” Cotler recently wrote. “In particular, this genocidal incitement has intensified and escalated in 2012, with the website of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declaring that there is religious ‘justification to kill all the Jews and annihilate Israel, and Iran must take the helm.’”

Despite that, Cotler points out, “not one State Party to the Genocide Convention has undertaken any of its mandated responsibilities to prevent and punish such incitement – an appalling example of the international community as bystander – reminding us also that genocide occurred not only because of cultures of hate, but because of crimes of indifference.”

Cotler’s words have so far fallen on deaf ears. True, the U.S. and some European nations have imposed painful economic sanctions on Iran. But inciting genocide is not among the reasons given. And on August 26, representatives of the so-called Non-Aligned Movement will be welcomed in Tehran. The new president of the NAM? Iran.

Some bold AFP reporter should ask the diplomats from those 120 nations if they are concerned about Iran’s genocidal incitement, troubled that the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism may soon possess nuclear weapons, or distressed by Iran’s support of the Assad regime’s barbarism in Syria and its bloody repression of peaceful protestors inside Iran. Or are they more upset by Israelis “employing invective” in an attempt to call attention to these realities? These questions answer themselves. In that sense, Agence France-Presse is simply following the herd.

Welcome to Alawistan (& Aleppo: closer to Turkish Anatolia than to Arab Damascus)

August 15, 2012

* Michael Doran: Syria is like Humpty Dumpty. Made up of four or five diverse regions glued together after World War I, the country is an accident of great-power politics. Like neighboring Lebanon, it has now dissolved into its constituent parts. The Free Syrian Army isn’t a unified force but rather a network of militias, each with its own regional power base and external patron.

* In the 1920s, the French dragged Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, kicking and screaming into the new Syrian state, which they created. In 1920 Aleppo was closer – economically, socially, and geographically – to Turkish Anatolia than to Arab Damascus.

* When Assad loses Aleppo and Damascus – and this loss is almost a certainty – his Russian and Iranian patrons won’t abandon him. They have no other horse to ride in Syria. Instead they will assist in establishing a sectarian militia, an Alawite analogue to Hizbullah. In fact, such a militia is already rising up naturally, as Sunni defections transform the Syrian military into an overtly Alawite force.

* As the death toll mounts in Syria, the world should be thankful to Israel that the Assad regime never succeeded in developing nuclear weapons – which almost happened in 2007, but for an Israeli airstrike.


Free Syrian Army members preparing to move into the Salahedin district of Aleppo on August 9. Reuters reports that an examination of photos and video suggests most opposition weapons are of Syrian origin


This is the latest in a series of occasional dispatches about the situation in Syria.

There is also a separate dispatch about Egypt today.

You can comment on this dispatch here: Please also press “Like” on that page.



1. “Syria’s coming sectarian crack-up” (Michael Doran, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 13, 2012)
2. “Jordan’s King Abdullah: Assad may seek Alawite enclave” (Jerusalem Post, Aug. 7, 2012)
3. “Syria’s chemical weapons: a risk assessment” (Shlomo Brom, INSS, Aug. 12, 2012)
4. “Thank Heaven (and Israel) that Assad doesn’t have nukes” (Alan Elsner, Huffington Post, July 30, 2012)
5. “Exclusive: Obama authorizes secret U.S. support for Syrian rebels” (Reuters, Aug. 2, 2012)
6. “Syria is different through Russian eyes” (Andrei Nekrasov, Financial Times, July 31, 2012)

Below, I attach six articles about Syria -- Tom Gross



Syria’s coming sectarian crack-up
Assad’s forces will retreat to the north, and an Iranian-backed Alawite canton will be born
By Michael Doran
The Wall Street Journal
August 13, 2012

(Doran served as a deputy assistant secretary of defense from 2007-08, under George W. Bush.)

The Obama administration has been decrying the spread of sectarianism in war-torn Syria and calling for the preservation of state institutions there. A “managed transition” is the new mantra in Washington. This isn’t a policy but a prayer. Syrian state institutions are inherently sectarian, and they are crumbling before our eyes.

Syria is like Humpty Dumpty. Made up of four or five diverse regions glued together after World War I, the country is an accident of great-power politics. Like neighboring Lebanon, it has now dissolved into its constituent parts. The Free Syrian Army isn’t a unified force but rather a network of militias, each with its own regional power base and external patron.

Consider Aleppo. Syria’s largest city, its economic hub, is the central battleground in the current civil war. In the early 1920s, the French dragged Aleppo kicking and screaming into the new Syrian state, which they created. Today, Bashar al-Assad’s schools teach that Ibrahim Hananu, the leader of the Aleppine rebellion against the French, was a great patriot who fought for independence. He did fight the imperialists, yes, but for Turkey – not Syria.

In 1920 Aleppo was closer – economically, socially, and geographically – to Turkish Anatolia than to Arab Damascus. It was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, who armed and equipped Hananu and his men.

When the Turks were forced to cut a deal with the French, Hananu’s rebellion collapsed. As a result, the border between Syria and Turkey fell 40 miles north of Aleppo. It could just as easily have fallen much further south, with Aleppo nestling comfortably in the bosom of modern Turkey.

It was anything but comfortable in the new Syria. In the decades that followed, two parties dominated the country’s political life – one representing the interests of Aleppo, the other of Damascus. Each had its own separate foreign policy: Aleppo aligned, naturally, with Turkey and Iraq; Damascus with Egypt. By the mid-1950s, the Syrian state was disintegrating. Iraq, with the help of Turkey, stood poised to take control of the country – a development that would have privileged Aleppo over Damascus.

Then Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s charismatic proponent of pan-Arab nationalism, came to the rescue of his Damascene allies (just as, today, Iran is rescuing Assad). Nasser quickly founded the United Arab Republic, a Syrian-Egyptian amalgamation, in 1958.

Within four years, the Syrians bolted from the union. The country descended into a period of turmoil that ended only in 1970, when Hafez al-Assad imposed a new order with an iron fist. The core of the new regime was a group of close associates of Assad, almost all of them from the Alawite sect, a despised religious minority concentrated in the mountains of the north, above Latakia. The Alawites, who were marginal to the life of the main cities of Syria, rose to power through the military.

The new regime disguised its sectarian character by, among other tactics, stressing its pan-Arab credentials and its hostility to Zionism. There is no little irony in the fact that Assad, an Alawite, played the scourge of Israel. Historically, his sect was immune to the call of Arab nationalism. In 1936, for instance, Hafez al-Assad’s father joined a delegation of notables who petitioned the French to establish an autonomous Alawite canton – one centered on the mountains of the north, the minority’s heartland.

The delegation justified their demand as a necessary defense against Muslim intolerance. As evidence, the Alawite notables cited the unjust treatment that the “good Jews” of Palestine were receiving. The Jews, their petition stated, “scattered gold, and established prosperity in Palestine without harming anyone or taking anything by force, yet the Muslims declare holy war against them and never hesitated in slaughtering their women and children.” As a result, “a dark fate awaits the Jews and other minorities” when the Muslims would receive their independence.

By the time Hafez al-Assad took control of the Syrian state, he and his fellow Alawites had learned to embrace the anti-Israeli norms that prevailed among their Sunni neighbors. But beneath this veneer of agreement, the fear of the Muslim majority remained.

The sectarian nucleus of the state has always been a defining characteristic of the Assad regime. But the Alawite order is collapsing today, and it will never be reconstituted. Syria is now a regional battleground, with Tehran and Moscow backing Assad while Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan back the rebels.

When Assad loses Aleppo and Damascus – and this loss is almost a certainty – his Russian and Iranian patrons won’t abandon him. They have no other horse to ride in Syria. Instead they will assist in establishing a sectarian militia, an Alawite analogue to Hezbollah. In fact, such a militia is already rising up naturally, as Sunni defections transform the Syrian military into an overtly Alawite force.

