WEEK OF MARCH 25 THROUGH MARCH 31
Bolton Charges Obama Purposely Undermining Israel
March 30….(Newsmax) Former UN Ambassador John Bolton blasted the Obama administration Wednesday afternoon for putting “just merciless” behind-the-scenes pressure on the Israeli government in order to persuade Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu not to launch an attack on Iran. Bolton added that reported intelligence leaks by the administration could hurt Israel’s chances of successful knocking out Iran’s nuclear facilities. Bolton’s comments on Fox News followed revelations Wednesday that the Israeli government has made arrangements with the government of Azerbaijan to use its airbases, which it would presumably employ to help it attack Iran.
Landing jets in Azerbaijan would make an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure much more effective, military experts say. It would greatly reduce the flight time, and refueling requirements, for Israel’s F-16 and F-15 jets. Foreign Policy broke the news of the alleged Israel-Azerbaijan connection. It attributed the report to a “senior administration official.” Another US intelligence source said the administration is “not happy” about Israel’s efforts to strengthen its ties with Azerbaijan in order to defend itself.
Bolton sees the administration’s leak of sensitive information as part of a larger problem. “I think the Obama administration has long believed that an Israeli attack was worse than an Iranian nuclear weapon,” Bolton told Fox. “The president says that containment and deterrence of Iran is not his policy, and I think today that’s true. But it’s his plan B, it’s his backup plan when his current efforts at sanctions fail, diplomacy fails, and Iran gets nuclear weapons. “And I think the pressure the administration has put on Israel has been just merciless behind the scenes,” he adds. So far, Bolton says, Israeli officials show no intention of backing down from what they see as the existential threat of a nuclear-capable Iran. But the Azerbaijan leak indicates the administration is upping the ante. “So the Obama administration has torqued it up a notch, and now they’re going to reveal very sensitive, very important information that will allow Iran to defeat an Israeli attack,” said the former UN ambassador. “I think that’s what’s going on.”
Last month, Israel inked a $1.6 billion arms deal for drones and an anti-aircraft missile defense system with Azerbaijan. Many foreign policy experts, however, remain highly skeptical that Azerbaijan would help Israel attack its powerful Persian neighbor to the south. Bolton added that the leak could impair Israel’s ability to defend itself. “Releasing this information, so that the Iranians now know about it, takes away a potentially very powerful mode of attack that hitherto the Israelis have been able to keep secret,” he said.
US Thwarting Israeli Strike on Iran
(Obama betraying Israel? US making deliberate effort to hinder Iran strike by leaking classified info, intelligence assessments)
March 30….(YNET) The United States is leaking information to the media in order to avert an Israeli strike in Iran: The US Administration recently shifted into high gear in its efforts to avert an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities by the end of the year. The flood of reports in the American media in recent weeks attests not only to the genuine US fear that Israel intends to realize its threats; moreover, it indicates that the Obama Administration has decided to take its gloves off.
Indeed, in recent weeks the Administration shifted from persuasion efforts vis-à-vis decision-makers and Israel’s public opinion to a practical, targeted assassination of potential Israeli operations in Iran. This “surgical strike” is undertaken via reports in the American and British media, but the campaign’s aims are fully operational: To make it more difficult for Israeli decision-makers to order the IDF to carry out a strike, and what’s even graver, to erode the IDF’s capacity to launch such strike with minimal casualties. The first and most important American objective is to eliminate potential operational options available to the IDF and the State of Israel. I have no intention of detailing or even hinting to the options which the US government aims to eliminate by exposing them in the media. A large part of the reports stem from false information or disinformation, and there is no reason to reveal to the Iranians what’s real and what isn’t. However, it is blatantly clear that reports in the past week alone have caused Israel substantive diplomatic damage, and possibly even military and operational damage. Another Administration objective is to convince the Israeli public that an Iran strike (including a US attack) will not achieve even the minimum required to justify it; that is, a delay of at least 3-5 years in Iran’s nuclear program. A lengthy postponement would of course justify the suffering on Israel’s home front, while a six-month delay, as argued by a US Congress report, does not justify the risks. The six-month figure was meant for the Israeli public, so that it would press Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to avoid a strike, whose futility the Americans are trying to prove in every way possible. At the same time, the campaign aims to erode the validity of demands voiced by many members of Congress and Senate, both Democrats and Republicans, who criticize the American president’s inaction.
The Congress report published Wednesday is maligned by several inaccuracies, in terms of both analysis and information. However, this makes no difference. The aim was to make headlines in the Israeli and Washington media, rather than an in-depth analysis, which isn’t possible as Congress researchers in Washington do not have access to all the relevant information, fortunately. The third objective of the recent publications is to scare the Israeli public via an apocalyptic account of possible retaliation by Iran and its “clients.” This effort also aims to press Israeli decision-makers not to act (including the mention in the Congress report of the accurate fact that Israel’s home front is not adequately prepared to sustain a blow.) Some observers would argue that these reports are not damaging, but rather, grant the Israeli threat validity, thereby serving Western representatives in upcoming negotiations with Iran. So what’s wrong with that?
The damage has to do with the revelation of secret information and assessments that would require an expensive, risky intelligence effort for the Iranians to acquire. Indeed, the Iranians already realize that the West and Israel possess plenty of up-to-date information on Iran’s nuclear project, including centrifuge workshops in Tehran homes. The Ayatollah regime can also predict possible attack routes and methods by Israel and the US.
Betraying an ally
To sum up, the American publications caused the following damage:
1. Iran now has a decent picture of what Israel’s and America’s intelligence communities know about Tehran’s nuclear program and defense establishment, including its aerial defenses.
2. The Iranians now know about the indications that would be perceived by Washington and Jerusalem as a “nuclear breakthrough”. Hence, Iran can do a better job of concealment.
The reports make it more difficult to utilize certain operational options. These options, even if not considered thus far, could have been used by the US in the future, should Iran not thwart them via diplomatic and military means. Needless to say, this is not how one should be treating an ally, even if this is a relationship between a superpower and a satellite state. The targeted assassination campaign currently undertaken by the US government also sharply contradicts President Obama’s declaration at the AIPAC Conference, whereby he and the US recognize Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself by itself. One cannot utter these words and a moment later exposes Israel’s vulnerabilities and possible strike routes to its enemies.
Indeed, there is a difference between legitimate persuasion efforts and practical steps to thwart Israeli plans and eliminate them. For a total of seven years, I served as Yedioth Ahronoth’s reporter in Washington, so I know very well that with a few exceptions, the US Administration knows how to prevent leaks to the media if it so wishes. This is the case even when dealing with former officials, and most certainly when dealing with current government officials. What we are seeing here is not a trickle of information, but rather, a powerful current, a true flood that leaves no doubt as to the existence of an orchestrated media campaign with clear aims. There is another interesting aspect to this story from an American point of view: In 2002, when President George W. Bush sought to embark on war in Iraq, US intelligence agencies provided him with all the “evidence” that Saddam Hussein is developing large quantities of nuclear and chemical weapons. Following the war, when no traces of such weapons were discovered in Iraq, a Congress inquiry found that US intelligence officials were so eager to satisfy their president that they cut corners and relied on unsubstantiated information. Given American media reports in recent days, one must wonder whether history is repeating itself. Could it be that the US intelligence community is providing President Obama with what he needs for political reasons, that is, information meant to curb an Israeli or American strike on Iran?
Saudi Arabia And China Team Up To Build A Gigantic New Oil Refinery
(Is This The Beginning Of The End For The Petrodollar?)
