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The Durg Wars

In Mexico's Drug War, Balkanization Leads to Regional Challenges

April 18th 2013

Mexico memorial

Since the late 1980s demise of the Guadalajara cartel, which controlled drug trade routes into the United States through most of Mexico, Mexican cartels have followed a trend of fracturing into more geographically compact, regional crime networks. This trend, which we are referring to as "Balkanization," has continued for more than two decades and has impacted all of the major cartel groups in Mexico. Indeed the Sinaloa Federation lost significant assets when the organizations run by Beltran Leyva and Ignacio Coronel split away from it. Los Zetas, currently the other most powerful cartel in Mexico, was formed when it split off from the Gulf cartel in 2010. Still these two organizations have fought hard to resist the trend of fracturing and have been able to grow despite being affected by it. This led to the polarized dynamic observed in 2011 when these two dominant Mexican cartels effectively split Mexican organized crime in two, with one group composed of Los Zetas and its allies and the other composed of the Sinaloa Federation and its allies. Read more ..

The Drug Wars

Mexico's Drug War: Balkanization Leads to Regional Challenges

April 18th 2013

Mexican Drug Police1

Balkanization of Cartels
Since the late 1980s demise of the Guadalajara cartel, which controlled drug trade routes into the United States through most of Mexico, Mexican cartels have followed a trend of fracturing into more geographically compact, regional crime networks. This trend, which we are referring to as "Balkanization," has continued for more than two decades and has impacted all of the major cartel groups in Mexico. Indeed the Sinaloa Federation lost significant assets when the organizations run by Beltran Leyva and Ignacio Coronel split away from it. Los Zetas, currently the other most powerful cartel in Mexico, was formed when it split off from the Gulf cartel in 2010. Still these two organizations have fought hard to resist the trend of fracturing and have been able to grow despite being affected by it. This led to the polarized dynamic observed in 2011 when these two dominant Mexican cartels effectively split Mexican organized crime in two, with one group composed of Los Zetas and its allies and the other composed of the Sinaloa Federation and its allies. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Defeating Terrorism on the Internet

April 17th 2013

Hamas head

The Internet is a crucial tool that terrorist groups and their extremist supporters use to distribute their propaganda and attack planning beyond the "physical" space where they operate clandestinely into the worldwide "cyber" space, where it is easier to reach vast audiences that have Internet connectivity. Terrorist presence and appeal on the Internet can be thwarted, however, through a four-pronged approach with simultaneously employed counter-measures.  

The Internet's websites and social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are used by terrorist groups as vehicles to conduct propaganda, recruitment, communications, training, tactics, and even issue coded plans for new attacks. Terrorists' presence in cyberspace, however, also presents significant vulnerabilities that can be (and, in fact, are) exploited by governments to defeat terrorists' on-line militant activities.   Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Democrats Warn that Sequester Cuts Undermine Fight Against Terror

April 16th 2013

Security Against Terrorism

Top House Democrats are warning that the sequester cuts are undermining the country's ability to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks like Monday's bombings in Boston.

"We know that first responders are being cut. We know that community police [are] being cut. We know that healthcare services, especially emergency healthcare services, are being cut," Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), head of the House Democratic Caucus, said Tuesday at a press briefing. "Why do we know that? Because we know the sequester … demand[s] that we make these blind cuts across the board."

Becerra said the sequester – $85 billion in automatic cuts that took effect in March – will likely leave Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (D) facing a budget crunch in the wake of Monday's tragedy. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Three Dead, Dozens Injured in Boston Marathon Explosions

April 15th 2013


At least three people--including an eight-year-old boy, Martin Richard--were killed and over 175 others injured after two bomb explosions struck Boylston Street near the Copley Square finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday. The Boston Globe is reporting that more than 100 persons, including children have been admitted to seven area hospitals and Trauma Centers, 17 in critical condition, and many others presented for treatment at South Shore hospitals. At least 10 of the injured have been reported with amputated limbs. Doctors are reporting many shrapnel injuries requiring treatment and removal from victims. Authorities are now stating that the bombs were made with ball bearings packed into pressure cookers. 

There are reports, which the FBI and police are refusing to confirm that a 20-year-old Saudi national is being questioned in a Boston hospital, and is suffering from severe burns sustained in the explosions. The man was reportedly tackled and held by a bystander as he ran from the scene. Overnight, FBI, police, and Homeland Security officials, accompanied by local firefighters, swarmed his apartment at 364 Ocean Ave. in Revere, a suburb five miles north of Boston, as part of an investigation of a person of interest. They were seen leaving the apartment with bags and boxes of materials. However, it is being reported that the man is very cooperative with authorities and gave consent to having his apartment searched. Read more ..

