Is the Wind Turning in Favor of Assad? - Jacques Neriah (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
The withdrawal of the Syrian rebels under pressure from government troops from the Baba Amro district of Homs on March 1 may have marked a turning point in the year-long bloody battle between opposition forces and Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
The recent split in the ranks of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the de facto political opposition group, is unlikely to entice the many Syrians who are fearful of the post-Assad reality.
As calls mount to arm the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the need for political oversight of any arms supplies is likely to be a key condition for such a move. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was untimely to consider arming the rebels "because I would challenge anyone to clearly identify for me the opposition movement in Syria at this point."
Assad interpreted the Russian and Chinese veto at the UN Security Council as a license to proceed and quell the resistance against his regime at all costs. At this particular moment the Russians believe Assad still has a chance of survival and to subdue his adversaries.
As for the reasons behind Russia's behavior, as Daniel Treisman, Professor of Political Science at UCLA, correctly asserts, "From Moscow, it is easy to see a pattern in the repeated use of force to overthrow leaders - from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya - and diplomatic pressure to dislodge others - in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen."
The U.S. lifted a ban on military aid to President Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan, which had butchered its own protesters a few years earlier, and did not ask King Hamad of Bahrain to step down after he crushed popular demonstrations in his capital.
The writer was formerly Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.
See also Assad's Forces Gaining "Momentum" in Syria, U.S. General Warns - Karen DeYoung (Washington Post)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces are "gaining physical momentum on the battlefield," and the situation there "will get worse before it gets better," Marine Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, said Tuesday.
Assad "is going to be there for some time because I think he will continue to employ heavier and heavier weapons on his people."
See also U.S. Military Official Calls Iran Biggest Threat to Middle East Security (VOA News)
Nasser al-Kidwa, Kofi Annan's Wingman - (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
Nasser al-Kidwa has been appointed as deputy to Kofi Annan, the joint UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria.
For the first time since being entrusted with the post last month, Annan will visit Damascus on 10 March in an effort to promote a political solution to the Syrian crisis, with al-Kidwa expected to accompany him.
Nasser al-Kidwa is the former Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Palestinian Authority.
In 1991 he was appointed as the Permanent Observer for Palestine to the UN, a position which he held until 2005.
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- Iran Trying to Build Nuclear Missiles Capable of Hitting London, Cameron Warns MPs - Jason Groves
Prime Minister David Cameron suggested Tuesday that Iran's drive to develop the bomb was potentially a direct threat to the UK.
He told MPs the Tehran government was trying to develop "intercontinental missiles."
And he repeatedly stressed that "military action" against Iran was not "off the table."
"I don't believe that an Iranian nuclear weapon is just a threat to Israel," he said.
- World Powers Agree to Resume Nuclear Talks with Iran - Nicholas Kulish and James Kanter
For the first time in more than a year the global powers dealing with Iran's disputed nuclear program said Tuesday that they would resume face-to-face negotiations. A senior French official described the Iranian letter proposing the resumption of talks as ambiguous, saying it referred to "various nuclear issues" rather than nuclear enrichment specifically. Time is of the essence for negotiators because many fear that any stalling by Iran will give the country more time to relocate enrichment centrifuges deep inside mountain bunkers that are difficult to bomb.
There was little optimism in the West that talks would lead to significant breakthroughs, much less to an end to Iran's nuclear ambitions. Guido Westerwelle, Germany's foreign minister, warned Iranian officials against using talks to stall. No formal negotiations would take place until after the New Year holiday in Iran this month, a senior EU official said. Talks could formally get under way in early April.
(New York Times)
See also France Skeptical of Iran's Willingness to Negotiate on Nuclear Program (AP-Washington Post)
See also Iran to Allow UN Nuke Inspectors into Army Site - Ali Akbar Dareini
Iran will grant UN inspectors access to the Parchin military complex, southeast of Tehran, where the UN nuclear agency suspects secret atomic work has been carried out, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported Tuesday.
Last year, IAEA's report said there were indications Tehran has conducted high-explosives testing to set off a nuclear charge at Parchin.
On Monday in Vienna, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said, "We have our credible information that indicates that Iran engaged in activities relevant to the development of nuclear explosive devices." Tehran and IAEA need to agree on "modalities" and guidelines for the inspection before the visit can take place.
- U.S. Defense Chief Warns Iran on Nuclear Program - Jim Wolf
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta vowed on Tuesday that the U.S. would take military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon if diplomacy fails.
"Military action is the last alternative when all else fails," he told AIPAC. "But make no mistake, when all else fails, we will act." (Reuters-Baltimore Sun)
- U.S. Moves to Aid Syrian Opposition - Josh Rogin
The Obama administration is moving to provide direct assistance to the internal opposition in Syria for the first time, marking a shift in U.S. policy toward a more aggressive plan to help oust President Bashar al-Assad. Last week, senior Obama administration officials finalized a package of options for aiding both the internal and external Syrian opposition, to include providing direct humanitarian and communications assistance to the Syrian opposition, two administration officials confirmed. The
new strategy is to provide Syrian activists with the means to organize themselves, but stops short of providing any direct military assistance to the armed opposition.
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- Israel Asked to Purchase U.S. Bunker-Buster Bombs, Advanced Refueling Aircraft - Barak Ravid
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested the U.S. approve the sale of advanced refueling aircraft as well as GBU-28 bunker-piercing bombs to Israel during a recent meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a top U.S. official said on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama instructed Panetta to work directly with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the matter, indicating that the U.S. administration was inclined to look favorably upon the request as soon as possible.
