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January 26, 2010

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Report: Al-Qaeda Still Aims to Use WMD Against U.S. - Joby Warrick (Washington Post)
    A new report by former senior CIA official Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who led the agency's hunt for weapons of mass destruction (WMD), warns that al-Qaeda has not abandoned its goal of attacking the U.S. with a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon.
    He draws on his knowledge of classified case files to argue that al-Qaeda has been far more sophisticated in its pursuit of WMD than is commonly believed, pursuing parallel paths to acquiring weapons and forging alliances with groups that can offer resources and expertise.

Corruption, Profiteering Rage under Ahmadinejad - Joel Brinkley (San Francisco Chronicle)
    In 2005, Transparency International placed Iran at no. 88 of 158 countries on its Corruption Perceptions Index. By 2007, Iran had fallen to 131st place.
    This year, Iran is 168th out of 180, in the company of Sudan, Chad and Burma.
    Corruption "is very widespread, and everyone is in on the action, everyone at the top," said Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University.
    "You have to bribe the postman to get your mail delivered," said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian studies program at Stanford University. "It's pandemic."

Saddam Hussein Aide "Chemical Ali" Executed in Iraq - Nada Bakri (New York Times)
    Ali Hassan al-Majid, 68, a symbol of the former government of Saddam Hussein, who ordered a poison gas attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja in northern Iraq in which more than 5,000 Kurds died, was executed on Monday.
    In court cases that began in August 2006, Majid was handed eight death sentences for crimes that ranged from Halabja to a campaign at the end of the Iran-Iraq war in which at least 180,000 Kurds were killed and thousands of others displaced.
    He was also convicted for his role in crushing a Shiite uprising in southern Iraq in 1991, in which thousands were killed and displaced.

Hamas Kids' TV: "We All Wish for Martyrdom" - Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook (Palestinian Media Watch)
    A Hamas TV program for children is once again promoting martyrdom for Allah as a positive goal for kids.
    In the most recent episode of the show "Tomorrow's Pioneers," the child host asks a 10-year-old girl who phones into the program whether she had been afraid of dying during the 2009 Gaza war.
    "No, I wasn't afraid," the little girl says. "I wished for martyrdom for Allah."
    The host responded, "We all wish for this."

