Iran Emerging as a Major Cyber-Power - Mark Clayton (Christian Science Monitor)
Iranian cyber-spying on U.S. military and energy networks has surged, U.S. experts say.
Iran was fingered last fall for infiltrating the U.S. Navy Marine Corps Intranet, as well as for massive cyber-attacks that hammered Wall Street bank websites repeatedly for about a year.
Iran was suspected to have been behind a computer virus that wrecked 30,000 Saudi Aramco computers in 2012. A similar attack hit RasGas, a Qatari energy company, that same year.
"We've seen persistent activity by the Iranians, not only in cyber-espionage, but in attacking dissidents at home, infiltrating government and military targets, energy companies and the financial sector," says Dmitri Alperovitch, cofounder and chief technical officer of the cyber-security firm CrowdStrike.
Iran Propping Up Venezuela's Repressive Militias - Joseph Humire (Washington Times)
In April 2009, the current Iranian commander of the Basij paramilitary force, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, accompanied then-Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar on a high-level visit to Caracas at the invitation of then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his foreign minister (now President) Nicolas Maduro.
According to sources within the Venezuelan military, Gen. Naqdi's role was to serve as an adviser to Venezuela's Ministries of Defense and Interior to aid in training their civilian militias, the now-infamous colectivos.
According to leaked government documents, during the 2012 presidential election in Venezuela, the Chavistas planned to mobilize the colectivos as a quick-reaction force modeled after the Iranian Basij called Redes de Movilizacion Inmediata, to quell opposition rallies and gain territorial control.
New Palestinian Hit Song Denounces Kerry's "Zionist" Plan - Khaled Abu Toameh (Gatestone Institute)
On the eve of PA President Mahmoud Abbas' visit to Washington, Palestinians have released a music video by Qassem Najjar entitled "The Palestinian People's Message to Kerry."
The song, which appears on many PA news websites, accuses Kerry of presenting a "Zionist plan" with the intention of eliminating the Palestinian cause.
Messages in the song include: "Go tell Obama and America that my land is not a piece of cake for you to share." "We will not compromise the right of return." "Jerusalem is our free capital and will always be." "We do not accept Jews within our borders."
A senior PA official in Ramallah explained that the new song is "100% accurate and honestly sums up the whole Palestinian position."
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- Obama Urges Abbas to Accept Guidelines for Peace Talks - David Jackson
President Obama urged PA leader Mahmoud Abbas on Monday to accept guidelines for new talks with Israel ahead of an end-of-April deadline. "We're going to have to take some tough political decisions and risks," Obama said. Obama has told Abbas that direct talks with Israel are the surest way to a new and independent Palestinian state.
- On Third Anniversary of Syrian Rebellion, Assad Is Steadily Winning the War - Liz Sly
Three years into the revolt against his rule, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is in a stronger position than ever before to quell the rebellion against his rule. Aided by the steadfast support of his allies and the deepening disarray of his foes, Assad is pressing ahead with plans to be reelected to a third seven-year term this summer while sustaining intense military pressure intended to crush his opponents.
The government has pushed the rebels back or squeezed them into isolated pockets in large swathes of the territory surrounding Damascus. Meanwhile, the rebels have not launched a significant offensive since last summer. A much-anticipated rebel offensive in southern Syria has not materialized.
See also Syria: Government Forces Seize Key Rebel Town
Syria said its military seized Yabroud, a key town that served as a rebel supply hub on the Lebanese border, on Sunday after a months-long army offensive. Support from Hizbullah fighters appears to have tipped the balance. (AP-Washington Post)
- Controlled by Iran, the Deadly Militia Recruiting Iraq's Men to Die in Syria - Martin Chulov
Each day for the past nine months, the bodies have been coming to the Valley of Peace cemetery in Najaf, Iraq. The men were killed in Syria, where they fought under the green flag of the Middle East's most potent new Shia Islamic political force, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous). The militia has been busy readying for the afterlife, buying up more than 2,500 square meters of burial plots and erecting shrines for its fallen.
Since the U.S. military left Iraq in December 2011, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq has quietly emerged as one of the most powerful players in the country. Through a mix of strategic diplomacy, aggressive military operations and intimidation - signature methods of its main patron, the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani - the group is increasingly calling the shots. The group has a close connection to Lebanon's Hizbullah and ideological links to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Between 8,000 and 15,000 Iraqi Shias have volunteered to fight for the Assad regime in Syria.
