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The Iranian Threat

British Bank Accused of Doing Massive Illegal Iran Business: Settles with New York Authorities

August 30th 2012

On August 6, 2012, the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), the state banking regulator, accused Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) of Britain of using its New York state branch as a clearinghouse for Iran transactions in a massive cover-up scheme involving at least $250 billion.  The DFS stated in an order that in review of 30,000 pages of bank documents and e-mail communications, it found that for nearly ten years, SCB officials “programmatically engaged in deceptive and fraudulent misconduct,” concealing transactions with Iranian financial institutions including its Central Bank/Bank Markazi, Bank Saderat, and Bank Melli, which are affiliated with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.  The bank was also accused of transacting with other sanctioned countries. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria's Government Facing 'Global Battle'

August 30th 2012

Assad

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Wednesday his government is fighting a "regional and global battle" and that more time is needed to win the conflict against rebels trying to overthrow him. His comments came as renewed fighting broke out between rebels and Syrian forces near the Taftanaz military airport, located between the northern cities of Aleppo and Idlib.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA that 14 government troops were killed or injured in fierce fighting at Taftanaz, while three rebels died during the clashes. The group also says anti-government fighters damaged three to five helicopters at the airport. Taftanaz has been targeted several times by rebels entrenched in the two cities, which have suffered daily shelling by government troops.

​​Comments signal long fight

In excerpts from an interview with Syria's privately-owned Addounia television, Assad described the situation on the ground as "practically better" but "not yet decided - that takes time." It was Assad's first interview since the explosion that tore through a government compound about six weeks ago, killing and wounding a handful of top aides. The Syrian leader, who has vowed to defeat rebels he has characterized as Islamist terrorists, praised the army and security forces for their "heroic conduct." Assad boasted, "Despite several mistakes, there is a strong bond" between the government and the Syrian people, boasting the support of the majority of the population. "Everyone is worried about their country, that is normal. But [opposition rebels] will not be able to spread fear, they never will," he said. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

U.S. Sets Record Arms Sales in 2011

August 29th 2012

Apache Helicopters

The year 2011 was a very good one for U.S. arms sales, with more than triple the business from the year before.

According to a new report to Congress, worldwide sales of U.S. weapons last year added up to $66.3 billion. That accounts for more than three-quarters of 2011 arms sales worldwide, which is “the highest single year agreements total in the history of the U.S. arms export program.”

The report was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) as part of their annual study of arms sales.

In 2010, the U.S. authorized $21.4 billion in sales, which led CRS to describe the jump as “extraordinary.” In terms of overall sales, Russia was distant second to the United States, having moved $4.8 billion. The previous record was in 2009, when the U.S. did almost $31 billion in sales.

Since the start of 2008, 81.4 percent of U.S. arms sales agreements have gone to the Middle East while 16.04 percent have gone to Asian countries. In the report, CRS notes that sales to developing nations were a major driver in lifting 2011 U.S. sales, jumping from $14.3 billion in 2010 to $56.3 billion in 2011. CRS points to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as countries that bolstered their arms purchasing in 2011, which CRS says could be linked to concerns over Iran. Saudi Arabia purchased more than $33 billion in arms from the U.S., including 84 new F-15 jets and upgrades for 70 older models. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Nigeria Official Denies Insecurity Drives Away Investors

August 28th 2012

Nigeria car bombing

An adviser to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has denied reports that the country’s security challenges are driving away investors. Doyin Okupe, senior special adviser for public affairs, says the administration is working with prominent elders in the north to find solutions to the violence often perpetrated by an Islamist militant group, Boko Haram.

“Now, very important personalities in the country, especially in the north, have constituted themselves into a very strong body and they are determined to put an end to this,” Okupe said. “And in our country, this is very cherry news, because these are very respected people whose voices can hardly be ignored.

“It is obvious to all and sundry, and those who are willing to be objective, to know that the issue of the insurgency in Nigeria is on its way out.” Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in Nigeria, including church bombings and the bombing of a United Nations building. The group has threatened international media organizations, including VOA’s Hausa service. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Lebanon Will Answer For Hezbollah Attacks On The Jewish People--Israel Vows

August 28th 2012

Hezbollah Lebanon

On Monday, Israel's characteristically blunt Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, sent a "clear message to the Lebanese government" saying Lebanon will be held responsible for -- and will answer for -- any future terrorist attack on Israel by the Hezbollah terrorist group that controls a large section of the Arab nation, an Israeli police source stated. According to a news report appearing in the Ha'aretz newspaper, the Prime Minister's message was passed along to Lebanese leaders by a "Western diplomat who met with Netanyahu in the past few weeks." This means that if Hezbollah fires rockets into Israeli territory or carries any other form of attack, Israel would retaliate and target not only Hezbollah, but also civilian facilities in Lebanon such as infrastructure, power plants, and air and sea ports, as well as government buildings, according to the Israeli police source, who is an expert in counterterrorism tactics and strategies. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Helicopter Downed in Damascus

August 27th 2012

Syrian Helicopter

Syrian rebels say they shot down a military helicopter during heavy fighting with government forces in Damascus Monday.