March 30….(The Coming Economic Collapse) The largest oil exporter in the Middle East has teamed up with the second largest consumer of oil in the world (China) to build a gigantic new oil refinery and the mainstream media in the United States has barely even noticed it. This mammoth new refinery is scheduled to be fully operational in the Red Sea port city of Yanbu by 2014. Over the past several years, China has sought to aggressively expand trade with Saudi Arabia, and China now actually imports more oil from Saudi Arabia than the United States does. In February, China imported 1.39 million barrels of oil per day from Saudi Arabia. That was 39 percent higher than last February. So why is this important? Well, back in 1973 the United States and Saudi Arabia agreed that all oil sold by Saudi Arabia would be denominated in US dollars. This petrodollar system was adopted by almost the entire world and it has had great benefits for the US economy. But if China becomes Saudi Arabia's most important trading partner, then why should Saudi Arabia continue to only sell oil in US dollars? And if the petrodollar system collapses, what is that going to mean for the US economy?
In what Riyadh calls "the largest expansion by any oil company in the world", Sinopec's deal on Saturday with Saudi oil giant Aramco will allow a major oil refinery to become operational in the Red Sea port of Yanbu by 2014. The $8.5 billion joint venture, which covers an area of about 5.2 million square meters, is already under construction. It will process 400,000 barrels of heavy crude oil per day. Aramco will hold a 62.5 percent stake in the plant while Sinopec will own the remaining 37.5 percent.
At a time when the US is actually losing refining capacity, this is a stunning development. Yet the US press has been largely silent about this. But China is not just doing deals with Saudi Arabia. China has also been striking deals with several other important oil producing nations. China's investment in oil infrastructure and refining capacity is unparalleled. And more importantly, it executes a consistent strategy of developing world-class refining facilities in partnership with OPEC suppliers. Such relationships mean economic leverage that could soon subordinate US relations with the same countries.
Egypt is also building its largest refinery ever with investment from China. Shortly after the partnership with Egypt was announced, China signed a $23 billion agreement with Nigeria to construct three gasoline refineries and a fuel complex in Nigeria. Essentially, China is running circles around the United States when it comes to locking up strategic oil supplies worldwide. And all of these developments could have tremendous implications for the future of the petrodollar system. If you are not familiar with the petrodollar system, it really is not that complicated. Basically, almost all of the oil in the world is traded in US dollars. The origin of the petrodollar system was detailed in a recent article by Jerry Robinson as follows; In 1973, a deal was struck between Saudi Arabia and the United States in which every barrel of oil purchased from the Saudis would be denominated in US dollars. Under this new arrangement, any country that sought to purchase oil from Saudi Arabia would be required to first exchange their own national currency for US dollars. In exchange for Saudi Arabia's willingness to denominate their oil sales exclusively in US dollars, the United States offered weapons and protection of their oil fields from neighboring nations, including Israel.
By 1975, all of the OPEC nations had agreed to price their own oil supplies exclusively in US dollars in exchange for weapons and military protection. This petrodollar system, or more simply known as an "oil for dollars" system, created an immediate artificial demand for US dollars around the globe. And of course, as global oil demand increased, so did the demand for US dollars. Once you understand the petrodollar system, it becomes much easier to understand why our politicians treat Saudi leaders with kid gloves. The US government does not want to see anything happen that would jeopardize the status quo.
In its heyday, the "petrodollar" system was a brilliant political and economic move. It forced the world's oil money to flow through the US Federal Reserve, creating ever-growing international demand for both US dollars and US debt, while essentially letting the US pretty much own the world's oil for free, since oil's value is denominated in a currency that America controls and prints. The petrodollar system spread beyond oil: the majority of international trade is done in US dollars. That means that from Russia to China, Brazil to South Korea, every country aims to maximize the US-dollar surplus garnered from its export trade to buy oil.
The US has reaped many rewards. As oil usage increased in the 1980s, demand for the US dollar rose with it, lifting the US economy to new heights. But even without economic success at home the US dollar would have soared, because the petrodollar system created consistent international demand for US dollars, which in turn gained in value. A strong US dollar allowed Americans to buy imported goods at a massive discount, the petrodollar system essentially creating a subsidy for US consumers at the expense of the rest of the world. Here, finally, the US hit on a downside: The availability of cheap imports hit the US manufacturing industry hard, and the disappearance of manufacturing jobs remains one of the biggest challenges in resurrecting the US economy today. So what happens if the petrodollar system collapses?
Well, for one thing the value of the US dollar would plummet big time. US consumers would suddenly find that all of those "cheap imported goods" would rise in price dramatically as would the price of gasoline. If you think the price of gas is high now, you just wait until the petrodollar system collapses.
In addition, there would be much less of a demand for US government debt since countries would not have so many excess US dollars lying around. So needless to say, the US government really needs the petrodollar system to continue. But in the end, it is Saudi Arabia that is holding the cards. If Saudi Arabia chooses to sell oil in a currency other than the US dollar, most of the rest of the oil producing countries in the Middle East would surely do the same rather quickly. And we have already seen countries in other parts of the world start to move away from using the US dollar in global trade. For example, Russia and China have agreed to now use their own national currencies when trading with each other rather than the US dollar.
Indeed, officials from China, India, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa (the latest addition to the BRIC acronym, now to be called BRICS) recently met in southern China to discuss expanding the use of their own currencies in foreign trade (yet another move away from the US Dollar). The trend here is obvious. The US Dollar’s reign as the world’s reserve currency is ending. The process will take time to unfold. But the Dollar will be finished as reserve currency within the next five years. Yes, the days of the US dollar being the primary reserve currency of the world are definitely numbered.
When Saudi Arabia announces a move away from the petrodollar system, that will be a major trigger event for the global financial system and it will be a really, really bad sign for the US economy. The level of prosperity that we are enjoying today would not be possible without the petrodollar system. Once the petrodollar system collapses, a lot of our underlying economic vulnerabilities will be exposed and it will not be pretty.
'Syria Will Reject any Initiatives From Arab League Summit'
(Damascus will not deal with any initiatives issued by Arab League at Baghdad summit, UN’s Ban Ki-moon call for actions on Annan's Syria plan.)
March 29….(YNET) Damascus said on Wednesday it would reject any initiatives made at an Arab League summit relating to Syria, which is facing a year-long revolt against President Bashar Assad's rule, according to the Lebanese TV channel al-Manar. "Syria will not deal with any initiatives issued by the Arab League on the Syria situation that is issued at the Baghdad summit," a Syrian official was cited as saying by al-Manar, a news channel that belongs to the political and militant group Hezbollah, a close ally of the Syrian government.
Arab foreign ministers at the Baghdad summit called for a UN-backed peace plan for Syria to be put into action after President Bashar Assad agreed to the proposal that urges an end to violence but does not demand the Syrian leader step down. Arab leaders were expected to endorse the six-point proposal from UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan, which seeks a ceasefire and political dialogue in what Iraq called a "last chance" for Syria.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Assad on Wednesday to quickly implement the plan, which calls for the army to return to its barracks. Speaking in Kuwait, Ban said: "I strongly urge President Assad to put these commitments into immediate effect. There is not time to waste." Annan's proposal calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centers, humanitarian assistance, the release of prisoners and free movement and access for journalists. But it does not hinge on Assad leaving office.
Arab states appeared to soften their initial proposal demanding that Assad step down after Russia and China vetoed UN draft resolutions condemning him. "Syria's accepting the plan is a very important step," Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters in Baghdad. "This is the last chance for Syria and it must be implemented on the ground," he said.
The Annan proposal is the latest attempt to broker an end to more than a year of violence in Syria after Assad sent troops into cities to try to crush rebels seeking to end his 12-year rule. Zebari said the League would discuss Annan's plan but would not accept any foreign intervention in Syria. The Arab League suspended Syria last year and has in the past called on Assad to step aside to allow talks. But members are split over how to handle increasing violence that threatens to inflame the region's complex ethnic and sectarian mix.
