Obama Authorizes Secret U.S. Support for Syrian Rebels - Mark Hosenball (Reuters)
President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The White House is for now apparently stopping short of giving the rebels lethal weapons, even as some U.S. allies do just that.
A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential order, the U.S. was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base.
Ankara Alarmed by Syrian Kurds' Autonomy - Joe Parkinson and Ayla Albayrak (Wall Street Journal)
Some Syrian Kurds have in recent weeks taken dramatic steps toward autonomous rule, fueling Ankara's existential fear: that its No. 1 enemy, the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, could boost its influence there and even use the region as a base to attack Turkey.
Syrian forces have withdrawn to their barracks, leaving security in the region to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party of Syria, or PYD.
Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, arrived in Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region, to talk with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani about the Syrian Kurds' growing autonomy.
Russia Sees Iranian Threat with Caspian Port Takeover - Ilya Arkhipov and Henry Meyer (Bloomberg)
Russia is taking legal action to block companies controlled by Iran from acquiring Russia's strategic Astrakhan port on the Caspian Sea, Igor Artemyev, head of the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, said in Moscow Tuesday.
"We know that these companies, through a certain chain, are under the direct control of the government or structures close to the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran," and "ports are strategic assets."
The Iranian-controlled companies bought a significant stake in the port from its Russian owners and now control at least 25%, Artemyev said.
Video: Israel Navy Trains to Protect Gas Fields (Ynet News)
The Israeli Navy completed a large-scale training exercise Wednesday that included simulation of clashes with enemy fleets, responses to terror threats against Israel's gas fields, shoreline terror attacks, and attacks against Israeli vessels and merchant vessels anchored in Israel.
See also Video: Israeli Navy Brings the Action to the Sea (Israel Defense Forces)
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- White House: We Agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu that the Iranian Regime Has to Abandon Its Nuclear Weapons Ambitions
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday: "The purpose of sanctions is to affect the decisions the Iranian government makes. And since Iran has not yet decided to come in line with their international obligations, we are disappointed - as Prime Minister Netanyahu is - that Iran continues to ignore its international obligations. The United States remains committed to a diplomatic solution, but the onus is on Iran."
"The U.S. and Israel, as we've seen in recent days, have an extremely close and cooperative relationship both militarily and in terms of intelligence. We share information regularly on what is happening in Iran with regards to its behavior and its fulfillment, or lack thereof, of its international obligations. And we agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu that the Iranian regime has yet to make the choice it needs to make, which is to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions and fulfill its obligations." (White House)
- U.S. Intensifies Talks to Avert Unilateral Strike over Nukes - Elisabeth Bumiller and Jodi Rudoren
A series of public statements and private communications from the Israeli leadership in recent weeks set off renewed concerns in the Obama administration that Israel might be preparing a unilateral military strike on Iran, perhaps as early as this fall. "If I were an Iranian, I would be very fearful of the next 12 weeks," said Efraim Halevy, a former chief of Israel's intelligence agency and national security adviser.
But after a flurry of high-level visits to Israel, including one Wednesday by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a number of administration officials say Israel may be willing to let the U.S. take the lead in any future military strike, which they say would not occur until next year at the earliest.
(New York Times)
- Hamas Slams Palestinian Visit to "Alleged" Holocaust Site of Auschwitz
Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, on Wednesday denounced a visit to the Auschwitz death camp last month by Ziad al-Bandak, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"It was an unjustified and unhelpful visit that served only the Zionist occupation," said Barhoum.
He called the visit "a marketing of a false Zionist alleged tragedy," coming "at the expense of a real Palestinian tragedy." (Reuters)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Netanyahu and Panetta Discuss Iran
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta met in Jerusalem on Wednesday where they discussed Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.
Netanyahu: "Neither sanctions nor diplomacy have yet had any impact on Iran's nuclear weapons program....However forceful our statements, they have not convinced Iran that we are serious about stopping them. Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program. This must change and it must change quickly, because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out."
Panetta: "I want to reassert again the position of the United States that with regards to Iran, we will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period. We will not allow them to develop a nuclear weapon, and we will exert all options in the effort to ensure that that does not happen."
(Prime Minister's Office)
See also Disputes Remain on Iran after Panetta Meetings - Yaakov Katz and Herb Keinon
Disagreements over the time left to stop Iran's nuclear program remained after meetings between U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Israel's leadership.
