Israel Seizes Syrian Ship Bringing Iranian Weapons To Gaza--Will Nukes Be Next?
Early Tuesday morning (Israel Time), IDF fighters boarded the cargo ship Victoria at sea, then 200 miles out from Israel. The Victoria is a German-owned vessel, operated by a French company, and flying the Liberian flag. The commando unit executing this raid was Shayetet 13. This is the commando unit that was involved in the Mavi Marmara raid last year. That was the terrorist-carrying ship which created an international incident when it tried to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza. (AKA the Guerilla Floatilla).
The boarding was based on confirmed intelligence that the vessel was carrying illicit arms destined for terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. It sailed Monday night from the Syrian port of Lattakai bound for Turkey. There, it was supposed to unload the weapons, which would be conveyed by land to Gaza. Lattakai is the same port where two Iranian war ships docked in February after traversing the Suez Canal. At the time, IDF officials raised concerns of the possibility that they were carrying weapons intended for terrorists organizations, but there was no confirmation.
“The operation was approved as necessary in accordance with government directives in light of Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz’s recommendations,” Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, Head of the Foreign Press Branch, said during a conference call this morning. Gantz updated Defense Minister Ehud Barak about the findings on-board the vessel Tuesday morning.
“The IDF and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs alerted German authorities about the interception of the “Victoria” due to the German ownership of the ship.”
In addition, the government of Liberia, whose flag it was flying under, was notified, as well as France, due to the French shipping company. The Israeli Navy has conducted numerous operations over the years against Iranian smuggling to Hamas and Hezbollah. The IDF believes that neither Egypt nor Turkey has any connection to the ship’s cargo. The evidence it has indicates that Syria and Iran were the main actors.
The IDF has not said yet exactly what types of weapons they found on the ship but based on what can be seen in the pictures they provided, one can assume that they could do much damage. According to Lt. Col. Leibovich, the most important fact here is that the IDF can draw a direct line from Syria to the attempt to smuggle weapons into Gaza. The weapons are Iranian.
Lt. Col. Leibovich did not know whether the weapons were connected to the Iranian warships that passed through the Suez Canal three weeks ago. But this is a distinct possibility.
Lt. Col. Leibovich did not know whether the crew knew what they were carrying. But, it should be noted that nothing in the freight manifest of the Victoria revealed the true nature of the content of the ship’s containers, in violation of the relevant provisions of the International Maritime Organization’s Conventions and professional standards, including the Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG).
The IDF did not notify anyone in advance that it was going to board the ship. The IDF informed the Germans, the French, the Liberians and the Americans only after it had opened the three containers of weapons. Intriguingly, Lt. Col. Leibovich did not answer when asked whether the Germans and French knew what was on the ships when they were contacted.
This raises some concerns for the world community, especially the need to prevent smuggling arms to terrorists. This attempt at moving large amounts of weaponry aboard the Victoria provides additional proof of Israel’s imperative need to examine all goods entering the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Israel cannot allow weapons and military equipment to reach the hands of terrorists, who will use them against its civilian population. If the world community doesn’t want to act, Israel will.
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U.S.-trained forces arrested in bloody slaying of kids
5 members of Jewish family killed inside their home
By Aaron Klein
Murdered members of Udi Fogel family
JERUSALEM – Two members of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' official security forces were arrested in conjunction with this past weekend's bloody massacre in which five family members were brutally stabbed to death inside their home in the Jewish village of Itamar, WND has learned.
The names of the apprehended suspects will be released to the Israeli media within hours but were revealed to WND by security officials working on the murder.
Two cousins are now in Israeli custody and are suspected in the slayings. Ahmed Awad is an officer in Abbas' Preventative Security Services in the northern West Bank city of Nablis. Iyad Awad is an officer in Abbas' General Intelligence services in Ramallah.
Both the Preventative and General Intelligence services of Fatah are armed, trained and funded by the U.S.
The duo did not personally carry out the murders, but rather they assisting in the planning and logistics, informed security sources told WND.
Since the late 1990s, the U.S. has run training bases for PA militias. The U.S. also has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid and weapons to build up the PA militias.
Since 2007, the U.S. has stepped up its efforts at training the PA, including a new, advanced program for Palestinian police to train 500 to 600 cadets at a time at the American bases.
The U.S. currently operates training bases for the PA police and other militias, such as Force 17 and the Preventative Security Services in the West Bank city of Jericho and the Jordanian village of Giftlik.
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Yesterday, WND was the first to report that cells from the PA's so-called military wing were involved with planning and carrying out the killings.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the "military wing" of Abbas' Fatah party, at first released a pamphlet taking responsibility for the attack and then quickly retracted the statement.
Many Brigades members, including much of the group's senior leadership, double as members of Fatah's U.S.-backed security forces.
Top sources in the Brigades leadership in the northern West Bank city of Nablus confirmed to WND that members of the Fatah group planned and helped to carry out the attack.
The sources claimed the attack was not sanctioned by the Fatah leadership but was planned by Brigades members who were acting on their own.
Also, the sources said the actual perpetrators of the attack were sleeper cells from Hamas, while the Brigades leaders planned the attack, provided logistical support and aided in the Hamas agents' escape.
If accurate, this would demonstrate unusual cooperation between Hamas and Fatah rivals.
The U.S. administration has labeled Fatah as a "negotiating partner" for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Just two weeks ago, WND reported exclusively that members of Abbas' Brigades, now classified by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization, have been brandishing weapons publicly in recent days despite a disarmament agreement with Israel.
According to informed Israeli security sources, messages were passed to the PA by the Israel Defense Forces and Israel's Shabak security services that the armed Brigades members must lay down their weapons or face arrest.
Israeli security officials told WND two weeks ago they fear the newfound militancy of the Brigades – evidenced by their publicly brandishing weapons – may be a strategic decision on the part of the PA to orient itself in a more extremist direction following President Obama's championing of unrest that toppled pro-Western regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.