The helicopter appeared to catch fire amid a hail of automatic rounds coming from rebel positions on the ground. Amateur video -- which has not been independently verified - showed the chopper sputtering, before taking a nose dive and crashing in a ball of fire. A second amateur video showed what appeared to be a rotor-blade and a burnt section of the helicopter's fuselage in a small alleyway behind several houses.

A rebel spokesman said that the Free Syrian Army's "Badr Brigade" shot down the helicopter to "avenge a massacre by (regime forces) in the Damascus suburb of Daraya." He said that the body of the pilot was recovered. The report could not be confirmed. Analyst Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, says rebels have shot down Syrian government aircraft before. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Ukraine Investigates Suspected Smuggler

August 27th 2012

Ukraine

Ukrainian authorities have launched an investigation into a tunnel network running from its border into neighboring Slovakia, a member of the European Union.   There has been mounting international concern that organized crime groups from the former Soviet Union smuggle people, weapons, drugs, cigarettes and other goods into the European Union.

Ukraine's secret service, SBU, says it has discovered a suspected smuggler tunnel running from the western Ukrainian border village of Mali Selmenci into Slovakia. In a statement, the SBU says the tunnel's entrance was beneath a retail store, ironically called 'Europa.'

The store sold clothing and household merchandise.  But the SBU believes the real purpose was to hide a dangerous, four-meter-deep, underground tunnel, to smuggle goods or people into the European Union. Ukraine, which is not an EU member, has come under pressure to crackdown on organized crime. Slovaks found an even more advanced 700-meter tunnel last month, explained Slovakia's Interior Minister Robert Kalinak. The tunnel was equipped with a small train and tracks running from the western Ukrainian border town of Uzhhorod into Slovakia. Minister Kalinak says, "it was capable of transporting various kinds of goods" and he "suspects also people." Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Turkish Opposition: Government Ignoring Presence of al-Qaida

August 26th 2012

Gaza Militants

Turkish political opposition members are claiming that Turkish authorities are turning a blind eye to Islamic militants based in Turkey who are crossing over the border to join the opposition fighting the Assad government in Syria.

Mehmet Ali Edipoglu is parliamentary deputy for the main opposition Peoples Republic Party, for Hatay -- the main city in the Antakya province that borders Syria.

While he says he has no complaints about the Syrian rebels operating from the region, the past few months there has been a worrying change in the influx of new fighters.

Edipoglu says militants who are coming from Libya, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and from various countries in Africa are placed in Hatay and they say they are here to fight for Syria, to make a Jihad and bring Sharia, he says.   He says they all openly say that they are al-Qaida and there have been incidents of small fights between these people and Hatay locals. Edipoglu says many are now getting to guns to protect themselves and he says he spoke to the governor and police many times and they tell him they are keeping these people under control. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Opposition Warns Of Catastrophe In Homs

August 25th 2012

Inside Wartorn Syria

Syria's main opposition group has urged the United Nations and Arab League to intervene in order to prevent a "catastrophe" in central Homs province.

Syrian National Council member Naji Tayyra said on August 25 that Homs residents have now been besieged for more than 80 days by regime forces and all supply routes had been cut off. 

Homs, a flashpoint of the revolt that started against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011, has seen some of the fiercest battles between troops and opposition forces in recent months. The call for intervention comes as the new U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria prepares to take up renewed international efforts to mediate peace in the country.  Read more ..


Japan on Edge

Japan Increases Rhetoric Against S. Korea Over Island Dispute

August 25th 2012

Liancourt Rocks
Liancourt Rocks

Japan's top government officials and lawmakers are continuing to turn up the heat on two neighboring countries with claims on islands that Japan considers its own. While calling on South Korea to respond to the territorial dispute in a wise and cautious manner, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's remarks at a Tokyo news conference Friday evening are likely to do little to ease rising diplomatic tensions with both Seoul and Beijing. Noda tells reporters Japan will strengthen measures to secure its surrounding waters.

In a tough 10 minute opening statement, the Japanese prime minister asserted his country's territorial claims noting while it may be 61st in land size, Japan's expansive maritime waters make it the world's sixth biggest sea power. When the depths of those waters are also taken into consideration, Noda asserts, Japan is number four. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Spillover from Syria Endangers Lebanon

August 24th 2012

Syrian Refugees
Syrian refugees

On August 15, a Shiite faction in Lebanon kidnapped twenty Syrian expatriate laborers in retaliation for the earlier snatching of two dozen Shiite "pilgrims" by a Sunni opposition group in Syria. Less covered by the Western media, but perhaps equally consequential, was the August 9 arrest of former Lebanese labor minister Michel Samaha, charged with plotting to bomb a Sunni iftar dinner following the Ramadan fast. The allegation against Samaha -- a prominent Christian with close ties to both the Syrian regime and the Shiite militia Hizballah -- shocked a Lebanese government already reeling from the violence in Syria. The latest incidents highlight not only concerns about spillover from the bloody eighteen-month uprising against Bashar al-Assad, but also the need for an effective U.S. strategy to promote stability and foster a viable political alliance to displace the current Hizballah-based government in Lebanon.

