JFP 2/29:U.S. says Iran would hit U.S. for Israel strike; Israelis oppose strike w/o U.S. backing

Just Foreign Policy News, February 29, 2012
U.S. says Iran would hit U.S. for Israel strike;
Israelis oppose strike w/o U.S. backing

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Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

*Action: Help Keith Ellison & Walter Jones Stand Up for Diplomatic Engagement with Iran
Ellison and Jones are circulating a letter to their colleagues urging that the U.S. step up diplomatic efforts to achieve agreements with Iran over its disputed nuclear program. Ask your Rep. to sign the Ellison-Jones letter.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/ellison-jones

Keith Ellison and Walter Jones Stand Up for Diplomatic Engagement with Iran
Largely missing from the recent political debate, until now, has been a full-throated defense of diplomatic engagement with Iran towards negotiated agreements that would resolve or mitigate international concerns about its disputed nuclear program.
http://www.truth-out.org/keith-ellison-and-walter-jones-stand-diplomatic-engagement-iran/1330367025

FT: US determined to keep grip on WB pres; Jeff Sachs throws his hat in the ring
"Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, is the only prominent person to declare his interest in the job. Mr Sachs is known for his advocacy for more development aid and his Millennium Villages development project in Africa."
Other items: Summers appointment would face opposition from other countries; potential developing country candidates say US stance discouraging non-US candidates from even running; WB insiders believe Hillary disavowal is real; Geithner says not interested; Kerry more interested in SecState.
http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/f85f7d5e-6227-11e1-820b-00144feabdc0.html
[behind FT paywall, but you can find the article with a web search on the title.]

Malou Innocent (CATO): It's Time to Cut Our Losses in Afghanistan
The mayhem unleashed after the burning of Korans at a U.S. base outside of Kabul has likely irreparably damaged the U.S. training mission in Afghanistan. Washington's policy must now shift dramatically toward an expedited withdrawal.
http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-skeptics/it%E2%80%99s-time-cut-our-losses-afghanistan-6580

Glenn Greenwald: Gen. McCaffrey privately briefs NBC execs on war with Iran
NBC "consults" with retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey - key subject of an NYT expose on Pentagon contactors' influence in the media - who pitches them on alarmist views concerning the threat from Iran. Despite the ways that McCaffrey would economically benefit from war, NBC continues to present McCaffrey to its viewers as some sort of objective analyst.
http://www.salon.com/2012/02/28/gen_mccaffrey_privately_briefs_nbc_execs_on_war_with_iran/singleton/

March 2: Occupy AIPAC
Under the banner of Occupy AIPAC, this long weekend will include a policy summit with panels on Iran, the Arab uprisings, Palestine/Israel and AIPAC, film screenings, mass protests, a teach-in on diplomacy and alternatives to war, creative actions, a cultural night, workshops, and a Capitol Hill policy briefing on the impact of U.S. military aid to Israel on Palestinians.
http://www.occupyaipac.org/

II) Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) U.S. officials who have assessed likely Iranian responses to any attack by Israel on its nuclear program believe Iran would retaliate by launching missiles on Israel and terrorist-style attacks on U.S. civilian and military personnel overseas, the New York Times reports. The Iranian targets, American analysts believe, would include petroleum infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, and American troops in Afghanistan.

2) A new poll shows Israelis don't support an Israeli strike on Iran without U.S. backing, writes Shibley Telhami in Politico. Only 19 percent of Israelis polled expressed support for an attack without U.S. backing. The poll suggests not that Israelis fear U.S. retaliation, but that they share U.S. skepticism of Israeli government representations that a military strike would be effective and not costly, Telhami argues.

3) The White House indicated that President Obama would resist pressure for a tougher Iran policy coming from Israel and some U.S. lawmakers who argue that Iran should not be allowed to acquire even the capability to eventually develop a nuclear weapon, the Los Angeles Times reports. [When the article describes the Graham-Lieberman resolution, the LAT understates how extreme it is, by accepting Lieberman's description of what the resolution does, claiming it is about not accepting an Iran with nuclear weapons, when in fact it is about not accepting an Iran with nuclear weapons "capability." The LAT got the distinction right in describing the difference between the Israeli government position and the U.S. government position, but the Graham-Lieberman resolution *is* the Israeli government position - JFP.]

