Western Sanctions Already Disrupting Iran Oil Exports - Rachelle Younglai and Timothy Gardner (Reuters)
Western sanctions on Iran are disrupting Iran's oil exports as U.S. and European insurance companies are failing to insure deliveries of Iranian oil even before the full Western sanctions go into effect, according to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Wednesday.
"There is emerging evidence that some shipments of Iranian crude oil under existing contracts are being curtailed due to the unwillingness of U.S. and EU insurance providers to cover them," according to the EIA.
See also Japan Nears Deal to Cut Iran Oil Imports - Ben McLannahan (Financial Times-UK)
Saudi Arabia May Be Tied to 9/11, Two Ex-Senators Say - Eric Lightblau (New York Times)
In sworn statements, two former senators who were privy to top secret information say they believe that the Saudi government might have played a direct role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11th attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia," former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) said in an affidavit filed Friday. Graham led a joint 2002 Congressional inquiry into the attacks.
Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), who served on the 9/11 Commission, said in an affidavit that "significant questions remain unanswered" about the role of Saudi institutions.
"Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued."
Ethiopian Immigrant Appointed Israel's Ambassador to Ethiopia - Attila Somfalvi (Ynet News)
Belaynesh Zevadia, 43, was named as Israel's envoy to Ethiopia on Tuesday, the first representative of the Ethiopian community in Israel to become an ambassador.
She was previously stationed in Illinois and Texas, and has a masters degree in African studies and international relations.
Man Indicted on Terror Charges in NYC Bomb Case - Joseph Ax (Reuters-Chicago Tribune)
Jose Pimentel, 27, an American Muslim convert accused of building a pipe bomb, has been formally indicted by a grand jury on terrorism charges, authorities said on Wednesday.
Authorities said he planned to attack post offices, police stations and military personnel in and around New York City.
Israel Named World's 2nd-Best Cleantech Innovator (Ynet News)
Israel is among the top three nations worldwide that provide the best conditions for clean technology startup companies, a recent ranking by the CleanTech Group stated.
Topping the list was Denmark, followed by Israel, Sweden, Finland and the U.S.
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- Obama Officials Talking Tougher about Iran as Netanyahu Visit Approaches - John Walcott
Obama administration officials are escalating warnings that the U.S. could join Israel in attacking Iran if the Islamic republic doesn't dispel concerns that its nuclear program is aimed at producing weapons.
Pentagon officials said military options being prepared start with providing aerial refueling for Israeli planes and also include attacking the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Qods Force, regular Iranian military bases and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
Israeli officials have told their U.S. counterparts they think the Iranians see what they consider a pattern of irresolute administration behavior that includes abandoning former Egyptian President Mubarak, taking only a supporting role in the overthrow of Libya's Gaddafi, indecision on how to deal with violence in Syria, a rush to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, failure to retaliate against Iran for plotting to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S., and its inability to get Egypt to free the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
- Iran's Underground Nuclear Sites Not Immune to U.S. Bunker-Busters, Experts Say - Joby Warrick
U.S. military planners are increasingly confident of their ability to deliver a serious blow against Iran's underground nuclear facility in a mountain bunker at Fordow, should the president order an attack. As a matter of physics, Fordow remains far more vulnerable than generally portrayed, said current and former military and intelligence analysts. Massive new "bunker buster" munitions recently added to the U.S. arsenal would not necessarily have to penetrate the deepest bunkers to cause irreparable damage to infrastructure as well as highly sensitive nuclear equipment, likely setting back Iran's program by years, officials said.
U.S. confidence has been reinforced by training exercises in which bombers assaulted similar targets in deeply buried bunkers and mountain tunnels, the officials and experts said. (Washington Post)
- U.S. Cuts Iran Cash Pipeline - Jay Solomon
The U.S. Treasury Department disrupted a Dubai-based banking operation that had become Tehran's primary conduit for evading international sanctions and processing its oil sales.
In December, the Noor Islamic Bank agreed to close off the channel for repatriating foreign-currency oil receipts - facilitating as much as 60% of Iran's foreign oil sales.
(Wall Street Journal)
- Egyptian Officials Say American NGO Workers Can Leave
Egypt's airport authorities have been advised that a travel ban on American pro-democracy activists has been lifted, airport sources said on Thursday.
A senior judge and other judicial sources said on Wednesday that Egypt had decided to lift the ban barring the departure of the U.S. citizens who work for NGOs that Egypt says have received foreign funds illegally.
See also Egypt Is Set to Lift Travel Ban - Matt Bradley
Lawyers for the American civil-society workers said each of the accused would pay two million Egyptian pounds ($330,460) in bail in order to leave the country. Al Ahram reported that a U.S. military plane was waiting at Cairo International Airport to airlift the American NGO employees out of the country. Sarwat Abdel Shahid, an attorney hired to defend the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute, said the case will near a final resolution when Egypt's government legally registers at least 10 NGOs under suspicion, which he said is likely to come within days.