THE SAMAHA PLOT

Samaha has been a public figure in Lebanon for decades. An elected member of parliament from the Christian nationalist Phalange Party, he served once as minister of tourism and information, and twice as information minister in governments led by the late Rafiq Hariri. After the civil war ended and Syria occupied Lebanon in 1991, Samaha developed increasingly close ties to Hafiz al-Assad's regime in Damascus. Later, following Hariri's 2005 assassination, the Cedar Revolution, and Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, he aligned politically with the pro-Syria, Hizballah-led "March 8" coalition. In 2007, he was banned from traveling to the US for his role in "destabilizing Lebanon." Read more ..


America on Edge

The Persistent Threat of Domestic Terrorism

August 23rd 2012

floyd corkins

A string of incidents over the past month has served as a reminder that despite the intense, decadelong focus on the jihadist threat, domestic terrorism is still an issue in the United States. On Aug. 5, Wade Page opened fire on the congregation of a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six and wounding three others. Though Page killed himself and did not leave any evidence explicitly listing his motives for the attack, his long association with the white supremacist movement was clearly a factor in his target choice.

On Aug. 15, Floyd Corkins shot and wounded a security guard in the lobby of the Family Research Council's office in Washington after the guard blocked him from entering the office. Corkins reportedly was carrying a bag containing a box of ammunition and a number of Chick-fil-A sandwiches. He apparently targeted the Family Research Council because of its public support for Chick-fil-A in the wake of the controversy over statements made by the fast food chain's founder regarding gay marriage. According to media reports, Corkins said, "I don't like your politics," before opening fire. Read more ..


America's Nukes

Nun's Story: Octogenarian Breaches Security at Nuclear Weapons Complex

August 23rd 2012

Y-12

An 82-year-old nun successfully breached a high-tech security complex’s protective fences using garden-variety, low-tech bolt cutters. And even more disturbing to the facility's security director, she remained undetected in a highly secure area on the nuclear complex’s grounds for more than two hours, according to a security report dated Aug. 22, 2012.

The octogenarian, Sister Megan Rice and two accomplices, activists Michael Walli, 57, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 63, were able to compromise three security fences belonging to Y-12 National Security Complex located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, according to a security report.

While the trio's July 28 intrusion did initiate an alarm condition, they managed to evade capture by supposedly well-trained security officers for more than two hours. During that time the Catholic nun and her two accomplices threw blood on the walls of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF) located inside the complex. They also spray painted anti-nuclear and anti-war graffiti. Built in the early 1950s, Y-12 manufactures uranium components for warheads for the U.S. military's nuclear arsenal and is the U.S.government's primary source for bomb-grade uranium. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Assad's Artillery and Tank Fire in Damascus Reasserts Control

August 23rd 2012

Syrian tankers

Syrian government forces have renewed their attacks in the capital, Damascus, killing at least 35 people in a campaign of shelling and artillery fire on August 22. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA that the deaths occurred in Kfar Souseh, Daraya and other southern districts where anti-government rebels operate. Residents said the shelling and aerial bombardment were some of the fiercest since the army reasserted control over the opposition neighborhoods. They said rebels who left the city last month during a brutal army campaign had started to return.

Also on August 22, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told BFM-RMC radio that France is providing the Syrian opposition with “non-lethal” military aid such as means of communication and protection. But he added that France opposes any military intervention in Syria without U.N. backing. Ayrault said France had responded to a request from the rebels for aid.  Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Ayatollah Khamenei Orders More Terror Attacks Against the West

August 23rd 2012

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Members of Iran’s Quds Force were recently instructed by the country’s most authoritative figure, Ayatollah Khamenei, to increase their attacks on western targets in retaliation for what Iran believes is a direct effort to help the Syrian opposition topple Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, according to senior western intelligence officials.

The directive was given at a meeting of Iran’s National Security Council in Tehran, which was held to review a report commissioned to examine the geo-political ramifications for Iran if Assad were to lose power in Syria.

Khamenei himself is said to have commissioned the report, according to western intelligence officials, and in response to international sanctions against the Iranian regime, along with western support for Syrian rebels, Khamenei has decided that his country “cannot be passive”. According to one of the intelligence sources who spoke with The Telegraph in Britain, Khamenei believes he must show “America, the Zionists, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others that they cannot act with impunity in Syria and elsewhere in the region” Read more ..


Egypt and Israel

Israel Concerned About Egyptian Tanks in Sinai

August 22nd 2012

Egyptian Tanks in Sinai

Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Turks Fear “Kurdish Spring”

August 21st 2012

Turkish Military

Turkish forces have launched a major offensive in recent days against positions held by the PKK rebel movement in the area of the Turkish-Iraqi border. Up to 2,000 troops are taking part in the operation, according to Turkish media sources.