4) At the news conference on the Graham-Lieberman bill, Lieberman admitted that "nuclear weapons capability" is in the eye of the beholder, TPM notes. "I guess everybody will determine for themselves what that means," Lieberman said.

5) Former Reagan budget director David Stockman says speculators are driving up the price of oil based on fear of war with Iran and the way to stop that is to stop the warmongering, Crooks and Liars reports. "I think you can address this decisively by stop beating the war drums right now. And Obama could do that, and he could say the neocons are history," Stockman said.

6) Brazil's foreign minister Antonio Patriota, made a courageous and very important statement when he asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to weigh in on the legality of a threatened military strike against Iran, writes Mark Weisbrot in Folha de São Paulo. Weisbrot suggests that Brazil and other countries should go further and say in advance what steps they might take in the event of such a strike, such as cutting diplomatic relations or reviewing commercial ties, in order to deter such an attack.

Egypt
7) Egyptian officials said Wednesday that they would lift a travel ban barring seven Americans from leaving the country, the New York Times reports. Secretary of State Clinton said she hoped the matter would be "resolved shortly," thus avoiding any withholding of American military assistance under new restrictions set by Congress, the NYT says. [The restrictions authored by Sen. Leahy make U.S. military aid contingent on progress to democracy, not on the outcome of this court case, so it's not obvious why resolution of the case should allow U.S. military aid to go forward - JFP.]

Syria
8) Shiites in Iraq regard the Syrian rebels as terrorists, not freedom fighters, the New York Times reports. Assad retains support from religious and ethnic minorities who rely on the police state for protection from sectarian aggression, the NYT notes.

As Western and Arab governments consider actions to stop the bloodshed, those discussions have been encumbered by a lack of cohesion among the Syrian opposition, evidence that some of the rebels may be affiliated with Al Qaeda and credible reports of sectarian killings, the NYT notes.

"Christians are all saying that Syria risks becoming the new Iraq, a country divided among ethnic and religious lines where there is no place for Christians," said the Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, the editor in chief of AsiaNews, a Catholic news agency. Syria, while not a democracy, "at least protects them," he said.

One refugee from Homs recalled hearing sectarian slogans chanted in Homs by rebels. He heard calls for "Christians to go to Beirut," and "Alawites to the grave."

Iran
9) Iranian IAEA envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh said Iran has not ruled out the possibility of allowing UN inspectors to examine site suspected of nuclear weapons activity, but is waiting for an agreement with an IAEA that would govern the inspections, Haaretz reports. [This pretty much totally vindicates Gareth Porter's IPS article in which he argued that US media were getting it wrong in by saying that Iran had blocked access to the site - JFP.]

Israel/Palestine
10) Israeli troops raided two Palestinian television stations in Ramallah, confiscating transmitters, computer hard drives and documents and eliciting angry condemnations from the Palestinian Authority, the New York Times reports. The Palestinian Authority said it had received no warning and that the stations were guilty of no violations. "We are an educational television station, which puts on 'Sesame Street,' antismoking programs and broadcasts to help integrate handicapped children into the community," said Lucy Nusseibeh, director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University, which operates one of the stations.

Honduras
11) Honduran prisons are overcrowded, but not because there are too many criminals, writes Adrienne Pine in the San Francisco Chronicle. They are overcrowded because a majority of prisoners have languished for years in prison without having gone to trial, and because of so-called "antigang" and "antiterrorist" laws that criminalize poverty and dissent. U.S. funding for repressive institutions is not the solution, Pine argues. Honduran human rights workers are calling on the United States to withdraw military and police aid to the Honduran government, Pine notes.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) U.S. Sees Iran Attacks as Likely if Israel Strikes
Thom Shanker, Helene Cooper and Ethan Bronner, New York Times, February 29, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/world/middleeast/us-sees-iran-attacks-as-likely-if-israel-strikes.html

Washington - American officials who have assessed the likely Iranian responses to any attack by Israel on its nuclear program believe that Iran would retaliate by launching missiles on Israel and terrorist-style attacks on United States civilian and military personnel overseas.