Another issue raised during Obama's Monday meeting with Netanyahu was the Syrian crisis. Israel fears that chemical and biological weapons from Syrian army stockpiles could end up in the hands of Hizbullah or other terror groups.
A top U.S. official said the U.S. has discussed the issue of Syria's WMD stockpiles with Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
- Netanyahu: Israel Has Acted Against U.S. Advice Before - Herb Keinon
Citing historical precedents in which the U.S. and Israel did not see eye-to-eye and Israel acted according to its own perception of its interests, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told congressional leaders Tuesday that Israel viewed things differently than the U.S. did at times, because it was not a global power and was more vulnerable.
Israeli sources said Netanyahu noted that David Ben-Gurion declared independence against the advice of the U.S.; Levi Eshkol launched a preemptive attack in 1967 against Washington's counsel; and Menachem Begin decided to bomb the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 despite U.S. opposition. Israel is "on the ground and more vulnerable," Netanyahu said in reference to Iran, saying that this made for a very different perspective.
National Security Council head Ya'akov Amidror said there was a need to "digest" what the Americans had said and make decisions "based on Israel's interests and the premise upon which Israel was created - that we are able to defend ourselves." During the meetings, Amidror said, several points were made clear: that Israel retains the freedom of action to defend itself as it sees fit, and that there is not only a cost for an attack on Iran, but also a "very, very high price to the possibility of a nuclear Iran." (Jerusalem Post)
- On Iran, Questions of Detection and Response Divide U.S. and Israel - David E. Sanger
When President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu met in the White House on Monday, the main subject was: If Iran decided to race for a nuclear weapon, would the West detect that in time to stop it? Two years ago, Robert M. Gates, then the secretary of defense, asked: "If their policy is to go to the threshold but not assemble a nuclear weapon, how do you tell that they have not assembled? I don't actually know how you would verify that."
The truth is that the answer to the question is unknowable. While American intelligence agencies famously misjudged that Saddam Hussein was advancing on a bomb project when he had none, they also have a long record of missing signs that countries were getting very close to a bomb. They missed the timing of the first Soviet nuclear test in 1949. They also got the timing wrong on China in the 1960s, India in the '70s and Pakistan in the '80s. To this day, even after North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests, no one is sure whether the country's engineers actually know how to make and deliver a real, working bomb. (New York Times)
- Between the Lines of Obama's AIPAC Speech - Robert Satloff
On the positive side, Obama did not air publicly any of the arguments against military force that whisperers from inside his administration have been telling journalists in recent weeks. Those statements had the effect of undermining the overall thrust of U.S. strategy.
On the negative side, by repeatedly saying his administration was committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon - but never mentioning the capability to build a nuclear weapon - the president clearly settled the debate about what the goal of U.S. policy really is, in favor of the narrower definition of what Washington is actually trying to prevent (i.e., a weapon, not the broader capability to build a weapon).
The writer is executive director of The Washington Institute.
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
- Military Strike on Iran: Are Obama and Netanyahu Now on the Same Page? - Howard LaFranchi
While the U.S. and Israel still do not see eye to eye on the likelihood that diplomatic pressure can compel Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions - or when military action might become necessary - several statements by Obama in recent days have reassured Israelis.
For example, Obama has unambiguously rejected the strategy of merely containing a nuclear Iran, he has described the issue as a U.S. national security interest and not just an Israeli imperative, and he has emphasized Israel's right to take full responsibility for its own national security. "When you put these together, it's a convergence that wasn't there just a few days ago," says David Makovsky, an expert in U.S.-Israel relations at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Perhaps the most significant difference concerns each country's timeline for potential military action. Israel, as the less militarily potent of the two allies, has a shorter timeline, Makovsky notes. "The Israeli nightmare goes something like, 'Too early, too early, oops! Too late,'" he says.
(Christian Science Monitor)
Issues at the Netanyahu-Obama Meeting - Ron Ben-Yishai
- Netanyahu suggests three preconditions for Iran before the West enters talks with the Iranians:
- One is immediate suspension of uranium enrichment in Iran's territory.
- The second is the transfer of some 5,600 kg. (roughly 12,500 pounds) of low-grade enriched uranium out of Iran's territory.
- The third is a halt to the installation of centrifuges and the dismantlement of existing ones at the Fordo facility, located deep underground near Qom. Running this site at full capacity of 3,000 centrifuges is considered by Israel as a situation where it would be unable to effectively hinder Iran's nuclear program via an aerial strike.
- The Americans claimed that this triple demand is impractical, and that the Iranians must not be presented with the desired ultimate result of the talks as a precondition for starting negotiations.
- Another issue raised in the meeting was the American reaction in case talks with the Iranians fail. In such a case, the Americans would impose another set of paralyzing sanctions they would try to pass at the Security Council.
- The most difficult issue to resolve is what is America's "red line" - the point where Israel and the U.S. would agree that Iran's progress requires an Israeli or American military strike or a combination of the two. President Obama told AIPAC that the U.S. won't tolerate a situation where Iran possesses nuclear weapons. However, Israel says defining the "red line" this way would in fact enable the Iranians to become a nuclear power. While Tehran won't possess a nuclear warhead or atomic bomb, it would be able to produce a nuclear device at any given moment.
- As opposed to uranium enrichment, the development of the actual weapon can be hidden relatively easily, and hence the Americans would not even know about it.
- Hence, Israel demands that the American "red line" would be defined as "nuclear capability," that is, Iran's shift to producing 90% enriched uranium, or a large quantity of 20% enriched uranium. Netanyahu also made it clear to Obama that Israel's red line is a situation whereby the new, underground enrichment facility at Fordo will approach full capacity.
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