Turkey’s Interior Minister, Idris Naim Sahin, claimed that 115 Kurdish rebels had been killed by the Turkish security forces – an assertion dismissed by the PKK, which itself claims to have killed up to 49 Turkish soldiers. The fighting has been going on since July 24, when the Turkish army responded in force to a PKK attempt to seize control of the road between the towns of Semdinli and Gerdiya. The authorities have closed off the area, making it difficult to attain an accurate picture of events on the ground. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Taking the Edge Off a Pipe Bomb--Literally

August 20th 2012

Bomb explosion

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate's (S&T) new low-cost device for dismantling dangerous pipe bombs may look like a tinkerer's project, but that's no accident. The Semi Autonomous Pipe Bomb End-cap Remover (SAPBER) is unassuming in appearance, but sophisticated enough to preserve the forensic evidence needed to track down the perpetrator.

"From ten paces away, you might mistake the contraption for a pressure washer," says S&T Program Manager Christine Lee. "But step closer and you'll find an ingenious device bristling with four video cameras, radios, a telescoping mast, cutting wheels, a twisting wrist, an electric motor, and a chain-driven gear, all powered by a pair of 12-volt batteries."

Thousands of pipe bombs are made each year, and thousands of pipe bomb threats are called into local police and FBI authorities across the country. Many are false alarms, but those that aren't can be deadly.

Dismantling a pipe bomb is tricky and serious business, and missteps during the dismantling process can produce catastrophic results. Law enforcement authorities ideally would like to preserve all evidence related to pipe bomb attacks, but the main focus of responders is the safety of the public and current pipe bomb render-safe techniques often limit the amount of evidence that can be collected. Not so with SAPBER (say-ber). Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels and al-Qaeda Alliance Becomes More Likely

August 19th 2012

al Qaeda Fighters

Syrian rebels on Thursday warned the U.S. and the European Unions they will turn to al-Qaeda if the West fails to provide aid -- including weapons -- to them, according to reports. The U.S. and other nations' hesitancy to provide meaningful aid to the Syrian rebels battling the Assad government troops in a bloodbath within nation's largest city, Aleppo, could very well cause the rebels to turn to al-Qaeda terrorists who continue to pour into Syria from Iraq, according to a counterterrorism source in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

"My colleagues overseas tell me that fighters from al-Qaeda's Iraqi faction have been sneaking into the country for at least a year in hopes of taking control of the civil war and then takeover the new government once the Syrian president and his minions are imprisoned or executed," said the veteran counterterrorist. During the Iraq War, Syria was used as a base of operations for al-Qaeda in Iraq during the most violent and destructive days of that war, according to Thomas Angeleno, who served as a police advisor under former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who was contracted to help create the first stages of the Baghdad Police during the early days of the Hussein ouster. Read more ..


Afganistan on Edge

US Troops Armed at all Times in Afganistan

August 18th 2012

Army in Afghanistan

Gen. John Allen, commander of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has taken the drastic step of ordering all American troops to be armed at all times -- even when within U.S. or coalition bases -- as a way to protect against increasing insider attacks.

The order, according to reports by CNN, states that all U.S. personnel will carry a weapon plus a magazine of ammunition around the clock. The weapons will be carried in formerly secured areas, CNN reports, such as U.S. headquarters in Kabul and other coalition and Afghan government installations around the country.

Allen issued the order on Saturday, a day after two members of a U.S. special operations group were killed by a local recruit to the Afghan police force in Western Afghanistan. The two soldiers assigned to a U.S. special forces team assigned to train and equip local police forces in Farah province, were unarmed when they were shot and killed by Mohammad Ismail on Friday. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels Step Up Efforts to Get Anti-Aircraft Missiles

August 18th 2012

Syrian Rebels

Syrian rebels are redoubling their efforts to acquire portable anti-aircraft missiles following government airstrikes on cities and towns in the north of the country. In the latest such strike, a Syrian Air Force jet bombed the rebel-held town of Azaz near the Turkish border, killing at least 50 people and wounding more than 100. Rebel commanders and activists say their buyers are now scouring the arms black markets in the region to get the shoulder-fired missiles that can counter the government airstrikes.

According to opposition activist “Tony” al-Taieb, who works with the rebel military council in Aleppo, representatives with cash from rich Syrian exiles are negotiating to buy the portable surface-to-air missiles, often called SAMS or MANPADS, for “Man-Portable-Air-Defense-System.”