If the rebels finally succeed in dislodging the regime from the main cities, it will retreat to the north, and the autonomous Alawite canton that Bashar al-Assad’s grandfather envisioned will finally be born. “Alawistan,” as the Mideast scholar Tony Badran called it, will join Hezbollah in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon as another sectarian island in the Iranian archipelago of influence.

If the breakup of Syria and the rise of an Iranian-backed canton are indeed undesirable, then Washington must get to work immediately to create an alternative. The planning should begin in Turkey, which borders not just Aleppo but also the future canton of Alawistan.



Jordan’s King Abdullah: Assad may seek Alawite enclave
By Gabriella Weiniger
Jerusalem Post
August 7, 2012

Jordanian King Abdullah II told “CBS This Morning” that Syrian President Bashar Assad will stick to his guns and won’t back down, but may try to form an “Alawite enclave” within greater Syria, in an interview aired Tuesday.

Assad believes he is in the right, King Abdullah told Charlie Rose in Amman on Sunday. “I think the regime feels that it has no alternative, but to continue. ... I don’t think it’s just Bashar. It’s not the individual. It’s the system of the regime.”

The Syrian president, Abdullah continued, is going to continue on his current path indefinitely.

“If he cannot rule Greater Syria, an Alawite enclave will be Plan B,” King Abdullah continued.

Syria is ruled largely by members of an esoteric Islamic sect, the Alawites. This minority sect, which makes up a mere 12 percent of the population, is the backbone of Assad’s regime.

King Abdullah called an Alawite breakaway the “worst case scenario,” predicting a breakup of Syria and land grabs from all directions.

At the same time as he called for an immediate political resolution to the situation in Syria, he warned against international intervention, even in the context of securing Assad’s chemical weapons.

“What scares most of us is the chemical weapons falling into rebel hands,” he said, adding that although the weapons must be secured, that goal should not be seen as an invitation for intervention.

It is a crisis that the world must react to, he added, saying he is “weary of people looking at it as a reason [for intervention].”

“The minute you cross the border with armed forces or the military, then it’s anybody’s guess what the outcome is.”



Syria’s chemical weapons: a risk assessment
By Shlomo Brom
The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) (Tel Aviv)
August 12, 2012


Recent events in Syria have touched off a debate about Syria’s chemical weapons in a scenario of a disintegrating regime. Three principal scenarios have arisen in which chemical weapons could become a factor, either when the Syrian regime approaches its end or after its fall: (a) the regime makes a desperate attempt to use chemical weapons against opposition forces, as Saddam Hussein did in the Kurdish revolt; (b) the regime transfers the chemical weapons to Hizbullah when it senses its end is near; and (c) the chemical weapons stockpiles fall into the hands of armed rebels, including extreme groups associated with al-Qaeda. The article evaluates the plausibility of these scenarios and presents five conclusions based on this analysis.


Following the assassination of key personnel in the Syrian security establishment in a successful attack by the rebels, and the battles between opposition forces and the Syrian army in parts of Damascus and Aleppo – the two major cities whose fall would signal the fall of Assad’s regime – assessments of the impending collapse of the regime have become more prevalent. These assessments have again touched off a debate about Syria’s chemical weapons in a scenario of a disintegrating regime.

It seems that the regime recovered quickly from losing many of its senior members, and military forces, still cohesive and loyal to the regime, have managed to take advantage of their military superiority to overcome the rebels who infiltrated Damascus, which is again under almost complete control of the regime. The army is trying to replicate its performance in Aleppo, and stands good chances of doing so. Yet while chemical weapons may thus currently seem a less urgent topic, it remains important, as the regime seems incapable of suppressing the rebellion despite of its obvious superior strength. Presumably the military capabilities of the opposition forces will increase, thanks to assistance from several countries, and therefore it is quite possible that assessments about the eventual demise of the regime are valid, even if it takes significantly longer than initially expected.

Three principal scenarios have arisen in which chemical weapons could be a factor, either when the Syrian regime approaches its end or after its fall:

1. The regime makes a desperate attempt to use chemical weapons against opposition forces, as Saddam Hussein did in the Kurdish revolt.

2. The regime transfers the chemical weapons to Hizbollah when it senses its end is near.
The chemical weapons stockpiles fall into the hands of armed rebels, including extreme groups associated with al-Qaeda.

3. The scenario in which a dying regime uses chemical weapons against Israel seems implausible. It is unclear what benefit the leaders of the regime would gain; the regime is not fundamentally ideological, driven by the desire to see the destruction of Israel. It is much more interested in its own survival, both as a regime and as individuals.


In response to reports about chemical weapons in Syria, including statements by Israel’s Prime Minister and Defense Minister on the possibility of Israeli military intervention, the Syrian Foreign Ministry announced that the Syrian government would not use chemical weapons against its own people but only against foreign threats. It seems that on the one hand the Syrian regime is using the West’s discussion of the chemical weapons to clear its name as a murderous regime, and on the other hand, to deter any foreign military intervention. It also constituted Syria’s first public confirmation that it has chemical weapons.

The use of chemical weapons against the rebels would not be particularly effective, because the rebels operate like guerilla forces and the fighting occurs mostly in populated urban settings. Chemical weapons would cause primarily the deaths of unprotected civilians. Regime leaders likely understand that in addition to this type of weapon being ineffective, its use would jeopardize their own chances for survival.

The likelihood of the chemical weapons being transferred to Hizbollah hands also seems low. The Syrian regime is aware of the sensitivity of this weapon. There is no precedent for the transfer of chemical weapons from a state to a non-state organization, which is tantamount to relinquishing control of the weapon. It is unclear what advantage giving Hizbollah this weapon would confer on the regime’s leaders who are not ideologues, and even professed a willingness to make a peace with Israel. It is also highly doubtful that Hizbollah would be interested in having responsibility for chemical weapons, whose usefulness against a protected population like Israel with the ability to respond is questionable.

By contrast, the third scenario is far more plausible, assuming that the regime does in fact fall. Opposition forces are divided and not under a single command. After the fall of the regime, a period of chaos will likely ensue and various armed groups will seize control of the different military facilities and weapons manufacturing plants, as was the case in Libya. They are liable to use some of these weapons themselves and designate some for barter, and in doing so are liable also to take charge of various chemical weapons components.

The degree of risk regarding the fall of these components into the hands of rebel groups is directly correlated with the structure of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal, which was built primarily to afford Syria a strategic deterrent against what the Syrians assumed were Israel’s nuclear capabilities. The arsenal comprises three types of materials: two of nerve gases – Sarin and VX, and a mustard-type gas affecting skin. The launching and delivery means are mostly airborne bombs and ballistic missiles of the Scud type. The Syrians, aware of the sensitivity of using chemical weapons and the problems of storing it, took two major measures. First, there is a geographical separation between the chemical weapons and the means of launching them, and the chemical weapons themselves are stored in facilities located far from population centers. Second, the weapon is mainly binary, meaning that in storage there are two types of chemicals, each of which alone is not particularly harmful; it is only their combination by a mixing mechanism that renders them deadly.

As has been reported, including by Israeli intelligence sources, the Syrian army has stepped up its surveillance and taken other precautionary measures in everything connected with the chemical weapons. This makes much sense, because the regime must take into account the risk that rebels could seize control of the chemical components facilities in the course of the fighting and want to use them against the regime. Therefore, it seems that the actual risk of the components falling into the hands of rebel groups is not great. For any particular group to be able to use this weapon, it would have to seize control of all the system components, dispersed in various locations, and also seize control of the complex launching system requiring operational and logistical capabilities, such as surface-to-surface missiles and airplanes. If the chemical weapon components become commodities on the black market, there is a long term danger that single-minded terrorist groups like al-Qaeda would try to acquire all the components and create self-manufacturing capabilities.

