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December 14, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Iranian Scientist Who Vanished "Gave Nuclear Secrets" to UN Inspectors Sent to Qom Site - Philip Sherwell and Peter Allen (Sunday Telegraph-UK)
    An Iranian scientist who vanished six months ago has revealed secrets of his country's nuclear program to international weapons inspectors, the Sunday Telegraph has learned.
    Shahram Amiri briefed UN nuclear monitors in a clandestine meeting at Frankfurt airport just hours before they flew to Iran to inspect a hidden uranium enrichment plant, according to French intelligence sources.
    An award-winning atomic physicist, Amiri had worked at the heavily-guarded underground site at Qom. He disappeared after arriving in Saudi Arabia for a pilgrimage in May and defected in an elaborate international cloak-and-dagger operation coordinated by the CIA.
    Heads have rolled at Iran's nuclear counter-espionage agency since his loss, and the foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, raised his case in a private meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
    Iran has now linked the fate of three American hikers detained in Iran since July with a list of Iranian citizens, including Amiri, who Tehran alleges are being held by the U.S.
    The CIA launched a secret program, dubbed "the Brain Drain," in 2005 designed to undermine Iran's nuclear program by persuading key officials to defect.
    In the biggest previous coup, Revolutionary Guards general Ali Reza Asgari, the deputy defense minister, vanished on a trip to Turkey in 2007.

Hamas Warns Against PA Collaboration with Christians - Mati Steinberg (Ha'aretz)
    A group of Hamas prisoners held in Israel have published a study on Hamas websites entitled, "The Detention Philosophy of the Abbas-Dayton Security Apparatuses and Methods of Dealing with Them," based on their own personal experience and debriefings and interviews they conducted among their fellow Hamas members in jail.
    The 61-page document details the widespread efforts of Palestinian Authority groups to apprehend Hamas activists in the West Bank: surveillance, detentions, psychological warfare and interrogation methods, including temptations and torture (sometimes even to death).
    Between June 2007 and September 2009, according to the authors, there were 22,000 incidents initiated by the PA security forces against Hamas groups in the West Bank.
    The PA forces are said to collaborate with Christians, such as American general Keith Dayton. The authors of the Hamas document refer to "the Abbas-Dayton security forces" and denounce the PA rule as "a Daytonian government."
    The writer is a Middle East scholar and a former adviser to the head of the Israel Security Agency.

