Sunday, February 28, 2010

"... The bigger picture of the Lebanese economy"

Lebanon making dough, but can't catch up to what she owes
Sami Halabi, the full essay in Executive/ here


... An elusive formula

When all the figures are tallied, Lebanon’s real economy is expected to have recorded bumper growth in 2009, albeit less than the IMF’s figure of 8.5 percent seen in 2008. The real amount of growth, however, is a contentious topic in the country’s economic community. The latest figures from the IMF predict a total growth of 7 percent for 2009. However, according to Bank Audi’s research department, the last GDP figures provided by the government are those from 2007.

“You have several problems with estimating GDP. Even the government accounts are not up to date because they run on arrears,” says Chaaban. He predicts that 5 percent GDP growth is a more accurate number considering that “too few companies report their accurate figures. Even when it comes to real estate registration, hardly anyone puts in the right figure. You end up with a system of estimation and not accurate measurement.”

Much of the debate over the country’s accurate GDP centers on methodology. According to Hamdan, the government is currently using the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies’ (INSEE) methodology to calculate GDP. This method offers three different ways to calculate GDP (see box on next page) and uses several parameters that cannot be calculated if sectoral or income-based reporting does not exist or is indeed inaccurate.

“Unfortunately we have no surveys which confirm the situation at the level of the economic sector,” says Hamdan.

Lebanon's new cabinet at the Presidential Palace at Baabda

The difference in methodologies has prompted organizations such as the EIU to maintain an estimation of 5.1 percent real GDP growth in 2009 as of end-October.

Marwan Iskandar, economist and managing director of MI Associates, however, agrees with the 7 percent (of course he would!) IMF estimate made in early October, saying that the figure is not just down to a bumper tourist season and real estate investments.

“The financial crisis had a beneficiary effect on the Lebanese economy because many Lebanese felt that their money abroad was not that safe, brought it back and are now looking at possibilities,” he says....

The prognosis of many experts however, is that remittance levels will remain relatively stable in 2010, as the global economy is expected to see some kind of recovery and Lebanon has not seen the massive influx of expats from the Gulf that were expected due to the global downturn.....

The increased non-resident interest in Lebanon is also reflected in the growing amount of foreign direct investment in the country. In 2008, FDI reached $3.61 billion, according to a statement made by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and is expected to hit $4 billion this year, says IDAL’s Itani.

Certain elements of Lebanon’s investment climate helped as well, such as the number of procedures needed to start a new business, which remain at five, lower than the Middle East and North Africa’s average of 7.9, according to the World Bank’s “Doing Business Report.” The report also stated that the time needed to complete these procedures had decreased from 11 to nine days in 2009 compared to a regional average of 20.7 days. Despite the increasingly friendly investment environment, legal recourse in the country remains an obstacle for investors, because of Lebanon’s infamously tedious litigation process and inefficient judiciary....

(continue/ here)

Al Qaeda 'double agent': Jordanian Mukhabarat confided of Mughniyeh's hit details ...

Al Jazeera/ English/ here
".... In the video, al-Balawi also accused Jordan of providing information for the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, in 2006 as well as that of Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah commander who died in a car bomb in Damascus in 2008.
"The Jordanian intelligence apparatus has a record which emboldens them to such behavior, but with Allah's permission, after this operation, they will never stand on their feet again," he said.
Al-Balawi, a doctor, hailed from the same hometown of Zarqa as al-Zarqawi and was a prolific contributor to jihadist websites.
But he was never able to realise his dream of joining the jihad until he was arrested by Jordanian security."

"... We're a mob that can't even get along internally. So we're going to get along with the Palestinians?"

Moshe Dayan's widow Ruth, in Haaretz/ here

And we expelled?

We didn't expel. During my childhood, we didn't expel. We bought those tracts of land. Since then, however, many things have happened and today Israel is not the same. It's cliche to talk about how we're in a state of occupation and we're trying to occupy more and more. I'm at that age where I don't even talk about peace anymore. We don't know how to make peace. We go from war to war and this will never end.