The analysis of the threats leads to several conclusions:

Despite the low probability of the first two scenarios – use of chemical weapons against Israel and transfer of the weapons to Hizbollah – Israel must send messages of deterrence, both to the Syrian regime and to Hizbollah, about the intolerable cost they would incur for taking such measures. If endowed with sufficient information, Israel might consider pinpoint attacks on such weapons transferred to Hizbollah. In this case, it is preferable that the attack be carried out on Syrian territory to reduce the probability of setting off a broader confrontation with Hizbollah.

There is no good reason to attack the chemical components storage facilities before the regime collapses. Syria has large stockpiles of chemicals, and it is doubtful that all the bunkers where the chemicals are kept and certainly the launching mechanisms could be attacked and destroyed. Partial success is liable to generate the opposite result, as the regime could conclude it is preferable to use the weaponry left at its disposal before all of it is destroyed and certainly if the attack causes environmental damage.

The United States and its allies must prepare for the possibility that it will become necessary to seize control of at least the main chemical weapons storage facilities once the regime collapses. Contrary to media assessments, it seems that the number of main facilities is small and mostly located in distant, isolated areas. Thus, securing them would not be a particularly complex operation if the Syrian army collapses. Syrian military personnel might even cooperate with these forces in order to safeguard the weapons.

Assuming that the leaders of the Syrian regime retain a modicum of responsibility, parties with which it still communicates, such as Russia, China, and the Arab League, should be tapped to transmit messages to President Assad about the expectations of the international community regarding safeguarding the chemical weapons.

It is advisable that the nations of the West establish mechanisms for use on the black weapons market in order to seize control of any chemical weapon components falling into the hands of irregular fighting forces.



Thank Heaven (and Israel) that Syria’s Assad doesn’t have nukes
By Alan Elsner
Huffington Post
July 30, 2012

As the death toll mounts in Syria and the country slides deeper into civil war, the world should be thankful that the Assad regime never succeeded in developing nuclear weapons – which almost happened in 2007.

The danger presented today by the presence of Syrian chemical and biological weapons is bad enough. Just think how much more dangerous the situation would have been if there were loose nukes lying around.

According to a new history of the Mossad by reporters Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, Spies Against Armageddon, Israel had become suspicious that the Syrians were building a nuclear facility with North Korean help. The authors said Israel sent Mossad operatives and a special forces unit into Syria several times to take samples of soil, water and vegetation and in March 2007 managed to secure photos taken inside the facility. Who took those photos remains the most closely-guarded aspect of the operation.

According to Raviv and Melman, the images provided clear evidence that Syria was building a graphite reactor similar to North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor which was used to build nuclear bombs. The Mossad assessment was that the reactor would become “hot” within a few months and would produce enough plutonium for a nuclear bomb within a year.

Once it went online, the reactor could not have been attacked without the danger of spreading deadly radiation throughout the region.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Washington in June 2007 and asked then-President George W. Bush to bomb the facility. Bush refused and suggested instead that Western countries should instead “expose” the Syrian reactor. This failed to satisfy Olmert and the decision was taken to destroy the reactor – which happened in a two-minute air raid on the evening of Sept. 6, 2007. [Please see dispatches on this website from September and October 2007 for more details -- Tom Gross]

Syria responded to the attack by denying it had been building a nuclear plant. However, the Syrians refused to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit the site until they had cleared away the rubble and replaced the soil. Still, the inspectors were not fooled and found enough evidence to convince them that the structure had contained a North Korean-style reactor.

The IAEA said in a release in June 2011 that the destroyed building “was very likely” a nuclear reactor. “The Syrian Government was given ample time by the Agency to cooperate fully concerning the Dair Alzour site, but did not do so. Nevertheless, we had obtained enough information to draw a conclusion,” IAEA director general Yukiya Amano said.

This, of course, was not the first time Israel had saved the Middle East and the world from a dangerous nuclear program. In 1981, Israel destroyed Iraq’s Osirek reactor. When Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait nine years later, he did not have a nuclear weapon in his arsenal to deter the United States and its allies who acted to reverse that act of aggression.

The Iraqi and Syrian operations are examples of Israel braving international condemnation to defend its vital security interests. But as the Syrian situation proves today, Israel did the entire world a huge favor in both cases.



Exclusive: Obama authorizes secret U.S. support for Syrian rebels
By Mark Hosenball
August 2, 2012

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said.

Obama’s order, approved earlier this year and known as an intelligence “finding,” broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad.

This and other developments signal a shift toward growing, albeit still circumscribed, support for Assad’s armed opponents - a shift that intensified following last month’s failure of the U.N. Security Council to agree on tougher sanctions against the Damascus government.

The White House is for now apparently stopping short of giving the rebels lethal weapons, even as some U.S. allies do just that.

But U.S. and European officials have said that there have been noticeable improvements in the coherence and effectiveness of Syrian rebel groups in the past few weeks. That represents a significant change in assessments of the rebels by Western officials, who previously characterized Assad’s opponents as a disorganized, almost chaotic, rabble.

Precisely when Obama signed the secret intelligence authorization, an action not previously reported, could not be determined.

The full extent of clandestine support that agencies like the CIA might be providing also is unclear.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined comment.


A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.

Last week, Reuters reported that, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey had established a secret base near the Syrian border to help direct vital military and communications support to Assad’s opponents.

This “nerve center” is in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence.

Turkey’s moderate Islamist government has been demanding Assad’s departure with growing vehemence. Turkish authorities are said by current and former U.S. government officials to be increasingly involved in providing Syrian rebels with training and possibly equipment.

European government sources said wealthy families in Saudi Arabia and Qatar were providing significant financing to the rebels. Senior officials of the Saudi and Qatari governments have publicly called for Assad’s departure.

On Tuesday, NBC News reported that the Free Syrian Army had obtained nearly two dozen surface-to-air missiles, weapons that could be used against Assad’s helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Syrian government armed forces have employed such air power more extensively in recent days.

NBC said the shoulder-fired missiles, also known as MANPADs, had been delivered to the rebels via Turkey.

On Wednesday, however, Bassam al-Dada, a political adviser to the Free Syrian Army, denied the NBC report, telling the Arabic-language TV network Al-Arabiya that the group had “not obtained any such weapons at all.” U.S. government sources said they could not confirm the MANPADs deliveries, but could not rule them out either.

Current and former U.S. and European officials previously said that weapons supplies, which were being organized and financed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, were largely limited to guns and a limited number of anti-tank weapons, such as bazookas.

Indications are that U.S. agencies have not been involved in providing weapons to Assad’s opponents. In order to do so, Obama would have to approve a supplement, known as a “memorandum of notification, to his initial broad intelligence finding.

Further such memoranda would have to be signed by Obama to authorize other specific clandestine operations to support Syrian rebels.

Reuters first reported last week that the White House had crafted a directive authorizing greater U.S. covert assistance to Syrian rebels. It was unclear at that time whether Obama had signed it.


Separately from the president’s secret order, the Obama administration has stated publicly that it is providing some backing for Assad’s opponents.

The State Department said on Wednesday the U.S. government had set aside a total of $25 million for “non-lethal” assistance to the Syrian opposition. A U.S. official said that was mostly for communications equipment, including encrypted radios.

The State Department also says the United States has set aside $64 million in humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people, including contributions to the World Food Program, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other aid agencies.

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury confirmed it had granted authorization to the Syrian Support Group, Washington representative of one of the most active rebel factions, the Free Syrian Army, to conduct financial transactions on the rebel group’s behalf. The authorization was first reported on Friday by Al-Monitor, a Middle East news and commentary website.