The North Korean Threat

US, China Pledge to Resolve Crisis on Korean Peninsula

April 14th 2013


The United States and China have expressed their desire to work together to get North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions.  Just how the two will do that remains uncertain.  North Korea topped the agenda during a visit by the top U.S. diplomat to Beijing on Saturday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says both Beijing and Washington support the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula. "China and the United States today recommitted to find a peaceful solution and we say to Kim Jung Un and to the government of the DPRK, they have an obvious choice here - which is to join us to try and find a negotiated resolution.  Regardless of what they do, we will continue to fight for that," he said.

Kerry has been urging Chinese officials to use their influence as the North’s biggest ally to get it to pull back from its provocations.  China, however, made no indication on Saturday that it was going to step up the pressure on its neighbor.  Read more ..

Broken Banking

Mystery of Pre-Civil War Helicopter Deal in Congo

April 14th 2013

One Million Dollars

On June 5, 1997, all hell broke loose in Brazzaville. Presidential forces moved on the compound of a former president whose militia hit back, igniting a civil war that would lay to waste much of the Congolese capital and claim the lives of thousands of civilians, many of them victims of indiscriminate bombardment from helicopters.

Five days earlier, as his forces readied for the offensive, then-President Pascal Lissouba personally approved the purchase of four ex-South African Air Force helicopters offered by a Johannesburg company headed by a German expat. They were French-designed Puma SA 330L transporters, suitable for military and civilian use.

Within weeks, as the war raged on, tens of millions of petrodollars started sloshing from a Paris account controlled by Lissouba’s oil-rich regime to pay for the Pumas and other items that could be useful in war. Other hardware ordered from companies linked to the German expat included two East-bloc MI-17 multi-role helicopters, four fixed-wing cargo and transport aircraft, and 290 trucks. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

What Would the US Do if Israel Defied It by Attacking the Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program?

April 13th 2013

Israeli Jet Dive Bombing

At least one of President Obama’s goals for his recent visit to Israel was probably to obtain Israeli agreement not to attack the nuclear weapons program of the revolutionary regime in Iran without US agreement. The Obama Administration feels very strongly about preventing such an attack by Israel.

Many people assume that if Israel defies the US by attacking Iran without US agreement, the US would join international condemnation of Israel, partly to convince the Iranian regime and the rest of the Muslim world that the US was not complicit in the attack, and partly in response to Israel creating major problems for the US by defying American demands.

While it is possible that this would be the US reaction, the overriding American national interest actually leads in the opposite direction. Even if an Israeli attack goes as planned, the physical damage to Iranian facilities could likely be repaired in perhaps six months to a year or so. Consequently, the most important interest of the US in the wake of an Israeli strike would be to dissuade the Iranian regime from restarting its program of building nuclear weapons. Read more ..

The North Korean Threat

Embassy Staffers in North Korea Not Evacuating

April 12th 2013

Kim Jung Un-Chinese Officiers

Foreign diplomats in North Korea appear to be staying put, ignoring a warning by the government that they should consider evacuating their missions amid rising nuclear tensions. North Korea had informed embassies on Friday it could not guarantee their safety after April 10 if a conflict broke out as concerns grew that the isolated state was preparing a missile launch. But most of their governments made it clear they had no immediate plans to withdraw personnel, and some suggested the advisory was a ruse to heighten global anxiety over the current crisis on the Korean peninsula.

"The security of the German embassy and its exposure to danger are continually being evaluated," the German foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday. "For now, the embassy can continue working." A British Foreign Office spokeswoman, commenting on the North's advisory, said: "We believe they have taken this step as part of their country's rhetoric that the US poses a threat to them." Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Hezbollah Added to Terrorist List of Bahrain

April 11th 2013


The Bahrain Council of Ministers has approved adding Hezbollah to its list of designated terrorist organizations, making Bahrain the first Arab nation to blacklist the Lebanese group, Saudi Arabian news outlet Al Arabiya reported on Wednesday.

France recently expressed its support for the designation of Hezbollah—implicated in last summer's Burgas bus bombing that killed five Israelis and their bus driver by Bulgaria's investigation into the attack—as a terrorist organization, a decision that could play a pivotal role in persuading the rest of the European Union to blacklist Hezbollah.

Bahrain says it has proof that Hezbollah was providing logistical and material support to subversive groups in Bahrain that have been making efforts to unseat the government, including a popular uprising that was sparked in early 2011. Read more ..