Sunni Muslim powers Saudi Arabia and Qatar have led the push to isolate Syria, but other non-Gulf Arab states such as Algeria, Egypt and Iraq's Shi'ite-led government urge more caution, fearing that toppling Assad could spark sectarian violence. But Baghdad has suggested the Annan plan as the best way to reach common ground for league members. Iraq is holding its first Arab League summit in two decades and it will be the first such meeting hosted by a Shi'ite Arab leader, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. In the build-up to the summit, Baghdad courted Sunni Arab Gulf countries who have been wary of the rise of Iraq's Shi'ite majority and closer ties with Iran since the fall of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. Syrian government forces continued heavy weapons fire and their seige against opposition strongholds on Wednesday with military action and shelling reported from the southern province of Deraa to the northern Hama region. "We hope the Syrian brothers will respond to the Arab and international resolutions. We hope they will respond to the voice of reason and to stop the bloodshed," said Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah.
Christian Workers in Gulf Countries Warned About Saudi Cleric’s Call to ‘Destroy Churches’
March 29….(CNS) A call by Saudi Arabia’s top religious authority for a demolition of all churches in the Arabian Peninsula has prompted an organization representing Filipino workers in the region to advise caution and discretion. More than two million Filipinos live and work in the Middle East, around 1.2 million in Saudi Arabia alone, and a majority of them are Christians, predominantly Roman Catholics. John Leonard Monterona, regional coordinator of the Migrante-Middle East organization, urged non-Muslim Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia to be careful not to violate restrictions imposed by the host government, to avoid being imprisoned.
Churches are outlawed in Saudi Arabia, but other Arab Gulf states do tolerate a limited number of non-Islamic places of worship, for mostly foreign Christians and small groups of local believers. On March 12, the Saudi grand mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, told a visiting Kuwaiti delegation that all churches in the Arabian Peninsula should be destroyed. He cited Mohammed as having said on his deathbed, according to a hadith, “There are not to be two religions in the Arabian Peninsula.” Monterona said in a statement that the Saudi government and religious officials “are well aware that there are religious activities being held discreetly in homes and apartments by non-Muslims.” He urged non-Muslim workers from the Philippines to be careful but said the fatwa (Islamic religious ruling) should not come as a surprise. “Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state,” he said. “It is where the two holy mosques are located. The fatwa should be viewed as a warning.”
Imam Asheik’s controversial comments have not drawn any condemnation by the US or other Western governments, but some religious leaders have spoken out. The chairman of the German Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch called the comments “intolerable,” saying the mufti clearly lacked “respect for religious freedom and the peaceful coexistence of religions.” Zollitsch pointed out that Saudi King Abdullah has made much in recent years of a desire for interreligious dialogue, even establishing a center for that purpose in the Austrian capital, Vienna, last year. Such an initiative, the archbishop said, was “thwarted completely by the fatwa issued by the supreme mufti of Saudi Arabia.”
They called on the Saudi government to provide an official explanation, saying there appeared to be a contradiction between the dialogue efforts of the king and the views of his top mufti. “Especially at a time when the Arab revolutions have the whole region in turmoil, such declarations do not help people,” the bishops said. “Rather, they aggravate an already difficult and dangerous situation facing Christians in Arab countries.”
A Mediterranean Union Seeks A New Middle East
March 29….(The Examiner/Nicole Herralt) The diffusion of innovations, resulting from the current and continuously evolving informational revolution has directly impacted socio-cultural living standards, and has influenced structural-sectoral shifts in the economy. These 'shifts' can be smooth or can create crisis and renewal, a process which Joseph Alois Schumpeter an Austrian-American economist and political scientist called, "creative destruction."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed to establish a 'Mediterranean Union' as part of his presidential campaign in 2007. The idea was anteceded by the Barcelona Process, also known as the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. The aim of the 1995 Barcelona Declaration initiative is stated as "turning the Mediterranean basin into an area of dialogue, exchange and cooperation guaranteeing peace, stability and prosperity." Nicolas Sarkozy envisioned this Union to follow the model of the European Union with a shared judicial area and common institutions, and as a forum for dialogue between Israel and its Arab Neighbors. Turkey opposed the idea initially, skeptical that membership of the Mediterranean Union was being offered to them as an alternative to full accession to the EU. (Libya was also very hesitant) On the 13th of July, 2008 in Paris, France, the ‘Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean'‚ was launched according to the Joint Declaration adopted at the heads of state and Government.
For the past 2 years the Union for the Mediterranean has not progressed as expected due to stalemates with the Israel-Arab peace process and canceling of summits. This may soon change. As the revolts in North Africa, and Arab nations along the Mediterranean and in the Middle East proceed to overturn political systems, vacant areas of political and economic structure are left in need of leadership and direction. The EU recognizes this, and has plans to plant roots of 'deep democracy' in the region. It is interesting to follow the evolution of the Mediterranean Union since its inception, to see it now reviving in such a way with a framework in place that could possibly meet the needs and challenges of the 'New Middle East.' However, it is precisely for this reason, the fact that it is practical, makes sense, and involves Israel, that is concerning; a reviving roman empire signals the end of days, and the time to be on the alert.
One possible obstacle holding back full implementation of the emergence of the revived Roman Empire, is competition from another set of nations vying for world power, wealth and domination. Caroline Glick in her recent article entitled, The New Middle East points out that the Iranian regime are the main benefactors of the New Middle East that is taking shape due to long-developed ties and connections with opposition figures that give the Iranians the ability to influence the policies of post-revolutionary allied regimes. She predicts a very dark future should there be an Iranian takeover: "If the mullahs aren’t overthrown, the New Middle East will be a very dark and dangerous place."
Caroline Glick mentioned 4 nations that are named in the bible in future prophecies. She pointed out that Russia's (Natural Gas/Energy) Gazprom announcement to sell Syria the Yakhont supersonic anti-ship cruise missile was a testament to Iran’s rising regional power and the US’s loss of power, an important fact considering that for the EU empire to rise, the West would logically, decline from its former super-power status. Glick also mentions the growing alliance between Russia and Turkey, "Russia’s announcement that it sides with Iran’s ally Turkey in its support for reducing UN Security Council sanctions against Iran indicates that the US no longer has the regional posture necessary to contain Iran on the international stage."
This 'obstacle' of competitive nations to a revived Roman empire may possibly be removed by the fulfillment of the Isaiah 17:1,14; Jeremiah 49:23-27; Amos 1:3-5; Zechariah 9:1-8 prophecy against Damascus, Syria and the Ezekiel 38 and 39 prophecy of the Gog Magog war; a Russian (Magog) and Iran (Persia) led coalition of muslim nations (Turkey (Meshech and Tubal/Gomer/Togarmah) Libya (Put), Sudan/Ethiopia (Cush), who will attempt a doomed attack on Israel, greatly reducing their influence in the region.
Israel is like a banner to the world that the Word of God is the truth, and Jerusalem as prophesied by Zechariah will be a burdensome stone to all the nations who attempt division or conquest of her. The conflict in the Middle East that brings Israel and her neighbors to the decision table is rooted in the spiritual realm and no corruptible man-made plan can bring lasting peace and security based upon unscriptural and dishonest means or motives. It is the confirming of the (false) peace treaty that initiates the time of Jacob's trouble, and judgment upon all the earth.
US State Department Won’t Say Jerusalem Is in Israel
March 28….(Washington Free Beacon) The State Department has altered an official communication to erase the fact that it had referred to Israel and Jerusalem as separate entities. The release now states: “Acting Under Secretary Kathleen Stephens Travels to Algiers, Doha, Amman, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv.” In a previous iteration of the release, the State Department separated Jerusalem from Israel. An official State Department communication has labeled Jerusalem and Israel as separate entities. In an official press release yesterday, the State Department announced that “Acting Under Secretary Kathleen Stephens Travels to Algeria, Qatar, Jordan, Jerusalem, and Israel.”