Last year, when rebels began organizing themselves to challenge the rule of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Obama also signed an initial “finding” broadly authorizing secret U.S. backing for them. But the president moved cautiously in authorizing specific measures to support them.

Some U.S. lawmakers, such as Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have criticized Obama for moving too slowly to assist the rebels and have suggested the U.S. government become directly involved in arming Assad’s opponents.

Other lawmakers have suggested caution, saying too little is known about the many rebel groups.

Recent news reports from the region have suggested that the influence and numbers of Islamist militants, some of them connected to al Qaeda or its affiliates, have been growing among Assad’s opponents.

U.S. and European officials say that, so far, intelligence agencies do not believe the militants’ role in the anti-Assad opposition is dominant.

While U.S. and allied government experts believe that the Syrian rebels have been making some progress against Assad’s forces lately, most believe the conflict is nowhere near resolution, and could go on for years.



Syria is different through Russian eyes
By Andrei Nekrasov
Financial Times
July 31, 2012

It is normal that news headlines differ from country to country, but the western world might be interested to know that Syria has not been among the main news items in Russia. If there is a report on an event that is all but impossible to ignore, such as the massacre in Tremseh on July 12 it is like this one from “Syrian insurgents have been instructed to kill as many people as possible.”

The Russian word boyeviki, used to describe the rebel fighters, is less neutral than “insurgents” and is just one step away from bandits or terrorists. It passed from slang into the mass media during the war in Chechnya in the 1990s as a way of branding the Chechen separatist fighters. It is also worth noting in the report cited above the use of the words “instructed to kill”. They are intended to hint clearly that the opposition are acting on the orders of some invisible masters.

The report, which was on prime time TV, featured Anastassia Popova, a young and charismatic reporter. She provided “evidence” of the rebels killing innocent people in Tremseh, while claiming that the majority of those killed by the army were armed fighters and deserters. The reporter also claimed that the UN authorities were hampering her crew because of its country of origin.

Russia’s government is stubbornly supporting Bashar al-Assad and, true to Soviet-era traditions, it is unashamedly using the media it controls to justify its policy. Vladimir Putin’s control of information is not absolute. The internet has so far been almost completely free. However, the truth is Mr Putin does not need to exert control over public opinion on Syria.

Most people in Russia see the fighting there as a proxy war between their country and the west. While the humanitarian crisis receives little attention, the diplomacy is the focus of regular and detailed reports. The “struggle for peace” of foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia’s UN mission, against “aggressive western powers bent on force”, are what we mostly hear about in reports on Syria.

The government encourages this proxy war narrative, as it has a vested interest in portraying itself as the defender of a nation’s geopolitical position against the west’s perceived global expansion. While many of Mr Putin’s other policies are increasingly under attack, most Russians share the divisive world view that he projects. Even the independent internet-based media’s “objective” reporting tends to present Mr Assad’s version first and as fully legitimate. That is not a result of any direct pressure from the government.

When it comes to reporting on domestic political issues, such as the government’s handling of natural disasters or freedom of assembly, the same media outlets are much less patient with the government’s interpretation of events. But with Syria, geopolitics take precedence over objectivity. Many abroad may wonder at Russian stubbornness in the face of the near certainty of Mr Assad’s demise. But this geopolitical nationalism has cultural roots. And Mr Putin of course is himself a product of this culture, not just its manipulator – although to be clear he is a master of that technique too, using it to maintain his power.

More and more, the Russian people are told that vlast – a word that does not really have an English equivalent, incorporating authority and political power with a hint of brutal force – comes from God. Attacking it, for whatever reason, is both sinful and criminal.

On the face of it the Pussy Riot case, a political show trial in which three young women are being effectively persecuted for blasphemy, is unconnected to Syria. The trio stands accused of singing an anti-Putin song in a Moscow cathedral. It is another example of the bid to reintroduce autocratic ideology. The trial’s message is simple: an insult to the leader is an insult to God.

Two weeks ago Abdel Basset Sayda, the head of the Syrian National Council, accurately described his movement as a “revolution” when he came to Moscow to urge officials to stop supporting Syria’s regime. He was, inadvertently, highlighting the very reason for Mr Putin’s support. Mr Sayda may have wanted to inspire Russian leaders with a vision of democracy and justice that invoked the end of the cold war. Instead, those same leaders found themselves imagining how they might end up in Mr Assad’s shoes.

“Egypt’s tremendous military might comes under Islamist control”

This is the latest in a series of occasional dispatches about the rapidly-developing situation in Egypt. It deals with what appears to be the beginnings of an Islamist take-over of one of the world’s biggest armies.


* Israeli defense analysts: “Egypt’s senior military leadership is being replaced and power now lies in the hands of Islamist president.”

* Egypt has one of the most advanced militaries in the Mideast, thanks in part to continued U.S. aid.

* Mohamed Gadallah, legal adviser to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi, says that Morsi “is studying whether to amend the Camp David Accords to ensure Egypt’s full sovereignty and control over every inch of Sinai.”

* The Revolutionary Youth Union files a lawsuit demanding that the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel be amended.

* Jonathan Tobin: “The notion that the army would or could act as a brake on the Muslim Brotherhood has been shown to be a myth. This calls into question not just the future of regional stability but the Obama administration’s equivocal attitude toward the Brotherhood’s push to power. If this is foreign policy success, I’d hate to see what failure looks like.”

* Barry Rubin: “Would Morsi dared have done this if he thought Obama would come down on him like a ton of bricks? Would the army give up if they thought America was behind it? No on both counts.”


Morsi flanked by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and armed-forces chief Sami Anan. Shortly afterwards, he fired both of them


There is a separate dispatch about Syria today.

You can comment on these dispatches here: Please first press “Like” on that page.



1. “Morsi studying Camp David Accords amendment” (Al-Masry Al-Youm, Aug. 13, 2012)
2. “President Morsi’s military might” (, Aug. 13, 2012)
3. “Pentagon: U.S. to retain close ties with Egypt’s military” (AFP, Aug. 13, 2012)
4. “Cairo coup another Obama ‘success’” (Jonathan Tobin, Contentions, Aug. 13, 2012)
5. “Has Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood staged a coup against the military?” (Time, Aug. 12, 2012)
6. “There goes the army; there goes the free media; there goes Egypt” (Barry Rubin, Aug. 11, 2012)
7. “Death of a spymaster” (Yossi Beilin, Israel Hayom, July 23, 2012)

Below, I attach seven articles about Egypt -- Tom Gross



Adviser: Morsy studying Camp David Accords amendment issue
Al-Masry Al-Youm (Cairo)
August 13, 2012

President Mohamed Morsy is studying whether to amend the Camp David Accords to ensure Egypt’s full sovereignty and control over every inch of Sinai, said Mohamed Gadallah, legal adviser to the president.

Calls for amending the peace treaty with Israel, which also governs the security presence in the Sinai Peninsula, have been on the rise since last week’s attack on a military checkpoint at the border left 16 Egyptian security officers dead.

Former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi called for the amendments Saturday. The Revolutionary Youth Union has filed a lawsuit before an administrative court demanding that the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel be amended.

Morsy has vowed several times since he took office to preserve international treaties that Egypt has signed.

Gadallah didn’t give more details on the issue while speaking to Al-Masry Al-Youm Monday. He added that Morsy would soon order the release of another batch of military detainees.

[I have not included the rest of the article here, which deals with other matters – Tom Gross]



President Morsi’s military might
Egypt’s senior military leadership is being replaced and power now lies in the hands of Islamist president
August 13, 2012

The removal of the senior military leadership in Egypt has caught most of the world by surprise. New Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, initially perceived as a “puppet” of the Egyptian military, ended the rule of the military council established after the fall of the Mubarak regime in February 2011 in a show of force.