Israel's Next Northern War

Anti-Assad Rebels Pose Threat to Israel-Syrian Border: Intel Agencies

April 10th 2013


For close to forty years the Syrian government had deployed at least four army divisions along the eastern border of the Golan Heights. As a result, the Israeli National Police (INP), the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and the intelligence community (such as Mossad) have looked upon the Israel-Syria border to be its safest border, according to a report on Monday from an Israeli security source, Jeffrey Hochman. With the ongoing rebellion against the Syrian regime’s military, the Assad government is believed to be redeploying two divisions –- over 20,000 soldiers –- from the Golan Heights to Syria's capital of Damascus to help fend off the growing rebel militias. The rebellion against the Assad regime began in March 2011 in the southern Syrian town of Deraa. Since January, the Jihadi rebel groups have made major territorial gains in the area between Derra and the city of Quneitra, which sits on the border between the Golan Heights and Syria. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

European Foreign Fighters in Syria

April 9th 2013

Syrian Fighters w/RPGs

In recent weeks there has been much alarm about European Muslims joining the Syrian rebels. A report in the UK's Independent claimed that more than 100 Britons have gone to Syria; Le Figaro gives an estimate of 50-80 people from France; Der Spiegel talks about "dozens" of Germans; and Jyllands-Posten mentions 45 Danes. The Netherlands even raised its terrorism threat level to "substantial" based on worries that -- of the 100 or so individuals who are believed to have travelled to Syria -- some may return to Holland and become involved in terrorist attacks. This ICSR Insight provides a first full empirical assessment of how many Europeans have joined the rebels in Syria. It shows that the extent to which the Syrian conflict has mobilised Muslims across the world is significant: between 140 and 600 Europeans have gone to Syria since early 2011, representing 7-11 per cent of the foreign fighter total. European security services are well advised to adopt an intelligence-led, highly discriminate approach towards dealing with returning fighters. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Deadly Fighting Rages in Pakistan's Northwest

April 9th 2013

Taliban in Pakistan

Military officials in Pakistan say that several days of intense clashes in a key militant-dominated valley on the Afghan border have left 23 Pakistani soldiers and more than 110 militants dead. The fighting is taking place not far from a major NATO supply route.  

Backed by helicopter gunships and fighter jets, the Pakistan army began the anti-insurgency operation in the northwestern Tirah Valley on Friday and is apparently facing stiff resistance from the Taliban and their allied militant groups.

Insurgents are believed to be well-entrenched in the area, making it difficult for ground troops to launch a full-blown offensive. Army commandos are also taking part in the operation that officials say has regained control of almost all hilltops overlooking the valley.

A brief military statement issued Tuesday evening says the “anti-terror” operation is making advances and has destroyed several hideouts, in addition to killing scores of “terrorists”. It is not possible to independently verify accounts of the fighting because Tirah is cut off to reporters and aid workers. The valley is located in the tribal district of Khyber, which serves as a major supply route for NATO and American forces in Afghanistan. Moreover, it borders two other insurgency-hit Pakistani tribal districts, namely Orakzai and Kurram. Read more ..

The North Korean Threat

Amid Korean Tensions, China Warns Against 'Chaos'

April 8th 2013


China's foreign ministry has made further comments on remarks by President Xi Jinping that were widely interpreted in Western media as a rebuke of North Korea.

On Sunday, President Xi Jinping told a major regional forum that no country should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain.  His statement was widely interpreted in the Western media as a rebuke of North Korea.

When asked if Xi was referring to North Korea in his speech, China’s Foreign Ministry responded Monday that Xi’s statements referred to security in the entire Asia Pacific region. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said the international community should ensure security for all and that all countries have shared interests in the peace and prosperity of the region. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Intel Panel Hopes to Avoid Cybersecurity Fight with Obama

April 7th 2013

Shadowy Computer User

The leaders of the House Intelligence Committee are seeking to avoid another fight with the White House on cybersecurity this year.

The House Intelligence panel will mark up the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, known as CISPA, by House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) on Wednesday.  The two lawmakers argue the bill is desperately needed to give companies the ability to receive valuable threat intelligence from the government so they can thwart the rising number of cyberattacks against their computer systems in real time.