While a missile retaliation against Israel would be virtually certain, according to these assessments, Iran would also be likely to try to calibrate its response against American targets so as not to give the United States a rationale for taking military action that could permanently cripple Tehran's nuclear program. "The Iranians have been pretty good masters of escalation control," said Gen. James E. Cartwright, now retired, who as the top officer at Strategic Command and as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff participated in war games involving both deterrence and retaliation on potential adversaries like Iran.

The Iranian targets, General Cartwright and other American analysts believe, would include petroleum infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, and American troops in Afghanistan, where Iran has been accused of shipping explosives to local insurgent forces.

Both American and Israeli officials who discussed current thinking on the potential ramifications of an Israeli attack believe that the last thing Iran would want is a full-scale war on its territory. Their analysis, however, also includes the broad caveat that it is impossible to know the internal thinking of the senior leadership in Tehran, and is informed by the awareness that even the most detailed war games cannot predict how nations and their leaders will react in the heat of conflict. Yet such assessments are not just intellectual exercises. Any conclusions on how the Iranians will react to an attack will help determine whether the Israelis launch a strike - and what the American position will be if they do.

While evidence suggests that Iran continues to make progress toward a nuclear weapons program, American intelligence officials believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb. But the possibility that Israel will launch a pre-emptive strike has become a focus of American policy makers and is expected to be a primary topic when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel meets with President Obama at the White House on Monday.
[...]

2) Do Israelis support a strike on Iran?
Shibley Telhami, Politico, February 28, 2012 09:56 PM EST
http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0212/73390.html

[Telhami is Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland and nonresident senior fellow at the Saban Center of Brookings.]

When President Barack Obama meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington next week, Iran's nuclear program is likely to top their agenda. With increasing signals that Israel may be contemplating a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, the United States and its European allies have made no secret of their opposition.

In the face of this mounting public disapproval, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared that the issue is no one else's business and that the allies' opposition won't influence Israel's decision. But how do the Israeli people feel?

They don't support a strike without U.S. backing, a new poll shows, even though they are not fearful of Washington's retribution if they go against U.S. advice. They appear less influenced by the rhetoric of U.S. politicians competing for their embrace, and contrary to conventional wisdom, the Obama administration's reluctance to support a military strike against Iran has apparently not affected their preference for Obama as the next president. In fact, their views seem to partly reflect the White House's assessment of the consequences of war and the problems created by military action.

Only 19 percent of Israelis polled expressed support for an attack without U.S. backing, according to a poll I conducted - fielded by Israel's Dahaf Institute Feb. 22-26 - while 42 percent endorsed a strike only if there is at least U.S. support, and 32 percent opposed an attack regardless.

This does not appear to be because of Israeli worries about potential American punishment. In fact, Israelis remain confident the U.S. would support them, at least diplomatically (38 percent), or join the war on Israel's behalf (27 percent) - even if Israel struck Iran without Washington's approval. Only 15 percent expect reduced American support. What seems behind these attitudes is an assessment of the consequences of an Israeli attack.

A majority of Israelis polled, roughly 51 percent, said the war would last months (29 percent) or years (22 percent), while only 18 percent said it would last days. About as many Israelis, 44 percent, think that an Israeli strike would actually strengthen Iran's government as think it would weaken it (45 percent).

Two-thirds of Israelis, meanwhile, believe Hezbollah would most likely join Iran in retaliation against Israel - even if Israel did not strike Hezbollah forces. An additional 27 percent believe Hezbollah would join only if attacked.

What would be the outcome for Iran's nuclear program? Only 22 percent of Israelis said a strike would delay Iran's capabilities by more than five years, while an additional 31 percent said it would delay its capabilities by one to five years, 18 percent said it would not make a difference and 11 percent said it would actually accelerate Iran's capabilities. In a similar poll I conducted (also with Dahaf) last November, 90 percent of Israelis expressed the view that Iran will eventually acquire nuclear weapons.

Since the Israeli public appears not fearful of losing U.S. backing if Israel strikes without a green light from Washington, these results are probably related to the lack of confidence in the Israeli government's own assessment of the consequences of an attack. If U.S. and European allies have a different estimate of the likely results of a strike, the Israeli public, in turn, has less confidence in its own government's evaluation.
[...]
What does all this add up to? Contrary to the current discourse in our presidential elections, the Israeli public is neither enthusiastic about the prospect of war with Iran nor swayed by the seeming embrace of Israel by our GOP presidential candidates.
[...]