Keeping up with its longstanding policy, the State Department refuses to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital, despite a US law stating otherwise. Obama faced criticism on the issue last year, when it was revealed that the White House had scrubbed all references to Jerusalem being part of the Jewish state from a collection of photos on its website.
Obama has also been lambasted by pro-Israel leaders and some on Capitol Hill for capitulating to pressure from the State Department, which has long opposed US law on the matter. A senior GOP aide condemned the State Department’s recent press release as unsound foreign policy. “Once again, President Obama’s administration reminds Jewish voters why he cannot be trusted when it comes to Israel’s security,” said the source. “He doesn’t think Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Is it its own sovereign nation?” The GOP source also chided Obama for continuing to buck US law on the issue. “Under US law, Jerusalem is recognized as the undivided capital of Israel, period,” said the adviser. “Unlike the US embassy’s move, that fact is not subject to any waiver or exception. So the question really is, why is Barack Obama ignoring US law and refusing to recognize Israel’s capital?” The White House did not respond to request for comment.
Is Jerusalem Part of Israel or Not?
(Supreme Court orders judicial solution to Congress-State dispute on Holy City)
March 28….(JWR) Federal courts are fully capable of resolving a bitter clash between the executive branch and Congress over the disputed status of Jerusalem, the US Supreme Court ruled on Monday. The high court voted 8 to 1 to reject a decision by a federal appeals court in Washington that the highly emotional foreign policy dispute was best resolved by the political branches of government, rather than by unelected federal judges.
At issue in the case is whether Congress overstepped its authority when it passed a law instructing the US State Department to list Israel as the birthplace for American citizens born in Jerusalem. The law is in direct conflict with a long-held State Department policy that the passports of Americans born in Jerusalem list the place of birth as simply "Jerusalem," to avoid a false suggestion that US policy had changed concerning the disputed status of the city. The lower courts had declined to wade into the diplomatic morass. But on Monday, the Supreme Court told the federal judiciary, in effect, to man-up. "The courts are fully capable of determining whether this statute may be given effect, or instead must be struck down in light of authority conferred on the executive by the Constitution," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the 12-page majority opinion. The justices vacated the appeals court decision and remanded the case back to the lower courts for a trial. "The only real question for the courts is whether the statute is constitutional," Chief Justice Roberts wrote. The case, Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky v. Clinton (10-699), is a showdown between competing claims to power over US foreign policy, with the legislative branch embracing an approach that heavily favors Israel on the Jerusalem question, and the executive branch maintaining the US government's longstanding neutrality on the future status of the holy city.
The clash of governmental titans came to a head in a lawsuit filed by Menachem Zivotofsky's parents. The young Mr. Zivotofsky was born in 2002 in Jerusalem to Naomi and Ari. Since both parents are US citizens, Menachem is also a US citizen. The dispute arose when Mrs. Zivotofsky sought to obtain a US passport and overseas US birth certificate for her son. She asked that the documents reflect that her son was born in Israel. US officials refused. Had her son been born in Tel Aviv or Haifa, Israel would be the listed place of birth. But the status of Jerusalem is in dispute with Israel claiming the entire city as its capital and the Palestinians claiming the eastern half of the city as part of Palestine.
The Zivotoskys objected to having Jerusalem listed as the birthplace. As far as they were concerned their son was born in Israel and his birth documents should reflect that fact. They weren't much concerned with the possibility of complicating US foreign policy toward the Arab and Islamic world. They weren't alone in their opinion. In 2002, Congress attached a provision to the foreign relations budget requiring US officials to list Israel as the place of birth for US citizens born in Jerusalem whenever the citizen or a legal guardian requested such a listing. That's precisely what Mrs. Zivotofsky had done.
Although the president signed the foreign relations budget bill into law, his signature included a signing statement declaring the Jerusalem provision unconstitutional. In the statement, then-President George W. Bush said the law would "impermissibly interfere with the president's constitutional authority to formulate the position of the United States, speak for the nation in international affairs, and determine the terms on which recognition is given to foreign states." The law set up a direct conflict between executive branch regulations stemming from long-standing US foreign policy concerns and a federal law reflecting congressional opposition to US policy as it relates to the disputed status of Jerusalem.
Iran Floods Thousands of pro-Palestinian Activists into Syria
March 28….(DEBKA) Israel boosted its Syrian and Lebanese border units as special flights carrying thousands of pro-Palestinian activists from Tehran touched down in Damascus Tuesday, March 27 for the international Global March to Jerusalem Friday, March 30. Before taking off, they were split into small groups and tutored by Iranian Al Qods Brigades officers in tactics for breaching Israeli border barriers, bursting through and challenging the Israeli
Two Million Set for ‘March on Jerusalem’ Friday
March 27….(Times of Israel) Two million Arab and international protesters will march toward the borders of Israel and take part in activities designed to highlight Jerusalem’s Arab character on Friday, the event organizer claims. Ribhi Haloum, general coordinator of the “Global March to Jerusalem,” said in a press statement that volunteers from 80 countries will take part in the march. Jordan and Lebanon will send protesters to the border, whereas Egypt will organize a solidarity marathon from Cairo University to the pyramids in Giza and a large rally at Al-Azhar University. The organizers emphasized the peaceful nature of the march, which will coincide with Land Day, an annual day of commemoration marked by Arab citizens of Israel to protest land confiscation.
But judging by the event’s Facebook page, at least some supporters are demanding concrete action on Jerusalem. “What will you do after the march? Liberate it!” wrote commentator Muhammad Malkawi. Other talkbackers asked about solidarity activities in Sudan or Iraq. In Jordan, protesters will be bused from downtown Amman to Maghtis in the Jordan Valley, across the border from kibbutz Beit Ha’arava. They will conduct Friday prayers at the border. In Lebanon, demonstrators will congregate at the Beaufort Castle, not far from the Israeli town of Metula.
According to the event’s Facebook page, Syrian Palestinians will organize activities “in accordance with the domestic situation there.” Jordanian daily A-Dustour reported Monday that activists have landed in Syria aboard Iranian airplanes. The march organizers also boast the participation of a Neturei Karta delegation, an ultra-Orthodox group that opposes Zionism.
Israel has warned a number of Arab states against the march, preparing the IDF for possible confrontation with protesters attempting to cross the border. Israel claims the march is organized by hostile elements and last week sent messages directly or indirectly to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the Hamas government in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, calling on them not to allow escalation in the area by allowing marches to the borders.
Russian Troops in Syria, Arabs Fear Invasion
March 26….(Israel Today) In public, Russia has joined the chorus of nations condemning the Syrian regime's brutal crackdown on its people and rebel forces. But behind the scenes, Moscow remains one of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's closest allies, and the reported arrival of Russian troops in Syria this week may have been orchestrated to drive home that point. ABC News first broke the report citing an unnamed UN Security Council official who was upset that Russia had made such a move at such a delicate time. It later turned out that only a single unit of Russian counter-terrorism commandos was in Syria, but the deployment remains symbolically significant, especially to Arab observers. "This is the first time in modern history that Russia directly intervenes on the ground in the Middle East,” stated Abdul Rahman, manager of the Al-Arabiya news channel. “With its forces, Russia truly threatens security and stability in the region. This could be the start of a Russian invasion."
Tariq Homayed, editor of the London-based Arabic daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, added, "Something is happening in Syria, but no one knows how serious it is." Meanwhile, there have been scattered reports that the Syrian rebels, and in particular the Free Syrian Army (FSA), are turning to Israel for assistance. In a secretive interview with the Hebrew newspaper Israel Hayom earlier this month, a key figure in the FSA appealed to Israel to convince the rest of the West to help topple Assad. "I believe Assad is still in power because Western powers are not convinced that Israel really wants to see a Syria without Assad. You are afraid of what will be the day after Assad falls," the man who identified himself as "Kamal" stated. Kamal added that while most Syrians are not yet ready to normalize ties with Israel, helping to topple Assad is a gesture that "the Syrian people would not forget."