Heading into next week’s markup, the two Intelligence committee leaders are expected to propose changes to the bill that are aimed at tamping down the concerns that civil liberties and privacy advocates have raised in recent weeks. In doing so, the two are also likely aiming to avoid another repeat of last year, when the White House issued a veto threat against CISPA a day before the bill went to the House floor for a vote. Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

Nuclear Expert Says North Korea Could Start Reactor in Six Months

April 6th 2013

Nuclear Reactors

North Korea could restart the Yongbyon nuclear reactor in four to six months and produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon in less than two years, according to a former U.N. Nuclear monitoring official.

“If North Korea starts the reactor by the end of this year, they will have enough material for additional nuclear bomb by the end of the next year,” Olli Heinonen, former deputy director-general for safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), stated.

This means, Heinonen said, that the North will be able to produce enough nuclear material for one nuclear weapon every year from then on. On Tuesday, North Korea announced it would restart the plutonium reactor it had shut down in 2007. The announcement came after Pyongyang's Workers’ Party vowed to keep nuclear weapons, describing them as the “nation’s life.”     Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Philippine, US Military Exercises Begin

April 5th 2013

F-35 Military Plane

The United States and the Philippines began an annual joint military exercise Friday, involving some 8,000 troops training for disaster relief operations. The drills come at a time of high tension on the Korean peninsula and continuing maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario says the United States and the Philippines continue to strengthen their ties under a mutual defense treaty. Fresh from a trip to Washington to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, del Rosario gave the keynote message Friday during opening ceremonies for the 12-day joint exercises aimed at humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training.

“These key officials have pledged to work with us to build our own capacity to defend ourselves.  And defend ourselves, we will,” del Rosario said. Del Rosario said the exercises called “Balikatan” or “Shoulder to Shoulder” come at a crucial time for the Philippines and the region.  He says what he calls “excessive and exaggerated claims” by China of having “indisputable sovereignty” over practically the entire South China Sea have placed regional peace and stability “at serious risk.” Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Acute Jihadist Threat in Europe

April 4th 2013

DSU Special Police Unit

On March 26, the Belgian federal police's counterterrorism force, or Special Units, conducted a felony car stop on Hakim Benladghem, a 39-year-old French citizen of Algerian extraction. When Benladghem reacted aggressively, he was shot and killed by the police attempting to arrest him. The Special Units chose to take Benladghem down in a car stop rather than arrest him at his home because it had intelligence indicating that he was heavily armed. The authorities also knew from their French counterparts that Benladghem had been trained as a paratrooper in the French Foreign Legion.

Additional intelligence showed that Benladghem had traveled extensively and that, through his travels and email and cellphone communications, he appeared to be connected to the international jihadist movement. Rather than risk a confrontation at Benladghem's apartment, where he had access to an arsenal of weapons as well as a ballistic vest and helmet, the police decided to arrest him while he was away from home and more vulnerable. The Belgian authorities did not want to risk a prolonged, bloody siege like the one that occurred in April 2012 in Toulouse, France, when French police attempted to arrest shooter Mohammed Merah. Read more ..

The North Korean Threat

North Korea To Restart Graphite-moderated Reactor

April 2nd 2013

Kim Jong-Un

North Korea said Tuesday it will restart its graphite-moderated nuclear reactor to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons, breaching its 2007 agreement and inviting international criticism.

The official Korean Central News Agency said the regime would “adjust and change its existing nuclear facilities” in line with its new two-pronged policy of building atomic arms and boosting the economy, citing a spokesman for the General Department of Atomic Energy.

“This applies to uranium enrichment plants and all other facilities at the Yongbyon nuclear complex and includes refurbishing and reactivating the 5-megawatt graphite-moderated reactor that was halted and disabled according to the six-party agreement in October 2007,” it said.

“Ahead of our atomic energy field is the critical task of resolving the country’s strained electricity supply by developing a self-reliant nuclear power industry, and expanding and reinforcing nuclear forces until the world’s denuclearization is realized.” The announcement came a day after North Korea adopted a statement putting nuclear programs and economic development at the top of the national agenda during a parliamentary session presided over by leader Kim Jong-un. It will likely spur concern in South Korea and the U.S. following Pyongyang’s daily threats including a warning of nuclear strikes targeting their territories.

The Edge of Terrorism

Yemen's National Dialogue and al-Qaeda

April 1st 2013

Yemen Female Protestor

The National Dialogue Conference launched in Sana on March 18 will give Yemen an opportunity to pursue fundamental reforms over the next several months. Yet it also gives the United States an opening to help leading figures in the process focus on comprehensively defeating al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Meeting that goal will require a nuanced reform effort that aligns the state's interests with those of the tribes and other groups that have tolerated or supported al-Qaeda in the past.