“Don’t believe everything you hear about the Qataris and Saudis supplying us with heavier weaponry,” al-Taieb says. “We are getting hardly anything from them.” Al-Taieb said acquiring as many MANPADS missile systems as possible was now the highest priority for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the umbrella organization for many of the rebel brigades that have been trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the past 18 months. He said the government airstrikes on Aleppo, Azaz, Tel Rifat and villages such as Akhtarin and other settlements closer to the Turkish border were apparently designed to menace the rebel enclave in the region and disrupt rebel supply routes from Turkey. Military analysts say shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles can turn the tide of battle in an insurgency war like the one in Syria. Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

Targeting Tribal Leaders: A New Militant Tactic in Sinai

August 17th 2012

haqqani terrorists

Militants killed Egyptian tribal leader Khalaf al-Menahy and his son Aug. 13 as the two were returning from a conference in east Sinai organized and attended by tribal leaders to denounce militancy, according to Sinai security forces. The senior al-Menahy was a prominent proponent of bolstering the Sinai Peninsula's representation in Egypt's parliament and of improving security in the region. He also was a prominent sheikh in the Sawarka tribe, said to be the largest in Sinai. Following his burial Aug. 13, the tribe vowed to seek vengeance. This is the first reported case of militants attacking tribal leaders in Sinai. It comes soon after an attack on Egyptian security forces Aug. 5 and an attack on military checkpoints in northern Sinai on Aug. 8.

Although the militant tactic of targeting tribal leaders is new to Sinai, the tactic has been common in conflict zones in the Middle East and South Asia, such as in Yemen, Iraq and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. Though it can offer many benefits to these militants -- including weakening the targeted tribe and possibly leading to its co-option -- these kinds of attacks tend to only succeed in zones with little government control and against tribes that cannot effectively retaliate. Examining similar instances of this tactic thus provides a helpful tool for assessing the consequences of attacks against tribal elements in the Sinai Peninsula. Read more ..


The Edge of Defense

Dissent among Republicans over Defense Spending

August 17th 2012

B-2 Bomber

Grover Norquist, influential Republican Washington lobbyist, is advising his party’s lawmakers to cut the defense budget deeply to avoid a major federal tax hike. His remarks this week were another sign of splintering views in Republican ranks about spending on national defense, that presently consumes about half of the discretionary federal budget—with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney going in one direction and some Republican lawmakers and lobbyists headed in a different direction.

Norquist, a long-time anti-tax crusader in Washington, said in a talk at the Center for The National Interest that Republicans should not be pushing for increased spending on defense when the national deficit has ballooned. Instead, he said, lawmakers should embrace the need to balance the budget and cut wasteful projects, which he said could be done without negatively impacting national security. “You need to decide what your real defense needs are,” said Norquist. “That doesn’t mean chairmen of certain committees get to build bases in their states. That’s not a defense need ... [but] a political desire.” The debate so far, he said, has been marked by a lack of “serious conversation” on the Hill. However, he predicted that many of the Republicans unwilling to cut defense spending would either retire or be replaced in the November elections. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Google and Apple Enable Hezbollah and Hamas Pro-Terrorism "Apps" on their Phones

August 17th 2012

Smart phone

Terrorism watchers have expressed concern about Hezbollah re-launching its smart phone applications, which were previously removed by Apple and Google. The Anti-Defamation League was the first to report on such apps, which first appeared on July 25 and directs users to con­tent from Al-Manar, the Lebanon-based terrorist organization’s satel­lite tele­vi­sion sta­tion that broad­casts mes­sages of hate and vio­lence. Apple and Google later removed the app.

In a statement just issued blaming ADL for the failure of its previous efforts, Al-Manar said the app has been rereleased for the Android operating system and is “back on Ipad and Iphone applications via alternative ways, following the campaign carried out by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League to deactivate Al-Manar applications on smart phones at Google Play and apple store.”

The ADL stated in a letter, “As terrorist groups adapt to new technologies and figure out ways to circumvent restrictions, it is critical for the industry to take appropriate action to ensure that their services are not exploited by terror organizations.” Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director added, “We will continue to monitor and expose how Hezbollah and other ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions use cur­rent tech­nol­ogy to spread their vio­lent mes­sages and to work with Internet service companies to see to it that terrorists don’t succeed in evading industry safeguards designed to prevent the use of these platforms to promote terrorism. Now more than ever, the stakes are too high to be complacent.” Read more ..


Israel's Looming Strike

Israel Simulates Chemical Attack Amid Increased War Speculation

August 17th 2012

Gas Mask Triage

Israeli citizens who went shopping this morning at a Nazareth mall were in for a surprise, as emergency medical and military personnel simulated their responses to a chemical attack in the country’s northern region.

An IDF lieutenant who spoke with the Ynet newspaper says that since the Second Lebanon War there has been an increased desire to prepare for missile and chemical attacks in the northern part of Israel.

“Every time they want more. Another practice, another meeting, another round table. We try to satisfy the needs,” the lieutenant said. The exercises come amid international concerns over the safety and security of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, which is believed to be the largest in the Middle East, and renewed speculation of a major confrontation with Iran. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

US Military Pilot Training Emphasizes Drone Warfare

August 16th 2012

MQ-1 Sky Warrior drone

The U.S. military is rushing to train more pilots for remotely piloted aircraft as its reliance on drones grows in places such as Afghanistan and Yemen. Holloman has long been the testing ground for cutting edge warplanes. These days, German training jets are the few manned aircraft to be seen here. 

The skies at Holloman are now ruled by remotely-piloted aircraft, or RPA's,  flown by crews that never leave the ground. Their controls are mainly screens and joysticks.  It is here that hundreds of young airmen and women are trained to conduct missions thousands of kilometers away in Afghanistan and Yemen. 

