JFP 2/9: US fingers MEK, Israel in scientist killings; Lieberman seeks to block diplomacy
Just Foreign Policy News, February 9, 2012
US fingers MEK, Israel in scientist killings; Lieberman seeks to block diplomacy
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Can Joe Lieberman Block Diplomacy With Iran That Would Prevent War?
According to reports from DC, Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham plan to drop a bill that seeks to push the President to declare that it would be "unacceptable" for Iran to have a "nuclear weapons *capability*"? What's so outrageous about this? According to U.S. and European officials cited in the New York Times, an Iran that has but does not use the capacity to produce nuclear weapons is the best achievable outcome. So what Lieberman and Graham are really trying to do is block any meaningful diplomatic engagement with Iran; they are trying to remove from the table anything except war and externally-induced regime change.
RT interview: The dirty history of "promoting democracy"
Just Foreign Policy talks to RT. Calling the International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute "groups that promotes democracy" covers up a lot of dirty history, like when the IRI backed coups in Haiti and Venezuela, or when IRI and NDI backed a disputed election in Honduras that legitimated the coup. But for the Egyptian military to tar NGOs as foreign-supported when it gets $1.3 billion a year from the U.S. is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
The Real News: US Arms Deal with Bahrain as Crackdown Continues
Just Foreign Policy talks to The Real News about Congressional concerns over Obama Administration plans to sell arms to Bahrain ahead of the February 14 anniversary of the uprising.
Report of the Head of the League of Arab States Observer Mission to Syria for the period from 24 December 2011 to 18 January 2012
The report gives a more nuanced view of events in Syria than is typically presented in Western media. For example: "According to their latest reports and their briefings to the Head of the Mission on 17 January 2012 in preparation for this report, group team leaders witnessed peaceful demonstrations by both Government supporters and the opposition in several places. None of those demonstrations were disrupted, except for some minor clashes with the Mission and between loyalists and opposition. These have not resulted in fatalities since the last presentation before the Arab Ministerial Committee on the Situation in Syria at its meeting of 8 January 2012."
Mohamed Nasheed: The Dregs of Dictatorship
Mohamed Nasheed denounces the coup against him in the Maldives.
George Will: Republicans need more than rhetoric on defense
George Will slams the GOP candidates for pushing wars and military spending that the American people don't want, and mocks Romney for trashing talks with the Taliban.
New York Times: Libya Struggles to Curb Militias as Chaos Grows
Libya is foundering, and the government is paralyzed, the NYT says.
Christian Science Monitor: The next 'revolution' for Nicaragua: energy independence
Oil dependent Nicaragua is battling high energy costs and trying to build a sustainable economy by focusing on wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal.
The Onion: Iran Worried U.S. Might Be Building 8,500th Nuclear Weapon
The headline says it all.
1) U.S. officials say attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by the Iranian terrorist group MEK, which is financed, trained and armed by Israel's Mossad, confirming charges leveled by Iran's leaders, NBC News reports. Two senior U.S. officials confirmed for NBC News the MEK's role in the assassinations, with one senior official saying, "All your inclinations are correct." [This is a major development: the MEK is on the State Department's terrorist list, so these officials are confirming that Israel is a "state sponsor" of a terrorist group. This should put a big dent in the campaign to get the MEK removed from the State Department list - a campaign which has claimed that the MEK has abandoned violence - JFP.]
2) The U.S. and Israel remain at odds over whether Iran's crucial nuclear facilities are about to become impregnable, the New York Times reports. Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, coined the phrase "zone of immunity" to define the circumstances under which Israel would judge it could no longer hold off from an attack because Iran's effort to produce a bomb would otherwise become invulnerable to any strike.
This is not the first time that the Israelis have invented a phrase that suggests a hard deadline before an attack, the Times notes. At the end of the Bush administration, they said they could not allow Iran to go past "the point of no return." That phrase was also ill-defined, but seemed to suggest that once Iran had the know-how and the basic materials to make a bomb, it would be inevitable.
3) If Israel attacked Iran alone, it would face the extraordinary problem of needing to refuel its bombers en route to targets about 1,000 miles away and refueling them again on the way back, writes Walter Pincus in the Washington Post. That is why the pro-war Bipartisan Policy Center report urges that the U.S. provide Israel with three KC-135 refueling tankers.
4) Sen. Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he, like the public, is being kept in the dark about Justice Department legal advice on when the U.S. may kill American citizens abroad who are suspected terrorists, AP reports. Wyden says he's been trying for more than a year to get the legal analysis without success.