Last Friday's massacre, in the northern West Bank village of Itamar, saw Palestinian assailants stab to death the Fogel family – father Udi, 37; mother Ruth, 36; 10-year-old Yoav; 4-year-old Elad; and 3-month-old Hadas – inside their home. Two other children in the house at the time were not hurt in the attack, apparently because the terrorists did not notice them.
Israel National News reported the initial findings of the investigation show the terrorists stabbed the Fogel family's sleeping 3-year-old in the heart and slashed the throat of his 3-month-old sister.
The assailants apparently entered the Fogel's home through a living room window. They did not notice a 6-year-old boy sleeping on the couch and continued on to the bedroom, where they slashed the throats of the father and newborn baby sleeping there.
The mother, Ruth, came out of the bathroom and was stabbed in the doorway. The evidence shows she tried to fight the terrorists.
The Palestinians found 10-year old Yoav reading in bed when they stabbed him to death.
They apparently also did not notice a 2-year old asleep in his bed but murdered the 3-year old with two stabs to his heart.
After that, the terrorists reportedly locked the door of the house and exited through the window.
The Fogel's 12-year-old daughter returned home only to find the horrific scene. She reportedly ran out of the house screaming.
According to reports, she was not able to initially enter the locked house so she woke up a neighbor, who assisted her in waking up one of the sleeping children inside the Fogel home who had had not been noticed by the terrorists.
Palestinian Media Watch today reported on the rampant incitement to violence in the PA media in the days and weeks before yesterday's attack.
Just one day before the assault, Sabri Saidam, adviser to and under-secretary of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, delivered a speech in which he emphasized that weapons must be turned towards the "main enemy [Israel]" and that internal differences of opinion must be set aside.
In the week leading up to the terrorist attack, the PA announced plans for a football tournament named after the first female Palestinian suicide bomber, Wafa Idris, who killed one and reportedly injured more than 150 when she blew herself up in Jerusalem in January 2002.
Earlier, Abbas' representative, Azzam Al-Ahmed, member of the Fatah Central Committee, was the guest of honor at a Palestinian scout ceremony in which buildings representing Jewish residents of the West Bank were blown up.
In December, Abbas granted the relatives of a Palestinian terrorist $2,000 as part of a regular PA campaign that supports so-called "shahids" or "martyrs" who die while attacking Jews.
Revolution, not Reform, for IraniansPosted by Lisa Daftari
In light of ongoing uprisings and historical, political and social shifts in the Middle East, the Iranian regime continues to skillfully distract the world’s attention from the region’s most detrimental cancer: itself. In timely fashion, the Iranian government brings to the forefront completely inconsequential developments and fabrications in order to keep its sizable opposition out of the spotlight.
Last week, reports of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s exit from Iranian politics filled international media headlines. Rafsanjani, seen as a more moderate Iranian politician, withdrew from the race to become president of the Assembly of Experts, an 83-member group entrusted with appointing and removing Iran’s supreme leader. He will nonetheless remain a member of the assembly, which he has been a part of since 2007. Conservatives in Iran’s government had called for Rafsanjani’s demise since 2009 as he spoke out against harsh crackdowns and was “excessively tolerant” of the opposition.
Recently, news of Presidential Election candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi’s and Mehdi Karoubi’s alleged arrests and imprisonment in Tehran’s Heshmatieyeh Jail made waves in the media. Soon after, news agencies and websites called the arrests a rumor and claimed that the men, along with their families, were in their homes. The two had been under house arrest for weeks in the backdrop of other Middle East uprisings and for fear that they would be instrumental in organizing Iran’s opposition movement.
Developments about Rafsanjani, Mousavi and Karoubi serve a two-fold purpose for the regime. On a simple level, the regime seeks to streamline and consolidate its own grip and rule over the country by sidelining political dissenters. At the same time, the regime is handpicking and tailoring the coalition it wishes to call the “opposition.” Mousavi and Karoubi are labeled “moderate,” although many would contest the claim, but even so, they have bloodied their hands alongside the regime’s brutality and have been dutifully devoted to its hard-line ideology.
What the government has not considered in its entirety is that alongside its own repetitive and cleaver antics, the Iranian people, now having the experiences of their last unsuccessful uprising in the post-election demonstrations of 2009 and watching as their neighbors in the region successfully overthrow their dictators, possess a matured and refined view of opposition and reform.
The Iranian government is evading the reality that should the Iranians organize and rise against their regime, it will no longer be in reaction to a fraudulent election led by two of the regime’s own candidates. On the contrary, what makes the task of the Iranian opposition so daunting is that they are out not to oust an individual, the way the Egyptians or Tunisians did. They are out to oust a regime.
Perhaps the benefits that accompany the Iranian experience, the passage of time and even the taste of failure, is the realization that reforms and moderation will not answer their calls for freedom and justice. Only a change in regime and political ideology will.
It would be inaccurate to call Mousavi and Karoubi opposition leaders when their mere approval as presidential nominees substantiates a resolute allegiance to the Islamic regime and its doctrines. Iran’s Guardian Council, a body of 12 Iranian men, six clerics selected by the Supreme Leader and six lawyers, referred by the head of Iran’s judiciary and elected by the Parliament, is entrusted with the vetting process and obligated to literally “guard” the values of the Islamic Republic. Consequently, they must chose candidates who will do the same. According to the Iranian constitution, presidential candidates must possess a “convinced belief” in the founding principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Within these guidelines the Guardian Council vetoes candidates who are deemed unacceptable — in other words, those who possess views that stray from the regime’s agenda. In the 2009 election, 476 candidates had applied. Only four passed through the sieve of the Guardian Council. Mousavi and Karoubi made the cut.
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Nuclear Disaster in Japan?
Posted by Rich Trzupek
If there is a positive note to be found in the devastating earthquake that struck Japan last week it should be this: the aftermath of the disaster suggests that, despite some low-level threats related to radiation, nuclear power is still far safer than its critics have claimed.