Whose fault is it?
Ours, mainly. Are we, with all our power, incapable of taking a step?

Have you lost hope for peace?
I think Zionism has finished its work. I've endured many wars and I can't ignore the fact that they didn't want us. When I go to the territories, I don't even bother instilling hope in them. Out of courtesy, I tell them that I hope something will change, but the deterioration is just awful. Particularly the fence. This is something I can't tolerate.

People say it stopped terrorism.
Oh, please. "It stopped terrorism." Nothing will be able to stop terrorism except dialogue.

Are you Jewish?
I'm just an Israeli. It was a great honor to be Israeli, even when I was still a Jewish Palestinian during my childhood in London. I'm the first daughter of graduates of the Herzliya Gymnasium after Yehudi Menuhin was the first son. In London, I went to pray with the gentile girls.

Two states or one?
There was a time when I thought one state for two peoples. Now I see that we have to have two states because we really are different and it would be best if everyone takes care of his own business. We're a mob that can't even get along internally. So we're going to get along with them?

What would you do if you were prime minister?

Just like how we started. Like when we met with [Jordanian King] Abdullah and when [Yitzhak] Rabin tried. Rabin could have delivered peace.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Barak: "My impression is that Washington US could live with a nuclear Iran..."

Politico/ here
"............ But the most interesting moment of Barak’s address to the friendly Washington audience with lots of familiar faces for him came when Barak finished his overview. And the Institute’s executive director Rob Satloff, in the typical format of such events, asked Barak a first question to get the discussion going before turning to the audience for questions.......... Satloff asked Barak about how well he thought U.S. and Israel were coordinating on the Iran issue.

Barak listened to Satloff’s question and then said, 'Let’s take a few more questions and I will answer them in a bunch.' And Satloff, the event host and moderator, laughed and said, 'Well, answer that opening question and then I can call on members of the audience and take several questions' in a bunch. And Barak smiled, acknowledging the laughter, and then said, again, "Let’s take a few more questions." Until it became quite clear that he did not want to answer Satloff’s question about the state of U.S.-Israel relations on Iran, and this was not based on a misunderstanding of the format procedure....

Asked by a Middle Eastern correspondent, why Israel couldn’t live with a nuclear Iran, Barak said Israel welcomed U.S. leadership in seeking international sanctions on Iran. But he added, that with all the instability the U.S. is currently managing including a nuclear Pakistan and North Korea, Afghanistan, draw down in Iraq, etc. it was his impression that Washington believes that while it’s highly undesirable, at the end of the day the U.S. could live with a nuclear Iran. While for Israel, Barak said, it would be a “tipping point” in the strategic equation in the region.... some in the U.S. see a world with a “nuclear Pakistan, India, North Korea….From this corner of the world (Washington), [perhaps] it doesn’t change the equation” if Iran goes nuclear. .... For his part, Barak also said he thought Iranian leaders' decisionmaking is quite sophisticated, and he thought it highly unlikely that they would lob a nuclear weapon at Israel. And he said he thought that neither a nuclear Iran, nor anything else, poses a threat to the continuity of Israel's existence."

You know, about those MIG29, ... why don't you take a few helicopters instead?

"Give me something, anything ..."
AP/ here
Russia has agreed to provide Lebanon with an unspecified number of helicopter gunships instead of MiG-29 fighter jets, the Lebanese president's office said.....
Suleiman's office said in a statement released late Friday that Russia agreed to provide Lebanon with Mi-24 helicopters instead of the 10 MIG-29 fighters originally planned... a possible counterweight to the Islamic militant group Hezbollah, which has been increasing its power behind an arsenal of rockets that threaten another U.S. ally _ Israel...."

Saudi scoop: "Israel pressuring the US to rescind decision on envoy to Syria ...

The scoops of Asharq al awsat, /here
"... According to the Saudi princely pulpit, Ehud Barak and an adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu made the request in meetings in Washington this week..."