3) Obama likely to resist pressure to further toughen Iran stance
The Israelis, along with GOP presidential hopefuls and senators and some hawkish Democrats, want Obama to keep Iran from potentially building a nuclear weapon.
Paul Richter and Christi Parsons, Los Angeles Times, February 28, 2012, 6:06 p.m.
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-us-iran-20120228,0,6892812.story

Washington- The White House indicated Tuesday that President Obama would resist pressure for a tougher Iran policy coming from Israel and some U.S. lawmakers who argue that Tehran should not be allowed to acquire even the capability to eventually develop a nuclear weapon.

The push to toughen the administration's policy comes ahead of a visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As part of the war of nerves that the U.S. and Israel are conducting with Iran - and to some extent with each other - Netanyahu's government has broadly hinted at using airstrikes against Iran's nuclear sites should it determine that Tehran had developed the scientific knowledge and industrial means to build a nuclear bomb.

That is a lower threshold than the Obama administration's so-called red line of preventing Iran from building a nuclear device. Senior Pentagon and intelligence officials have told Congress that it would take Iran several years to build a deliverable bomb, and that they don't believe Iran's leaders have decided to do so.

Several countries have the capability to build a weapon but have never crossed the line of trying to assemble one.

The Israelis, along with Republican presidential hopefuls, GOP senators and some hawkish Democrats, want Obama to move toward that Israeli position. They all believe he is politically vulnerable to charges of being weak on Iran and have stepped up their pressure in recent days as Obama prepares for his meeting with Netanyahu and a speech he is scheduled to give Sunday to the country's largest pro-Israel lobbying group.

On Tuesday, however, White House officials said Obama would not make any public policy shift. Senior officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic moves, left open the question of whether the president might add new details on U.S. policy against Iran in his private conversations with Netanyahu.
[...]
When Iran signaled last week that it might resume negotiations on its nuclear program, 12 members of the Senate sent Obama a letter warning that Tehran should not be allowed to buy time with fruitless talks. They pressed the president to insist that Iran suspend enrichment of uranium before any talks start.

Iran refused to suspend enrichment during previous negotiations, so the precondition could doom a parlay before it begins and increase the risks of a military confrontation.

Another move this month came when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and 37 other senators, almost half of them Democrats, cosponsored a resolution that would declare "containment" cannot be U.S. policy on Iran.

The lawmakers worry that the White House would rely on containment - military deterrence and enforced isolation - rather than a military attack if Iran gets a nuclear bomb.

[The LAT understates the extremity of the Graham-Lieberman resolution: it seeks to bar "containment" of a nuclear weapons - *capable* Iran. The LAT got the distinction right earlier in the article in describing the Israeli government position; the Graham-Lieberman resolution *is* the Israeli government position - JFP.]
[...]
Critics of the Senate resolution fear it might later be cited as congressional authorization for a war with Iran. Some Democrats sought to amend the language to clarify that it was not intended to imply consent for war, but the sponsors rejected the suggestion.
[...]
Whether Americans would support a war with Iran, after a decade of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a matter of partisan debate.

Hawks point to a recent Pew Research Center poll indicating that 58% of Americans would support military action if necessary to halt an Iranian nuclear program. Pew has reported similar findings back to 2009.

But doves argue that the finding reflects a mistaken belief that a quick military campaign could eliminate the danger. They predict that public support will fade as people become aware that an attack on Iran could spark a broader Mideast war, cause oil prices to rise and lead to a global recession.
[...]

["Doves" also note that supporting military action "if necessary" - that is, if diplomacy "fails" to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, which the U.S. says Iran is not now doing - is not at all the same thing as supporting military action *now*, which is what the "hawks" want - JFP.]

4) Senators Promise War With 'Nuclear Capable' Iran, Don't Define 'Capable'
Ryan J. Reilly, Talking Points Memo, February 16, 2012, 4:20 PM 4102 187
http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/02/senators-promise-war-with-nuclear-capable-iran-dont-define-capable.php

A bipartisan coalition of senators essentially promised Thursday that the U.S. would take military action against Iran if they become capable of producing nuclear weapons. Just don't ask them to define "capable."

