Azerbaijan Arrests 22 in Iran Spy Plot (BBC News)
Authorities in Azerbaijan have arrested 22 people on suspicion of spying for Iran.
The detainees are said to have received orders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to "commit terrorist acts against the U.S., Israeli and other Western states' embassies and the embassies' employees," the Azerbaijani national security ministry said.
"Firearms, cartridges, explosives and espionage equipment were found during the arrest."
Secret Assad Emails Show Advice from Iran - Robert Booth, Mona Mahmood and Luke Harding (Guardian-UK)
More than 3,000 emails from private accounts belonging to Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife, Asma, were intercepted by members of the opposition Supreme Council of the Revolution group between June and early February.
Activists say they were passed username and password details by a mole in the president's inner circle.
The emails show that Assad received advice from Iran on several occasion. Ahead of a speech in December his media consultant reported on "consultations with...the media and political adviser for the Iranian ambassador."
They also show that Assad made light of reforms he had promised in an attempt to defuse the crisis, referring to "rubbish laws of parties, elections, media."
They further show the president's wife spending thousands of dollars over the Internet for designer goods.
Syrian Forces Target Doctors and Patients - Sumi Somaskanda and Sarah Lynch (USA Today)
Amnesty International has been taking videotaped testimony from Syrian doctors who say forces for President Bashar Assad have been posting troops at hospitals across the country to prevent regime opponents from getting treatment.
In some cases, doctors say the troops use hospitals to identify regime opponents for execution, and they persecute medical personnel attempting to treat them.
Patients have been taken away and killed, while doctors, nurses and emergency room workers have been arrested, tortured and even killed for doing their jobs, according to Doctors Without Borders and Human Rights Watch.
India Seeks Arrest of 3 Iranians in New Delhi Bombing of Israeli Diplomat's Car (AP-Washington Post)
An Indian court has issued arrest warrants for three Iranians in connection with a bombing attack last month on an Israeli diplomat's wife, police said Thursday.
The men were identified as Housan Afshar, Syed Ali Mehdi Sadr and Mohammed Reza Abolghasemi.
Their whereabouts are not known.
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- Obama: Window for Diplomatic Solution to Iran Nuclear Standoff Is "Shrinking"
After a meeting with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, President Obama said Wednesday:
"In the past there has been a tendency for Iran in these negotiations with the P5-plus-1 to delay, to stall, to do a lot of talking but not actually move the ball forward.
I think they should understand that because the international community has applied so many sanctions, because we have employed so many of the options that are available to us to persuade Iran to take a different course, that the window for solving this issue diplomatically is shrinking."
"I am determined not simply to contain Iran that is in possession of a nuclear weapon; I am determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon....It would trigger a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous part of the world. It would raise nonproliferation issues that would carry significant risks to our national security interests. It would embolden terrorists in the region who might believe that they could act with more impunity if they were operating under the protection of Iran."
"So this is not an issue that is simply in one country's interests or two countries' interests. This is an issue that is important to the entire international community." (White House)
- With Arms for Yemen Rebels, Iran Seeks Wider Mideast Role - Eric Schmitt and Robert F. Worth
In the past several months, Iran appears to have increased its political outreach and arms shipments to rebels and other political figures in Yemen as part of what American military and intelligence officials say is a widening Iranian effort to extend its influence across the greater Middle East.
Iranian smugglers backed by the Quds Force, the international operations unit within Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, are using small boats to ship AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and other arms to the rebels. Using intercepted cellphone conversations between the smugglers and Quds Force operatives provided by the Americans, the Yemeni and Indian coastal authorities have seized some shipments.
Militants linked to al-Qaeda continue to battle the Yemeni military in the south, and much of the north is under the control of the Houthi rebels, based just across the border from Saudi Arabia. The Houthi practice a quasi-Shiite form of Islam that makes them natural Iranian allies. "Iran is hoping to use Yemen as a pressure point against Saudi Arabia and all the countries in the Arab Gulf," said Yahya al-Jifri, a leader of Al Rabita, one of Yemen's independent political parties. (New York Times)
- Armed Bedouin Surround U.S., International Peacekeepers in Sinai - Raul O. Garces
About 300 Bedouin armed with automatic rifles mounted on pickup trucks surrounded the camp of an international peacekeeping force in the Sinai desert Wednesday, where 300 Colombian, 80 U.S. and 58 Uruguayan soldiers are stationed to monitor compliance with the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
The Bedouin group is trying to pressure Egypt to release five Bedouin convicted of terrorism in 2005 bombing attacks in Sharm el-Sheik in southern Sinai.
See also Is Sinai the New Battlefield Against Israel and the West? - Lenny Ben-David (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Netanyahu: Gaza Equals Iran
Speaking at a special session of the Knesset Wednesday on the escalation in Gaza rocket fire, Prime Minister Netanyahu said:
"The dominant factor that motivates these events in Gaza is Iran.
Gaza equals Iran.
Where do the missiles come from? From Iran.
Where does the money come from? From Iran.
Who trains the terrorists? Iran.
Who builds the infrastructure? Iran....Who gives the orders? Iran.