“Palestinian Combatant Groups” summit in Tehran ...

Booz/Allen's "Persia House"/ here
"... This summit will be held in Tehran from February 27-28, and will be attended by dignitaries and representatives from Palestinian resistance groups. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a number of high-ranking Iranian officials will also be in attendance. The session will be held at the Foreign Ministry’s Office of Political and International Studies. The summit’s agenda focuses on supporting the Resistance [movement] against the Zionist occupier regime. For the original article in Persian, click here.
The decision to hold a summit of “Palestinian Combatant Groups” in Tehran represents a public diplomacy effort to demonstrate that the Islamic Republic’s support of the Palestinian resistance remains steadfast despite Iran’s post-election turmoil. Tehran and the Palestinian resistance groups likely will leverage the high-profile summit to issue stern anti-Israeli and US pronouncements, as well as pledge strengthened political and military cooperation.
The conservative Iranian Ghods News has reported that Hamas Political Bureau Chair Khaled Mashal and Dr. Ramadan Abdullah, Head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, will be among the leaders of Palestinian groups who will be in attendance.
This summit may also provide a venue to address concerns some groups may have regarding the Iranian regime’s actions against protesters following Iran’s disputed June 2009 presidential election. In the fall of 2009, a story in the Persian press (spread later in the Arabic press) asserted that several Hezbollah leaders were afraid that their organization’s image would be sullied by the Islamic Republic’s crackdown on protesters. Furthermore, according to a Sunni Lebanese newspaper, in early January 2010, sources close to Hezbollah’s spiritual leader, Seyyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, stated that he “emphasized during his last meeting with the representative of the Supreme Leader in Damascus the need to resolve the problem in Iran by embracing the opposition and by dialogue.” The statement was issued to clarify reports indicating that several leaders of the Iranian reform movement had sought Fadlallah’s help in resolving the Iranian post-election crisis.
On February 9, however, a Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Nabil Qaouq, reiterated that Iran’s strategic presence in the region and globally—in addition to its continuing support of resistance movements in Lebanon and Palestine—“represents a source of force and a strategic depth facing Israeli arrogance and American hegemony.” Qaouq also said that any act aimed at turning the conflict against Iran is an act of treason against the Islamic community. On February 26, President Ahmadinejad and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki met with Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah while visiting Damascus.
A weak and challenged Iranian regime would represent bad news for Hezbollah and Hamas in terms of monetary and logistical support. Hamas, for instance, relies on an estimated $20 to 30 million sent by Iran per year. The Islamic Republic has helped keep Hamas afloat in Gaza, especially following Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead,” which took place from December 2008 to January 2009."

A new Iran NIE, "clever by half" and in classified version ...only?

The Cable/ here

".... The Obama administration finds itself in tough situation as it pursues new sanctions against Iran both at the United Nations and using domestic levers. Many feel the administration needs to correct the record by somehow disavowing the intelligence community's controversial 2007 conclusion: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program."

The new estimate might not directly contradict that judgment, but could say that while the intelligence community has not determined that Iran has made the strategic decision to build a nuclear weapon, it is seen to be working on the components of a device -- a parsing that some would see as too clever by half.

"It's like saying that you're not building a car, but you are building the engine, the chassis, the upholstery," said one Middle East hand who had no direct knowledge about the estimate's contents. "It's a distinction without a difference."

Multiple Hill aides said they expect only a classified version with no public document; the 2007 estimate included an unclassified version. They see that move as an effort by the Obama administration not to have the new estimate unnecessarily complicate the ongoing negotiations to seek new sanctions against Iran at the U.N.

David Albright, a nuclear-weapons expert and president of the Institute of Science and International Security, said that the administration might want to avoid a lengthy and complicated public debate about the new estimate's conclusions, seeking to prevent the fractious debate that followed the release of the older estimate...."