Thirty-two senators have signed on to sponsor the six-page resolution that "rejects any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran." Some believe it amounts to a promise that the U.S. would use force against Iran if they become capable of producing nuclear weapons, though what precisely "capable" means is up in the air.

"I guess everybody will determine for themselves what that means," Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) said at a news conference on the Capitol Hill. "But to me, nuclear weapons capability means that they have crossed a red line and they're capable of producing a nuclear weapon. In other words, they have all the components necessary to do that. It is a standard that in my opinion is more real, and perhaps in some sense it's higher than saying the red line is when they actually have the nuclear weapons."
[...]

5) David Stockman: If You Want to Address Gas Prices, 'Stop Beating the War Drums Right Now'
Heather On, Crooks and Liars, February 26, 2012 11:38 AM
http://videocafe.crooksandliars.com/heather/david-stockman-if-you-want-address-gas-pri

This was a breath of fresh air rather than the usual nonsense we're hearing from Republicans with more "drill baby drill" as a way to control the price of oil and gasoline we're seeing rise again right now. From Fareed Zakaria GPS, former Reagan budget director David Stockman hit the nail on the head; stop with the warmongering and threatening Iran.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that's - what do you think will happen with oil? Because the demand certainly doesn't justify $105 barrel oil. I mean, China is -

STOCKMAN: I think you can address this decisively by stop beating the war drums right now. And Obama could do that, and he could say the neocons are history.

The policy that they're talking about right now is the same thing we heard in 2001, 2002, and 2003. And he needs to clearly say that we're not going to attack Iran. We're not going to permit Israel to attack Iran. They are not part of the axis of evil. They're part of the axis of medieval.

In other words, these are backward people that aren't going to threaten the western world, and we need to get into a serious process of negotiation. If we do that, the price of oil will drop $30 within a few months, and all the speculators who are on the wrong side of the ship would learn a good lesson.

But as long as the war drums continue to beat, as they are now, we're going to see this kind of speculative fraud. It's not real. It's not supply and demand world today.
[...]

6) Brazil Takes the Lead In Trying to Prevent Another Senseless War
Mark Weisbrot, Folha de São Paulo (Brazil), February 28, 2012
http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/brazil-takes-the-lead-in-trying-to-prevent-another-senseless-war

Brazil's foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, made a courageous and very important statement last week about the rising threat of a military attack on Iran. He asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to weigh in on the legality of a threatened military strike against Iran. "One sometimes hears the expression, 'all options are on the table.' But some actions are contrary to international law," said Patriota.

The people who keep saying "all options are on the table," with respect to Iran, include various U.S. and Israeli officials, and most importantly President Obama himself.

And everyone knows what they mean when they say "all options are on the table": they reserve the "right" to bomb Iran if they don't get what they want through non-military means, including economic sanctions.

But such an action would indeed be "contrary to law," as Patriota suggested. In fact, it is a very serious crime under international law, and a clear violation of the United Nations Charter (Article 2). Even threatening to use military force against another UN member state – which President Obama and the Israeli government have done-- is a violation of the UN Charter.

Here in the United States, the media – especially the biggest TV and radio media that have the largest audience – have been producing war propaganda about the "threat" from Iran, in a virtual replay of the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The U.S. Congress, led by neoconservatives and the AIPAC (Israel) lobby, has been pushing to cut off diplomatic solutions. A resolution currently before the U.S. Senate would encourage military action against Iran for merely having the "capability" to produce a nuclear weapon – something that Brazil, Argentina, Japan, and other countries with peaceful nuclear energy programs already have.
[...]
It is vitally important that nations who have an interest in maintaining the peace, and in a world more governed by international treaties and diplomacy – rather than by force – speak up, as Brazil has now done, before a war begins.

Patriota's statement is very important. There is much more that can be done. Brazil could work with the BRICS grouping (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations) to get further statements and commitments. These groups or their member countries could issue statements about how they would respond to a country that carries out an unprovoked military attack on Iran. For example, they could pledge to recall their ambassadors from that country; break diplomatic relations; or review their commercial relations, with a possibility of selective economic sanctions.