Christianity is Growing in Strangest Places
March 26….(WND) One of the world’s premiere organizations for spreading the message of the Bible in restricted nations says the underground Christian church in Iran is experiencing “explosive” growth. “Forty years ago an estimated 200 Muslim Background Believers were living in Iran,” says a new report from Open Doors USA. “Today the estimation is 370,000 MBBs.” Open Doors said the growth is happening in all regions of Iran but mostly in the larger cities.
Christians in the Islamic mullah-run nation constantly are targets for persecution. WND has reported recently the conflict between Iran and the Western world over Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death for leaving Islam for Christianity. Gene Kapp of the American Center for Law and Justice said what probably has been keeping the pastor alive is the international outcry against the sentence.
In Iran, house churches regularly are raided and congregants jailed, according to Open Doors. But the group reports that the surge of Christianity is looking like a revival. Besides new believers, Iran also has a traditional Armenian and Assyrian church with about 80,000 members. Those congregations are free to have meetings in their own language, but they are not allowed to evangelize Farsi-speaking Muslims. “Open Doors workers think that the growth of Christianity has everything to do with Iranians getting to know the real face of Islam, the official religion of Iran, and the mistrust of the people toward the government and leaders following the fraudulent 2009 presidential election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” the organization’s report said.
Many Iranians are seeing the biblical messages on satellite television, and Open Doors said Iran sees that as a threat. “In 2010, Iran’s supreme religious leader Mahmoud Ali Khamenei blamed ‘the enemies of Islam for establishing and encouraging the expansion of Christianity in Iran.’ The minister of intelligence, Heydar Moslehi, reportedly warned of the threat of house churches and other Christian interests during October and November 2011,” Open Doors said. “For that reason the house churches have to be more careful,” said another unidentified worker. “In the past every house church had around 15 members. Now this number of persons is five or six because of security reasons. Most of them are organized in networks and not connected to churches outside Iran.”
Iran, which is ranked No. 5 on the Open Doors 2012 World Watch List of the top 50 worst persecutors of Christians, recently prohibited churches from holding services in Farsi on Fridays. “They thought this would lead to less people attending services, but that didn’t happen,” an Open Doors worker said. Another restriction by the Iranian government is a ban on the sale of Bibles and New Testaments.
A recent report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, the premium online newsletter published by the founder of WND, said persecution of Christians is on the rise throughout the Middle East as radical Muslims take over power from moderate dictators through the Arab Spring movement. In Egypt, there are concerns about a pogrom. Another recent report detailed a raid and arrest of members of a congregation in Shiraz by Iranian authorities. At last report, they were being held in an undisclosed location. Jihad Watch publisher Robert Spencer said that the Iranians don’t realize they are encouraging the growth of Christianity through persecution. “They don’t know that Christianity grows amid persecution,” Spencer said. “Islam has expanded through violence and intimidation, so it isn’t at all surprising that they’d resort to it again.”
WEEK OF MARCH 18 THROUGH MARCH 24
Islamic Battle Cry: 'Destroy All the Churches'
March 22….(By Clifford D. May / JWR) Imagine if Pat Robertson called for the demolition of all the mosques in America. It would be front-page news. It would be on every network and cable-news program. There would be a demand for Christians to denounce him, and denounce him they would, in the harshest terms. The president of the United States and other world leaders would weigh in, too. Rightly so. So why is it that when Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah Al al-Sheikh, the grand mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, declares that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches in the Arabian Peninsula,” the major media do not see this as even worth reporting? And no one, to the best of my knowledge, has noted that he said this to the members of a terrorist group.
Here are the facts: Some members of the Kuwaiti parliament have been seeking to demolish churches or at least prohibit the construction of new ones within that country’s borders. So the question arose: What does sharia, Islamic law, have to say about this issue?
A delegation from Kuwait asked the Saudi grand mufti for guidance. He replied that Kuwait is part of the Arabian Peninsula, and that any churches on the Arabian Peninsula should indeed be destroyed, because the alternative would be to approve of them. The grand mufti explained: “The Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded us, ‘Two religions shall not coexist in the Arabian Peninsula,’ so building churches in the first place is not valid because this peninsula must be free from any other religion.” In Saudi Arabia, of course, non-Islamic houses of worship were banned long ago, and non-Muslims are prohibited from setting foot in Mecca and Medina.
There’s more: The inquiring Kuwaitis were from the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS). That sounds innocent enough, but a little digging by Steve Miller, a researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, revealed that ten years ago the RIHS branches in Afghanistan and Pakistan were designated by the United Nations as associates of, and providers of funds and weapons to “Al-Qaida, Usama bin Laden or the Taliban.”
The US government has gone farther, also designating RIHS headquarters in Kuwait as “providing financial and material support to al Qaida and al Qaida affiliates, including Lashkar e-Tayyiba” which was “implicated in the July 2006 attack on multiple Mumbai commuter trains, and in the December 2001 attack against the Indian Parliament.” Such activities have caused RIHS offices to be “closed or raided by the governments of Albania, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, and Russia.”
This should be emphasized: Al al-Sheikh is not the Arabian equivalent of some backwoods Florida pastor. He is the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, where there is no separation of mosque and state, and the state religion is the ultra-orthodox/fundamentalist reading of Islam known as Wahhabism. He also is a member of the country’s leading religious family. In other words, his pronouncements represent the official position of Saudi Arabia, a country that, we have been told time and again, changed course after 9/11 and is now our ally and solidly in the anti-terrorism camp. None of this might have come to light at all had it not been for Raymond Ibrahim, the Shillman fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum. He was the first to call attention to the grand mufti’s remarks, based on reports from three Arabic-language websites, Mideast Christian News, Linga Christian Service, and Asrare, also a Christian outlet. It occurred to me that perhaps these not entirely disinterested sources had misunderstood or exaggerated. So I asked Miller, who reads Arabic, to do a little more digging. Calls to the State Department’s Saudi desk and the Saudi embassy proved fruitless, but he did find the mufti’s comments reported in a well-known Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Anba, on March 11.
All this stands out against the backdrop of the most significant news story the mainstream media insist on ignoring: the spreading and intensifying persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority countries (an issue I’ve written about before, and which Ibrahim has written about). Churches have been burned or bombed in Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The ancient Christian communities of Gaza and the West Bank are shrinking. In Pakistan, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, is facing the death penalty for allegedly “insulting” Islam. In Iran, Youcef Nadarkhani, sits on death row for the “crime” of choosing Christianity over Islam.
This week, as Nina Shea reported, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 14th annual report identifying the world’s worst persecutors. Of the 16 countries named, twelve have Muslim majorities or pluralities. Why are the reporters covering the State Department and the White House not asking administration officials whether they are troubled by Saudi Arabia’s senior religious authority meeting with supporters of al-Qaeda and telling them that, yes, Christian churches should be demolished? Why have reporters covering the UN decided these issues are of no concern to the so-called international community? How about the centers for “Islamic-Christian understanding” that have been established, with Saudi money, at such universities as Harvard and Georgetown? Do they suppose there is nothing here to understand, no need for any academic scrutiny of the Saudi/Wahhabi perspective on church-burning and relations with terrorist groups? My guess is that all of the above have persuaded themselves that there are more pressing issues to worry about, such as the worldwide epidemic of “Islamophobia.”