You wouldn’t know that from the way that the mainstream media has covered the story, particularly when it comes to the Fukushima Daiichi plant that was hardest hit, but this is undoubtedly the case nonetheless. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) will have an expensive clean up to deal with, but the health risks to the Japanese people remain minimal. While authorities initially warned that radiation levels at the plant had increased, they now say that there are no health dangers posed by the plant.
It’s rather remarkable when you think about it. A huge nuclear power plant suffered the twin blows of a massive earthquake and huge tsunami while three reactors were operating, yet there was no nuclear disaster. Japan will mourn the thousands of dead that Mother Nature took from her for a long time, but it seems likely that no bodies will be traced to the Fukushima plant.
To understand why such bold statements are justified, we must start with a few basics regarding nuclear reactor design and the details of the last week’s events at Fukushima. First of all, the reactors at Fukushima were designed to withstand a massive earthquake. They’re built on bedrock, their primary containment vessels are massive, and there are multiple back-up systems. When the earthquake hit, all of the primary and secondary containment vessels survived undamaged. Water flowing through the vessels keeps the temperature and pressure in the vessels at safe levels. When the earthquake hit, primary power to the water pumps was lost. No problem – back up diesel generators cut in to take up the load and keep water flowing. Then the tsunami hit, a much bigger tsunami than designers anticipated, and this blow knocked out the back-up generators, which effectively shut down the pumps.
TEPCO then took steps to stop nuclear reactions in Units 1, 2 and 3, but you can no more bring a nuclear reaction to an immediate halt than you can instantly stop a car going 60 miles an hour. Thus, all of the frenetic news coming out of Fukushima is really nothing more than coverage of a controlled shut down in abnormal conditions. Disaster is not looming around the corner, but the mainstream media loves to create drama. I have no doubt that the MSM will publish self-serving stories in a week or two that piously describe how disaster was “narrowly averted” at Fukushima.
The explosions that have occurred are a result of what happens when liquid water dissociates at high temperatures, forms hydrogen and oxygen, and those two elements then recombine explosively. It’s spectacular and the explosions have destroyed non-vital parts of structures, but those explosions haven’t resulted in the release of any radiation or damage to the primary containment vessels. When pressures in the vessels did climb too high, TEPCO vented excess gas to ensure that primary containment structural integrity would not be compromised. The small amounts of radiation released were vented through a filter that removed that tiny bit of radioactivity. TEPCO has introduced sea water into Units 1 and 3 (Unit 2 is doing fine) to further cool the fuel rods until the nuclear reactions stop. There is not, and never has been, any danger of a catastrophic fuel rod explosion as happened at Chernobyl. This is rather another “Three Mile Island” moment for the nuclear power industry: a “disaster” in which nobody is killed, nobody gets hurt and nobody is in any real danger. While I can understand the public relations aspect inherent to the Japanese government’s decision to issue an evacuation order around the Fukushima plant, it has no scientific basis for doing so.
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The House of Saud's intervention in Bahrain is a slap in the face of the United States, and a setback for peace on the island.
BY JEAN-FRANÇOIS SEZNEC
One thousand "lightly armed" Saudi troops and an unspecified number of troops from the United Arab Emirates entered Bahrain on the morning of March 14, in a bid to end the country's monthlong political crisis. They are reportedly heading for the town of Riffa, the stronghold of the ruling Khalifa family. The troops' task, apparently, is to protect the oil installations and basic infrastructure from the demonstrators.
The Arab intervention marks a dramatic escalation of Bahrain's political crisis, which has pitted the country's disgruntled Shiite majority against the Sunni ruling family -- and has also been exacerbated by quarrels between hard-liners and liberals within the Khalifa clan. The clashes between protesters and government forces worsened over the weekend, when the security services beat back demonstrators trying to block the highway to the capital of Manama's Financial Harbor. The protesters' disruption of the harbor, which was reportedly purchased by the conservative Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa for one dinar, was an important symbolic gesture by the opposition.
For the United States, the intervention is a slap in the face. On Saturday, March 12, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Bahrain, where he called for real reforms to the country's political system and criticized "baby steps," which he said would be insufficient to defuse the crisis. The Saudis were called in within a few hours of Gates's departure, however, showing their disdain for his efforts to reach a negotiated solution. By acting so soon after Gates's visit, Saudi Arabia has made the United States look at best irrelevant to events in Bahrain, and from the Shiite opposition's point of view, even complicit in the Saudi military intervention.
The number of foreign troop is so far very small and should not make one iota of difference in Bahrain's balance of power. The Bahraini military already total 30,000 troops, all of whom are Sunnis. They are under control of Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa and supposedly fully faithful to King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. Bahrain also has a similar number of police and general security forces, mainly mercenaries from Baluchistan, Yemen, and Syria, reputed to be controlled by the prime minister and his followers in the family.
At this time, therefore, the Saudi intervention is largely a symbolic maneuver. It is so far not an effort to quell the unrest, but intended to scare the more extreme Shiite groups into allowing negotiations to go forward. The crown prince recently laid out six main issues to be discussed in talks, including the establishment of an elected parliament empowered to affect government policy, fairly demarcated electoral constituencies, steps to combat financial and administrative corruption, and moves to limit sectarian polarization. He notably failed to mention one of the opposition's primary demands -- the prime minister's resignation.
The Saudi move, however, risks backfiring. It is extremely unlikely that the Saudi troops' presence will entice moderate Shiite and Sunni opposition figures to come to the table -- the intervention will force them to harden their position for fear of being seen as Saudi stooges. The demands of the more extreme groups, such as the Shiite al-Haq party, are also likely to increase prior to negotiations. These elements, having seen job opportunities go to foreign workers and political power dominated by the ruling family for decades, have grown steadily disenchanted with prospects of talks.
But there's much more we can do to reduce the odds of a catastrophe.