It remains unclear if the move will affect the relations with Israel, but what is clear is that Egypt’s tremendous military might is now in the hands of a president coming from an Islamist movement.

It should be mentioned in the wake of the developments in Cairo that Morsi is now in control of a military armed with the best weapons offered by US manufacturers in recent years, sponsored by Washington’s annual aid.

Much like Israel, Cairo benefits from fixed US defense aid at an amount of $1.3 billion annually. According to the agreement signed between the US and Egypt in 2007, the aid will continue at least until 2018. Egypt, already in possession of a significant aircraft fleet consisting of 217 F-16s, has ordered 20 additional multi-purpose combat aircraft valued at $3.2 billion.

Besides this deal, Egypt’s chief procurement agreements in recent years included Apache AH-64D combat helicopters (though the deal for the Longbow radar system for these helicopters has yet to be approved) and more M1A1 tanks. The Tanks are procured as parts and are assembled in Egypt.

Since the start of their procurement, Egypt’s military industry has assembled 880 tanks, and the last deal, being materialized today, includes another 125 tanks. Egypt’s navy has a standing order for the procurement of four fast missile boats from the US.

Egypt also procures weapons from other sources, in the framework of its budgetary limitations, and is currently negotiating with Germany for procuring Type-214 submarines (similar to Israel’s Dolphin submarines, which according to foreign publications can carry nuclear missiles).

It is also maintaining its military ties with Russia and former-Soviet states, both for upgrading its aging Soviet-era weapons (like upgrading APCs in Ukraine) as well as for procuring new weapon systems, such as the Russian Strelets air defense system).



Pentagon: U.S. to retain close ties with Egypt’s military
By Agence France-Presse
August 13, 2012

WASHINGTON - The U.S. military expects to maintain close ties with Egypt’s armed forces despite the dismissal of the country’s powerful defense minister, a spokesman said Aug. 13.

“We had expected President (Mohamed) Morsi at some point to coordinate changes in the military leadership, to name a new team,” Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters.

“The United States and the Department of Defense in particular look forward to continuing a very close relationship with the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces),” Little said.

Morsi on Sunday retired Defense Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, 76, and armed forces Chief of Staff Sami Anan. He also scrapped a constitutional document that gave the military legislative and other powers.

The Egyptian president replaced Tantawi, who had forged links with top American brass over decades, with Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, head of military intelligence.

“The new defense minister is someone who’s known to us; he comes from within the ranks of the SCAF, and we believe we’ll be able to continue the strong partnership that we have with Egypt,” Little said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “looks forward” to calling him “at the earliest possible moment,” he added.

During a brief visit to Cairo on July 31, Panetta gave no indication he expected any change in Egypt’s military leadership, but reaffirmed U.S. support for a democratic transition, saying the country has helped ensure regional stability for more than 30 years.

The White House earlier Aug. 13 urged Egypt’s military and government “to work closely together to address the economic and security challenges facing Egypt,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

The United States provides about $1.3 billion annually in aid to Egypt, a key ally since the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace accord.

U.S. officials are concerned that the new leadership in Egypt may alter its foreign policy amid fears that Morsi - an Islamist and Egypt’s first democratically elected president - might seek to renegotiate the treaty.



Cairo coup another Obama “success”
By Jonathan S. Tobin
Contentions (Commentary magazine)
August 13, 2012

Last week’s terror attack on Egyptian army troops by jihadists whose ultimate aim was to kill Israelis provoked an unexpectedly harsh reaction from Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The chaos in the Sinai is the direct result of the revolution that brought down the Mubarak regime. The Hamas government looked to benefit from the triumph of their Muslim Brotherhood allies, but the embarrassing slaughter of Egyptians by anti-Israel terrorists has led the new government in Cairo to shut down the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. The prospect of increased security cooperation between Egypt and the United States is slightly encouraging, though Israel’s exclusion from talks concerning its border is both spiteful and foolish.

But while the crackdown in the Sinai and along the border with Gaza may be a hopeful sign the new Egyptian government is unwilling to be dragged into conflict with Israel by the Palestinians, the real news in the aftermath of the shooting is very bad indeed. Morsi’s sacking of Egypt’s intelligence chief (who ignored warnings from Israel about a possible terror attack) is one thing, but the decision of the Egyptian leader to fire two of the country’s leading generals is more than just a personnel shuffle. If Morsi has assumed power of the country’s military, the notion that the army would or could act as a brake on the Muslim Brotherhood has been shown to be a myth. His firing of Egypt’s defense minister and the army chief of staff makes it clear the Brotherhood is now completely in control of the country. This calls into question not just the future of regional stability but the Obama administration’s equivocal attitude toward the Brotherhood’s push to power.

In the aftermath of the Egyptian election in which Morsi triumphed over the military’s preferred candidate, optimists believed the army’s acquiescence to the Brotherhood’s victory was bought by the group’s willingness to share power. The assumption was that the military would remain in charge even if Morsi would have the trappings of power. But the firing of the two defense chiefs has shown foreign observers underestimated both Morsi and the Brotherhood’s will to come out on top. It’s also apparent that such thinking overestimated the ability of the army to retain the influence it had when Mubarak, himself a former general, ran things.

The implications of what Time aptly termed a Muslim Brotherhood “coup” are far-reaching.

Morsi may not be interested in a direct confrontation with Israel or in allowing Hamas’ desire to keep the border in flames. For all of the fraternal bonds between the Brotherhood and Hamas, even Egyptian Islamists may believe, as most of their countrymen do, the Palestinians are ready to fight Israel to the last Egyptian.

But if there are no longer any effective checks on the Brotherhood, the idea that the United States or Israel can rely upon the army to keep Egypt from being transformed into an Islamist country is without any rational basis. This ought to do more than scare the country’s secular community or even the Christian Copts who constitute up to ten percent of Egypt’s population. It will mean the start of a process whereby the Brotherhood obtains control over every segment of Egyptian society and government. Optimists hope this will mean nothing worse than a copy of Turkey’s drift from secular freedom to Islamist authoritarianism under President Obama’s friend Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But no one should be surprised if a more radical group like the Brotherhood is not satisfied with that and eventually pushes for more radical changes in both Egyptian society and its relations with Israel.

The Obama administration thought it was managing the situation in Egypt via support of the military while conducting outreach to the Brotherhood. But what they find themselves with now is a situation in which the U.S. is giving $1.5 billion per year to a country controlled by an extremist group whose ideology places it in a state of continual conflict with the West. President Obama and his cheerleaders in the media may think he has deftly handled an Arab Spring which has seen the region’s most populous country transformed from a Western ally to an Islamist loose cannon. If this is foreign policy success, I’d hate to see what failure looks like.



Has Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood staged a coup against the military?
By Abigail Hauslohner / Cairo
Time magazine
August 12, 2012

It would seem that Mohamed Morsy is on a roll. Less than a week after sacking several major security chiefs, the first elected President in Egypt’s history has moved on to tackle the big guns. On Sunday, Morsy fired Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the country’s Defense Minister and powerful chief of Egypt’s military council, with whom the President has been locked in a power struggle since he took office at the end of June. Perhaps no more.

Along with Tantawi, who in the 18 months since the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak has reigned as the most powerful man in Egypt, Morsy sacked his chief of staff, Sami Anan. He fired the head of every service of the armed forces and nullified the June constitutional decree that Tantawi and Anan’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had released to seize more power for itself. Morsy also appointed a much anticipated Vice President: Mahmoud Mekki, a prominent reformist judge.