(Wall Street Journal)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- IDF Blocks PA TV from Disrupting Israeli Airport Communications - Khaled Abu Toameh
IDF soldiers and officials from the Israel Communications Ministry raided two Ramallah TV stations early Wednesday whose use of unauthorized frequencies endangered flights at Ben-Gurion Airport.
In 2002, IDF soldiers raided the same two TV stations and confiscated transmitters that disrupted communications at Ben-Gurion Airport.
- Poll: Palestinian Support for Armed Resistance at 14-Year Low - Arieh O'Sullivan
Support by Palestinians for armed struggle against Israel is at a 14-year low, according to a new poll by
the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center (JMCC). Just 29% of Palestinians polled today support military operations against Israelis, down from 85% in September 2001 in the midst of the Second Intifada.
Pollsters said they were surprised to find that even though virtually no peace talks have been conducted in three years, Palestinians were less inclined than ever to favor violence. "The Palestinians have seen that the last wave of violent confrontation and armed resistance, the Second Intifada, wasn't very useful to the Palestinian cause," said Ghassan Khatib, director of the Palestinian Government Media Center.
(Media Line-Jerusalem Post)
- Wishing Upon Iran - Editorial
What will it take to persuade the U.S. intelligence community that Tehran's nuclear intentions aren't exactly peaceful? Perhaps nothing short of an explosion.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its latest report with the news that the regime has sharply increased its production of 20%-enriched uranium and in much greater quantities than it can possibly need for civilian use. More than a third of the new enrichment is taking place at its Fordow installation, which is inside a heavily fortified bunker carved into a mountain.
According to the New York Times, some anonymous intelligence sources still believe the conclusions of a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which argued that Iran put its nuclear weapons work on the shelf in 2003. In this ever-hopeful analysis, Iran might decide that it is better served possessing enough nuclear capability to keep its options open and its enemies on guard, without having to incur the risks of building and maintaining an actual arsenal.
But if the mullahs can readily acquire nuclear weapons, they will instantly change calculations in the Middle East and beyond.
It would lead almost inevitably to a policy of seeking to placate Tehran at the expense of U.S. allies - lest, for example, some "provocative" Israeli action tempt Iran into building the bomb it nearly possesses anyway. (Wall Street Journal)
- Iran's Majlis Elections: Whoever Wins, the West Loses - Nikolay Kozhanov
Iran's upcoming parliamentary elections offer no hope for improving U.S.-Iranian relations. Reformist candidates have little chance of winning substantial numbers of seats in the next Majlis - the main battle will take place between rival conservative factions. The official leaders of the protest movement and their close supporters had no chance of obtaining the Guardian Council's permission to run for office. The writer worked in the political and economic section of the Russian embassy in Tehran from 2006 to 2009.
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
- Laundering Anti-Semitism at Harvard - Dan Diker
The upcoming symposium, "Israel/Palestine and the One-State Solution," due to convene at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government on March 3-4, transforms Harvard's longstanding tradition of free and fair academic debate into anti-Semitic theater. Under the guise of free academic expression, the One-State Conference advances the notion that Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people should be dismantled and replaced by a state that would be flooded with and governed by Palestinian Arabs and in which Jews would once again live as an insecure minority in their own land.
The conference's 20 speakers brings together a "dream team" of academics who share an antipathy to the existence of the Jewish state. The conference's primary agenda is not to consider serious alternatives to advance Middle East peace, but to discuss the prospects for Israel's dissolution. The writer is the Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress.
Israel's Last Chance to Strike Iran - Amos Yadlin (New York Times)
- Israel sees the prospect of a nuclear Iran that calls for our annihilation as an existential threat. An Israeli strike against Iran would be a last resort, if all else failed to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. That moment of decision will occur when Iran is on the verge of shielding its nuclear facilities from a successful attack - what Israel's leaders have called the "zone of immunity."
- America could carry out an extensive air campaign using stealth technology, dropping enormous payloads that are capable of penetrating to depths far beyond what Israel's arsenal can achieve.
- This gives America more time than Israel in determining when the moment of decision has finally been reached. And as that moment draws closer, differing timetables are becoming a source of tension.
- Asking Israel's leaders to abide by America's timetable, and hence allowing Israel's window of opportunity to be closed, is to make Washington a de facto proxy for Israel's security - a tremendous leap of faith for Israelis faced with a looming Iranian bomb.
- What is needed is an ironclad American assurance that if Israel refrains from acting in its own window of opportunity - and all other options have failed to halt Tehran's nuclear quest - Washington will act to prevent a nuclear Iran while it is still within its power to do so.
The writer, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, is the director of Israel's Institute for National Security Studies.
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