Iran's New Crackdown on Women - Dana Goldstein (Daily Beast)
    As part of an intensified crackdown against Iranian civil-rights activists in recent weeks, since early November at least 11 feminist leaders have been summoned to court, threatened over the phone, or banned from traveling, according to the One Million Signatures Campaign, a national effort by Iranian feminists to collect 1 million signatures on a petition demanding an end to discrimination against women.
    Last month, Iranian state television ran a documentary attacking the women's rights movement, and on Dec. 2, female TV announcers were barred from wearing any makeup on air.
    On Dec. 6, amid widespread student protests, more than ten women were arrested at a weekly rally of mothers whose children were killed during protests of the disputed June 12 presidential election.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Iran's Nuclear Trigger Exposed - Catherine Philp
    Confidential intelligence documents show that Iran is working on testing a key final component of a nuclear bomb. The notes, from Iran's most sensitive military nuclear project, describe a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the component that triggers an explosion. Foreign intelligence agencies date the notes to early 2007, four years after Iran was thought to have suspended its weapons program. The document describes the use of a neutron source, uranium deuteride, which independent experts confirm has no possible civilian or military use other than in a nuclear weapon. Uranium deuteride is the material used in Pakistan's bomb, from where Iran obtained its blueprint.
        Mark Fitzpatrick, senior fellow for non-proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said: "The most shattering conclusion is that, if this was an effort that began in 2007, it could be a casus belli. If Iran is working on weapons, it means there is no diplomatic solution." Experts say that, if the 2007 date is correct, the documents are the strongest indicator yet of a continuing nuclear weapons program in Iran. Fitzpatrick said: "Is this the smoking gun? That's the question people should be asking. It looks like the smoking gun. This is smoking uranium."  (Times-UK)
  • Obama Administration to Target Dozens of IRGC Front Companies in Effort to Squeeze Iran - Michael Hirsh and Michael Isikoff
    The Obama administration has approved an aggressive plan to ratchet up sanctions on Iran in an effort to squeeze that country's economy, a senior administration official told Newsweek. The centerpiece of the plan calls for the Treasury Department to target front companies of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). "It's important for Obama that the United States do exactly what it says it's going to do," says the senior official. "We said at the end of the year we would turn to sanctions" if diplomacy to put an end to Iran's nuclear program didn't produce results. "We tried the engagement route," the official said.
        Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, noted that the IRGC's business interests have been steadily taking over Iran's economy. (Newsweek)
        See also Obama's Enforcer - Michael Hirsh and Michael Isikoff (Newsweek)
  • Iran Avows Willingness to Swap Some Uranium - Robert F. Worth
    Iran's foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Saturday that his country was willing to exchange most of its uranium for processed nuclear fuel from abroad - as the UN has proposed - but only according to a timetable that Western powers appear to have already rejected. The statement may be aimed at trying to divide the U.S. and its allies just days before a scheduled meeting to discuss possible new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. A senior Obama administration official said Saturday that the Iranian statement did not appear to be consistent with the agreement proposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, in consultation with the U.S., Russia and France. (New York Times)
  • Syrian Move Against Israel Defeated at UN - Peter James Spielmann
    After Israel was chosen last month to oversee global efforts to end the trade in "blood diamonds" that stokes guerrilla wars, Syria asked the UN General Assembly on Friday to delete any mention of Israel's leadership role. The U.S., Canada and Israel challenged the Syrian parliamentary maneuver and the General Assembly voted to defeat the Syrian amendment 90-6, with 18 abstentions. Iran and North Korea joined Syria and some Arab nations in voting against Israel.
        Syria had objected to a passing reference near the end of the six-page resolution that simply noted that nations involved in the Kimberley Process "selected Israel to chair" their efforts in 2010. Israel is a global trading center for rough diamonds, and was among the founders of the Kimberley Process to cut the trade in "conflict diamonds."  (AP)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • U.S. Army Installs Underground Monitoring System on Gaza-Egypt Border
    In recent months, U.S. army engineers have moved forward on a two-phase, multimillion-dollar project to stop the flow of weapons and money into Gaza from Egypt. The first stage includes the installation of below-ground, state-of-the-art sensors capable of detecting sound or movement. U.S. experts began the process about one year ago, and it is nearing completion. The sensors are about the size of a human fist, planted inside pipes 15 meters deep.
        While U.S. military engineers are responsible for monitoring the sensors, U.S. forces have kept the Israeli side informed about any detected movement, despite that the entire operation is conducted on Egyptian soil. Cairo is hesitant about the second stage of the project, the installation of a steel wall underneath the border. (Maan News-PA)
  • PA Bans Hamas Anniversary Celebrations in West Bank - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Hundreds of Hamas activists and supporters in the West Bank have been summoned by the Palestinian Authority security forces and requested to sign a pledge to refrain from publicly celebrating the 22nd anniversary of the founding of Hamas on Monday. A PA security official in Ramallah noted that such celebrations have been banned for the past four years. He said that altogether, about 1,500 men and women have been warned. A Hamas legislator in the West Bank said PA security forces have also arrested dozens of Hamas supporters over the past few days. For the past three years Hamas in Gaza has banned Fatah from holding celebrations marking the anniversary of its founding. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Hamas: "Palestine - From the River to the Sea"
    As Hamas was marking its 22nd anniversary in Gaza City, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya said that, "God willing, Hamas will celebrate its next anniversary in Jerusalem," and added that "the Palestinians, generation after generation, will always seek the liberation of Palestine, from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea."  (IMEMC-PA)
  • Palestinian Wounds Israeli Woman in West Bank Stabbing - Chaim Levinson
    An Israeli woman, 20, was moderately wounded on Saturday evening when a Palestinian stabbed her in her back while she was waiting at a bus stop at the Gush Etzion junction in the West Bank. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Two Palestinians with Explosives Stopped at West Bank Checkpoint - Hanan Greenberg
    Israel Defense Forces soldiers detained two Palestinians carrying an improvised explosive device and a shock grenade who approached a checkpoint southeast of the West Bank city of Nablus on Sunday. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • With Gaza Cease-Fire, South Israel Blossoms - Aron Heller
    The three-week Israeli campaign in Gaza launched on Dec. 27 drew harsh international condemnation and threats of war crimes prosecutions. But most Israelis see it as the only means they had of ending eight years of rocket attacks on Nahal Oz and other nearby towns and villages. Until less than a year ago, Nahal Oz was a place to stay away from or risk being hit by rockets from neighboring Gaza. Since then, 10 new families have moved in. This used to be a place where few days passed without people having to dash to air-raid shelters. Now, it's a quiet village with open spaces, down-to-earth neighbors and affordable housing. The only thing heard from Gaza these days is calls to prayer at the mosques in Gaza City. (AP/Washington Post)
  • NGOs: Hamas Disinters Christians in Gaza - Matthew Wagner
    Every three minutes a Christian is being tortured in the Muslim world, and in 2009 more than 165,000 Christians will have been killed because of their faith, most of them in Muslim countries, according to a human rights group visiting Israel. "Hamas digs up the bodies of Christians from Christian burial sites in the Gaza Strip claiming that they pollute the earth," said Rev. Majed El Shafie, 32, an Egyptian-born Christian and President of One Free World International (OFWI), who heads a delegation of human rights activists, members of parliament from Canada and religious personalities visiting Israel for a conference on human rights and persecuted minorities at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. El Shafie said that some 200-300 million Christians are being persecuted in the world, 80% of whom lived in Muslim countries. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Observations:

    Only Much Harsher Sanctions Can Halt Iran Nuclear Program - Ephraim Kam (Ha'aretz)

    • By rejecting the P5+1 offer, the Iranian regime has placed itself in a difficult position and played into the hands of the American administration. The country is perceived as having torpedoed the dialogue initiated by Washington, thereby signaling that reaching an agreement with it on its nuclear program is out of the question. Rejection of the deal by Iran has also made an opponent of Russia, which had previously blocked efforts to impose sanctions on the country, but has now expressed readiness to join those efforts.
    • As the level of international confidence in Iran's behavior was steadily sinking, President Ahmadinejad proceeded to pour fuel on the fire with the publication of a number of harsh statements. The dominant mood within the Iranian leadership at present is one of a lack of faith in the intentions of the Obama administration, a reluctance to enter into a genuine dialogue with it, and suspicion that Washington would not have carried out its part in the uranium deal if Iran had adopted it.
    • There is a definite chance that the Americans will mobilize international support - including that of Russia and China - for the imposition of a new round of sanctions against Iran, but the prospects are that they will not be very far reaching, and in such circumstances Iran sees no need to give in, as long as it attains its strategic goal: achieving nuclear weapons capability.
    • If Iran is to be stopped, two conditions need to be met: Much harsher sanctions must be imposed, and the Iranians must believe they truly face the threat of a military operation if they do not suspend their nuclear program. At present, neither of these conditions sufficiently exists.

      Col. (res.) Ephraim Kam, Ph.D., formerly of the IDF Military Intelligence research division, is deputy head of the Institute for National Security Studies.

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