5) India announced it was sending a large trade delegation to Iran to exploit opportunities created by U.S. and European sanctions that are increasingly disrupting Iran's economy, the New York Times reports. India eclipsed China as Iran's No. 1 petroleum customer last month. Iran economic experts said a proposed India-Iran barter arrangement might be replicated by Iran and its other trading partners as a way to bypass the Western sanctions.
6) Hamas appears to be drifting away from Iran towards the US' Arab allies, AP reports. Hamas is increasingly relying on political and financial support from the Gulf, particularly Qatar, which also has close ties to the West. Qatar promised to help in case the West withdraws support from a Palestinian unity government.
Hamas' parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, scored election victories after uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia last year, and is becoming influential elsewhere in the region. But the widened support comes with demands that the Islamists moderate and not embarrass Brotherhood branches abroad as they seek to reach out to the broadest possible audience and gain political legitimacy through elections.
7) The government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner seems poised to back the full decriminalization of illegal drugs for personal use, writes Daniel Politi in the New York Times. Around one-third of the country's prison population is made up of drug criminals, the vast majority users, small-time dealers and drug mules. Decriminalizing personal use would both advance individual freedom and unclog Argentina's judicial system. It would also free up resources for drug education, practically nonexistent today.
1) Israel teams with terror group to kill Iran's nuclear scientists, U.S. officials tell NBC News
Richard Engel and Robert Windrem, NBC News, Thu Feb 9, 2012 11:14 a.m. ET
Deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by an Iranian dissident group that is financed, trained and armed by Israel's secret service, U.S. officials tell NBC News, confirming charges leveled by Iran's leaders.
The group, the People's Mujahedin of Iran, has long been designated as a terrorist group by the United States, accused of killing American servicemen and contractors in the 1970s and supporting the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran before breaking with the Iranian mullahs in 1980.
The attacks, which have killed five Iranian nuclear scientists since 2007 and may have destroyed a missile research and development site, have been carried out in dramatic fashion, with motorcycle-borne assailants often attaching small magnetic bombs to the exterior of the victims' cars.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Obama administration is aware of the assassination campaign but has no direct involvement.
The Iranians have no doubt who is responsible – Israel and the People's Mujahedin of Iran, known by various acronyms, including MEK, MKO and PMI.
"The relation is very intricate and close," said Mohammad Javad Larijani, a senior aide to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, speaking of the MEK and Israel. "They (Israelis) are paying … the Mujahedin. Some of their (MEK) agents … (are) providing Israel with information. And they recruit and also manage logistical support."
Moreover, he said, the Mossad, the Israeli secret service, is training MEK members in Israel on the use of motorcycles and small bombs. In one case, he said, Mossad agents built a replica of the home of an Iranian nuclear scientist so that the assassins could familiarize themselves with the layout prior to the attack.
Much of what the Iranian government knows of the attacks and the links between Israel and MEK comes from interrogation of an assassin who failed to carry out an attack in late 2010 and the materials found on him, Larijani said.
The U.S.-educated Larijani, whose two younger brothers run the legislative and judicial branches of the Iranian government, said the Israelis' rationale is simple. "Israel does not have direct access to our society. Mujahedin, being Iranian and being part of Iranian society, they have … a good number of … places to get into the touch with people. So I think they are working hand-to-hand very close. And we do have very concrete documents."
Two senior U.S. officials confirmed for NBC News the MEK's role in the assassinations, with one senior official saying, "All your inclinations are correct." A third official would not confirm or deny the relationship, saying only, "It hasn't been clearly confirmed yet." All the officials denied any U.S. involvement in the assassinations.
2) U.S. and Israel Split on Speed of Iran Threat
Mark Landler and David E. Sanger, New York Times, February 8, 2012
Washington - Amid mounting tensions over whether Israel will carry out a military strike against Iran's nuclear program, the United States and Israel remain at odds over a fundamental question: whether Iran's crucial nuclear facilities are about to become impregnable.
Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, coined the phrase "zone of immunity" to define the circumstances under which Israel would judge it could no longer hold off from an attack because Iran's effort to produce a bomb would be invulnerable to any strike. But judging when that moment will arrive has set off an intense debate with the Obama administration, whose officials counter that there are other ways to make Iran vulnerable.