The long-delayed dialogue is a central component of the 2011 Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered settlement that facilitated the transfer of power to a new government in Yemen. The six-month conference is intended as a peaceful forum for stakeholders to discuss the central issues affecting the country's stability, with a series of working groups set to take place within a parliament-like setting. Key agenda items include drafting a new constitution that addresses the devolution of power and revenue among Yemen's quarrelsome governorates, as well as preparing for legislative and presidential elections scheduled for February 2014. Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

North Korea Declares 'State of War'

March 31st 2013

N Korean Missiles

North Korea said Saturday that it was entering a “state of war” against the South, escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula. “From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly,” said a statement from Pyongyang’s official news agency KCNA.

The statement threatened “all-out war and nuclear war” against the United States. “We will first target and dissolve mainland United States, Hawaii and Guam, and United States military based in South Korea,” said North Korea.

The declaration from the North is the latest salvo as Pyongyang ratchets up its rhetoric in anger at heightened UN sanctions implemented after the regime conducted its third nuclear test, and amid military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Afghans Failing Security Test In Badakhshan

March 29th 2013

Afgan Troops

For years, Badakhshan Province enjoyed life away from the action, an island of stability as war engulfed the rest of Afghanistan. But as the broader conflict winds down, the northeastern province is offering a bleak view of the future.

That's because NATO last year handed over security duties in Badakhshan exclusively to the Afghan National Army (ANA) and National Police (ANP), but the transition has coincided with a spike in violence and increased militant activity.

The region is an ideal testing ground of Afghanistan's ability to secure remote areas on its own. It boasts the types of mountainous valleys and rugged terrain used as safe haven by militants throughout the country. It shares borders with three neighboring states -- China, Tajikistan, and Pakistan. And it is an important transit route for the booming opium trade. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

How Morocco Is Transforming Africa

March 28th 2013

Berber women

Moroccan King Mohammed VI visited three African countries south of the Sahara last week -- Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Gabon -- and convened a series of meetings the outcomes of which are poised to affect the region's development and security, as well as America's relations with much of Africa.

The north African monarch is no stranger to his southern neighbors. Since February 2005, the King has visited more than ten countries below the Sahara, including such strategically vital nations as Gambia, Congo Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Niger. The visits have been part of a strategy to enhance Morocco's role as a supporter of political, economic, and cultural development on the continent, as well as its role in enhancing regional security. Read more ..

Battle for Syria

Arms for Syria's Rebels: Shaping the War's Outcome

March 26th 2013

Syrian Jihadis

On March 25, the New York Times reported that the CIA has been helping Arab governments and Turkey sharply increase their military aid to the Syrian opposition in recent months, expanding the "secret airlift of arms and equipment." Indeed, arming the rebels with suitable weapons and providing them with appropriate training and advice can hasten the collapse of the regime, shape the endgame, and give the United States and its allies some influence on the ground after the Bashar al-Assad regime is swept away.

Yet the nature of the rebel forces creates complications for those considering such aid. One difficulty is the proliferation of units whose orientation and effectiveness cannot always be determined. Moreover, weapons in this war are fungible -- they are traded, sold, and used to gain influence, in addition to serving their combat role. As a result, a careful strategy will be needed to limit the risks of outside weapons leaking to undesirable forces. At the same time, any arms provided will only be a part of the rebels' weapons supply. By overrunning regime positions and bases, the opposition has obtained significant quantities of arms -- including some heavy and advanced weapons -- and ammunition, which have given them a degree of self-sustaining capability. While these supplies will enable many groups to stay in the fight, outside aid gives greater influence to select factions. Read more ..

Israel's Next Northern War

Israel May Create Syria Buffer Zone

March 25th 2013

IDF tanks


Our Darkest Edge

School Shootings May Provide New Uses for Weapons-Detecting Radar

March 25th 2013

Click to select Image

In the weeks after the Connecticut school shooting, as the nation puzzled over how it happened and what might prevent it from happening again, Kamal Sarabandi was listening to the news. Talk turned to giving teachers guns, and he paused.

"I said, there must be a better way," Sarabandi recalled.

Then he had an epiphany. Sarabandi is an electrical engineering professor at the University of Michigan. His specialty is remote sensing—detecting objects and gathering information from a distance. And for several years ending in mid-2012, he was funded by the Department of Defense to tweak a type of radar not too different from the kind police use to nab speeders and use it to find weapons and bombs concealed on a person's body.