BY JAMES M. ACTON
Until March 11, with the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident approaching -- and memories of that disaster receding -- safety concerns no longer appeared to be the killer argument against nuclear power they once were. Instead, another fear, of climate change, looked like it might be driving a "nuclear renaissance" as states sought carbon-free energy sources. But the ongoing crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station will return safety to the forefront of the nuclear power debate. Even the most ardent industry advocates now recognize that the unfolding crisis inside two reactors there -- shown on live television and beamed around the world -- has left the future of their industry in doubt.
Nevertheless, the case for nuclear power remains strong. All forms of energy generation carry risks. Fossil fuels, which (for the time being at least) are nuclear energy's principal rival, carry the risk of catastrophic climate change. And as we're seeing in Japan, we haven't eliminated all the dangers associated with nuclear power, even though accidents are few and far between.
Good public policy involves balancing these risks. Persuading the public to accept the risks of nuclear energy will, however, not be easy. To do so, the nuclear industry will have to resist a strong temptation to argue that the accident in Japan was simply an extraordinarily improbable confluence of events and that everything is just fine. Instead, it must recognize and correct the deficiencies of its current approach to safety.
When it comes to safety, the nuclear industry emphasizes the concept of "defense in depth." Reactors are designed with layers of redundant safety systems. There's the main cooling system, a backup to it, a backup to the backup, a backup to the backup to the backup, and so on. A major accident can only occur if all these systems fail simultaneously. By adding extra layers of redundancy, the probability of such a catastrophic failure can -- in theory at least -- be made too small to worry about.
Defense in depth is a good idea. But it suffers from one fundamental flaw: the possibility that a disaster might knock out all of the backup systems. A reactor can have as many layers of defense as you like, but if they can all be disabled by a single event, then redundancy adds much less to safety than might first meet the eye.
This kind of failure occurred at Fukushima Daiichi on March 11. As soon as the earthquake struck, the reactors scrammed: The control rods, used to modulate the speed of the nuclear reaction, were inserted into the reactor cores, shutting off the nuclear reactions. So far so good. Nevertheless, the cores were still hot and needed to be cooled. This in turn required electricity in order to power the pumps, which bring in water to cool the fuel.
Unfortunately, one of the external power lines that was designed to provide electricity in just such a contingency was itself disrupted by the earthquake. This shouldn't have mattered because there was a backup. But, according to a news release issued by the power-plant operator, the malfunction in one external supply somehow caused off-site power to be lost entirely.
Once again, this shouldn't have been too much of an issue. There was a backup to the backup in the form of on-site diesel generators. And, sure enough, they kicked in. Fifty-five minutes later, however, they were swamped by the tsunami that followed the earthquake. From that moment on, plant operators were in a desperate struggle to prevent core melting.
Japanese regulators are certainly aware of the danger of earthquakes; they take safety extremely seriously. Like other buildings in Japan, nuclear reactors must be able to withstand earthquakes. The problem, as we now know, is that there is a significant chance of them falling victim to events more extreme than those they were designed to withstand.
A political psychologist assesses Libya's mercurial leader.
BY JERROLD M. POST
The rambling statements of Muammar al-Qaddafi since the uprising in Libya began on Feb. 17 have led many to characterize the idiosyncratic Libyan leader as a madman, psychotic, out of touch with reality. Among the statements made by Qaddafi that have led observers to question his sanity are his characterization of the rebels as "drug-crazed youth" whose Nescafé the United States plied with hallucinogenic drugs. He also accused al Qaeda of being behind the rebellion, only to then again accuse the United States. In his first media interview on Feb. 28 since the uprising began, with BBC, ABC, and the Sunday Times, when asked about his countrymen rising against him, Qaddafi denied it:
"There are no demonstrations at all in the streets. Did you see the demonstrations? Where? They are supporting us. They are not against us. There is no one against us. Against me for what? Because I am not president. They love me. All my people are with me. They love me all. They will die to protect me, my people."
This led many to conclude that he was denying reality. He also went on a rant blaming al Qaeda:
"It is Qaeda, it is Qaeda, it is Qaeda, not my people. It is Qaeda, Qaeda, Qaeda, yes. They came from outside. It's al Qaeda. They went into military bases and seized arms and they're terrorizing the people. The people who had the weapons were the youngsters. They're starting to lay down their weapons now as the drugs that al Qaeda gave them wear off."
When he was asked in the interview whether he would step down, Qaddafi again denied that he has any authority:
"If they want me to step down, what do I step down from? I'm not a monarch or a king. It's honorary. It has nothing to with exercising power or authority. In Britain, who has the power? Is it Queen Elizabeth or David Cameron?"
Most recently Qaddafi indicated that the rebellion was the result of a conspiracy by the West to recolonize Libya in order to gain control of its oil.
Characterizations of being psychotic have been leveled at Qaddafi since he took over the reins of Libya in a bloodless coup in 1969 at the age of 27. A Time magazine article from April 1986 quoted U.S. President Ronald Reagan as calling him "the mad dog of the Middle East." But for the most part, during his 42 years at the helm of Libya, he has been crazy like a fox.
While this is not a definitive clinical diagnosis, Qaddafi can best be characterized as having a borderline personality. The "borderline" often swings from intense anger to euphoria. Under his often "normal" facade, he is quite insecure and sensitive to slight. His reality testing is episodically faulty. While most of the time Qaddafi is "above the border" and in touch with reality, when under stress he can dip below it and his perceptions can be distorted and his judgment faulty. And right now, he is under the most stress he has been under since taking over the leadership of Libya. Thus, the quotes elaborated above probably accurately reflect his true beliefs. He does sincerely cling to the idea that his people all love him.
Qaddafi's strong anti-authority bent and his tendency to identify with the underdog can be traced back to his childhood. He was born in a tent in the desert to a Bedouin family in 1942. When Qaddafi was 10 years old, Gamal Abdel Nasser took over the reins of Egypt at the head of the Free Officers Movement, which made a deep and lasting impression on the young Qaddafi. He initially attended a Muslim school, where he was recognized as being very bright, and was sent to Tripoli to continue his education, but was teased by the children of the cosmopolitan elite for his coarse manners, leaving him with a bitter resentment of the establishment.