Friday, February 26, 2010

Ehud Barak: "... We cannot accept these artificial differentiations between the terrorists of Hezbollah & the state of Lebanon & their sponsors ..."

Ehud Barak at WINEP/ here

"... Israel is the strongest nation thousand miles around Jerusalem, but we are realistic and open-eyed. There will be no peace in the Middle East before the other side, all our neighbors and rivals, will realize that Israel cannot be defeated by the mere use of force, cannot be entreated through terror and cannot be dragged through political naivety (a jab at President Obama?) into diplomatic honey traps.......

We cannot afford making any compromises regarding the security of Israel, but we have to notice the changes on the other side. One cannot ignore the gradual transformation of the Arab dialogue vis-à-vis Israel. From the four (sic: three) no’s of Khartoum, some 40-odd years ago, no negotiations, no recognition, no peace – what had been taken by force will be taken back by force – into the present day’s almost contest among the Arab players who will provide the peace plan that will be adopted by the international community and become the cornerstone of the final agreement between us and the Arab world.

A successful peace process – especially with the Palestinians – is not just in the interest of Israel. It is a compelling imperative for the state of Israel. And that’s why I say it’s the uppermost responsibility of any Israeli government. Not as a favor to the Palestinians, but out of our own interests – out of strength and without compromising our security......

And I can tell you that having – talking about the opportunities, I cannot ignore the issue of Syria. It’s not a secret that in Israel, both myself as defense minister in the past and now, as well as the Israel defense establishment on all its levels, believe that we have – in the Middle East – have strategic interest in putting an end to our conflict with Syria. We have been in negotiations in this city and in the other places regarding to this issue under Rabin and during Peres’ government, Netanyahu previous government, my government and Olmert’s government. .....

Having said that, I can tell you that we are strong enough to face a deterioration if it happens on our northern front, but we are not interested in it; we will not initiate it; and I don’t believe that anyone in the region – in the immediate neighborhood of Israel – really needs it.

We follow carefully what happens in Lebanon and I think that the time has come to deal with it in a much more straight and real manner. The essence of 1701 – the U.N. Security Council resolution following the last war in the north in 2006 – was to put an end to this anomality (ph) of the existence of Hezbollah in Lebanon. And instead of solving the problem, it just allowed it to become more complicated. There is a bizarre anomaly there. Lebanon is a member state of the United Nations. It happens to have a militia. The militia happen to have members in parliament, even ministers in the cabinet with a veto power over the decision of the Lebanese government.

Now, it is supported and equipped by two other member states of the United Nations, Syria and Iran, technologically and with equipment. And many civil servants in uniform and without uniform of both member states of the United Nations are serving in Lebanon within the chain of command of Hezbollah and giving orders stemming out of the interests not of the Lebanese people but of other players.

And it happens to be that this militia doesn’t just develop a new long bow or more effective arrows, but it happened to have 45,000 rockets and missiles that happen to cover all Israel ...... a weapons system that some – many sovereigns do not have.

We cannot accept it. We cannot accept these artificial differentiations between the terrorists of Hezbollah and the state of Lebanon and their sponsors. And we keep saying, we do not need any conflict there; we will not lead it towards one. But if attacked, we will not run or chase any individual Hezbollah terrorist –.......

So we make it clear: We don’t need this conflict but if it is imposed upon us, we will not run after every individual terrorist but we will take both the Lebanese government and other sources of sponsorship, but mainly the Lebanese government and the Lebanese infrastructure as part of the equation facing us....

And last word about Iran. Iran is not just a challenge to Israel. I believe it is a challenge for the whole world...... And I think that we can like it or not. I believe that most of us do not like it, but we cannot close our eyes to what’s really happened in a such a delicate corner of the world. If Iran will not be stopped from moving there, it will reach at certain point nuclear military capability and one can close his eyes and see what it means. A nuclear Iran means the end of any nonproliferation regime because Saudi Arabia and probably another two or three members of the Middle Eastern community will feel compelled to reach nuclear capability as well. And it will open the door for any third-grade dictator who has a nuclear ambition to understand that if he is strong enough mentally to defy any kind of threats from the world, he will reach nuclear military capability.