The funders envisioned it for military uses. But after Newtown, Sarabandi wondered if his research had homefront applications. Maybe his millimeter-wave radar system could flag weapons on their way in to busy places where they're not allowed. "Schools, airports, stadiums or shopping malls—wherever there is a large number of people that you want to protect," Sarabandi said. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Proposed Pentagon Take-Over of CIA Drones causes Concern

March 24th 2013

Click to select Image

A White House plan to make the administration's armed drone program the sole domain of the Pentagon is creating concern among congressional lawmakers. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) last week said lawmakers have closely monitored the intelligence community’s management of the drone program. She expressed confidence with the CIA’s handling of drone attacks, and questioned if the Defense Department (DOD) would exercise the same restraint with the controversial program.

"We've watched the intelligence aspect of the drone program, how they function, the quality of the intelligence, watching the agency exercise patience and discretion," Feinstein told reporters on Capitol Hill this week. "The military [armed drone] program has not done that nearly as well," she said Tuesday, according to Defense News. Read more ..

Israel and Azerbaijani

Israel-Azerbaijani Alliance and Iran

March 23rd 2013

Azerbaijani Tank

Historic sources and research confirm that Jews of both Persian (also known as Caucasian Mountain Jews) as well as Ashkenazi origin have lived in Azerbaijan for centuries. The presence of Persian Jews in Azerbaijan can be traced back over 2,000 years, to even before the fifth century. Historically, Azerbaijan has been very welcoming toward the Jews. During the periods of both the Russian and Soviet empires Azerbaijan had no antisemitic traditions. In the nineteenth century, under the Russian Empire, Jews of Ashkenazi descent began to settle in Azerbaijan. Others arrived during World War II to escape the Nazis. Many famous Jews were born and have studied in Azerbaijan, including scientist of modern physics and Nobel Prize Laureate Lev Landau. Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1908, he enrolled in Baku State University in 1922.

During the nineteenth century, Baku became a center for the Zionist movement in the Russian Empire. The first branch of Hovevei Zion (“Lovers of Zion”) was established in Baku in 1891, and in 1910, the first choir synagogue opened in the city. Even earlier, in 1883, oil companies owned by the Rothschild family (of Jewish origin) entered the scene in Baku, followed by Rockefeller’s gigantic Standard Oil Company. Thus, the Jews lived in peace and friendship with local Azeris and had successful businesses in the country. Read more ..

Burma on Edge

Burma's Military Relations with North Korea Under Scrutiny

March 22nd 2013

Burmese Generals

Burma's military relations with North Korea are under scrutiny after Japan acknowledged intercepting a shipment of materials officials say could be used for a nuclear program.  A U.S. special advisor visiting in March said Burma needs to convince the world they have severed military relations with Pyongyang if they want suspended sanctions fully lifted.

Japan on Monday confirmed reports that customs officials last year seized a shipment of aluminum alloy rods, suspected of coming from North Korea, that could be used to make nuclear centrifuges.

Japanese media reported the shipment was bound for Burma but was intercepted from a Singaporean-flagged ship in August after a tip-off from the United States. The revelation raised concerns that, despite dramatic political reforms, Burma may be continuing to work on a secret nuclear weapons program and possibly violating U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Assessing Inspire Magazine's 10th Edition

March 21st 2013

Anwar al-Awlaki

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released the 10th edition of its English-language magazine, Inspire, on March 1. After discussing its contents with our analytical team, initially I decided not to write about it. I concluded that Inspire 10 conformed closely to the previous nine editions and that our analysis of the magazine, from its inception to its re-emergence after the death of editor Samir Khan, was more than adequate.

Since making that decision, however, I have been very surprised at how the media and other analysts have received the magazine. Some have overhyped the magazine even as others have downplayed -- even ridiculed -- its content. I have heard others say the magazine revealed nothing about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. All these reactions are misguided. So in response, I've endeavored to provide a more balanced assessment that can be placed in a more appropriate perspective. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

What’s New In U.S. Missile-Defense Plans?

March 19th 2013

Missille Launch with Jets

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced last week that Washington is restructuring its missile-defense plans to “stay ahead” of the challenges posed by both Iran and North Korea. What exactly has changed in Washington’s plans and what these changes mean for relations with Russia and China?

What are the changes the United States is planning to its missile-defense program? U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on March 15 that Washington is restructuring its missile-defense plans in the light of recent advances in missile technology by North Korea and bellicose statements coming from Pyongyang.

In particular, Washington will deploy an additional 14 long-range-missile interceptors to a base in Alaska by the end of 2017.