Jay, one of the trainers, said, “The thing that’s drilled into our mind from day one is that this is not a video game. This is real. Ultimately, we could be put into situations where we do use weapons to take lives of enemy combatants.”
It used to be that the operators of remotely piloted aircraft had flown manned aircraft.   Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Panetta: Iran Training Local Militias to Fight Syrian Rebels

August 16th 2012

Iran's Revolutionary Guard

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps are actively training and assisting local militias inside Syria to fight alongside government troops that are waging a civil war against rebel forces looking to oust embattled President Bashar Assad. “Iran is playing a larger role in Syria in many ways,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asserts. “There’s now an indication that they’re trying to develop … a militia within Syria to be able to fight on behalf of the [Assad] regime.”

Iranian support to a new pro-government militia in Syria mirrors the country’s efforts in Iraq. Tehran actively provided weapons and equipment to Jaysh Al-Mahdi, the insurgent militia headed by powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr during the darkest days of the war. In Syria, Iran has continually sought to prop up the Assad regime, which Tehran sees as one of the country’s key regional allies, since government troops began their violent crackdown against Syrian rebels 18 months ago.

Since then, Iranian influence in the country has only grown, to the dismay of the United States and other world powers seeking a peaceful resolution to the growing crisis in the country. Earlier this month, members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) captured and detained 48 Iranian nationals who were traveling in the country. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Israeli Prepares for 30-Day War

August 15th 2012

Israeli Jets Parked
Israeli Jets Await Orders

Israel’s outgoing home front defense minister has told the Ma’ariv newspaper that the country is prepared for a 30 day war on numerous fronts, if Israel decides to go ahead with plans to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. “The assessments are for a war that will last 30 days on a number of fronts,” Matan Vilnai said, adding “I can say in the most authoritative manner that the home front is ready as never before in the country’s history.”

Vilnai is stepping down and will be replaced by former Shin Bet head Avi Dichter. An attack on Israel in response to the Jewish state’s operations inside Iranian territory would cause roughly 500 Israeli deaths, according to an estimate given by Vilnai. “It could be that there will be less fatalities, but it could be there will be more, that is the scenario that we are preparing for according to the best experts.”

The outgoing minister, who will now become Israel’s ambassador to China, did not offer his support for or opposition to an Israeli strike, however he did say that Jerusalem and Washington should be in sync on this issue. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Lawmakers Unhappy with Air Force Launch Monopoly

August 15th 2012

ULA Atlas V liftoff, June 2012
ULA Atlas V liftoff, June 2012 (credit: United Launch Alliance)

For six years, the Air Force has relied mostly on a single, high-cost rocket manufacturer to loft its reconnaissance, communications, and GPS satellites into space—and it is about expand that. In the fall of 2013, it plans to give the company a new $19 billion contract for all of the Air Force launches scheduled through 2017.

Some members of Congress are upset by the price tag, however, and key lawmakers—acting with the support of an array of upstart rocket firms—are starting to push back against the Air Force’s plan to reward its contractor with a five-year lock on all its launches. The latest salvo comes from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), who complained in an August 2 letter that the Pentagon’s largest launch project “lacks domestic competition and is unable to compete internationally due to high costs.”

The Air Force satellite project is known as the Evolved Expendable Vehicle Launch (EELV) program. The firm that the Air Force favors is United Launch Alliance, a joint project formed in 2006 by the Pentagon’s top two contractors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The Air Force plans to award the $19 billion deal between June and October 2013. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Israel Confronts the Painful Decision to Attack Iran's Nuclear Weapon Complexes

August 14th 2012

soldiers pray at wailing wall

Israel believes its best interests will be served by an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. That is the logic apparent in a remarkable piece at Ha'aretz, an interview with a top Israeli official who is most likely Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Ari Shavit, one of Israel's top columnists, conducts the far-ranging interview, in which the official calmly describes Israel's rationale for attacking Iran in the near future. Shavit says: “A nuclear Iran is one of the gravest things that could happen to Israel,” the decision maker begins. “If Iran goes nuclear, everything here will be different. Everything. We will shift into a different state of existence. If Iran goes nuclear, down the road Israel will face a threat of existential magnitude. The first aspect of the issue doesn’t only concern us but the international community and the regional alignment. I’m talking about the spread of nuclearization. Up to now the world has found a way to live with two recalcitrant countries: Pakistan and North Korea. If Iran goes nuclear, the world will just lose it. It won’t have any control over the nuclear demon.