- Israel to Fortify Critical Infrastructure - Yoav Zitun
Israel will begin to fortify dozens of critical infrastructure facilities, including water, power, oil refineries and communication towers.
The project, headed by the new National Infrastructure Division in the IDF Home Front Command, includes the use of reinforced concrete alongside other protective measures to enable facilities to withstand a hit or sustain "containable damage," to provide them with the ability to resume regular activity as soon as possible.
The new division will also help the facilities ward off cyber-attacks.
- Hamas Operative Killed in Gaza "Work Accident" - Elior Levy
A member of Hamas' military wing, Ayman Sharfa, 22, was killed and two others were injured when a car exploded in Gaza, Palestinian sources reported Wednesday.
- Iran, Israel Waging Silent War - Walter Pincus
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei believes that his government is so deeply penetrated by U.S., Israeli and other intelligence agencies that when he eventually gives an order to build a nuclear weapon it will be quickly known. As a result, Khamenei is creating redundancy in production sites, adding centrifuges and more low- and medium-level enriched uranium to Iran's stockpile so when the time comes Israel will not have the capability to carry out a surgical strike against Tehran's nuclear complex, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told CNN on Monday.
The Israelis do not believe that the Iranians would respond as strongly as Washington fears. Nor do they see an attack generating a broader anti-Israel, anti-U.S. reaction throughout the Middle East.
- Concerns Mount that Israel Is Losing Patience on Iran Plan - Laura Rozen
"The problem we face is, to the Israelis, it looks like we are dithering and that we are going to keep on dithering until they lose their opportunity to act," said Patrick Clawson, deputy director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "That is not confidence-building for the Israelis."
"The U.S. administration's attitude is, we've got to wait to see if [the sanctions are] working."
"On sanctions...the big question is what political impact they have, not what economic impact they have," Clawson said. (Al Monitor)
- U.S., Israel Differ on Iran over One Word: Capability - Herb Keinon
Netanyahu said: There is a need to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability. Panetta said: "We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon." But he did not say anything about keeping the Iranians from gaining nuclear weapons capability.
In Netanyahu's view, Tehran must be stopped before it has all the technical pieces in place and just needs to make the decision to put them together.
In Panetta's view, the U.S. has no intention of preventing the Iranians from achieving the capabilities, only from actually putting all the capabilities they accumulate into a nuclear bomb. This difference has huge operational ramifications.
- Can Sanctions Stop Iran's Nuke Program? - Ron Ben-Yishai
Sanctions are exacting a heavy price from Iran and its citizens. The price of food and housing is seeing a sharp increase, while the local currency is collapsing. But according to reliable information obtained by Israeli and Western diplomats, Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei believes that for the time being the sanctions do not endanger the regime.
Iran has resorted to creative measures in an effort to bypass the sanctions, smuggling crude oil to the West as Turkish or Iraqi oil. The Obama administration is working to put an end to this phenomenon, or at least reduce it - in part due to pressure from Israel.
Senior Israeli officials claim that at least a year will pass before the sanctions begin to significantly decrease Iran's foreign exchange reserves. By then, they warn, Iran will be capable of producing enough uranium to build 5-10 nuclear warheads - and an Israeli or American strike on its nuclear facilities would be futile.
Iran: Preventing War by Making It Credible - Anthony H. Cordesman (Center for Strategic and International Studies)
- There are times when the best way to prevent war is to clearly communicate that it is possible. It is not clear that Iran truly understands the growing risk it faces that years of Israeli and U.S. warnings can turn into action.
To limit the risk of war as much as possible, there are three actions the U.S. could take.
- The first is to reshape the focus of negotiations around clear U.S. red lines. If we really mean we have a military option and will act on it, we need to be far less ambiguous. Iran needs to know there are real limits to how long it can talk and stall.
- The second action is to make it clear to Iran that it has no successful options. There are many ways in which U.S. analysts with official connections can suggest how easy it would be to escalate to the point of destroying Iran’s refineries and power grid, suppressing its air defenses, and reacting to any low level of asymmetric attack by destroying key Iranian military objectives.
- The U.S. can make clear that it might not simply target known and suspect nuclear facilities, but missile and military industrial facilities as well.
- The U.S. can point out that it does not have to destroy hardened Iranian targets. All it has to do is keep closing the access entrances with repetitive strikes.
- The third option is to put the best possible incentives on the table for Iran to accept a negotiated solution in ways that allow it to claim a kind of victory and save face.
The writer holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS.
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