Senior Israeli officials, including the foreign minister and leader of the Mossad, have traveled to Washington in recent weeks to make the case that this point is fast approaching. American officials have made reciprocal visits to Jerusalem, arguing that Israel and the West have more time and should allow sanctions and covert actions to deter Iran's plans.
The Americans have also used the discussions to test their belief, based on a series of public statements by Israeli officials, that an Israeli strike against Iran could come as early as spring, according to an official familiar with the discussions.
President Obama tried to defuse arguments for military action in a telephone call last month with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, the substance of which was confirmed by an Obama administration official who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to describe the conversation. While the two men have had an often contentious relationship over Middle East diplomacy, American officials emerged from that exchange persuaded that Mr. Netanyahu was willing to give economic sanctions and other steps time to work.
The difference of opinion over Iran's nuclear "immunity" is critical because it plays into not just the timing - or bluffing - about a possible military strike, but the calculations about how deeply and quickly sanctions against Iran must bite. If the Israeli argument is right, the question of how fast the Iranians can assemble a weapon becomes less important than whether there is any way to stop them.
" 'Zone of immunity' is an ill-defined term," said a senior Obama administration official, expressing frustration that the Israelis are looking at the problem too narrowly, given the many kinds of pressure being placed on Tehran and the increasing evidence that far tougher sanctions are having an effect.
This is not the first time that the Israelis have invented a phrase that suggests a hard deadline before an attack. At the end of the Bush administration, they said they could not allow Iran to go past "the point of no return." That phrase was also ill-defined, but seemed to suggest that once Iran had the know-how and the basic materials to make a bomb, it would be inevitable.
While nuclear experts believe Iran now has enough uranium to fuel four or more weapons, it would have to enrich it to bomb-grade levels, which would take months. Beyond that, Iran would have to produce a warhead that could fit atop an Iranian missile - a process that could take one to three years, most experts say.
3) At the Pentagon and in Israel, plans show the difficulties of an Iran strike
Walter Pincus, Washington Post, February 8, 2012
If you are not prepared to go to war, you cannot threaten that "nothing is off the table" as you search for diplomatic solutions. Thus there are completed plans, updated daily, at Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv and at the Pentagon for carrying out attacks on Iranian facilities in a last-ditch effort to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Israel has a plan to go it alone. So does the United States. And there may even be a plan for the two countries to collaborate. On Dec. 20, the Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, told CNN: "We are examining a range of options" and "I am satisfied that the options that we are developing are evolving to a point that they would be executable if necessary."
In any event, the plans exist, and they illustrate the difficulties in carrying out what some people think would be a simple operation.
For example, should Israel act alone, it would face the extraordinary problem of needing to refuel its bombers en route to targets about 1,000 miles away and refueling them again on the way back. That is why in the new Bipartisan Policy Center report, "Meeting the Challenge: Stopping the Clock," former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) and retired Air Force Gen. Charles F. Wald suggest that the United States provide Israel with three KC-135 refueling tankers.
Robb and Wald do not advocate that the Israelis undertake such an attack, but they say that providing the tankers would "extend the effective range of Israeli aircraft" and "improve Israeli credibility."
The Robb-Wald report, put together by a task force that includes former military commanders, outlines just part of "what U.S. military action would look like," in its words. The target list, beyond Iran's nuclear facilities, would include communications systems; air defense and missile sites; Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities; munitions storage facilities, including those for sea mines (remember the Strait of Hormuz); airfields and aircraft facilities; and ship and port facilities, including midget submarines, missile boats and minelayers.
Aircraft employed would include B-2 stealth and B-52 bombers, fighter-bombers and helicopters, along with ship-launched cruise missiles. "Special Forces and intelligence personnel already in-theater can easily move to protect key assets or perform covert operations," according to the report.
4) Sen. Wyden Seeks Opinion Used In Al-Awlaki Killing
Pete Yost, Associated Press, February 9, 2012
Washington - A Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday that he, like the public, is being kept in the dark about Justice Department legal advice on when the U.S. may kill American citizens abroad who are suspected terrorists.
Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon says he's been trying for more than a year to get the legal analysis from the intelligence community without success. He is renewing his request four months after American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and a second American, Samir Khan, were killed by a CIA air strike in Yemen.
Newsweek magazine said two weeks ago that the Obama administration was planning to reveal publicly the legal reasoning behind its decision to kill al-Awlaki. To date, the administration has not done so.