If all that comes as a shock to many Egyptians – the Ramadan-subdued streets of Cairo flickering to life with murmurs of excitement shortly after the announcement – it wasn’t a shock to everyone. That includes the military council. General Mohamed al-Assar, a ranking member of SCAF, told al-Jazeera that Tantawi and Anan’s dismissal came through consultation with Morsy. Analysts say that’s because there was a deal involved. “I think the deal is [Tantawi and Anan] get a safe exit, and they hand the country to the Muslim Brotherhood,” says Mamdouh Hamza, a prominent businessman and pro-democracy advocate. “Because quite honestly, if we apply the same law [to the generals] that we applied to Mubarak’s family, Tantawi would be behind bars.”

The notion that immunity may have been exchanged for power troubled some of the country’s liberal youth as well, even as many other Egyptians flocked to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to celebrate what appeared to be the end of an era. “Morsy clearly won’t prosecute any murderers or torturers,” quipped Gigi Ibrahim, a young activist, on Twitter, following the announcement.

But the bigger picture is this, Hamza says: the reshuffle plays into the broader strategy of Morsy’s powerful Islamist alma mater, the Muslim Brotherhood, which most analysts agree is still calling the shots in the presidential kitchen. “They are the only ones in the kitchen, 100%,” says Hamza. “In fact, Morsy might only be the coffee boy in the kitchen.”

Long the only significant challenge to Mubarak’s 30-year rule, the Muslim Brotherhood emerged from last year’s uprising primed to become the largest political force. Its representatives won the lion’s share of parliament; and ultimately, it took the presidency too.

Sunday’s shift marks Morsy’s boldest move yet to reclaim power from the country’s powerful military council. But it follows a similar reshuffle last week in Egypt’s security sector, which included the ousting of an old regime ally, Mourad Mwafi, from the head of the country’s General Intelligence Service. The replacements in the security sector, and indeed in the military, all serve a purpose in the broader scheme of things, analysts say. “The Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t do anything off the cuff. Everything is according to plan and may be known for a few months before,” Hamza says.

Tantawi’s replacement, Abdel Fatah el-Sissi, is rumored to be a deeply religious man – perhaps the closest thing on the council to a Brotherhood ally. The new Vice President, Mekki, a top judge, was an early – but secret – Brotherhood pick for the presidency, according to Mohamed Soudan, a high-ranking Brotherhood official in Alexandria.

Along with Morsy’s newly appointed Justice Minister, Mekki will be a valuable asset as the country moves forward in drafting a new constitution. And according to Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military and a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in California: for every new hire – perhaps regardless of origin – Morsy and the Brotherhood gain an ally. “It’s Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood who appointed them,” he says. “So their political careers are dependent on Morsy.”

Indeed, that may also be true for the new editors in chief of the country’s state newspapers – appointed last week by the Brotherhood-dominated upper house of parliament, the Shura Council.

The Brotherhood, analysts say, is slowly and deliberately arranging Egypt’s political chessboard. “They had to make sure that the media is in their hands and that the army is under their control before they go and make major changes in the Ministry of Justice and in the justice system,” says Hamza. “The next step will be the new constitution.”

The bold moves, particularly Morsy’s annulment of the military council’s June addendum to Egypt’s constitution – which had granted the military full legislative and certain executive powers – raises some questions of legality, experts say.

“It’s extralegal,” says one foreign NGO worker in Cairo, who has charted similar declarations by the military over the past 18 months. Morsy didn’t nullify all of SCAF’s decrees – only the aspects that hindered presidential power. Whereas the military had, in June, claimed full legislative authority following the Supreme Court’s dissolution of the parliament, Morsy now claims legislative control for himself. He also seized the right – from the generals – to dissolve and replace the committee tasked with drafting Egypt’s new constitution, if the committee is somehow “prevented from doing its duties,” the state-backed Ahram Online news website reported.

Egypt’s powerful generals have largely ignored Egyptian law ever since they issued their first constitutional decree in February 2011, two days after Mubarak stepped down, the NGO official points out: “So why can’t Morsy do it too?” Last February, SCAF suspended Egypt’s 1971 constitution. “They did this to legitimize their own power,” the official adds, because the constitution had stipulated that in the absence of a President, power be handed to the head of parliament or the head of the Supreme Court. Tantawi and his generals had ensured that wouldn’t happen.

But now Morsy may be following in their footsteps. The Islamist President appears – “on paper” at least – to have suddenly amassed “dictatorial powers,” writes Issandr El Amrani, a regional analyst, on his popular blog, the Arabist. For a country still struggling to shrug off the entrenched influence of its military after more than half a century of military rule, that might not be such a terrible thing, El Amrani and other analysts note. Hamza says it’s an important first step in dismantling a junta; if Morsy can remove the military from business and the public sector too, Egypt will be on its way to success, he says. But there’s no telling just how the President and the Brotherhood will move next. As for the paradigm shift and the new powers it seems to entail, says El Amrani: “It will largely come down to how he uses them.”

– With reporting by Caroline Kolta / Cairo



Egypt: there goes the army; there goes the free media; there goes Egypt
By Barry Rubin
Rubin Reports
August 11, 2012

So can you write “Arab Spring,” “free elections,” “democracy in Egypt,” and such things 100 times? This just might be somewhat in contradiction to the fact that:

Muslim Brotherhood President al-Morsi has just removed the two commanding generals of the Egyptian military. Does he have a right to do this? Who knows? There’s no constitution. That means all we were told about not having to worry because the generals would restrain the Brotherhood was false. Moreover, the idea that the army, and hence the government, may fear to act lest they lose U.S. aid will also be false. There is no parliament at present He is now the democratically elected dictator of Egypt. True, he picked another career officer but he has now put forward the principle: he decides who runs the army. The generals can still advise Morsi. He can choose to listen to them or not. But there is no more dual power in Egypt but only one leader. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces which has run Egypt since February 2011 is gone. Only Morsi remains and Egypt is now at his mercy.

Oh and to put the icing on the cake, Morsi will apparently decide who will be on the commission that writes the new constitution.

Behind the scenes note: Would Morsi dared have done this if he thought Obama would come down on him like a ton of bricks? Would the army give up if they thought America was behind it? No on both counts.

This is a coup. Morsi is bound by no constitution. He can do as he pleases unless someone is going to stop him. And the only candidate – the military – is fading fast, far faster than even we pessimists would have predicted.

Muslim Brotherhood President al-Morsi has also just named the editors of the top Egyptian newspaper and other media outlets. They are state-owned, you know, and there are a half-dozen good little independent newspapers.

But one of them, al-Destour (ironically meaning “The Constitution”), has just had a full issue seized on charges of “fueling sedition” and “harming the president through phrases and wording punishable by law.” We know this through a report in the Middle East News Agency, the state-owned monopoly.

And what was the inflammatory report? That the Brotherhood was going to seize power and that liberals and the army should join together to stop the country from being turned into an Islamist regime.

Seems to me that if it weren’t true there wasn’t any need to confiscate the issue, right? After all, everybody would have seen that it wouldn’t happen and all would have shared a good laugh!

Other columnists are charging that the Brotherhood is trying to turn their newspapers into reliable house organs rather than let them be free.

Reminds me of a personal experience I had in Cairo over thirty years ago. An al-Ahram newspaper editor was well-known for being the highest-ranking Christian in journalism. I went to see him and mentioned that I knew he was a Christian. He launched into a long lecture about how wonderfully Christians were treated in Egypt, how there was no discrimination against them, etc.

After a while I mentioned that I heard he had been on the television the previous evening but I had missed it. For no particular reason, I just asked, “How long were you on, fifteen minutes?”

Without missing a beat, he shot back: “Fifteen minutes! You’d think they’d let a Copt be on for fifteen minutes! I was on for three minutes.”