"We know this as a virtual certainty because we’ve heard it straight from the horses’ mouths. If Iran detonates a nuclear device, Saudi Arabia will be nuclear. Within a few years Turkey will go nuclear. The new Egypt will acquire nuclear capability within less than a decade. People ask, what’s our rush? We’re not rushing at all. We waited for years. If Iran’s nuclearization is not halted now, before long we’ll find ourselves in a Middle East that has all gone nuclear.” Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Possible War with Iran and Regional Instability Worry Israel’s Investors

August 14th 2012

Israeli Jet Dive Bombing

Israel’s stock prices and its currency, the shekel, dropped sharply Monday amid a  media campaign against a possible Israeli preemptive strike on Iran, and it seemed investors were also worried about a generally unstable regional security situation., including  upheavals in Egypt, Syria and Jordan. “The TASE  (Tel Aviv Stock Exchange) fell hard across the board today, despite a mixed session in European markets,” reported the local financial newspaper, Gobes, citing “new talk of a possible strike on Iran.”

There was no panic selling but, economic observers spoke of “jitters” among investors brought on by several regional developments, including the New Egyptian government’s shake-up of senior army officials yesterday, sending tanks, planes  and large forces into Sinai for the first time since the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in order to fight several terror groups, and the continued bloodshed in Syria that threatens to destabilize  the border regions of Israel, Turkey and Jordan with an ever-surging flow of refugees. The air of uncertainty has also been fed by an campaign led by media opponents of the Israeli government and its consideration of a possible preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear program.

Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Hezbollah Terrorist Network

August 14th 2012

Hezbollah Troops

Secretary Timothy Geithner and his Treasury Department ordered the imposition of financial sanctions on the Lebanon-based, Iran-supported terrorist group Hezbollah on Friday, according the a government report.

The U.S. government sanctions are being imposed due to Hezbollah providing material support to the government of Syria, according the Treasury Department press statement.

In a press statement, the Treasury Department accused Hezbollah of providing training, advisors and "extensive logistical support" to the Syrian military and police in the regime's quest to destroy its opposition as a result of the uprising that started more than a year ago.

"Hezbollah [is] directly [training] Syrian government personnel inside Syria and has facilitated the training of Syrian forces by Iran's terrorist arm, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - Qods Force (IRGC-QF)," said the Treasury Department statement. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

U.S. Would Provide 'Air Umbrella' For Israel In Event Of A Strike On Iran

August 13th 2012

KC-135, A-10s, and F-16s

As talk of an imminent Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear program intensifies, American diplomatic sources have reportedly said that the U.S. will provide logistical support for Israel in the event of such an attack, as well as an "air umbrella" to help cope with possible retaliation. The Israeli daily Maariv reported these developments on Monday, and apparently emphasized the role played by electoral considerations.

"Such an intervention," writes the Times of Israel: "would all but guarantee Obama a second term in office. If he chose not to act, the president would likely be handing the office over to the Republicans, [sources] said." It appears that American involvement in an Iran strike would be solely defensive in nature, however, and the White House has no plans to take part in the attack itself. This would fit with the electoral concerns of both President Obama and Mitt Romney. While aiding Israel would likely be quite popular in the U.S., actual American involvement would likely be equally unpopular with an already war-weary electorate.


Argentina on Edge

Argentine Physicians on Strike to Demand Improved Security

August 12th 2012

justice for jennifer graffiti argentina

Doctors, nurses and other staff members went on strike at thirty-three public hospitals in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on August 9-10 for 24-hours to voice their demand for better protection from crime and violence, according to the head of the physicians' association.

The walkout was the result of a violent incident in which family members of a patient who had died stormed the hospital and attacked doctors and other medical staff. The departed, an unidentified young pregnant patient, Jennifer Farias, died three days after giving birth at Santojanni Hospital in Buenos Aires on July 18.

Several of the deceased patient's relatives and friends then attacked and beat hospital staff members, directors and top administrators. The attackers also alleged destroyed expensive equipment and medical facilities. Read more ..


Broken Government

Can’t Stop the Abrams

August 12th 2012

M1A1 Abrams main battle tank
M1A1 Abrams main battle tank

The M1 Abrams tank has survived the Cold War, two conflicts in Iraq and a decade of war in Afghanistan. No wonder—it weighs as much as nine elephants and is fitted with a cannon capable of turning a building to rubble from two and a half miles away.

But now the machine finds itself a target in an unusual battle between the Defense Department and lawmakers who are the beneficiaries of large donations by its manufacturer. The Pentagon, facing smaller budgets and looking towards a new global strategy, has decided it wants to save as much as $3 billion by freezing refurbishment of the M1 from 2014 to 2017, so it can redesign it from top to bottom.

Its proposal would idle a large factory in Lima, Ohio as well as halt work at dozens of subcontractors in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and other states. Opposing the Pentagon’s plans is Abrams manufacturer General Dynamics, a nationwide employer that has pumped millions of dollars into congressional elections over the last decade. The tank’s supporters on Capitol Hill say they are desperate to save jobs in their districts and concerned about undermining America’s military capabilities. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Life Sentence for Home-grown Muslim-American Terrorist

August 12th 2012

Click to select Image

A U.S. soldier and Muslim-American, who went AWOL and was plotting to kill other American soldiers near Fort Hood, Texas, will serve the rest of his life in federal prison, the U.S. Justice Department announced on Friday.