I don’t think the Iranians have North Korea as their example – probably some certain example of how easy it could be to defy and deceive the whole world, but basically they probably think of themselves as another Pakistan and probably they started it totally independent from the issue of Israel (reminding us of the Shah?).

But they gradually adopted us as a major cause for their hegemonic intentions ....

And you will realize how intensive, concrete and conclusive we should be in regard to this threat before it materializes. And it’s not just about hegemonic, nuclear capabilities. I don’t think that the Iranians, even if they got the bomb, they are going to drop it immediately on some neighbor. They fully understand what might follow. They are radicals but not total meshuganas. (Laughter.)

....... they have quite sophisticated decision-making process and they understand realities. But it’s not just in the nuclear arena. It’s also in the hegemonic intentions: They might intimidate neighbors all around the Gulf....

.....I feel that the administration is doing an utmost effort to deliver an effective set of sanctions; we appreciate it and we hope it will be successful.

But we also should carry certain skepticism and always think thoroughly and in a consequential manner about what should happen if, against our hopes, wishes and dreams, it won’t work. We are all aware of the certain tensions simmering underneath the surface in Iran and especially following the elections and what happened recently. We see that the grip of the regime on its own people and even the cohesion of the leading group of ayatollahs are both being cracked and probably the countdown, historic countdown toward the collapse has already started (Israel?), but I don’t know of any serious observer who can tell us whether it will take 2 years, 4 years, 6 years or 10. And it’s clear to me that the clock toward the collapse of this regime works much slower than the clock which ticks toward Iran becoming nuclear military power....."

Why did Iran move nuclear fuel to above-ground facility?

Laura Rosen, here

"Policymakers and analysts from the U.S., Israel and Arab countries are puzzling over why Iran moved its entire stockpile of low enriched uranium to an above ground facility earlier this month where it is conducting higher enrichment. On the one hand, the 2,000 kilos of LEU is far more than Iran needs to higher enrich for the country's domestic medical needs. On the other, it has only one cascade at the pilot facility to carry out the higher enrichment, and the stockpile is now in a vulnerable, above-ground facility. By design -- or screw up, the New York Times asks:

The strangest of the speculations — but the one that is being talked about most — is that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is inviting an attack to unify the country after eight months of street demonstrations that have pitted millions of Iranians against their government. As one senior European diplomat noted Thursday, an Israeli military strike might be the “best thing” for Iran’s leadership because it would bring Iranians together against a national enemy.

It would offer an excuse some Iranians might sorely want to throw out the nuclear inspectors and renounce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That would leave Iran in the position North Korea is in today: free to manufacture fuel or bombs without inspectors to blow the whistle.

Other, including some officials in the White House, say they do not buy that theory. Iran has worked too hard to let its supply be destroyed, they argue. [...]

...Another explanation: brinkmanship. The Iranians have made clear that they do not like the terms their own negotiators came home with for swapping their nuclear fuel for specialized fuel for the medical reactor. By moving their fuel supply to the enrichment plant, they are essentially threatening to turn it all to near-bomb-grade fuel — and perhaps force the United States to reopen negotiations.

But the simplest explanation, that the Iranians had no choice, has its proponents. The fuel is stored in one big, specialized cask. When someone ordered that the fuel begin being fed into the giant centrifuges for further enrichment, engineers moved it to the only spot available — the exposed plant. Or, as one American intelligence official said, “you can’t dismiss the possibility that this is a screw-up.”

"... the political clock [for regime change] is moving a lot slower than the nuclear clock..."