Pakistan Creates Own Terror Network
March 22….(WND) Pakistan’s army and intelligence service have created an umbrella terrorist entity that will allow the country’s generals to maintain control of Islamabad in spite of the civilian leadership, suggesting a further rift between the military and the civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari. The name of the new umbrella group is the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, said to be under the control of the army and Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate. The Difa-e-Pakistan Council, or DPC, is an umbrella coalition of some 40 Pakistani religious and political parties whose purpose is to cut off the routes through the Khyber Pass that are used to supply US and coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan. For months, the group has been successful in halting the flow of supplies, forcing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to re-route vital supplies through the Northern Distribution Network which the Russians and now the government of Uzbekistan similarly have threatened to block for different political reasons. Sources say that Pakistan’s efforts to create the DPC suggest that it is preparing for the departure of NATO forces from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Pakistan then will be able to focus its attention once again on exerting its influence in Afghanistan and to head off any similar efforts by its arch-enemy, India. The departure of coalition troops also will give the Pakistani army a free hand once again to refocus its efforts against India. Regional sources say that the DPC, while comprised of many groups, is a major front organization for the more prominent terrorist entities of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, or JuD, and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, or LeT. The JuD is the political arm of the LeT, which is responsible for numerous acts of terrorism, including the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, where 168 people were killed.
Since a major rupture in relations between Washington and Islamabad has developed in recent months, the Pakistani government apparently believes it no longer is bound by US constraints and now can work more directly with terrorist groups that have attacked US and coalition forces. Relations between Washington and Islamabad never have been stable. But the discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May without informing Pakistani officials and then the subsequent accidental killing by US Special Forces of some 24 Pakistani soldiers on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan resulted in a virtual breakdown in any cooperation between the two governments.
Egypt Designates Israel Its Top Enemy, Obama Rewards Them
(What does Obama do? Obama Restores Military Aid)
March 22….(Frontpage) Egypt’s parliament, which is dominated by two pro-Sharia Islamic supremacist groups, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, voted unanimously last Monday to expel Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, and signaled that the Camp David Accords would soon be a thing of the past: Egypt, the parliamentarians declared, would “never” be Israel’s ally. In fact, Israel was Egypt’s “number one enemy.” And how did Barack Obama respond to this egregious trampling upon the agreement that has kept an uneasy peace between Israel and Egypt for thirty years? By announcing a resumption of military aid to Egypt.
From the beginning of the “Arab Spring,” I said repeatedly that it was not a democracy movement, as the Western press was claiming, but an Islamic supremacist takeover that would result in the creation of Sharia states that would be far more hostile to the US and Israel than the Arab nationalist regimes they were supplanting. This assessment was greeted with the usual scorn: the Islamic supremacist media machine charged “Islamophobia,” on Fox Juan Williams said I was “fear-mongering,” and the usual suspects made the usual ad hominem attacks. Yet everything that has happened since then has shown that the “Arab Spring” is indeed an Islamic supremacist winter, ushering in repressive Sharia regimes with the enthusiastic blessing of Barack Obama.
Yet even as Egypt’s Islamic supremacists rattle their sabers, their spokesmen, allies and useful idiots in the American mainstream media continue to peddle their soothing lies. The Islamic supremacist and adolescent mudslinger Reza Aslan was at West Virginia University last week speaking about the developments in the Middle East, and heaping more steaming piles of what he calls analysis on the hapless marks in his audience. “Believe it or not,” Aslan said, and anyone with eyes in his head will opt for “not,” “the greatest single aspiration in the region at this moment is to achieve democracy.” Slyly implying that those who have cast doubts on this alleged wonderful flowering of democracy are motivated by racism, he continued: “It does not matter where you pray or what skin color you were born with; democracy is a fundamental right of life.” He also, according to the report on his talk in the campus paper, “aimed to debunk that the Arab Spring is an Islamic takeover. This myth is simply an American paradox due to the primary belief that we live in a secular country that easily separates church and state, he said.” Ah yes, of course. “There is not much difference between us and them,” Aslan said. “These groups now have the opportunity to come out of the mosque and to market ideas and see how they can come to life in reality.”
School Textbooks Hiding Truth About 9-11 to Protect Islam
March 22….(WND) Who perpetrated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a group of men merely fighting “for a cause,” or a band of radical Muslims bent on violent jihad? According to a new, comprehensive study of 6th-12th grade textbooks used by schools across the country, America’s children are being taught a very different answer to that question than many alive to witness 9/11 remember. The non-profit organization ACT! for America Education studied 38 textbooks from popular publishers like McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin, for example, to determine whether American schoolchildren are being taught the truth about Islam and its role in 9/11.
The report, titled “Education or Indoctrination? The Treatment of Islam in 6th through 12th Grade American Textbooks,” compares what it found in the textbooks with 275 historical sources, listing 375 footnoted citations, to conclude that America’s textbooks are laced with “historical revisionism.” “This report shines a bright light on a pattern of errors, omissions and bias in the textbooks reviewed,” explained ACT for America Education founder Brigitte Gabriel in an email. “To give you just one example of the errors our research uncovered, in discussing the 9/11 attacks, the textbooks typically fail to mention the perpetrators were Muslims or that they acted in the cause of Islamic jihad. In one book the terrorists are portrayed as people fighting for a cause. “In just a few years after Sept. 11,” she continues, “the history of what happened on that tragic day was rewritten in our school textbooks. Omitting this vital information, that jihad was the motivation for the attacks, makes it difficult, if not impossible, for today’s young teens, who don’t remember 9/11, to really understand what happened that day, and why.”
According to the executive summary of the report, “The full report reveals a pattern of historical revisionism, omissions and bias in the presentation of all aspects devoted to Islam in these textbooks. These aspects include its theology and doctrines, its role as a world religion, its ongoing struggle with Western tradition and its intrinsic anti-Semitism.” The summary continues, “Textbook errors identified in the report range from egregiously false historical statements to significant omissions and subtle half-truths. Some are blatant and obvious, others are subtle and deceptive. The errors in these textbooks are not grammatical or typographical. They are substantive, significant and often repetitive.” For example, the report notes the textbook “World History: Patterns of Interaction,” published by McDougal Littell/Houghton Mifflin in 2007, glosses over the violent birth of Islam and paints its founder, Muhammad, in a glowing light. “In Medina, Muhammad displayed impressive leadership skills,” the textbook asserts. “He fashioned an agreement that joined his own people with the Arabs and Jews of Medina as a single community. These groups accepted Muhammad as a political leader. As a religious leader, he drew many more converts, who found his message appealing.”
But did Muhammad win converts among and build a peace accord with the Jews? The study’s founders cite several sources and recorded histories in asserting this description is a bald-faced lie. “This language is a gross falsification of the relationship between Muhammad and the Jews of Medina,” the report states. “Muhammad expelled two of the Jewish tribes from Medina and destroyed the third, beheading the men and selling the women and children into slavery. This important and essential historical fact of the Medinan period is commonly omitted in the textbooks reviewed, and it is impossible for students to accurately understand the rise of Islam without it.”
The report also questioned the textbooks’ descriptions of jihad. “An Islamic term that is often misunderstood is jihad,” asserts Houghton Mifflin’s 2003 textbook “Across the Centuries.” “The term means ‘to struggle,’ to do one’s best to resist temptation and overcome evil. Under certain conditions, the struggle to overcome evil may require action. The Qur’an and Sunna allow self-defense and participation in military conflict, but restrict it to the right to defend against aggression and persecution.” “The term jihad is, indeed, ‘often misunderstood,’” the report replies, “primarily because faulty definitions like this are prevalent in academia and the media.
“First, this passage redundantly and incorrectly asserts that jihad warfare is solely defensive in nature,” the report continues. “According to the Qur’an, the mandate of jihad includes aggressive warfare for the explicit purpose of making Islam supreme over the entire world. For instance, Surah 9:5 commands Muslims to ‘fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, And seize them, beleaguer them, And lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)’ (parenthetical in original). Surah 9:29 commands Muslims to make war upon ‘People of the Book [Christians and Jews], Until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, And feel themselves subdued.’”
The report’s executive summary concludes, “It is clear that the textbooks examined throughout this report contain extensive amounts of material that is seriously historically flawed and often unmistakably biased.”