5) India Explores Economic Opportunities in Iran, Denting Western Sanctions Plan
Rick Gladstone, New York Times, February 9, 2012
India emerged as a major new irritant on Thursday in Western efforts to isolate Iran, announcing that it was sending a large trade delegation there within weeks to exploit opportunities created by the American and European antinuclear sanctions that are increasingly disrupting Iran's economy.
The trade delegation announcement coincided with new reports that India, an important consumer of Iranian oil, had eclipsed China for the first time as Iran's No. 1 petroleum customer last month, subverting efforts by the United States to persuade other countries to find non-Iranian sources for their energy needs or risk onerous penalties under a new American sanctions law.
The announcement also came ahead of a planned visit to India by Herman Van Rompuy, the European Union president, who was quoted in an interview with The Times of India as saying that he intended to seek the Indian government's help in pressing Iran to give up its nuclear program.
It was unclear whether Mr. Rompuy knew at the time of the interview that India's commerce secretary, Rahul Khullar, was about to announce a big economic push into Iran that could serve to counteract the effects of the very sanctions Mr. Rompuy has helped to promote.
"We will be mounting a mission to Iran at the end of the month to promote our own exports," Mr. Khullar told reporters in New Delhi, according to Indian and Western accounts of his news conference. "A huge delegation will be going."
In what amounted to a rejection of an underlying motive in the American-European sanction effort, Mr. Khullar said India already was honoring the four rounds of United Nations sanctions aimed at dissuading Iran from its uranium enrichment program. Those sanctions, he told reporters, do not apply to "a vast range of products which India can export to Iran."
Even if the United States and European Union wished to shun business with Iran, Mr. Khullar said, "Tell me why I should follow suit?"
"Why shouldn't I take up that business opportunity?" he asked.
The American and European sanctions are primarily aimed at Iran's central bank and oil industry. But they have begun to cause shortages, inflation and payment problems in Iran for a variety of other commodities by preventing Iran from making shipping, insurance and finance arrangements for imports.
The sanctions already had caused India and Iran difficulties on how to bypass new banking obstacles that had prevented India from paying Iran's oil bills.
In addition to the trade delegation news, the Indian newspaper The Economic Times reported Thursday that the Indian government had proposed a barter with Iran in which India would pay for some Iranian oil with Indian wheat. And Reuters reported that Iran was willing to accept rupees instead of dollars, the standard currency in oil transactions, for nearly half of the roughly $11 billion worth of oil that India buys from Iran annually.
India's attitude was welcomed by Iran, which has denied Western accusations that its uranium enrichment efforts mask a weapons program and has called the sanctions an attempt to bully the Iranian people into surrendering their legitimate right to peaceful nuclear energy.
Iranian news agencies prominently reported Thursday that Iran's crude exports to India had increased to 550,000 barrels a day in January, partly offsetting a reduction by China, which has long been Iran's top buyer, to 250,000 barrels a day. Those figures, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, showed that India was "ignoring recent sanctions imposed by the U.S. and E.U. on importing Iran oil," the semiofficial Fars News Agency said.
Iran economic experts said the proposed India-Iran barter arrangement might be replicated by Iran and its other trading partners as a way to bypass the Western sanctions, particularly those that affect the payment abilities of Iran's central bank. "Iran will barter oil for food, oil for cars," said Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, an economist at Virginia Tech University. "They will find ways."
6) Hamas drifting away from longtime patron Iran
Brian Murphy, Associated Press, February 9, 2012
Gaza City, Gaza Strip - Hamas appears to be drifting away from its longtime patron Iran - part of a shift that began with last year's Arab Spring and accelerated over Tehran's backing of the pariah regime in Syria.
The movement's top leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal, wants Hamas to be part of the broader Islamist political rise triggered by the popular uprisings sweeping across the Arab world. For this, Hamas needs new friends like the wealthy Gulf states that are at odds with Iran.
For now, Hamas won't cut ties with Iran or close its headquarters-in-exile in the Syrian capital of Damascus, officials in the movement said. However, relations have become increasingly strained.
Hamas has reduced its presence in Iran-allied Damascus in response to Syrian President Bashar Assad's brutal crackdown on a popular uprising against him. Hamas also rejected Iran's demand that the group publicly side with Assad, standing firm even when Tehran delayed the monthly support payments Hamas needs to govern the Gaza Strip, according to a senior Hamas official who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.
At the same time, Hamas is increasingly relying on political and financial support from the Gulf, particularly tiny Qatar, which also has close ties to the West.