"We will strengthen homeland missile defense by deploying 14 additional ground-based interceptors -- GBIs -- at Fort Greely, Alaska," Hagel said. "That will increase the number of deployed ground-based interceptors from 30 to 44, including the four GBIs at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. These additional GBIs will provide a nearly 50 percent increase in our missile-defense capability." The United States will also set up a second missile-tracking station in Japan. Washington already maintains a formidable sea-based missile-defense system around Japan and South Korea, and both countries host Patriot-3 antimissile batteries. Read more ..

The Edge of Defense

Hagel Orders Review of Military Strategy

March 18th 2013

B-2 Bomber

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is ordering a fresh review of the U.S. military strategy adopted last year in light of the budget cuts under sequestration. Hagel instructed senior Pentagon leaders last week to conduct a two-month review in order to provide the framework for the 2015 Pentagon budget and the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) that’s due in February 2014.

“The review will take the 2011 Defense Strategic Guidance as the point of departure, and it will examine whether the assumptions made in that strategy are still applicable,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement.

Senior military leaders have warned that the across-the-board cuts under sequestration would force them to abandon the strategy rolled out at the beginning of 2012 that places a new emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region. Pentagon officials have said that the current strategy was designed to grapple with the $487 billion in cuts that were part of the 2011 Budget Control Act, but cannot withstand the deeper sequestration cuts. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Airline Bomber Set to be Released from Prison

March 17th 2013

airplanes shadows

The Associated Press has reported that a 1980s-era airline bomber is soon set to be released from prison. AP correspondents Eric Tucker and Randy Herschaft reported it this way: "Mohammed Rashed slipped a bomb beneath the jetliner seat cushion, set the timer and disembarked with his wife and child when the plane landed in Tokyo. The device exploded as Pan Am Flight 830 continued on to Honolulu, killing a Japanese teenager in a 1982 attack that investigators linked to a terrorist organization known for making sophisticated bombs.

"It would be 20 years before the bomber — and one-time apprentice to Abu Ibrahim, currently featured on the FBI list of most wanted terrorists — would admit guilt in an American courtroom."

The AP went on, "Now, credited for his cooperation against associates, Rashed will be released from federal prison within days after more than two decades in custody in Greece and the United States. The release does more than spring loose a convicted terrorist. It also could deprive the government of a star witness in the event that Ibrahim, a Palestinian master bomb-maker who authorities say orchestrated the Pan Am attack and similar strikes around the world, is ever captured. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria Rebels Appear to Make Big Weapons Seizure

March 17th 2013

Seized weapons in Mexico

Syrian rebels appear to have seized a large number of weapons from a government arms depot near the northern city of Aleppo. Activists posted several videos to YouTube on Saturday and Sunday showing crates of weapons and ammunition they say were seized from the arms depot in the town of Khan Toman.

In one video, Islamist rebels loaded dozens of the crates onto a truck. In another, rebels inspected the interior of a seized building containing crates of rockets and other arms. There was no independent confirmation of the rebel seizure of the arms depot.  Other activist videos posted on YouTube in recent days appeared to show rebels trying to seize the compound.

Rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have seized large areas of northern and eastern Syria in recent months, including parts of Aleppo and the towns surrounding Syria's commercial capital.  But Assad's forces remain in control of central Aleppo, his power base in Damascus and western regions dominated by his Alawite sect. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Bahrain's Royal Politics and the U.S. Navy Base

March 15th 2013

U.S. Naval Carrier

On March 11, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain announced the appointment of his eldest son, Crown Prince Salman, to the new position of first deputy prime minister, with responsibility for monitoring the performance of several government agencies. The move was seen as a signal to the political opposition that the palace is willing to compromise in the crisis that began two years ago, when government forces cracked down on mainly Shiite Bahrainis calling for a greater political voice. The crown prince is viewed as more receptive than other royals to reconciliation efforts that could defuse ongoing tensions. As Washington continues looking for ways to help mediate the crisis, it should avoid rash moves that would only embolden the island's hardliners and jeopardize the U.S. Fifth Fleet headquarters, located in the capital.