Saudi Grand Mufti Commands: Destroy All Churches on the Arabian Peninsula
March 20….(RT News) The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia has said that all churches in the Arabian Peninsula must be destroyed. The statement prompted anger and dismay from Christians throughout the Middle East. Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah made the controversial statement in a response to a question from a Kuwaiti NGO delegation. A Kuwaiti parliamentarian had called for a ban on the construction of new churches in February, but so far the initiative has not been passed into law. The NGO, called the Society of the Revival of Islamic Heritage, asked the Sheikh to clarify what Islamic law says on the matter.
The Grand Mufti, who is the highest official of religious law in Saudi Arabia, as well as the head of the Supreme Council of Islamic Scholars, cited the Prophet Mohammed, who said the Arabian Peninsula is to exist under only one religion. The Sheikh went on to conclude that it was therefore necessary for Kuwait, being a part of the Arabian Peninsula, to destroy all churches on its territory. In February, Kuwaiti MP Osama al-Munawar announced on Twitter that he was planning to submit legislation that would remove all churches in the country. However, he later clarified that existing churches should remain, while the construction of new non-Islamic places of worship would be banned. Another MP, Mohamemd Hayef, backed al-Munawar, saying the number of churches in the country was already disproportionate to the number of Christians.
As for Saudi Arabia, all religions other than Islam are banned and there are no churches, although a small minority of Christians is theoretically allowed to practice their religion in the privacy of their own home. The Grand Mufti’s words have caused a heated response from Christians living in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and other countries throughout the Middle East. A number of bloggers also wrote on the issue. “Considering the hysteria that besets the West whenever non-authoritative individuals offend Islam, for instance, a fringe, unknown pastor, imagine what would happen if a Christian counterpart to the Grand Mufti, say the Pope, were to declare that all mosques in Italy must be destroyed; imagine the nonstop Western media frenzy that would erupt, all the shrill screams of 'intolerance' and 'bigot,' demands for apologies if not resignation, nonstop handwringing by sensitive politicians, and worse,” Raymond Ibrahim of Jihad Watch, a blog critical of extremist Islamic laws, wrote.
Despite the sensational news value of the story, the Western media has been remarkably silent. No major news services have covered the story yet. Ibrahim argues that the Grand Mufti gets a free pass even when he incites Muslims to destroy churches because Saudi Arabia is an ally of the United States. The Grand Mufti’s words seem to mirror what a number of US politicians have been calling for, only their words were aimed at mosques and Muslims. In January, Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain said Americans have a constitutional right to ban mosques, arguing that Islam combines church and state, which contradicts the US Constitution. "They're using the church part of our First Amendment to infuse their morals in that community, and the people of that community do not like it,” Cain said on Fox News Sunday. In November, Pat Buchanan, who vied for the Republican presidential nomination on a number of occasions, agreed with radio host Bryan Fischer in promoting limits to immigration from Islamic countries and the construction of new mosques.
In 2009 a constitutional amendment banning the construction of minarets was adopted in Switzerland following a referendum on the subject. Almost 58 per cent of the population said yes to the initiative, although the traditionally leftist French-speaking part of the country rejected it. The construction of new minarets is now banned throughout Switzerland, though the four existing minarets in Zurich, Geneva, Winterthur and Wangei bei Olten are to remain. In 2010, French legislators banned face-covering headgear in public. The ban meant that women caught wearing the burqa in public could be fined up to 150 euros and/or be forced to participate in citizenship education. Proponents of the legislation argued that face covering was both an issue of security and social integrity, as facial recognition is important for communication. Opponents said the law encroached on personal freedoms.
Russia Sends Anti-Terror Troops to Syria
March 20….(ABC News) A Russian military unit has arrived in Syria, according to Russian news reports, a development that a United Nations Security Council source told ABC News was "a bomb" certain to have serious repercussions.
Russia, one of President Bashar al-Assad's strongest allies despite international condemnation of the government's violent crackdown on the country's uprising, has repeatedly blocked the United Nations Security Council's attempts to halt the violence, accusing the US and its allies of trying to start another war.
Now the Russian Black Sea fleet's Iman tanker has arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea with an anti-terror squad from the Russian Marines aboard according to the Interfax news agency. The Assad government has insisted it is fighting a terrorist insurgency. The Russian news reports did not elaborate on the Russian troops' mission in Syria or if they are expected to leave the port. The presence of Russian troops in Syria could be a "pretty obvious" show of support to the regime, according to Russian security expert Mark Galeotti. "No one thinks of the Russians as anything but Assad's last friends," said Galeotti, professor of global affairs at New York University.
The Iman replaced another Russian ship "which had been sent to Syria for demonstrating the Russian presence in the turbulent region and possible evacuation of Russian citizens," the Black Sea Fleet told Interfax. Moscow has long enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Assad regime, to which it sells billions of dollars of weapons. In return Russia has maintained a Navy base at Tartus, which gives it access to the Mediterranean. Last week Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had no plans to send troops to Syria.
Assad to Anan: Syrian Missiles will Pre-empt any Military Intervention
(FOJ Note: Russia has ramped up its presence in the Mediterranean, as Saudi Arabian aid arrives to support anti-Assad rebels) (King of the North vs. King of the South, with the West propping up the Arab agenda…..scenario fits Ezekiel 38)
March 20….(DEBKAfile Exclusive Report) The Middle East has unknowingly been living for ten days under threat of a regional war, which Debkafile’s military sources disclose was delivered by Syrian president Bashar Assad to UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan when they first met Saturday, March 10. Assad warned him in no uncertain terms that Syria was ready to unleash its missiles against any country preparing for military intervention in Syria before they moved. While not mentioning them by name, the Syrian ruler was referring to Britain, France, Norway, Holland and Italy whose navies and air forces were last week drawn up ready for action in positions in the eastern Mediterranean and bases in the Middle East, including the Royal Air Force Akrotiri facility in Cyprus. A Western military source reported to Debkafile Monday night, March 19 that those European forces were standing ready to cordon off certain Syrian regions and cities as “security zones” off limits to Syrian units including its air force. Cruising opposite the Syrian coast are the USS Enterprise and the French Charles de Gaulle, both aircraft carriers. They are part of the combat disposition the West has arrayed against Iran and from their Mediterranean posts would take part in a military confrontation erupting in the Persian Gulf.
In his conversation with Annan, Turkey was the only foe Assad named specifically as his first target for a pre-emptive missile assault. He stressed he would have no qualms about attacking Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyep Erdogan is due to set out next week on a visit to Seoul where he will rendezvous with US President Barack Obama, possibly on March 28, for policy alignment on the Iranian nuclear threat and the year-old Syrian crisis. Our Washington sources report that Obama has set aside six hours for his conversation with Erdogan.
From the South Korean capital, the Turkish leader is scheduled to fly straight to Tehran. The primary Middle East issues, a nuclear Iran and the Syrian impasse are therefore destined to reach a critical point in the coming days. This may partly explain the announcement from, Russian Black Sea headquarters at Sevastopol Monday that two Russian naval vessels had put into the Syrian port of Tartus. The vessels’ mission and names were not disclosed, excepting that one carried a unit of “anti-terrorist marines” and the other was a military tanker which joined a Russian naval reconnaissance and surveillance ship already tied up in Tartus.
Syria Training Hezbollah to use Antiaircraft Guns
(IDF officers believe that Hezbollah use of advanced antiaircraft missiles could jeopardize Israeli aerial supremacy)
March 19….(Ha Aretz) Syria has been arming and training Hezbollah fighters in the use of advanced antiaircraft weapons in recent months, Israel Defense Forces sources have told Haaretz. A senior officer in the Northern Command says hundreds of fighters were taught to use surface-to-air missiles in Syria and Iran. IDF officers are worried by two developments involving Syria and Hezbollah that could change the balance of power in the region. The first is the transfer of huge quantities of surface-to-air missiles; the second, the transfer of chemical and biological weapons. IDF officers believe that Hezbollah use of advanced antiaircraft missiles could jeopardize Israeli aerial supremacy. "The potential of escalation in Lebanon is huge, and Hezbollah continues to strengthen with regard to long-range weaponry and potential 'surprises' on the battlefield," the senior officer said. "We will have to find answers to the transfer of antiaircraft weaponry, and chemical and biological weapons. It could be a cause to change Israel's retaliation policy," he added.