It's worth the effort, to prevent another unnecessary war and its inevitable atrocities.

Egypt
7) Americans From Nonprofits May Leave, Egypt Says
David D. Kirkpatrick and Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, February 29, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/01/world/middleeast/egypt-says-it-will-lift-travel-ban-allowing-accused-americans-to-leave.html

Cairo - Egyptian officials said Wednesday that they would lift a travel ban barring seven Americans from leaving the country during the criminal prosecution of four American-financed nonprofit groups here, apparently resolving a crisis that threatened to upend a 30-year alliance between Cairo and Washington.

The announcement follows weeks of increasingly tense diplomatic wrangling between Egypt and the United States as Egyptian officials insisted they had no ability to halt the prosecution. United States officials vowed to end the $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt if the case was not resolved, and in response Egyptian parliamentary leaders warned they would review the Camp David peace treaty with Israel, a cornerstone of Washington's view of stability in the region.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, appearing before a House appropriations subcommittee, said on Wednesday that she hoped the matter would be "resolved shortly," thus avoiding any withholding of American military assistance under new restrictions set by Congress.
[...]
[The restrictions authored by Senator Leahy require that Egypt be moving toward democracy, not simply that it allow American nonprofit employees to travel pending their court case, or resolution of their court case. So it's not obvious why U.S. military aid to Egypt should now proceed - JFP.]

Syria
8) Syria's Sectarian Fears Keep Region on Edge
Tim Arango, New York Times, February 28, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/world/middleeast/syria-crisis-highlights-paradoxes-of-assad-support.html

Najaf, Iraq - Abu Ali fled his life as a Shiite cleric and student in Homs, the besieged Syrian city at the center of an increasingly bloody uprising, but it was not the government he feared.

It was the rebels, who he said killed three of his cousins in December and dumped a body in the family garbage bin.

"I can't be in Homs because I will get killed there," he said from this religious city in Iraq where he has taken refuge. "Not just me, but all Shiites."

Like his fellow Shiites in Iraq, Abu Ali, who used his nickname to protect his family back in Syria, said he regards the Syrian rebels as terrorists, not freedom fighters, underscoring one of the complexities of a bloody civil conflict that has persisted as diplomatic efforts have failed. In spite of President Bashar al-Assad's willingness to unleash a professional military on a civilian population, with lethal results, Mr. Assad retains some support at home and abroad from allies, including religious and ethnic minorities who for decades relied on the police state for protection from sectarian aggression.

"What the government is doing is trying to protect the people," Abu Ali said, echoing the Assad government's propaganda. "They are targeting terrorist groups in the area."

The insurrection in Syria, led by the country's Sunni majority in opposition to a government dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiism, is increasingly unpredictable and dangerous because it is aggravating sectarian tensions beyond its borders in a region already shaken by religious and ethnic divisions.

For many in the region, the fight in Syria is less about liberating a people under dictatorship than it is about power and self-interest. Syria is drawing in sectarian forces from its neighbors, and threatening to spill its conflict into a wider conflagration. There have already been sparks in neighboring Lebanon, where Sunnis and Alawites have skirmished.

And here in Iraq, where Shiites are a majority, the events across the border have put the nation on edge while hardening a sectarian schism. As Abu Ali discovered, Iraq's Shiites are now lined up on the side of a Baathist dictatorship in Syria, less than a decade after the American invasion of Iraq toppled the rule of Saddam Hussein and his own Baath Party, which for decades had repressed and brutalized the Shiites.

"This is difficult," said Sheik Ali Nujafi, the son of one of Najaf's top clerics and his chief spokesman, of the Shiite support for Mr. Assad. "But what is worse is what would come next."
[...]
As Western and Arab governments consider actions to stop the bloodshed - options that have been explored include more aggressive diplomacy, arming the rebels or military intervention - those discussions have been encumbered by a lack of cohesion among the Syrian opposition, evidence that some of the rebels may be affiliated with Al Qaeda and credible reports of sectarian killings.

At the core of the unity problem is an issue of sectarian identification. Sunni radicals with the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group that includes the local branch of Al Qaeda, have urged fighters to go to Syria, which makes it harder for the West to embrace the opposition. Recently the group released a statement on its Web site calling for new violence against Shiites here in Iraq, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors the communications of jihadist groups.