MEPGS: Excerpts:
     While US policy is aimed at what one official calls "Giving Iran bad news every week," the regime in Teheran appears less on the defensive than ever.  One major contributing factor to its increased sense of power was the failure of the opposition "Green" movement to mobilize earlier this month on the anniversary of the 1979 revolution.  Some of those analysts who have argued that the continuing public and private opposition to last year's rigged Presidential election marked a turning point in the fortunes of Iran, are now reassessing their views.  As one veteran analyst put it this week, "There are cracks in the regime but it won't be toppled anytime soon."      Moreover, key US officials, since the disputed election, have scoffed at the notion that the opposition could moderate Iran's headlong rush toward acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability.  As one such official said this week, "These arguments on based on the false assumption that the Greens and the US have a lot in common."  And this official points out that the putative leader of the Greens, Mir Hossein Moussavi and his sometime ally Akhbar  Hashemi Rafsanjani, both supported the development of Iran's nuclear program when they were in power.  And even those analysts, who argue that the leadership's preoccupation with political infighting could delay Teheran's nuclear program, admit that, in the words of one veteran analyst, "Under almost any conceivable scenario the political clock [for regime change] is moving a lot slower than the nuclear clock."
      Further complicating attempts to rein in Iran is what one State Department official calls the schizophrenia of Arab friends and allies, especially the Gulf States.  To begin with, the Gulf states are far from united in their view of Iran.  Says one veteran US analyst, "Oman has ties to Iran that go back generations.  Qatar is always marching to a different drum.  The Saudis would like the US to take care of the Iranian threat but are fearful we will make a mess of it like we have done in Iraq.  And even the most outspoken advocates of a hardline, the UAE and Bahrain, doubt that economic sanctions will be sufficient to change Iran's course."  This official points out that given this skepticism, it will be hard to gain the unequivocal support of the Gulf states to assist in implementing sanctions.  [This is especially important in the case of the UAE, one of whose Emirates, Dubai, has long been an important conduit of legal and illegal trade with Iran].  "The bottom line," says another State Department official, "is that these countries don't want to antagonize Iran only to be caught flatfooted in the event of what might be charitably called a US `policy shift.'"      Skepticism about the efficacy of sanctions is not limited to erstwhile Arab allies.  Some veteran US officials flatly predict that "crippling sanctions" just aren't going to be adopted, either by the United Nations or what are called "like-minded" countries.  The Israelis point out that the Obama Administration had promised to reach a decision by the end of 2009.  In December that date was allowed to slip a month.  Then it was thought best to have the UN Security Council take up the issue in February, while France, a strong supporter of sanctions, held the Council Presidency.  But, say well-informed sources, the month has passed with France, and fellow permanent Council member Britain unable to agree with the US (and Germany, which also helps to coordinate a common European position) on a proposal to present to the Council.  Now, say US officials, the goal is to have the Council act by the end of March.
In the wings is Israel, alternately threatening and quiescent. It is clear that Jerusalem does not want to act unilaterally. For one thing, while in conversations with US officials, Israelis argue that the Administration tends to overestimate the negative impact on the region of military action against Iran, privately its own Defense Establishment is anything but sanguine about taking on Iran. In fact, some key Israeli officials fear that Iran may be able to press its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, into provoking a clash with Israel just to divert current international pressure. (NOT happening!) Meanwhile, US officials continue to stream to Israel in an effort to reassure the government of American sensitivity to their security concerns. The latest and highest ranking visitor is Vice President Biden. The idea to send Biden to Israel originated, ironically, among veteran Middle East officials at the Near East Affairs Bureau, They have argued for some time now that the Israelis need to be reassured. Their argument is based on the realization that President Obama continues to be regarded as less than supportive of the Jewish state. During the 2008 campaign, Israelis were the only American allies who, in polling, favored John McCain over Obama. The President's outreach to the Arab and Moslem world, especially in last year's Cairo speech did little to alter Israelis' nervousness about him. His manner with foreign leaders, which even his admirers at the State Department describe as "less than warm and fuzzy," also contributed to the decision to send Biden, perceived to be a long time supporter, to help repair the US-Israel relationship. Tending to Israeli sensibilities will be useful if the Administration is able to get the Palestinians to reengage in talks with the Netanyahu government. The immediate goal is to arrange what are called "proximity talks", an effort to circumvent Palestinian insistence on a complete settlement freeze before engaging directly with Israel. Moreover, well-placed US officials say they have promised Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that they will offer "bridging proposals" should the talks bog down. However, they sometimes despair of Abbas' willingness to take any kind of chance. They say he is "gun shy" after being severely criticized for siding with the US on a call for delay in the issuance of the so-called "Goldstone" report, which was highly critical of Israeli military action in Gaza last January. "It wasn't just Palestinians who attacked him but Arab states as well," noted one US official. "You can imagine what he thinks will happen if he makes real concessions to Israel." US officials are worried that an Arab League summit, set for next month could further discourage the already risk averse Abbas. They place little faith in Arab support particularly in light of Special Envoy George Mitchell's failure to enlist Arab and especially Saudi cooperation in his peacemaking efforts over the past year. Next month will also see crucial elections in Iraq and what US officials believe will be the beginning of a long process of forming a new coalition government in Baghdad. Neither heightened violence nor the political machinations of pro-Iranian figures like the former US favorite, Ahmed Chalabi, have prevented the Sunnis from participating in an election that is certain to result in a government led by a Shia politician. Whether that politician is current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is uncertain. However, to get to agreement is going to take time and the fear among US officials is that in the interim, the caretaker government will have to deal with an increasing level of violence. Still, there is very little appetite in the Administration to delay the draw down of US combat forces slated to begin this summer.