Bahrain has been wracked by near-daily violence since early 2011. Originally imitating Tunisia and Egypt's Arab Spring demonstrations, the island's protests quickly developed into sectarian affairs. The majority of Bahrain's roughly one million citizens are Shiite, but the Khalifa royal family is Sunni, as are most members of the military and security forces. On February 14, 2011, troops moved against demonstrators who had occupied the iconic Pearl Monument traffic circle in downtown Manama, while neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent additional forces to protect strategic installations. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran’s Power in the Sea Lanes

March 14th 2013

Iranian-made Submarine

The United States and Iran have never officially been at war, but several recent incidents between the U.S. and Iranian navies have had the potential to escalate into armed confrontations. In January 2012, three Revolutionary Guards speed boats harassed the USS New Orleans. The small craft came within 500 yards of the amphibious transport ship as it was transiting the Strait of Hormuz. On the same day, Iranian small boats also harassed the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Adak, operating east of Kuwait City.

Most of the close encounters involved the naval arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is distinct from the conventional Iranian Navy. In contrast, U.S. Navy commanders routinely say their interactions with the regular Iranian Navy are professional. The U.S. and Iranian navies had several hostile encounters in the 1980s. Iranian attacks on commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf triggered armed exchanges between their navies during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). The United States responded in Operations Nimble Archer (October 1987) and Praying Mantis (April 1988). Read more ..

Defense Edge

The Ghost Fleet of Military Aircraft: a Saga of Pork and Mis-expenditure

March 14th 2013


When I was a kid obsessed with military aircraft, I loved Chicago's O'Hare airport. If I was lucky and scored a window seat, I might get to see a line of C-130 Hercules transport planes parked on the tarmac in front of the 928th Airlift Wing's hangars. For a precious moment on takeoff or landing, I would have a chance to stare at those giant gray beasts with their snub noses and huge propellersuntil they passed from sight.

What I didn't know then was why the Air Force Reserve, as well as the Air National Guard, had squadrons of these big planes eternally parked at O'Hare and many other airports and air stations around the country. It’s a tale made to order for this time of sequestration that makes a mockery of all the hyperbole about how any spending cuts will "hollow out" our forces and "devastate" our national securty. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran’s Power in the Air

March 14th 2013

Iran Missiles

Iran has the largest and most diverse inventory of long-range artillery rockets and ballistic missiles in the Middle East. It is estimated to have between 200 and 300 Scud-B and Scud–C missiles, which Iran has renamed the Shahab-1 and Shahab-2. It also owns hundreds of Zelzal rockets and Fateh-110 semi-guided rockets (see below). 
These systems allow Iran to threaten targets throughout the Gulf littoral, but they are not accurate enough to be decisive militarily. Iran would need at least 100 missiles armed with 500-kg conventional warheads — and potentially many more — to destroy a specific target with a moderate level of confidence. If fired in large numbers, Iranian missiles might be able to harass or disrupt operations at large U.S. or GCC military targets, such as airfields, naval ports or fuel depots. But such attacks are unlikely to not halt activities for a significantly long time.   Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Kurdish Rebels Free Eight Turkish Captives

March 13th 2013

Turkish Soldiers on patrol

A Kurdish rebel group has released eight Turkish citizens who had been held captive for almost two years.  The move is part of ongoing peace efforts to end the decades long conflict between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The handover occurred in neighboring northern Iraq where the captives, a mix of Turkish soldiers and civil servants, had been held.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul welcomed the release. "We are happy that our citizens who had been away from their country for so long, and from whom we had not received any news, are returning," he said.

The release of the captives is part of a government-led initiative to bring an end to the 29-year conflict with the PKK. Speaking ahead of the captives' release, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay described the PKK move as an important goodwill gesture and said peace efforts remain on track. Government talks with Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is being held in a Turkish prison, began last year. Ocalan called for the release of the captives last month. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Iranian Shiite Terror Cell in Nigeria Followed a Familiar Pattern

March 12th 2013

Nigeria car bombing
Car Bombing in Nigeria

On February 20, 2013, Nigeria’s State Secret Service (SSS) paraded with grand fanfare a local Shiite cleric, Mallam Abdullahi Mustaphah Berende, 50. According to Nigerian authorities, he headed a terrorist group backed by “Iranian handlers” that was plotting to assassinate former Nigerian president Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and the deposed Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, father of the current national security adviser, Col. (ret.) Sambo Dasuki, and to attack Israeli and American targets in Nigeria.

Previous Iranian Operations in Nigeria

This new crisis in Nigerian-Iranian relations comes barely less than three years after an Iranian weapons shipment was discovered in Lagos Apapa Port (on October 26, 2010) concealed in thirteen containers aboard a ship sailing from Bandar Abbas, in clear violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (of June 2009) imposing additional sanctions on Iran. (This episode was followed by the discovery of $10 million worth of heroin hidden in engine parts shipped from Iran that was seized at Lagos Airport that same year.) Read more ..

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