In the Najaf cemetery, one gravedigger said, "There have been more of their bodies coming back from Syria than ever before. There are easily around 500 of them buried here. We have been getting around three each day for the past month alone." Iraqi intelligence officials believe Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq is receiving $1.5-$2m a month from Iran. (Guardian-UK)
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- Ya'alon Leans Toward Israeli Operation in Iran - Barak Ravid
Based on his evaluation that the U.S. isn't going to do anything to frustrate the Iranian nuclear program, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Monday he's changed his mind and now leans toward supporting unilateral Israeli action against Iran.
"We had thought the one who should lead the campaign against Iran is the United States. But at some stage the United States entered into negotiations with them, and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better....Therefore, on this matter, we have to behave as though we have nobody to look out for us but ourselves."
"People know that Iran cheats, but comfortable Westerners prefer to put off confrontation. If possible, to next year, or the next president. But in the end, it will blow up." "The [interim] agreement is very convenient for the Iranians. They're settling down at the threshold and can decide when to make the breakthrough to a nuclear bomb."
Ya'alon also said that U.S. military aid to Israel needs to be "seen in proportion."
"It isn't a favor America is doing, it's in their interest," he said. "They get quality intelligence and technology....We invented [the] Iron Dome [anti-missile system]. The wings of the F-35 stealth fighter - we invented. We invented the Arrow," an anti-ballistic missile.
- Report: Israeli Civil Defense Measures Have Saved Many Lives - Yaakov Lappin
Had Israel not developed a set of effective civil defense measures,
the thousands of Palestinian rockets fired at Israel from Gaza would have caused seven times more casualties, according to a new study by Prof. Edward H. Kaplan, a specialist in engineering and public health from the Yale School of Management.
"There has been a concerted attempt by many to portray Kassam rockets as essentially harmless, symbolic weapons," Kaplan said. But the reason there have been so few Israeli casualties is that "Israel has invested large sums of money in civil defense infrastructure in southern Israel. Safe rooms, bomb shelters, the Red Dawn early warning system and most recently the Iron Dome collectively shield civilians from Kassams."
"These rockets are not harmless; rather, casualties are low because Israel is protecting its citizens via its civil defense infrastructure," he said.
- Obama Must Be Blunt with Abbas, Too - Jeffrey Goldberg
A couple of weeks ago, President Obama laid out for me his view of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's responsibilities in ongoing peace talks. My hope is that Obama will pressure Palestinian President Abbas to meet Netanyahu halfway on the issue of recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Abbas is opposed to offering such recognition: If Jews indeed have a connection to Palestine, then the mainstream Palestinian Arab narrative - that Zionism is a foreign, colonialist ideology, and not the movement of a people returning to its home - gets blown apart. (It's astonishing that after 60 years of Israel's existence people are still arguing about whether it is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people.)
I'm fairly pessimistic about Abbas' willingness to move forward in the negotiations. A study of his statements over the years suggests that he's never been willing to move boldly toward compromise.
- Israel, Abbas Face Realities on Peace - Aaron David Miller
Mahmoud Abbas is most likely the best partner for peace negotiations that Washington, this Israeli government or any other is likely to have.
But under current circumstances, he cannot deliver his side of a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel. Abbas is trapped by traditional Palestinian negotiating positions and a narrative that is almost impossible to alter. To diverge significantly from them would end his political viability and perhaps his life.
The Palestinian national movement is still badly divided between Fatah and Hamas.
Any reconciliation of the two will likely further harden Palestinian positions, creating more tension with Israel and the U.S.
Yet, unless the Palestinians find a way to assume control over the forces of violence in Palestine - in short, one authority and one gun - it's hard to see how Israel, even if it could be persuaded to withdraw from the West Bank on paper, would ever do so in practice.
Is the U.S. Determined Enough to Confront Iran? - Emily B. Landau (Ha'aretz)
- According to the P5+1 negotiators, the interim deal with Iran has halted aspects of Iran's nuclear activities and even led to some rollback of the program.
Unfortunately, missing from this narrative is that in some important respects, Iran's nuclear program is also progressing dangerously.
- The most important issue regards research and development on ever more advanced generations of Iranian centrifuges. The interim agreement did not prevent Iran from conducting R&D into any aspect of advanced new generation centrifuges, as long as it does not operate them.
- When stockpiles of low enriched uranium - which Iran continues to churn out at an increased rate - are fed into the advanced centrifuges under development, Iran will very quickly be able to enrich to the high levels needed for nuclear weapons.
- It is truly misguided to desist from delving into past military-related activities in order not to "upset" the Iranians or interfere with negotiations on a new deal. Any comprehensive deal must reveal the military dimensions of Iran's program, about which Iran has lied and cheated for decades.
The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
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