Rigi: "Iranian authorities detained me on my way to a meeting with a "high-ranking American person" in Kyrgyzstan ..."

Al Jazeera/ here
"An alleged member of a Sunni Muslim group fighting the Iranian government has said in a televised confession that his group received help from the United States.
Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of Jundallah, said on state-run TV on Friday that Iranian authorities had detained him on his way to a meeting with a "high-ranking American person" in Kyrgyzstan.
Rigi was reportedly seizedafter Iranian warplanes forced a flight from Dubai to Kyrygzstan to land at an Iranian airport.
"They [Americans] said they would co-operate with us and will give me military equipment," Rigi said in Farsi in the prerecorded television statement. "They also promised to give us a base along the border with Afghanistan near Iran."
He said that US officials met him in Pakistan around March 2009 and had also sought a meeting "after the last major operation we took part in"...."

You gotta love this: "the Israelis wanted to be caught so that they could seem more "bad-assed""

Col. Lang weighs in from the 'know' them very well!... SST/ here
"Several networks here and abroad have called for my opinion on this matter. I have declined to be interviewed, saving this for you. The best was a foreign network in which th e"booker" wanted to know if I would subscribe to the rumor being bruted about (or aboot for South Parkers) that the Israelis wanted to be caught so that they could seem more "bad-assed" (my vernacular). I laughed and told her that this rumor was clever on the part of the Mossad. In fact, they and the Israeli general staff intelligence are just not very good services. AIPAC does its best to disguise that but in truth most of what the Israelis have their friends gave them (and as DIA Director of HUMINT and DIO for the NE, South Asia & Terrorism, he should know!).
Dubai? They screwed up. Too many people, too clumsy, too arrogant in their assumption that the "ragheads" would never catch them. The truth is that the Israelis think of all gentiles that way"

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"... no denying the fact that NATO-Pakistan ties are fast assuming a strategic character for Tehran ..."