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  • Intelligence from Tehran Elevates Concern in the West - Dieter Bednarz, Erich Follath and Holger Stark
    According to intelligence reports based on sources within Iran and information from high-ranking defectors, there is a secret military branch of Iran's nuclear research program that answers to the Defense Ministry and has clandestine structures. Kamran Daneshjoo, 52, Iran's new minister of science, research and technology, is also responsible for the country's nuclear energy agency, and he is seen as a close ally of Ahmadinejad.
        Daneshjoo spent several years working at the Tehran "Center for Aviation Technology." Western experts believe that this center developed into a sub-organization of the Defense Ministry known as FEDAT, the "Department for Expanded High-Technology Applications" - the secret heart of Iran's nuclear weapons program.
        The head of FEDAT is Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, 48, an officer in the Revolutionary Guard and a professor at Tehran's Imam Hossein University. Western intelligence agencies believe that FEDAT is involved in the construction of a nuclear warhead to be used in Iran's Shahab missiles. Experts believe that Iran's scientists could produce a primitive, truck-sized version of the bomb this year, and that they could learn to compress it to a size that would fit into a nuclear warhead sometime between 2012 and 2014. (Der Spiegel-Germany)
  • U.S. Proposes Direct, Low-Level Mideast Talks - Ali Sawafta
    PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is studying a U.S. proposal for talks between the Palestinians and Israel at a level below full-scale negotiations between their leaders, a Palestinian official said on Monday. Palestinian sources said U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell had also proposed confidence-building measures including the transfer of authority from the Israeli army to the Palestinians in more of the West Bank's territory, the removal of some Israeli checkpoints, and release of a number of Palestinian prisoners.
        Israeli officials, noting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had on Sunday welcomed "new ideas" for talks from Mitchell, said their government stood ready to take part in U.S.-mediated discussions with Palestinian officials. (Reuters-Washington Post)
        See also New U.S. Initiative to Restart Peace Talks
    Mitchell's plan calls on Israel to cease military operations in Area A of the West Bank, which is under full Palestinian control, and pull back from some parts of Area B, which is under Palestinian civil control, a Palestinian official said. It would also allow Palestinian security forces to enter Area C, which is under complete Israeli military control. Under the plan, Israel would also ease sanctions on Hamas-ruled Gaza.
        The official said Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had requested a meeting with Palestinian leader Abbas to discuss the initiative, "but Abbas insisted that Israel implement the ideas first, before any talks."  (AFP)
  • EU Backs Away from New Iran Sanctions
    EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday backed away from threatening Iran with fresh sanctions over its controversial nuclear program, saying that the bloc should only bring in new restrictions if the UN Security Council asked. "With Iran, (sanctions) will work out only if all the UN Security Council permanent members agree....The EU is ready to do it, but to get really functioning sanctions, we need all big players in the world to be united behind this decision," stressed Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet. (DPA-Earth Times)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • After Two Weeks, Israeli Team Winds Down Haiti Mission - Amos Harel
    The Israel Defense Forces team in Haiti will return home on Thursday. The IDF Home Front Command and the Medical Corps are leaving behind a large part of the equipment brought there as a goodwill gesture to the people of Haiti. "If you prepare properly for a missile attack on the home front, then you have 95% of the tools at your disposal for dealing with an earthquake," said one Home Front Command officer.
        Israel's main accomplishment was the quick deployment of a field hospital in Haiti. "For five critical days, it was the best hospital in Port-au-Prince," said a senior officer. "We provided timely medical care to about 1,000 people, we conducted 300 operations and delivered 16 babies."  (Ha'aretz)
  • German Firm Cancels Deal with Iran Due to Israeli Pressure - Barak Ravid
    After heavy diplomatic pressure from Israel, on Monday a German construction company partly owned by the German government canceled a contract to renovate the Bander Abbas port in Iran. Israel's ambassador to Berlin told Chancellor Angela Merkel's top aides that Iran has been exporting weapons from that port bound for Hizbullah and Hamas. Ambassador Yoram Ben Ze'ev stressed that Israel viewed the contract as German assistance to an Iranian arms deal with terror organizations. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Al-Qaeda Is Losing. Prepare for a Daring Hit - Col. Richard Kemp
    Osama bin Laden - or someone purporting to be him - broadcast a message on al-Jazeera over the weekend claiming that the failed Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airliner was comparable to 9/11. His broadcast was aimed at Muslims - hence its focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a cause that has never been important to the leader of al-Qaeda. Bin Laden knows well the powerful emotion inspired around the globe by the Palestinians' plight. By feigning support for them, he hopes to regain some of al-Qaeda's dramatically diminished popularity.
        Former sympathizers have become disillusioned by the death toll inflicted by bin Laden's terrorists in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan; they have killed many more Muslims than non-Muslims since 9/11. The Combating Terrorism Center in the U.S. concludes that only 15% of the 3,010 victims killed by al-Qaeda between 2004 and 2008 were Westerners. (Times-UK)
  • Only Comprehensive Sanctions Will Influence Iran to Suspend Enrichment - Ephraim Asculai
    Iran managed to gain another crucial year in its quest for a nuclear weapons capability, and every passing day brings it closer to its ultimate goal: having the potential to produce deliverable nuclear weapons. It successfully delayed the West from pursuing a more severe sanctions regime, and the West is behaving as if it has all the time in the world. It does not.
        The only sanctions that could influence the Iranian regime to cave in and at least suspend the uranium enrichment program are Iraqi-type sanctions. These should limit imports into Iran of anything but foodstuffs, medicines, and other humanitarian aid. No other imports including oil distillates or technical equipment would be supplied to Iran until it agrees to the West's conditions. It is a mistake to assume that any less severe sanctions would do the trick. If this is not undertaken by the Security Council, the U.S. should implement it with all the friends it can muster. (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
  • Iran's Republic of Fear - Mehdi Khalaji
    Iran's clerical regime governs by a simple formula: He who is the most frightening wins. The regime seems convinced that there is only a small likelihood of a military attack on its nuclear program. It does not believe that sanctions can bring about its collapse. Thus, external forces do not appear to pose much of a threat. What has shaken the government, and indeed threatens the existence of the ruling Islamic ideology, is the pressure of the Iranian people for human and political rights. Since Iran's postelection crisis in June, the people have become fearless and, in turn, are terrifying the government.
        The Iranian people can be regarded as a strategic ally of the West, not only because they want democracy at home and peace in the region, but because their continued protests offer the West the most effective leverage against Iran's nuclear program. The writer is a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. His father, a cleric in Qom, was recently arrested by the Iranian regime. (Guardian-UK)
  • Observations:

    For Some, Israel Can Do No Right - Alan Dershowitz (Huffington Post)

    • Critics complain that Israel should not be sending medical assistance to such a faraway place as Haiti. Instead it should be sending it to nearby Gaza. They fail to note the difference between Haiti and Gaza. Haiti is not at war with Israel. Haiti has not pledged itself to Israel's destruction. Haiti has not fired 8,000 rockets at Israeli civilians. Gaza, on the other hand, has a popularly elected government that has done and continues to do all of the above.
    • Moreover, there is no comparison between the tens of thousands of Haitians who have died from a natural disaster, and the people of Gaza who suffer far less from what is, essentially, a self-inflicted wound.
    • Nor do the perennial enemies of Israel emphasize the comparison between tiny and resource-poor Israel, and the resource-rich Arab and Muslim nations. While Israel digs deeply into its treasury and manpower to send medical assistance a quarter of the way around the world, Arab and Muslim nations are generally missing when it comes to relief efforts. Israel is sending more aid per capita than any country in the world.
    • Israel will be extremely generous to the people of Gaza if and when they stop supporting attacks on Israeli civilians, stop making martyrs of their suicide murderers, and stop encouraging their children to don suicide vests. The peace dividend the Palestinian people will reap from making peace with Israel is incalculable.

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