Death of a spymaster
By Yossi Beilin
Israel Hayom
July 23, 2012

Tall, upright, with a thick voice and the appearance of a man younger than his 76 years – that is what Omar Suleiman looked like. He always seemed self assured, independent and in control of the situation. Unlike other ministers in the former Egyptian government, Suleiman was not in the habit of using sentences such as “President Mubarak feels” and “in accordance with the president’s wishes.” Rather, he insisted on speaking his own mind, as he analyzed regional and global events and outlined the goals he had set out for Egypt.

He remained a general even when in civilian clothes, and was the strongest man in Egypt. What were his dreams back then, when no one would dare cross him because of the vast intelligence apparatus he commanded? Did he intend on reaching the presidency after Mubarak’s reign ended? Was he furious when he discovered Mubarak’s plan to appoint his son Gamal Mubarak to succeed him as president? Did he decide to run for president himself only after the Egyptian revolution and Arab Spring had begun? All these questions are to remain unanswered now that Suleiman is dead.

Omar Suleiman, whom Mubarak had appointed to the position of vice president only after the revolution broke out in Egypt, was nonetheless involved in every matter of government. Among other things, Suleiman dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and had no problem coming to Israel and speaking to whomever happened to be the current elected official. He viewed peace between Israel and the Palestinians as a goal that would be in Egypt’s best interest, as well as achieving an internal Palestinian calm. Suleiman never achieved either of these goals, but he refused to give up and made substantial efforts toward both objectives.

To say he was a friend of Israel would be to oversimplify matters. I never heard him enthusiastically refer to Israel on any subject. He saw peace with Israel as a stepping stone to Egypt’s relationship with the U.S., which was his top priority. Maintaining a good relationship with Israel was also important to Suleiman, yet he did not refrain from criticizing different Israeli governments. He came out strongly against then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for the way he handled Gilad Schalit’s capture: Olmert first approached Schalit’s abduction by declaring there will be no negotiations with Hamas, and then expressed a willingness to negotiate shortly after his initial announcement. Suleiman criticized the Israeli government for dragging its feet, and three years prior to Schalit’s release said that Israel would eventually exchange a thousand prisoners for the life of one soldier, and so it would be a shame to have Schalit remain captive unnecessarily.

Suleiman headed the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, whose halls were characterized by a deep silence. People there were rarely seen walking around needlessly, and it was always kept clean and polished, as if an inspection was expected at any moment. The serenity Suleiman and his deputies exuded also created a sense of power. This was true up until the revolution, which triggered a series of events: Suleiman’s appointment as vice president; his announcement of Mubarak’s “resignation”; his surprise decision to run for president, which was ultimately halted because he fell 31 signatures short of the 30,000 necessary signatures. And finally, his death.

The Arab Spring ended the reign of those seemingly eternal men of power. Deliberating with the weak can be very frustrating, and there will always be those who will miss, justifiably or not, those who had held absolute power in their hands, or who at least appeared to do so. Suleiman’s death symbolizes in the most tangible way a departure from what we have become accustomed to from the most important Arab nation.

Hamas claims Mossad behind Sinai attack (& Hamas PM’s in-law treated at Tel Aviv hospital)

August 09, 2012

* Hamas and the Moslem Brotherhood: Mossad was really behind the deadly Sinai attack carried out by Islamists
* Egyptians demand that U.S. release “the blind sheikh” convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing
* NY Times: Israel picked up phone chatter between Lebanon and Burgas (Bulgaria) before last month’s suicide bombing
* U.S. gymnast Aly Raisman: I chose “Hava Nagila” because the IOC refused to honor Munich victims


Aly Raisman

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1. New intel reveals Iran’s military nuclear program advancing faster than previously thought
2. Ugandan president: Israeli raid led to Amin’s fall. Will the same happen in Iran?
3. Is the Syrian civil war hindering a strike on Iran?
4. Saudi Arabia claims it would intercept Israeli planes en route to Iran
5. Iranian Vice President visits President Morsi in Cairo
6. Egyptian army and air force kill 20 in Sinai raids; no international condemnation
7. Hamas denounces Egypt’s “collective punishment”
8. Hamas and Egypt’s Moslem Brotherhood claim Mossad behind Sinai attack
9. Egyptians demand that the U.S. release “the blind sheikh”
10. Hamas PM’s brother-in-law reportedly treated at Tel Aviv hospital
11. Palestinian Authority sends funds to those affected by the violence in Syria
12. Israel stops “significant Hizbullah bomb plot”
13. NY Times: Israel picked up phone chatter between Lebanon and Burgas before bombing
14. Aly Raisman says she chose “Hava Nagila” because IOC refused to honor Munich victims

[Notes below by Tom Gross]


The well-sourced journalist for the Israeli paper Ha’aretz, Chemi Shalev, reports that new intelligence information obtained by five Western countries, including Israel, indicates that Iran has made greater progress in developing components for a nuclear bomb than the West had previously realized.

Western diplomats said that the intelligence agencies of the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Israel all agree with this alarming new assessment.

This assessment was initially raised in February, when Iran refused to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit the base at Parchin, where it is believed Iran is carrying out part of the research and development for the military aspect of its nuclear program.

Then, last month Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards has established a new team of 60 nuclear scientists to develop Iran’s military nuclear program at the Lavizan base near Tehran.

And on August 1, an American think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security, released a satellite photo of the Parchin base taken on July 25 showing, according to Western intelligence, that Iran is developing nuclear weapons there. According to researchers at the institute, the photos show that the Iranians have bulldozed a number of structures at the base and leveled the surrounding land, to erase evidence of nuclear activity at the site.



Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney when he visited Jerusalem last week that an Israeli or American military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was likely to help topple the Iranian dictatorship, just as Israel’s 1976 Entebbe raid led to the downfall of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s said in 2005 that the Israeli raid to free over 100 hostages held at Entebbe led to Amin’s downfall three years later. “The operation strengthened Amin’s rivals because it revealed how vulnerable his regime was,” Museveni said.



Journalist and analyst Yaakov Lappin writes that “the loss of its major regional ally, Syria, might even induce it to speed up its nuclear program.”

Lappin (who is a subscriber to this list) adds that “an Israeli or American strike on Iran’s nuclear weapons program may be being held up by the raging Syrian war, and the unstable status of Syria’s chemical weapons”

“Syria possesses the Middle East’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons, which include deadly VX nerve gas, sarin, and mustard gas. It has also developed an advanced Scud missile program to serve as a delivery mechanism. In addition, Damascus has a reported biological weapons program.

“There are several factors currently at play in Syria and the region indicating that the future of those weapons is uncertain -- a factor that could prompt military planners to push back a strike on Iran to ensure that resources are available to deal with these threats from Syria if necessary, including jihadi organizations of all stripes who could try to snatch these incredibly dangerous arms.”



The mass-circulation Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot reports today that Saudi Arabia will not permit Israeli aircraft to cross its territory on the way to strike Iran. According to the paper, the Saudi message was passed to Jerusalem via Obama administration officials during recent talks in Jerusalem.

Senior Israeli officials reportedly see the message as a warning sign not just from Saudi Arabia, but from President Obama, for Israel not to launch a unilateral strike.

Saudi Arabia is supplied with U.S. military equipment and aircraft, leading to speculation that any Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities carried out in cooperation with the US, would involve flying through Saudi airspace.

Sunni Saudi Arabia is desperate for Shia Iran not to obtain nuclear weapons, but is also petrified of being involved in any military efforts to prevent them.

Israeli officials prefer that the U.S. lead, or be involved with, any possible strike on Iranian nuclear installations. Were Israel to act alone it is believed Israel would have to use at least 100 planes to strike Iran’s four main nuclear sites, and fly over 1,000 miles over hostile territory to reach them.