"..... However, Rigi's capture has wider ramifications going well beyond the stuff of high drama. For one thing, the Iranian public was dazzled by the intelligence operation and it has provided a morale boost at a critical juncture when the West is besieging Iran over its nuclear program and the political class in Tehran is more polarized than at any time in the three decades of the Islamic Republic.
Ironically, the Iranian performance stands out in sharp contrast with the fallout from the Israeli intelligence operation in Dubai in the UAE to assassinate prominent Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on January 19. (See Dubai hit exposes Hamas' weaknesses, Asia Times Online, February 23) Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar made this clear when he said, "Such an operation by the Islamic Republic's security forces indicates that the country's intelligence and security have the upper hand in the region."
No doubt, Iranian public opinion will identify with this mood of self-confidence, no matter the political persuasions of various factions at this current juncture as regards the ruling establishment.
In turn, that would have implications for the United States-Iran standoff. But that is only one aspect. The fact is that Tehran has put Washington on the back foot at a critical juncture. Rigi is bound to spill the beans - he may already have begun - and much is going to surface about the covert activities by the US forces based in Afghanistan to subvert Iran by hobnobbing with Jundallah, which, incidentally, is also known to have links with al-Qaeda.
Rigi apparently had a meeting with his US mentors in an American base just a day before his journey to the UAE. It seems he was traveling with a fake Afghan passport provided by the Americans....
The American doublespeak on terrorism comes out all too starkly. The big question is whether Pakistan played a helpful role in Rigi's capture. Iranian officials flatly insist that Rigi's capture was "fully carried out" by Iranian agencies, including its "management, operation and planning" and the credit goes "solely to our country's security and task forces"....
But Persian is a highly nuanced language. What is significant is that while Iranian officials have unhesitatingly pointed their finger at the US as Rigi's top mentor, there has not been a single reference direct or implied about Pakistan that could be construed as critical or unfriendly. This must be noted as on several occasions in recent months Iranian officials publicly expressed their anguish that Pakistani intelligence was involved with Jundallah in one way or another, and that Islamabad was not doing enough to live up to its claims of being a friendly neighbor.
Tehran repeatedly passed on intelligence and urged Islamabad to extradite Rigi...... On balance, Islamabad seems to have implied that it did cooperate with Tehran on Rigi's capture. The Pakistani ambassador in Tehran, Mohammad Baksh Abbasi, took the unusual step of "underlining Islamabad's support" for Rigi's arrest. Abbasi held a press conference to affirm, "Rigi's arrest showed that there is no place for Iran's enemies in Pakistan.".....
If there was a Pakistani role in Rigi's capture there would be deep implications for regional security. Most certainly, Islamabad could claim reciprocal "goodwill" from Iran, such as accommodating its own interests in Afghanistan. On the other hand, Iranian officials have made it clear that Tehran is not indebted to anyone, including Pakistan.
Tehran remains deeply concerned about the US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan's role in it. In the Iranian estimation, the US strategy aims at consolidating a long-term North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) presence in Afghanistan and CentralAsia. Equally, Pakistan's growing ties with NATO as the alliance's South Asian "pillar" have not escaped Iranian attention. There is no denying the fact that NATO-Pakistan ties are fast assuming a strategic character and have exceeded the immediate requirements of practical cooperation in Afghanistan.
Tehran is equally apprehensive that the US's long-term strategy is to become the "umpire" or arbiter of Asian security involving four major powers neighboring Afghanistan - Iran, India, Russia and China - by exploiting the contradictions in the region. Tehran estimates that Pakistan is collaborating with this and is in many ways becoming a beneficiary of it.
Therefore, Tehran will follow a two-track policy on the Jundallah-Pakistan nexus. On the one hand, it would like to persuade Islamabad at all available levels to be cooperative in curbing the activities of terrorist elements operating out of Pakistani soil. However, Tehran cannot be naive enough to imagine that the Jundallah terrorists are "non-state actors" based in Pakistan and Afghanistan over whom the security establishment in Islamabad has no control.
Tehran would prefer not to harp on about that sensitive aspect and will instead cajole and persuade the Pakistani intelligence and military to be cooperative in countering terrorism directed against Iran from Pakistani soil.
The Rigi episode brings out the complexity of Iran-Pakistan relations in the fight against terrorism. The bottom line is that Iran's interests in Afghanistan are far too fundamental to be bartered away under any circumstances."