Gaza is a forward operating base for Iran."
"Some people say that a third- or fourth-rate terrorist organization is acting against a million citizens in the State of Israel. That is not true. Iran is operating against us....The terrorist organizations in Gaza - Hamas and Jihad, as well as Hizbullah in Lebanon - are taking shelter under an Iranian umbrella.
Now imagine what will happen if that umbrella becomes nuclear."
"Wherever we withdrew, Iran entered. We withdrew from Lebanon, Iran came in. We withdrew from Gaza, Iran came in. Some people suggest that we act in a similar manner in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. Iran will come in there too....If we come to an agreement with the Palestinians, we must ensure that our security foundations are sound and that Iran cannot enter the territory."
"Our enemies must know that, at the end of the day, Israel will not accept an Iranian base in Gaza. Sooner or later, Iran's terror base in Gaza will be uprooted." (Prime Minister's Office)
- Palestinian Rocket Fire Continues After Ceasefire - Yoav Zitun
Gaza-based terrorists fired three Grad rockets at Israel Wednesday evening. The Iron Dome defense system intercepted two, while a third exploded on the outskirts of Beersheba.
The Iron Dome defense system intercepted a Grad rocket fired towards Beersheba Thursday morning. Also Thursday a rocket landed near the town of Netivot. (Jerusalem Post)
- No "Disproportionate" Reaction to Gaza Flare-Up - Herb Keinon
This time the world, for the most part, showed little interest in the latest round of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist organizations in Gaza.
Sure, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, the 2010 recipient of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi's "International Prize for Human Rights," accused Israel of genocide, but his predictable voice was one of only a few.
Even the targeted killing of PRC commander Zuhair al-Qaissi did not generate much condemnation since targeted assassinations have now been adopted by the U.S. There is more understanding of its legitimacy because if President Obama can authorize a targeted hit against a terrorist leader hell-bent on trying to kill Americans, why can't Prime Minister Netanyahu do the same against those trying to kill Israelis? (Jerusalem Post)
- Iran's War in Gaza - Jonathan Schanzer
The latest round of violence began on March 9 after an Israeli airstrike killed Zuhair al-Qaissi, the head of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a group with deep ties to Iran-backed Hizbullah. The PRC's logo - featuring an arm brandishing an automatic weapon - borrows liberally from the Hizbullah flag (which in turns borrows from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps). The PRC launched at least 85 rockets at Israel. Palestinian Islamic Jihad - whose primary patron is also Iran, according to the U.S. intelligence committee - launched more than 185.
Iranian leaders are clearly irked that Hamas has refused to stand by Syria's Assad, a key strategic figure for Tehran in the region. Iran is using its smaller proxies, the PRC and PIJ, to create unrest on Hamas's turf. The current crisis reveals that, for Iran, Hamas is expendable. The writer, a former counterterrorism analyst at the U.S. Treasury Department, is vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
- Syria a Chemical Weapon "Powder Keg Ready to Explode," Experts Fear - Peter Goodspeed
Syria has been stockpiling chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction since the late 1970s and is widely believed to possess one of the world's largest inventories of mustard blister agent, sarin nerve gas and possibly VX nerve agent.
"The situation in Syria is unprecedented," said Charles Blair of the Federation of American Scientists. "Never before has a WMD-armed country fallen into civil war."
U.S. officials are reported to be making plans with regional allies to develop a strategy to secure the weapon stockpiles in an emergency.
Last week the Wall Street Journal reported U.S. and Jordanian officials are developing plans for Jordan's special operations forces, acting as part of a larger Arab League peacekeeping mission, to go into Syria to secure more than a dozen weapons sites. (National Post-Canada)
See also The Real WMD Nightmare Is Syria - Charles P. Blair (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)
The New Egyptian Parliament Takes Aim at the Camp David Accords - Jonathan D. Halevi (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- On March 12, 2012, Dr. Mohamed Al-Saed Idris, Chairman of the Arab Affairs Committee in the new Egyptian Parliament, presented the committee's official outline of Egypt's regional policy.
- The committee's operative recommendations called for an
official definition of Israel as an enemy, severing diplomatic relations, full support for the armed struggle against Israel, re-adoption of the total boycott of Israel, raising the issue of Jerusalem in the international arena, and a review of Egyptian nuclear policy.
- In its eyes, Israel is the foremost enemy of Egypt and the Arab and Islamic world, and the peace agreement with it (the Camp David agreement) is considered a dead letter.
- Egypt is setting itself on a collision course with Israel, using the Palestinian issue in all its aspects - including Israeli military operations against Palestinian terrorism as well as Israeli policy in Jerusalem or the West Bank - as an excuse for direct Egyptian intervention.
- Defining Israel as a "major enemy" means building a military capability to deal with the "Israeli threat," including an attempt to deny Israel any advantage in the nuclear field and/or the development of Egyptian nuclear weapons.
- At present, the new Egyptian political leadership cannot translate these policies into actions. But this situation is likely to change after the presidential elections on May 23-24 and the establishment of a new civilian government.
Lt.-Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center, is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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