In Libya at that time, a military career provided an opportunity for upward mobility, and Qaddafi entered the Libyan military academy in Benghazi in 1961. Nasser and his revolutionary nationalism assumed a heroic stature in the mind of Qaddafi and his fellow students. He first began to think of organizing a military coup against the corrupt regime of King Idris while in military college, and on Sept. 1, 1969, with a small group of junior military officers, formed Libya's own Free Officers Movement and successfully led a bloodless coup to depose the king.
From the very beginnings of his leadership of the junta known as the Revolutionary Command Council, the deeply anti-establishment Qaddafi actively supported groups that he considered underdogs, who represented themselves as attacking imperialism. He became one of the world's most notorious supporters of terrorist groups around the world, with no particular benefit to Libya. His support of terrorism was both wide and deep. He sent arms to the Irish Republican Army, provided financial support to the social revolutionary group FARC in Colombia, and to the Red Army Faction in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy. He reportedly provided major financial support to the "Black September" organization responsible for the massacre of the Israeli Olympic team at the Munich Olympics in 1972. He praised the terrorist attack by the Japanese Red Army on the Lod Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, urged Palestinian terrorist groups to carry out attacks on Israel, and offered to provide financial support and training.
Following Nasser's lead, he attempted to create a pan-Arab nation, merging first with Egypt and Syria, and then later attempting to merge with Tunisia, but his would-be partners were quick to discover that to merge with Libya was to be taken over by Qaddafi, leading to the swift failure of these proposed unions. In Qaddafi's modest view, he and Libya were at the very center of three overlapping circles: the Arab world, the Muslim world, and the Third World.
The Afghan surge has been a success.
BY SETH G. JONES
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Despite all the political hand-wringing in Washington over the war in Afghanistan, it's the Taliban who are now on the defensive on the military battlefield. Indeed, there is a growing recognition among senior Taliban leaders that they are losing momentum in parts of southern Afghanistan, their longtime stronghold. This is more than the normal winter lull of senior Taliban fighters migrating to Pakistan: The Taliban have definitively lost territorial control in parts of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, and other southern provinces.
According to a growing body of Afghan, NATO, and even Taliban reports, Taliban leaders held a secret meeting last month near Quetta, Pakistan, to discuss concerns that they had lost territory in parts of Helmand province and other areas in southern Afghanistan. According to one Taliban commander with direct knowledge of the meeting, they concluded that local forces allied to the Afghan government "are in control of a growing number of areas in the province and will likely continue to expand since local families and the government have encouraged their sons to participate."
Assessing progress in a counterinsurgency is more art than science. Body counts tend not to be helpful in measuring insurgent progress. Nor do levels of violence. Neither captures the combatants' primary goal: control over the population.
The Taliban have been remarkably transparent about their objectives and tactics. As the group announced in 2010 when it kicked off Operation al-Fath, or "conquest," it aims to conduct a range of targeted assassinations in urban and rural areas to seize control of Afghanistan. "May Allah help the mujahideen establish an Islamic government, keep the trenches of war hot against the aggressive infidels, and carry out their jihad," the Taliban announced. But after years of gains, the Taliban's progress has stalled -- and even reversed -- in southern Afghanistan this year.
A recent NATO assessment indicated that Taliban control of territory had decreased since last year, with many of the Taliban's losses coming in the south, their most important sanctuary. Since late 2010, Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani, a senior official in the Haqqani network, have acknowledged mounting losses, though they have vowed to retaliate.
There appear to be several reasons for the Taliban's diminished ability to wage war.
One is the decision among Afghan and NATO leaders to establish a "bottom-up" component of the campaign plan that allows Afghan communities to stand up for themselves. The Afghan Local Police program, which was established in August by President Hamid Karzai, has undermined Taliban control in Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, and other provinces by helping villagers protect their communities and better connecting them to district and provincial government.
The Afghan government and NATO forces have been fairly meticulous in choosing locations where locals have already resisted the Taliban, vetting candidates with biometrics and available intelligence, and training and mentoring local villagers. In some cases, the Afghan government has provided basic weapons and equipment to local communities for self-protection. The government and NATO forces have also helped ensure Afghan Local Police are small, defensive entities under the supervision of local shuras and control of the Interior Ministry.
The Taliban have taken notice. "We must crush these efforts," another Taliban commander, who has been with the organization since 2002, told me in Kandahar province in February. "And we must do it now." Taliban and other insurgent commanders are listening. Insurgent attacks against the Afghan government and NATO forces have nearly doubled from levels at the beginning of 2010, though so have civilian casualties caused by the Taliban.
A second reason for the decline in Taliban control appears to be the surge in conventional military forces, especially in eastern and southern Afghanistan. There are currently nearly 70,000 NATO forces in the south, up from 20,000 in April 2009. In Helmand province, for example, U.S. Marine Corps and Afghan National Army forces have conducted a range of dismounted patrols, targeting insurgent sanctuaries and working closely with tribal and other community leaders. One of the most notable successes has been the recent agreement with the Alikozai tribe in Sangin district, an insurgent stronghold, to halt insurgent attacks on coalition forces and expel Taliban fighters.
These factors have placed the Taliban in a difficult position. When asked who they would rather have ruling Afghanistan today, 86 percent of Afghans said the Karzai government and only 9 percent the Taliban, according to a December poll by ABC News, BBC, ARD, and the Washington Post. When asked who posed the biggest danger in the country, 64 percent of respondents said the Taliban, up from 41 percent in 2005.
It's not difficult to see why the Taliban are unpopular. In the 1990s, the Taliban closed cinemas and banned music, along with almost every other conceivable kind of entertainment. Most Afghans don't subscribe to their religious zealotry. Indeed, most Muslims elsewhere in the world would also disavow the severity of the Taliban's puritanism.