This week, Qatar brokered a breakthrough unity deal between Mashaal and his longtime rival, internationally backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. After five years of separate Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza, Abbas is now to head an interim unity government and lead the Palestinians to elections.
Qatar promised to help in case the international community will withdraw support for a transition government that - though headed by Abbas - would also be supported from the outside by Hamas.
Before the Arab Spring, Hamas had few friends in the Arab world and relied on Iranian largesse and Syrian hospitality. According to some estimates, Iran paid several hundred million dollars a year to Hamas, crucial for keeping blockaded Gaza afloat. Damascus hosted Mashaal and his decision-making political bureau which was unwanted elsewhere.
But Hamas' parent movement, the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, scored election victories after uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia last year, and is becoming influential elsewhere in the region. "The Arab Spring awakenings had a pivotal effect on Hamas' world view," said Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics. "The rise of the Islamists to power has really given Hamas a strategic depth."
However, the widened support comes with demands that the Islamists moderate and not embarrass Brotherhood branches abroad as they seek to reach out to the broadest possible audience and gain political legitimacy through elections.
Gulf countries have moved aggressively to gain new leverage and to try to undercut Iranian influence. "Hamas is moving into the Arab orbit," said Salman Shaikh, director of The Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. "This is one of the significant achievements of the Arab Spring and a reflection of how Gulf power has grown."
7) Decriminalizing Drug Use in Argentina is a Correction to Bad Policy
Daniel Politi, New York Times, February 9, 2012, 7:29 AM
Buenos Aires - "When we first started, no one would consider advertising with us," says Sebastián Basalo, the founder of THC, a magazine devoted to marijuana and its fans. (THC is the main psychoactive agent in the cannabis plant.) "Now we even get some big companies once in a while."
When a publication that coaches readers on how far to place the lamp from the reefer plant gets corporate backing, you know times are changing. Argentina is becoming more liberal on several key social issues, like same-sex marriage, which was legalized in 2010. Now the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner seems poised to back the full decriminalization of illegal drugs for personal use.
This would be a long-overdue corrective to drug-control policies that have been an utter failure. Drug use and trafficking have continued to flourish even as law enforcement has cracked down hard on small players. Around one-third of the country's prison population is made up of drug criminals, the vast majority users, small-time dealers and drug mules. Consumption nonetheless is on the rise. In 2010, some 3.5 percent of Argentinians said they had smoked marijuana over the previous year, up from 1.9 percent in 2004. In 2009, almost 10 percent of high-school students reported using illegal drugs over the previous year, compared with just above five percent in 2001.
Decriminalizing personal use would both advance individual freedom and unclog Argentina's notoriously slow judicial system. It would also free up resources for drug education, which is practically nonexistent today, and for tackling the real scourges of trafficking and addiction. It might even serve as an example for other countries in the region: except for Uruguay, where possession is not criminalized, most imprison too many people without putting a dent in the supply chain.
In December, Kirchner appointed the former foreign minister Rafael Bielsa as the new head of SEDRONAR, the government agency responsible for combating drug addiction and trafficking. Bielsa replaces the antagonistic José Granero, who spent more than seven years opposing any suggestion of decriminalization even after the Supreme Court held unanimously in 2009 that penalizing drug possession for personal use violated one's constitutional right to privacy if it harmed no other party.
Bielsa faces a system that is grossly inefficient. Since the Supreme Court ruling, most judges throw out small-time drug cases, but the police keep making arrests. Around 70 percent (pdf) of all drug cases concern personal use. Sometimes suspects are in pretrial detention for weeks. The penalties are still too high, especially for minor offenses: one to six years in prison for possession alone (without consumption) and three to 15 years for growing marijuana, compared with four to 15 years for trafficking.
The current approach is also out of step with changing realities. Cocaine labs have cropped up, and Argentina is increasingly becoming a land of big traffickers, an important transit point between producers in Bolivia and Peru and consumers in Europe.
Several bills to decriminalize drug possession for personal use have been presented in Congress over the past year or so. Following Kirchner's overwhelming reelection victory this autumn, which also gave her control of Congress, anything she backs will almost certainly win approval. But she has yet to express a full opinion beyond saying she doesn't want addicts to be treated as criminals and allowing, during her previous term, her then-Cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernández to publicly advocate decriminalization. Bielsa has also been mum, but he is expected to go the way the government wind seems to be blowing these days.
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