Syria's minorities have the example of Iraq in considering their own future, should the Assad government fall: Assyrian Christians, Yazidis and others were brutally persecuted by insurgents.
[...]
"Christians are all saying that Syria risks becoming the new Iraq, a country divided among ethnic and religious lines where there is no place for Christians," said the Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, the editor in chief of AsiaNews, a Catholic news agency. Syria, while not a democracy, "at least protects them," he said.

Abu Ali recalled hearing anti-Shiite slogans chanted in Homs by rebels in opposition to Syria's alliance with Iran, which, like Iraq, is a majority-Shiite state in a region that is predominantly Sunni. He heard calls for "Christians to go to Beirut," and "Alawites to the grave."
[...]
On this day, Syria was holding a vote on a new constitution, an effort at reform by the Assad government that much of the international community regarded as a farce, but that Abu Ali believed was a step in good faith to stop the violence.

"Of course, the government needs to reform, and there needs to be more freedom and more rights," he said. "The government is trying to make reforms, but no one is listening."

But his fear, he said, is that Syria is heading down the same bloody path that Iraq followed after the American invasion.

"In the neighborhoods that are Sunni, they are kicking out Shiites and using their homes as bases and for the storing of weapons," he said. He added, "There's real terror among the Shiites there."

Iran
9) Iran could allow UN inspection of suspected nuclear test sites, IAEA envoy says Speaking with Russian network RT, Ali Asghar Soltanieh says Iran insists that UN watchdog, Tehran reach written agreement on specific sites to be visited before giving the okay.
Haaretz, February 28, 2012
http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/iran-could-allow-un-inspection-of-suspected-nuclear-test-sites-iaea-envoy-says-1.415407

Iran does not rule out the possibility of allowing UN inspectors to examine site suspected of nuclear weapons activity, Iranian envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency said in an interview to Russian television late Monday.
[...]
Speaking to RT television late Monday, Iranian IAEA envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh indicated that the Islamic Republic could allow UN access to sites suspected of nuclear weapons activity, adding, however, that this would depend on the ability to reach a written agreement between Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog

"We are not ruling out access to military sites, including Parchin, provided that everything is [written] down," Soltanieh said, referring to an army base near Tehran referred to in a recent IAEA report

The report indicated that Iran had built a large containment chamber at Parchin military to conduct high-explosives tests. The UN agency said there were "strong indicators of possible weapon development."

According to Soltanieh, the issue was not an essential Iranian refusal to let inspectors into facilities such as Parchin, but Iran's fears that it would provide access to certain sites, only to be asked later to allow inspectors in other sites.

In the interview, Soltanieh gave the example of Iran's approval of a UN inspection of Parchin in 2005, saying that Tehran has "to have assurances that we will not repeat the same bitter experience, when they just come and ask for the access, there should be a modality, a frame of reference, of what exactly they are looking for, they have to provide the documents and exactly where they want [top go]."
[...]
"Parchin, that they have requested, this request is already in the draft, the last draft [on which] we have been working after two rounds of negotiations, therefore the name of Parchin and other activities that are related to [the] allegations are there and in principle we have already accepted that when this text is concluded we will take these steps," he said.

Referring to reports that it refused to let an IAEA delegation enter such sites during a recent visit, Soltanieh told RT that the group were not inspectors per se they were the high officials of the agency, from the legal, political, and technical departments, coming to discuss [the] modality and framework of our future work, apart from normal inspection of course."

"We were supposed to negotiate on a framework of [modality] how to proceed from now on. Since the modality was not concluded, therefore the access to places that [are] in the modality could not be, and of course will be implemented once the modality is concluded," he added.

Israel/Palestine
10) Israeli Troops Raid Palestinian TV Stations
Ethan Bronner, New York Times, February 29, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/01/world/middleeast/israeli-troops-raid-two-palestinian-tv-stations-in-ramallah.html

Jerusalem - Israeli troops raided two Palestinian television stations in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank early on Wednesday, confiscating transmitters, computer hard drives and documents and eliciting angry condemnations from the Palestinian Authority.