But despite the Taliban's struggles this winter, they will surely continue to fight. The Taliban retain a robust sanctuary in Pakistan, especially in Baluchistan province, where its senior leaders and their families reside. The Taliban have also demonstrated an uncanny ability to regenerate, by taking advantage of local grievances against the Afghan central government. For the Taliban, the spring fighting season can't come soon enough.
Japan Braces for Radiation Catastrophe
Reuters reports that Japan faces another potential catastrophe today, the result of an explosion at an earthquake-damaged nuclear power plant that sent low levels of radiation floating toward Tokyo:
Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged people within 30 km (18 miles) of the facility -- a population of 140,000 -- to remain indoors amid the world's most serious nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.
Officials in Tokyo -- 240 km (150 miles) to the south of the plant -- said only minute levels of radiation had been detected so far in the capital, which were "not a problem."
Radiation levels in the city of Maebashi, 100 km (60 miles) north of Tokyo, and in Chiba prefecture, nearer the city, were up to 10 times normal levels, Kyodo news agency said. Foreign experts disagreed on whether this was harmful or not.
Around eight hours after the explosions, the U.N. weather agency said winds were dispersing radioactive material over the Pacific Ocean, away from Japan and other Asian countries.
. . .There have been a total of four explosions at the plant since it was damaged in last Friday's massive quake and tsunami. The most recent were blasts at reactors No. 2 and No. 4.
Want to help with aftermath of Friday’s earthquake? Read about relief options for Japan.
The War In Afghanistan Will End; But How?
Unmanned aerial assets are a real treat in the war on terror. They are cost efficient (roughly at $4 million respectively), stealthy and accurate at virtually no human costs on our end. They can survey from 6,000 to 20,000 feet easily (higher actually) all day long collecting vital information on insurgent activities and pattern of life behavior. Not only do they function as a tactical intelligence asset, they also serve as a sniper or long range artillery. Equipped with sensitive imagery and electronic collection tools along with hellfire missiles, the Predator and Reaper are both smart and lethal options for battlefield commanders. Contrary to foreign press reports, they are discrete in minimizing civilian casualties. Still that hasn’t prevented erroneous reports from being published citing a disproportionate amount of civilian casualties during insurgent strikes. This stems from field reports from al Qaeda and the Taliban given to the Muslim press, which in turn dutifully reports the false numbers with much satisfaction. And in doing so, influences Western media and press that in turn dutifully report the misinformation. Very similar to the same sort of propaganda the North Vietnamese used to control free press in the West. At any rate, see this list of notable successes from drone strikes.
In addition to killing over a dozen mid-level Taliban leaders, the strikes have taken out ten of al-Qaeda’s top twenty leaders.
• The drones’ greatest success was the August 2009 killing of Baitullah Mahsud, the former head of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Pakistan’s most wanted man. Baitullah was responsible for numerous suicide bombing outrages and was accused in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
As impressive as this all is, however, the elephant in the room is asking if we are doing to the enemy what is tantamount to swatting at flies on a horse farm. It comes off as an infinite task.
It is the same sort of scenario our ground forces are facing. The proposed strategy of Clear, Hold and Transfer – a big piece to the COIN strategy – has actually turned into Clear, Hold, and Hold some more because there is an absence of leadership and ownership on the Afghan side of the house. If the war in Afghanistan was as simple as killing insurgents, the US military has the capability to do so on scale unprecedented in military history. They could do this, call it Pax Americana, and be out of the country inside of six weeks. However, that is not our mission as decided by our top policy makers. We opted instead in the two dreaded words: Nation Building. General McChrystal confirmed this in his population-centric strategy before his dismissal: “The ongoing insurgency must be met with a counterinsurgency campaign adapted to the unique conditions in each area that: protects the Afghan people, allowing them to choose a future they can be proud of; provides a secure environment allowing good government and economic development to undercut the causes and advocates of insurgency.”
Of course that strategy didn’t work in Vietnam and it has, so far as can be determined now, failed to live up to expectations in Afghanistan. Then again, the massive aerial bombings did not win the war in Vietnam either. It only allowed us to exit with an “honorable peace.” President Nixon’s Operations MENU and Line Backer (to name just two) certainly fulfilled their intended purposes, which were to bring Hanoi to the bargaining table, but only after Vietnamization was discarded. The bombing campaigns did not, however, change the nature of the enemy or cause democracy to spontaneously sprout up out of the ashes.
When we finally pulled our forces out of Vietnam, the West received a free education courtesy of the “Khmer Rouge,” and their Cambodian killing fields. Finally, it was revealed to everyone what kind of enemy we had faced. It was nothing less than an ideological demon capable of unparalleled ruthlessness. The North Vietnamese and their communist cohorts were not constrained by our morals and laws, and understood that these two American virtues served as our greatest weaknesses. They simply waited us out and let American politics run its course. There was something profoundly different about the enemy and it took wholesale slaughter to realize the point. Indeed a Khmer slogan directed at its victims said it best, ‘To spare you is no profit, to destroy you is no lost’. That all of course is all uneasy history now.
There isn’t a defeatist-bone in my body but like many, I am running out of optimism and charity. I haven’t lost faith in our military might. I’ve lost faith in the Afghan people and the strategy chosen to face a determined enemy networked throughout the Middle East and Pakistan. Our presence in Afghanistan isn’t likely to transform Afghan culture. Nor is the cumulative worth of our technology, blood and treasure likely to transplant a 9th century tribal culture into a 21st century functioning republic. New roads, schools, and hospitals are not going to fill the country with civic-minded, literate, freedom loving patriots. The successes and heroics of our nation’s military cannot solve the inconsistencies and backwardness of Afghan tribalism. American leadership cannot solve the problem of greed, corruption, and drug use that exists at every level of Afghan government. The Afghan government cannot prevent the dereliction of duty and corruption committed by Afghan police officers and military personnel. Brilliant performances by our commanders – and there have been many — cannot diminish the motivation the populace shows for harboring terrorists. Lastly, a war not defined by victory from its Commander in Chief is no war at all. It is a boondoggle.
