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Russia to Sell Warplanes to Syria - Fred Weir (Christian Science Monitor)
Russia signed a $550 million contract with Syria in December to provide the Assad regime with 36 Yak-130 Mitten combat trainers, the Moscow business daily Kommersant reported.
Russia is thought to have up to $5 billion in potential arms exports to Syria in the pipeline, including sales of warships, submarines, modern T-90 tanks, MiG-29 fighters, and Iskander-E tactical missiles.
Syria's Russian Jet Order (Defense Industry Daily)
The Yak fighter trainer can also serve as a heavily-armed ground attack and counterinsurgency aircraft.
That could be very useful to the Assad regime, which is receiving open Russian support against strong domestic unrest - if the regime survives long enough to take delivery.
Iran Sanctions Good for Business in Oman - Juliane von Mittelstaedt (Der Spiegel-Germany)
Arwind would prefer not to be called a smuggler. He insists he runs an import-export business specializing in "whatever Iran needs at the moment."
With 150 clients to serve, business is booming due to the sanctions that have been imposed and the resulting paucity of trade between Iran and the West.
The small port town of Khasab in the north of Oman is rumbling with the sound of trucks, most of them coming from the UAE next door.
"Our customers travel to Dubai and place their orders there," Arwind says. "Their purchases are shipped to us by truck, and we forward them on," ferrying the goods across the Strait of Hormuz to Iran.
These days, dozens of speedboats swarm into the port like wasps every morning. The Iranian smugglers can make the 85-km. trip between Khasab and the Iranian island of Qeshm some five times a day.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard charges the equivalent of 40 for each crossing and those who refuse to pay are arrested.
Construction Boom in Gaza - Harriet Sherwood (Observer-UK)
Tossing yet another tender request on to his desk, construction engineer Wael Arabeed says: "I have so many offers, I can't even look at them. I'm too busy."
Arabeed is the beneficiary of an extraordinary economic spurt in Gaza - not just in construction, but also agriculture, the hotel and restaurant industry, transport and manufacturing.
All sectors have seen growth over the past year, with private sector employment increasing by more than 50%.
Gaza is cluttered with the skeletons of new buildings. Apartment blocks, hospitals, schools, hotels and mosques are sprouting all over Gaza. Concrete and steel is pouring through the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.
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- EU Adopts Oil Embargo Against Iran
The EU's 27 foreign ministers, meeting Monday in Brussels, imposed an oil embargo against Iran and froze the assets of its central bank, ramping up sanctions designed to pressure Iranian officials into resuming talks on the country's nuclear program. In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner welcomed the EU decision, calling it "another strong step in the international effort to dramatically increase the pressure on Iran." The EU sanctions include an immediate embargo on new contracts for crude oil and petroleum products. Existing contracts with Iran will be allowed to run until July. (AP-Washington Post)
- U.S. Sanctions Iran's 3rd Largest Bank - Jay Solomon
The Obama administration has sanctioned Iran's third-largest bank, Bank Tejarat. "Today's action against Bank Tejarat strikes at one of Iran's few remaining access points to the international financial system," said David Cohen, Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
(Wall Street Journal)
See also EU Adds Iran's Bank Tejarat to Sanctions List (Reuters)
- Britain, U.S. and France Send Warships through Strait of Hormuz - David Blair
Britain, America and France delivered a pointed signal to Iran, sending six warships led by a U.S. aircraft carrier through the Strait of Hormuz. The deployment defied explicit Iranian threats to close the waterway. The USS Abraham Lincoln joined another carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, which has been in the Gulf for several months. Each of these vessels carries a complement of fighter aircraft with more striking power than the entire Iranian air force.
- U.S.: New UN Security Council No More Favorable to Palestinians - Patrick Worsnip
Security Council dynamics are no more favorable now to a Palestinian UN membership bid than they were last year despite a partial change in the council makeup, U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said on Monday. Newcomer Azerbaijan is thought likely to support the Palestinian application, whereas its predecessor, Bosnia, was expected to abstain. But Guatemala is unlikely to follow its predecessor, Brazil, in backing the Palestinians. The other three newcomers represent no change. Rice reaffirmed that a Palestinian state would come only through direct negotiations with Israel, not "through a short-cut at the United Nations." (Reuters)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Israel Recruiting Nations to Combat Iran Smuggling - Yaakov Katz
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz is working to recruit countries from around the world to help combat the smuggling of weaponry from Iran to its terror proxies in the region, particularly to Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon.
Israel has specifically asked the U.S. and the EU to change the mandate of their fleets operating in the Red Sea and Mediterranean to allow them to board and detain vessels suspected of shipping weapons to Hamas and Hizbullah, seeking to build on the Gaza Counter Arms Smuggling Initiative, which was established following Israel's Gaza operation in 2009 to prevent Hamas from re-arming.