Last week, on a visit to Israel, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, said that “all options” were on the table for dealing with a potential Iranian nuclear weapon, including the military option, but he still wanted to give more time to see if diplomacy and sanctions could thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.



On Tuesday, Iranian Vice President Hamid Baghaei became the first high-ranking Iranian government official to visit Egypt since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he believes that the election in Egypt of President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, is part of “an Islamic awakening” across the region.



The Egyptian army responded strongly against terrorist forces in the Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, targeting the group believed to be responsible for Sunday’s attempted raid on Israel that left 16 Egyptian soldiers dead. In Sunday’s incident, the Israeli air force destroyed the terrorist’s vehicle once it had broken through the border into Israel, killing the four terrorists inside.

One of the terrorists killed, Ahmad Said Ismail, was among those responsible for the terror attack on the Israel-Egypt border on June 18, 2012, in which they shot dead an Israeli civilian. (The murdered Israeli civilian was Said Fashapshe, 36, an Israeli-Arab father of four from a kibbutz near Haifa, who was on a work job near the Egyptian border.)

Regarding Egypt’s response on Wednesday, an Egyptian spokesman said troops entered the village of Al-Toumah, and killed 20 people and destroyed vehicles. The soldiers were backed up by the first-time use of Egyptian air force jets since the 1973 Yom Kippur war against Israel.

There has been no international condemnation of Egypt’s killing of 20 people, nor questions about how many of those killed might have been civilians.

One can imagine that there would have been a markedly different international reaction had Israel responded in the same way.



In a further response to Sunday’s attack, Egypt closed the Rafah border crossing with Gaza “indefinitely” and began sealing up smuggling tunnels.

The Hamas rulers in Gaza denounced the Egyptian move as collective punishment.

Hamas and other Palestinian groups denied Egyptian claims that terrorists from Gaza were involved in the attack, which resulted in the death of 16 Egyptian soldiers.



Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood alleged that Israel’s Mossad intelligence service was behind Sunday’s attack by Islamist militants. Hardly anyone took these claims seriously, apart from a news anchor on BBC World Service radio.

The Muslim Brotherhood called for a “review” of the 1979 treaty between Egypt and Israel after accusing Mossad of being responsible for the attack.

A spokesman for Gaza’s Hamas government also blamed the Mossad, claiming the attack was an Israeli “attempt to tamper with Egyptian security and drive a wedge between the Egyptians and the residents of the Gaza Strip.”

“This is a despicable crime that only serves the interests of the Zionist enemy,” the Hamas spokesman said. “We believe that Israeli agents were behind the attack.”

Another Palestinian group, Al-Jama’ah Al-Islamiya, also claimed that Israeli “intelligence forces” were behind the attack.


Among related dispatches:

Egypt claims Mossad to blame for shark attacks (& details of new Mossad head)



Islamist groups in Egypt have demanded that the U.S. release Omar Abd Al-Rahman, the so-called “blind sheikh” convicted in 1995 in America to life imprisonment for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York.

Al-Rahman came to prominence in the 1970’s when he issued a series of fatwas encouraging Egyptian Muslims to kill Christians. Following a short spell in an Egyptian prison, he moved to Pakistan where he befriended Al-Qaeda leaders Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri. He then moved to the United States in 1990 and was arrested in 1993 following the World Trade Center bombing. He was convicted in 1995.

In recent weeks, hundreds of Egyptians have been protesting and holding prayer sessions near the entrance to the American Embassy in Cairo, demanding Al-Rahman be released.

Many have said that future American-Egyptian ties should be conditional on the sheikh’s release.



Yediot Ahronot reports that the brother-in-law of Hamas’s Prime Minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, was given emergency cardiac treatment at Beilinson Hospital, near Tel Aviv, recently. He apparently suffered a heart attack that required more complicated care than that available in Gaza hospitals.

He was taken by ambulance along with his wife (Haniyeh’s sister) to the Tel Aviv hospital. He spent a week undergoing treatment there (at Israeli taxpayers’ expense) before his condition improved sufficiently for him and his wife to return to Gaza.

Ismail Haniyeh continues to attack Israel at every opportunity, and the terror group he heads does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. On Monday he led a mass prayer session outside the Egyptian Embassy in Gaza in solidarity with the victims of last weekend’s Islamist terror attack in Sinai. During the gathering, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood in accusing Israel of orchestrating the attack.



The Palestinian Authority – which claims it doesn’t have enough money even though it received billions in Western taxpayers’ money and stashes large sums away in foreign bank accounts – has sent hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to those caught up in the fighting in Syria.

Israel has also sent aid, as reported previously on this weblist.



Israeli security services have foiled a plot by the Iranian-backed Hizbullah terrorist organization to smuggle explosives from Lebanon into Israel and carry out a series of bomb attacks on Israelis.

Eleven suspects were formally charged in a Nazareth court on Wednesday. They were arrested last month but the case was kept secret until now while investigations were ongoing.

Those arrested came from the village of Ghajar, which straddles the Israeli border with Lebanon, and the city of Nazareth in northern Israel. They were carrying large amounts of explosives (together with operating systems and timers) which could have caused massive casualties.



Citing anonymous intelligence sources, The New York Times reports that Israeli intelligence has evidence of extensive phone traffic between Lebanon and Burgas, Bulgaria, in the two months leading up to the July 18 suicide bombing at the Burgas airport which killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly blamed Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hizbullah for the bombing, saying it was the latest in a series of attacks and attempted attacks on Israeli and other Jewish targets abroad orchestrated by Iran.

* For background, please see:

Her final call: “I just found out I’m pregnant at last”



American gymnast Aly Raisman has said that she chose the music for her gold medal-winning floor routine at the London Olympics as a tribute to the victims of the 1972 Munich Olympics terror attack, according to a report in the (London) Daily Mail.

The 18-year-old added that the choice of Hava Nagila was also a response to the International Olympic Committee’s failure to commemorate the tragedy.

NBC commentator Bob Costas also criticized the IOC, and held his own moment of silence when Israeli athletes marched into the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony.


For related dispatches to the above item please see:

* A Gold medal for Hava Nagila (& versions by the Beatles, Capt. Kirk, & Ms Egypt)

* PA thanks IOC for refusing to honor Munich victims (& Abbas' role in the massacre)

[Notes above by Tom Gross]

A Gold medal for Hava Nagila (& versions by the Beatles, Capt. Kirk, & Ms. Egypt)

August 01, 2012

Alexandra Raisman



[Note by Tom Gross]

American Jewish gymnast Alexandra Raisman helped Team USA win the gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics yesterday, for the prestigious women’s artistic gymnastics.

The 18-year-old, who was also the American team captain, performed her floor routine to the tune of the Hebrew folk song “Hava Nagila”. The song, the title of which means “let us rejoice,” originated among Ukrainian Jews.

Raisman, of Needham, Massachusetts, was trained by the former coaches of the Israeli national team, Mihai and Sylvia Brestyan.

I have updated one of my previous “Video dispatches” to include Raisman’s performance. And because it is now summer, and to provide some light relief from the Middle East-related dispatches on this list, which can often be depressing, you may like to watch some of these videos again, here.

1. Texas-style
2. Performed by Spock and Kirk
3. And with the help of Russian soldiers
4. A rendition by Dutch violinist and conductor Andre Rieu
5. A beautiful version from Iran
6. Hava Nagila on ice
7. Performed by former Miss Egypt, singing superstar Dalida
8. The Jewish Beatles
9. A Bollywood film version from India
10. Performed by members of the small Jewish community of Cuba
11. Hava Hagila (baby let’s dance)
12. American gymnast Aly Raisman wins gold at the London 2012 Olympics


For a previous dispatch about the London Olympics, please see:

PA thanks IOC for refusing to honor Munich victims (& Abbas’ role in the massacre)


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