All the militaries and treasuries in the world combined cannot solve the base issues afflicting Afghan culture. Absent of any real turn around – and that may not even be enough — makes one wonder if the war in Afghanistan, after 10 years of fighting and dying, will soon meet its political end here at home. If so, let’s just hope a better fate awaits those in Afghanistan than those of Cambodia and South Vietnam. If not, history should note that the Afghan people were given every chance at an alternative.
The plan is part of the governor's two-year budget proposal that seeks to plug an $8 billion shortfall while retaining an $800 million, two-year income tax cut that went into effect in January and adding an additional $34 million in tax incentives designed to create jobs.
The budget announcement came as Kasich has voiced his support for a much contested bill that would restrict the collective bargaining rights of state employees. Hearings on the bill, which has passed the Senate and is now before the House, have drawn thousands of protesters to the Statehouse in recent weeks.
As the governor briefed the media about his budget plan, a demonstration was held by about two dozen people, including one with a sign saying "Recall King Kasich."
Other education proposals pitched by the governor would increase funding to K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and allow more charter schools, which receive state funding but are operated by private groups.
Among cost-cutting measures in the governor's plan is a proposal to sell five prisons to private operators to avoid mass closures and raise $200 million that was covered in the last state budget with federal stimulus dollars.
Two of the five prisons already are privately run. Combined, the four adult prisons employ 1,238 people—including 755 security guards—and house 6,059 inmates, according to information from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Their combined budgets are $98 million a year.
Under Ohio law, private operators have to deliver a 5 percent savings over similar, public facilities—which the state estimates will mean $9.3 million over the two-year budget cycle.
In his education plan, Kasich seeks to add $67 million in aid to higher education, with an increase of 2.7 percent in the 2012 budget year and an increase of 0.9 percent the following year. He proposes a 2 percent increase in K-12 funding the first year, followed by a 1.5 percent increase.
He suggests continuing a cap of 3.5 percent on tuition increases, creating three-year bachelor's degree programs and increasing teaching loads for faculty.
The plans were met with praise from some university presidents.
"I am grateful to Gov. Kasich, whose proposed budget reflects the unquestionable financial challenges of the day, as well as the understanding that higher education and our state's long-term strength are inextricably linked," said Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee.
University of Cincinnati President Gregory H. Williams said the school is "very appreciative that Gov. Kasich's proposed budget has done as much as possible to support higher education and suggests some first steps toward much-needed construction reform."
Kasich also wants to double the number of scholarships that allow students in low-performing schools to attend private schools, give bonuses to high-performing teachers and allow teachers to create centers for innovation.
The prison facilities the governor has targeted are North Coast Correctional Treatment Facility and Grafton Correctional Institution, both in Grafton; North Central Correctional Institution in Marion; Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut; and a juvenile prison in Marion that closed in 2009.
Prisons director Gary Mohr said no employee who wants to stay in corrections will lack for a job under the plan.
Six-month early retirement will be offered to about 100 eligible employees at Grafton and North Coast, and unions will be able to collectively bargain for how other positions will be filled. Those with seniority will be able to bump less experienced guards at other state facilities, and jobs will be available at private facilities for those bumped from the public sector—most likely those not vested in the state pension system.
Ohio received about $300 million in federal stimulus money toward prisons in its last budget, Kasich said, and the move is necessary to make up that gap. Without the sales, the state would have been forced to close six prisons and ship 12,000 inmates to neighboring states, he said.
The state will continue to oversee the most volatile or sensitive inmates, including maximum-security prisoners, women and those with mental health or medical issues.
Stocks Slump Worldwide as Investors Flee Risk
By GRAHAM BOWLEY and JAVIER C. HERNANDEZ
Investors around the world made a dash for safety on Tuesday, fearing the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe in Japan.
Stock indexes in the United States, Asia and Europe fell nearly 1.5 percent as traders worried that the turmoil in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, could slow down growth worldwide. Bond prices rallied and yields fell as investors turned to safe havens like the dollar and French, German and American bonds.
For investors, the questions were urgent but largely unanswerable: How significantly would production fall in Japan? Which companies were most at risk? How would a loss of nuclear power in Japan affect energy markets worldwide?
“Today is a panic day,” said Beat Lenherr, chief global strategist at LGT Capital Management in Singapore. “The question is, Where is the bottom?”
The benchmark index in Tokyo fell more than 11 percent, its lowest close in nearly two years and its largest two-day drop since 1987.
In the United States, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 162.53 points, or 1.4 percent, in afternoon trading, while the broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index dropped 16.29 points, or 1.3 percent. The Nasdaq lost 37.53 points, or 1.4 percent. As investors fled risky investments, they turned to bonds, sending the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury bond to 3.29 percent from 3.36 percent late Monday.
European indexes also fell significantly, with the DAX index in Frankfurt shedding 3.2 percent, the CAC 40 in Paris losing 2.5 percent and the FTSE 100 in London dropping 1.4 percent.
“Investors are moving to the sidelines,” Marc Chandler, global currency strategist for Brown Brothers Harriman, said. “They are selling the things they were buying and buying the things they were selling.”
The turmoil extended to energy markets, as analysts warned that diminished growth in Japan could prompt a sharp decrease in oil demand. “We don’t know the extent to which the post-tsunami Japan is going to grow, and whether or not there will be consequences for other countries as well,” said Chris Lafakis, an energy economist for Moody’s Analytics.
Many companies with ties to Japan were hit hard. Shares of the insurance giant Aflac, which depends on Japan for much of its profit, fell more than 7 percent. Shares of General Electric dropped more than 2 percent; investors worried that the company would be liable for damages from a nuclear disaster, given its role in designing the reactors.