GCASI's members are Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the UK, the U.S. and Israel.
- Six Israeli Diplomatic Missions Receive Suspicious White Powder
Six overseas Israeli diplomatic missions had security scares Monday when they received envelopes containing a suspicious white powder, raising fears of an anthrax attack, while the substance turned out to be flour.
The envelopes arrived at Israeli embassies in The Hague, Brussels and London, as well as consulates in New York, Boston and Houston, according to Israeli media reports.
- Arab Spring Sees Rise in Anti-Semitism - Gil Shefler
"[While] the popular uprisings in the Arab world do not represent a general change in attitude towards Israel, Zionism and the Jews, it seems the anti-Semitic discourse and incitement have become more extreme and violent," says a report released Sunday by the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University. "Charges of an international Jewish conspiracy have been a central motif in the anti-Semitic propaganda that has accompanied the Arab Spring uprisings. This motif has been emphasized in each of the countries, especially by way of pointing a blaming finger towards Israel, Zionism and Jews conspiring against Arabs and Muslims." (Jerusalem Post)
- Iran's Oil Shock - Editorial
The 27 nations of the EU dealt a huge oil shock to Iran. They agreed to ban Iranian oil to stop its rogue nuclear program. The EU embargo promises to be a massive economic blow to a country already staggering from tightening U.S. and European sanctions. Iran's currency has plummeted by half against the dollar since December. Inflation rages at more than 20% a month.
President Obama needs to make economic sanctions stick - and sting.
Iran has flimflammed the world for years now. The EU's oil embargo sends a powerful message to the mullahs: Nuclear aggression carries a painful price. The costs go up until Iran stands down.
- Rocky Road to Unity for Syria Opposition - Zvi Mazel
In recent months, opposition movements in Syria have vainly tried to find some common ground that could bring together the ethnic and religious communities that make up the country. In spite of ongoing efforts at unification the opposition is hopelessly divided. Their failure to do so goes a long way to explain why they did not get much needed international recognition and help the way Libya rebels did.
The National Kurdish Council representing most of the two million-strong Kurdish minority announced Jan. 18 it was suspending its participation in the other opposition organizations, having been unable to obtain assurances regarding the recognition of the Kurdish people. In an unrelated development on Jan. 18, a hundred Alawite intellectuals posted a declaration on Facebook indicating they supported "the freedom intifada" of the Syrian people and called on all Alawites to take part in toppling the regime - the first time a significant number of Alawite notabilities - belonging to Assad's own community - dared go on record.
- List Iran's Revolutionary Guard as Terrorists - Irwin Cotler
Iran's Supreme Court has now confirmed the death sentence of Iranian-born web programmer Saeed Malekpour, a Canadian permanent resident. Malekpour was convicted of "crimes against Islam" after being arrested in 2008 while visiting his ailing father in Iran. Iran has been on an execution binge. Amnesty International reported that 600 people were put to death in Jan.-Nov. 2011.
The international community spoke out against his death sentence when it was first handed down, and Iran moved to suspend it. However,
the death sentence was reinstated under pressure from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which has emerged as the epicenter of Iran's threat to human rights, peace and international security. The IRGC plays a central role in Iran's domestic repression, international terrorism, incitement to genocide, and nuclear proliferation.
This case should serve as a wake-up call that Canada needs to sanction the IRGC and list it as a terrorist entity. The U.S. has already labeled it as a terrorist group, while the UN and EU have imposed various sanctions against the IRGC and its leaders.
The writer is former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
Washington, Jerusalem and Tehran Struggle over Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program - Greg Sheridan (The Australian)
- In Jerusalem, Washington and Tehran, three different clocks are running. Maintaining a real degree of uncertainty about what it might do is central to the Israeli government's strategy.
The most senior Israelis believe they do have a military option against Iran. It's not a perfect option but they believe that even today they could severely degrade Iran's nuclear program with aerial strikes.
- But the Israeli military option is running out.
First, the Iranians are attempting to immunize their program from aerial strike by moving as much of it as possible deep underground and by creating so many facilities they become too numerous to bomb.
- Second, there will come a point at which the Iranians have developed so much nuclear expertise in depth that even if their physical facilities were damaged they could quickly reconstitute these and press ahead to weapons.
- Some Americans believe if the Israelis strike Iran, the U.S. will pay the political costs anyway, so it would be better for the Americans to do the job and do it properly.
Their clock is a bit different from the one the Israelis hear. Because of their vastly superior firepower, the Americans could strike Iran later, more devastatingly and more sustainably.
- If by the end of this year Iran has not negotiated the abandonment of its nuclear weapons program, if sanctions have not comprehensively crippled its economy and if its nuclear program has not been degraded by Israeli or U.S. air strikes, then it becomes overwhelmingly likely that Iran has survived the Western bluff and will in due course acquire nuclear weapons.
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