Officials at the two stations, Al Watan and Al-Quds Educational Television, said that officials from Israel's communications ministry accompanied by soldiers spent several hours removing the equipment and documents.

The Israeli ministry said in a statement that it had repeatedly warned both stations that they were using frequencies that violated Israeli-Palestinian agreements and that interfered with communications and transmission systems in Israel. An Israeli military spokesman said the interference was affecting airplane communication at Ben-Gurion Airport.

The Palestinian Authority replied that it had received no such warnings and that the stations were guilty of no violations.

"We are an educational television station, which puts on 'Sesame Street,' antismoking programs and broadcasts to help integrate handicapped children into the community," said Lucy Nusseibeh, director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University, which operates the station. "We have all our licenses through the Palestinian ministry of communications and are in constant touch with them. I never heard anything about Israeli complaints or warnings."
[...]
With peace negotiations suspended and the Palestinian Authority exploring reconciliation with the Islamist group Hamas, tensions have risen in the West Bank in recent weeks.

Palestinian demonstrations and incidents of stone throwing have increased, as have Israeli raids and arrests. While Israeli forces generally stay out of Palestinian cities during the day, leaving the Palestinian security forces to keep order, Israeli troops often enter the cities at night to conduct raids.

Honduras
11) U.S. foreign policy backs abusive Honduran state
Adrienne Pine, San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, February 29, 2012
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/02/28/EDOV1NDFHK.DTL

[Pine is assistant professor of anthropology at American University.]

Honduran prisons are overcrowded, but not because there are too many criminals, one of the explanations that has been given for the Valentine's Day prison fire in the city of Comayagua that killed 360 people- the worst prison fire in a century. They are overcrowded because a majority of prisoners have languished for years in prison without having gone to trial, and because of so-called "antigang" and "antiterrorist" laws passed by President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo that criminalize poverty and dissent.

In an attempt to bring a tidy end to the 2009 military coup that ousted President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya, Lobo was brought to power in a U.S.-funded election marred by military and police violence and deemed by all international election monitoring bodies to lack the conditions necessary to be free and fair. Lacking a mandate and derided by the left and right, Lobo has few friends outside the U.S. embassy in Honduras. Other than commending Lobo for his public statements following the fire, the embassy has remained relatively quiet about the Comayagua tragedy.

Honduran prisons are also unsafe, but not because they lack the latest fireproofing technology that Israel's ambassador to Honduras offered to sell the country in the wake of the inferno. They are unsafe because a culture of impunity encourages the police serving as prison guards to shoot at prisoners who try to escape flames, as occurred in Comayagua, rather than unlock their cells. Police were found to be involved in planning and executing the 2003 and 2004 massacres that killed nearly 200 inmates.

The Comayagua prison fire may have been started by accident, as the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives forensics team insists. But it was neither accident nor oversight that the Lobo administration did not implement changes ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to prevent more prison deaths. And it is no accident that the United States continues to send military and police aid to a government that violates inmates' human rights.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Defense spent more than $50 million in Honduras. Most of that went to the Soto Cano Air Base, the U.S. military base within spitting distance of the Comayagua prison. Additional hundreds of millions of dollars are being channeled through the Central American Regional Security Initiative to support initiatives like Lobo's "Operation Lightning," which deputizes soldiers to act as police officers. In the two months they have been on the streets, these military police have already been accused of numerous human rights violations.

In a Jan. 26 New York Times op-ed, Dana Frank argued that "the coup was what threw open the doors to a huge increase in drug trafficking and violence, and it unleashed a continuing wave of state-sponsored repression." Because of the coup - which Lobo supported and inherited - the homicide rate has shot up to 82 per 100,000, making Honduras the most dangerous country in the world. The solution, Frank concluded, lies not in funding repressive institutions, but in respecting proposals coming from Honduran human rights defenders who daily risk their lives in their fight for justice, dignity and life.

Honduran human rights workers assert that justice requires accountability at the highest levels for the Comayagua fire and all other human rights violations. They demand the implementation of due process for prisoners and a reworking of the penal code by a publicly accountable judiciary.

And they call on the United States to withdraw military and police aid to the Honduran government.
[...]

-

Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just Foreign Policy News is here:


http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/blog/dailynews


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