Luxury goods companies, which rely on strong Asian sales, were also down sharply. The luxury jeweler, Tiffany & Company, and the handbag designer, Coach, each fell more than 3 percent.
Commodity prices dropped on growth concerns after rising sharply in recent weeks. Oil prices fell $3.45 at $97.74, and copper, gold, corn, wheat and soybeans were all lower. Analysts said investors were moving their money from commodities to safer investments.
“It is a flight to cash,” Mike Zarembski, a senior commodity analyst at OptionsXpress, said. “They are selling to get into cash or the try safe havens like U.S. Treasuries, Swiss franc and U.S. dollar.”
As investors tried to assess the fallout from the crisis in Japan, the broader concern remained the potential harm to the global recovery. In particular, analysts were worried that disruption to supply lines in Japan, home to some of the world’s biggest manufacturers and technology firms, could spread to other countries and increase the risk of a global slowdown.
Economists said the disaster would almost certainly lead to a contraction in the Japanese economy in the second quarter, but that the economy could rebound later in the year as workers rebuilt infrastructure.
Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics, said that “every company in Japan almost certainly faces worse prospects for growth than it did before last Friday,” when an earthquake spurred a tsunami that led to the nuclear crisis. He said Japan’s banks were particularly fragile and could affect banks in Europe and the United States.
Philippe Gijsels, head of research at BNP Paribas Fortis in Brussels, characterized the sell-off in stock markets on Tuesday as a “knee-jerk” reaction to events in Japan, but noted that policy makers have limited tools to handle major economic shocks, given the high level of budget deficits in the West and the fact that monetary policy options are almost exhausted.
Analysts at Credit Suisse and Barclays Capital have estimated the damage in Japan at up to 15 trillion yen, or $183.5 billion. Tohru Sasaki, a foreign exchange strategist at JPMorgan Chase, said that while the damage had been “very large,” in the long run, the stock market should reflect the prospect for corporate earnings. “But right now there’s no arguing with panic,” he said.
In a bid to contain the stock market sell-off and to prevent a sharp rise in the yen as companies repatriated cash to pay for the costs of the quake and tsunami, the Bank of Japan pumped more liquidity into the financial system Tuesday, adding to the record amounts that were injected Monday.
Brown Brothers said that the Bank of Japan added 8 trillion yen, or about $98 billion, to the financial system on Tuesday.
Japan radiation leaks feared as nuclear experts point to possible cover-up
Lack of radiation readings echoes pattern of secrecy employed after other major accidents such as Chernobyl
America Needs Straight Talk, Not Pampering
The Obama administration figures that it has read the national mood well. This therapeutic generation of Americans loves to talk and worry about problems and then assumes that either someone else will solve them or they will go away on their own.
And why not, since we have had periodic "energy crises" since 1974, have run budget deficits in most years since World War II, and have been warned about a looming Social Security meltdown for the last decade — and yet remain wealthy and affluent.
But now gasoline costs more than $4 a gallon in many places in California, and averages more than $3.50 nationwide. In response, the Obama administration is reportedly considering tapping into the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve to increase supplies and drive down high prices brought on by a recovering world economy and unrest in the oil-rich Middle East.
Yet the reserve depot was not designed to alleviate periodic gas-price spikes, but to ensure our very survival during a global catastrophe that might result in a cutoff of most petroleum imports from overseas.
There are now more than 700 million barrels of stored oil in the reserve. In times of near-Armageddon, even that huge supply would provide for all of the nation's oil needs for only a single month. It would make up for all imported oil cutoffs for only two months.
Wrong To Drill
So how is it wise to tap this critical but finite reserve — especially when the current administration had prohibited new oil and gas production in large parts of the Gulf of Mexico and the western United States? The administration certainly will not reconsider new drilling in oil-rich areas in Alaska or elsewhere off the American coasts.
The message to Americans seems to be that it is OK to consume old oil stockpiled by previous generations (the reserve was begun in 1975), but quite wrong to drill for new oil to be used by the present generation.
This same self-centered approach characterizes the federal budget. The Obama administration appointed a national debt commission — only to ignore so far its recommendations because they're seen as too painful.
But note that the commission did not call for a balanced budget for years to come. It suggested that only after 26 more years of massive federal borrowing would we be able to ensure at last Social Security's long-term financial health.
The president often expresses concern over the escalating debt, but then he increased annual borrowing this year, leading to a record $1.6 trillion annual deficit. He senses that Americans can neither sustain the present borrowing nor endure the necessary cuts in federal spending, so in response, the mere promise of future frugality seems to excuse even greater present profligacy.
Looking For Truman
There are two constant refrains about the Social Security crisis. One, we are lectured that payouts have already exceeded revenue. Two, we are promised that only future generations, currently far from retirement age, will have to work longer and get less to ensure that the system is solvent.
But if all that math is true, why wait to act? If Americans assume that our children and grandchildren may well have it worse than the baby boomers, then why not rework existing retirement plans right now, either by freezing cost-of-living raises or increasing the retirement age?
Otherwise, we send the message that a more affluent generation can demand that a less affluent generation should make all the sacrifices.
It might seem ecologically noble to divert federal irrigation water from hundreds of thousands of acres of California agricultural land to ensure year-round flowing rivers and the health of small fish species. And if we do not wish to drill for more petroleum, then subsidizing the diversion of Midwestern silage land to ethanol production would likewise seem to make sense.
But at some point, someone is going to have to tell the people that the less land you produce food on, the less food you have, and the more you pay for what is available. In a time of spiraling food prices, that honest message has rarely been delivered.
The United States needs some Harry Truman-like plain speaking, instead of each administration putting off a national reckoning onto the next. Don't drill for oil and grow food — and the price for both goes up. Spend what you don't have, and later you will have to pay even more back.
The generation that ran up the debt and was largely responsible for the Social Security crisis has a responsibility to make things right on its watch.
Such blunt talk is considered political suicide for candidates; in fact, anything less for the rest of us is national suicide.