Friday morning in Waco, Texas, former U.S. Army Spc. Naser Jason Abdo faced United States District Judge Walter S. Smith as he sentenced Abdo to two consecutive life prison terms for attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and for possession of a weapon in order to commit a violent crime.

In addition, Judge Smith also sentenced the 22-year-old dishonorably discharged Abdo to a total mandatory consecutive 60 years’ imprisonment for one count of attempted murder of officers or employees of the United States, two counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a federal crime of violence, and one count of possession of a weapon in furtherance of a federal crime of violence, according to Justice Department officials. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Senators Suggest New Penalties in Chinese Helicopter Probe

August 11th 2012

Chinese wz-10 attack helo
WZ-10 Attack Helicopter

Two senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on August 6 called for the Defense Department to consider suspending or blocking its ties to a major weapons contractor that admitted illegally helping China develop a new attack helicopter. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the committee chairman, and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), its senior Republican member, asserted in a letterto Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that a series of export violations by the Canadian branch of helicopter engine manufacturer Pratt and Whitney and its parent company United Technologies “may have caused significant harm to our national security.”

Although Pratt, United Technologies and another firm agreed to pay a total of $75 million in fines when they publicly admitting wrongdoing in June, Levin and McCain complained that “no individual manager or employee has been held personally accountable.” The senators said that although the State Department has restricted some licensing privileges for Pratt’s Canadian branch, “we believe that the Defense Department should itself evaluate this case for the appropriateness of contract suspension or debarment.” Read more ..


UAE on Edge

UAE Arrests Highlight Challenges to U.S. Middle East Policy

August 10th 2012

Al Dhafri Military Base

Over the past few months, more than fifty Islamists have been arrested across the United Arab Emirates, a major oil producer and U.S. ally. The country's attorney-general stated this week that the detainees, all thought to be UAE citizens, had "revealed plans to jeopardize the security of the state" and were linked to "suspicious foreign parties and organizations." Put another way, they were arrested for demanding political reforms and receiving support from Egypt's ruling Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, the chief of police in Dubai, the country's commercial hub, was more explicit about the issue last month, describing the "large number of Muslim Brothers in the Gulf states" and warning that "we have to be alert and on guard...for trouble."

Washington has so far been silent on the detentions. Even so, the UAE has been surprised by the international media reaction and apparently irritated that the Islamists -- described as members of a group called "al-Islah," meaning "reform" -- are being depicted as democracy activists. The UAE government regards itself as progressive even though it lacks a parliament (the Federal National Council, an advisory body, is chosen by 129,000 carefully vetted voters). It is also proud of its openness to foreigners, who make up an estimated 80 percent of the population of more than five million.

Read more ..

Broken Borders

Of Horses and Narco-Kingdoms

August 10th 2012

Horses

Following a two-year investigation, federal prosecutors have submitted a mindboggling 30,000 pages of documentation and 2,000 recorded phone calls that paint an extensive picture of how one of Mexico's most powerful drug-trafficking organizations raises, moves and eventually washes its illicit funds.

The indictment, issued by the Northern District of Texas, charges fifteen people with laundering millions of dollars in drug profits on a sleepy Oklahoma ranch on behalf of the Los Zetas cartel, the most powerful syndicate in Mexico today. In a trial scheduled for October in Austin, Texas, the IRS and other federal authorities will present findings based on thousands of financial records and recorded conversations and dozens of witness interviews that provide information on how the Zetas conduct their business.

The case became public in June when federal agents carried out a sweep of seven locations in several states and seized 200 boxes of evidence. Eight suspects have been arrested, and an additional seven remain at large. It is widely believed that some of the defendants will take plea bargains after providing federal authorities with intelligence. The most notable figure incarcerated is Jose Trevino Morales, the brother of two high-ranking Zetas, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales and Oscar Omar Trevino Morales. Read more ..


Central Asia on Edge

Militarism in Central Asia Reflects More than Religious Extremism

August 10th 2012

Uzbekistan mosque

Since 2010, Central Asia has become increasingly volatile, a trend many have attributed to a rise in militant Islamism. Militancy has indeed risen since 2010, but the notion that militant Islamists primarily are responsible for Central Asia's volatility is shortsighted because it ignores other political and economic dynamics at play in the region.

But if these dynamics, not jihadist designs, inspired much of the region's recent militant activity, the impending U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 could put Central Asia at greater risk for militant Islamism in the future. Combined with upcoming leadership changes in several Central Asian states, the withdrawal could complicate an already complex militant landscape in the region.

Regional Militancy: Late 1990s and Early 2000s

Central Asia was an important region for Islamist militancy in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The region is predominantly Muslim, though like all religious practices, Islam was suppressed during the Soviet era. Given the region's secularization under Soviet rule, many religious groups and figures either went underground or practiced openly to the extent that the Soviets would allow.

These groups and individuals were concentrated in the Fergana Valley, the demographic core of Central Asia that encompasses parts of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Islamists were particularly prevalent in Uzbekistan, which is home to several important religious and cultural cites in areas such as Samarkand and Bukhara. Read more ..



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