According to past, unverified, reports, Israel has considered on several occasions attacking convoys of weaponry from Syria to Lebanon. The senior officer says the Iranian involvement in Lebanon has transformed from a "fingerprint" to "a huge handprint." The IDF points to a "regular transfer" of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah that began even before the rebellion against President Bashar Assad's government. Still, since Assad lost complete control, the weapon transfers have increased, and include drones and shore-to-ship missiles. "The more Assad loses his grip, the transfers will increase," the officer explained. "We're troubled by the transfer of strategic components from Syria to Lebanon, and if that happens, it might be cause for a more active response," he added.
According to IDF estimates, three Syrian battalions are in charge of operating SA-17s, relatively long-range advanced Russian antiaircraft missiles. The Air Force has already altered part of its activity on the northern border for fear of surface-to-air missiles. Syria also has a huge arsenal of long-range surface-to-surface missiles. The IDF is certain that Hezbollah, too, has hundreds of long-range missiles, including, among others, M600 missiles and Scud missiles. Two months ago, Haaretz published the defense officials' fear that chemical weapons have reached Hezbollah. A senior officer in the General Staff estimated that Assad's regime would fall by the end of the year, and that these weapons would be kept by the regime until its fall, or be transferred to Hezbollah.
Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, head of plans and policy directorate, and the designated commander of the Air Force, has already said: "Our main worry is huge caches of chemical and biological weapons, and strategic abilities that still arrive in Syria
Iran Threatens Hormuz and World Oil Supply after Trade Links Cutoff
March 19….(DEBKAfile Exclusive Report) Former Intelligence Minister Ali Falahian, Iran’s senior spokesman on sanctions, said Sunday, March 18, that if the US and Europe think they can ignore international law to promote their interests, they should know that Iran will respond in kind everywhere it can. “I suggest that the West take seriously our threat to close the Strait of Hormuz,” he said in Tehran’s first response to the SWIFT decision to sever ties with Iranian banks to enforce European sanctions on its nuclear program. A large fleet of 4 US and French nuclear aircraft carriers and a dozen or more minesweepers and mine-hunting helicopters have piled up on both sides of the Strait of Hormuz, through which 17 percent of the world’s daily oil supply passes, and Israeli naval vessels have deployed in the Red Sea.
Debkafile’s military and intelligence sources estimate Tehran may make good on its threats by trying to drop sea mines in the strategic strait and/or the approaches to the huge Saudi Ras Tanura oil export terminal. A small explosion by an unknown hand hit a major Saudi pipeline between Awamiya and Safwa on March 1. The damage was not great because the saboteurs used a small quantity of explosive but it appeared to be the work of professionals. While Saudi officials denied the incident, photos of a large fire appeared on the Internet. Gulf oil sources suspect that it was a warning from Tehran of the hazards facing the world’s largest oil exporter.
The SWIFT cutoff of ties with Iranian banks has gone a long way toward isolating Iran from global commerce. It will affect Iranian oil sales to its biggest customers in the Far East, China and Japan, as well as India. The economic noose tightening around its neck is bound to produce a response from Iran, it is estimated in Washington and European capitals. The US-led European sanctions on Iranian oil world trade were boosted in recent weeks by the United Arab Emirates which stopped handling Iranian rials, further reducing its ability to trade and obtain hard currency. After its foremost ally, Bashar Assad, proved his ability to survive, largely with abundant Iranian help, Tehran is unlikely to let this achievement be marred by a US and European economic stranglehold. The ordinary Iranian may care about his government’s international standing but he cares a lot more about the fast depreciating value of the money in his pocket and his financial assets.
Anticipating that Iran may kick back hard against the tough penalties building up against its nuclear program, three US aircraft carriers are standing by in the Persian Gulf, The USS Abraham Lincoln, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Enterprise together with the French Charles de Gaulle and their strike groups. Thursday, US Navy Chief Adm. Jonathan Greenert said he was doubling the American minesweeping fleet in the Persian Gulf by adding another four vessels as well as mine-hunting helicopters to bolster Persian Gulf security and keep the Strait of Hormuz open to international traffic. France, Britain, Holland and Germany have also deployed minesweepers in these strategic Gulf waters. Tuesday, March 13, two Israeli missile corvettes, the INS Lahav and INS Yafo, crossed the Suez Canal on their way to the Red Sea accompanied by the French Imidisi supply ship. The vast naval buildup of powerful warships confirms that the United States, Europe and Israel are braced for harsh Iranian retaliation across more than one part of the Middle East for the crippling sanctions now taking hold.
Saudi Arabia Arming Syrian Rebels
March 19….(AFP) Saudi Arabia is delivering military equipment to Syrian rebels in an effort to stop bloodshed by President Bashar al-Assad's regime, a top Arab diplomat said on Saturday. "Saudi military equipment is on its way to Jordan to arm the Free Syrian Army," the diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity. "This is a Saudi initiative to stop the massacres in Syria," he added, saying that further "details will follow at a later time."The announcement came two days after the conservative Sunni-ruled kingdom said it had shut down its embassy in Syria and withdrawn all its staff. It also followed a brief meeting on the Syrian crisis last week between Jordan's King Abdullah II and the Saudi monarch King Abdullah in Riyadh. There was no official reaction to the statement from the Saudi capital, but Jordan flatly rejected the report. "Jordan categorically denies the report," government spokesman and information minister Rakan Majali told AFP. "This is completely baseless. Jordan has not discussed this issue with any parties or brought it up at all," he said without elaborating, while adding that an official statement would be issued later on Saturday. Amman had called for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis earlier this month, arguing that the kingdom was among the worst affected by its repercussions.
Jordan shares its northern border with Syria, through which more than 65 percent of its trade transits. According to local officials, some 80,000 Syrians are estimated to have fled to the kingdom since March 2011. Saudi Arabia has taken a strong stance against the escalating bloodshed and, along with its five Gulf Cooperation Council partners, expelled Syrian envoys last month and withdrew their own over the "mass slaughter" of civilians. Earlier this month, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal publicly defended the right of the Syrian opposition to arm itself. King Abdullah called for "critical measures" to be taken against Syria's regime, warning of an impending "humanitarian disaster."
Last week, Syrian Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud told AFP that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were backing "armed terrorist gangs" operating in the country and were therefore responsible for the resulting bloodshed. "Some of the countries backing armed terrorist gangs, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are accomplices to the terrorism targeting the Syrian people... and bear responsibility for the bloodletting," he said. Those charges were renewed on Syrian state television on Saturday after two huge bomb blasts killed at least 27 people and wounded almost 100 in central Damascus. "Saudi Arabia is sending us terrorists," a resident of the devastated areas said on television. "These are the friends of the Istanbul council," said another, referring to the opposition Syrian National Council set up in the Turkish city last August. The diplomat's statement on Saudi military supplies being sent to Syria came as Iraq told Iran it would not permit weapons shipments to the strife-torn country. Baghdad informed Tehran "that Iraq will not permit the use of its airspace or its territory for the transit of any arms cargo to Syria," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said. Monitors say at least 9,100 people, most of them civilians, have been killed since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011. Assad and much of his regime hail from the Shiite Muslim minority Alawite branch, while most of Syria's 23 million population is Sunni Muslim.
WEEK OF MARCH 11 THROUGH MARCH 17
The New Egyptian Parliament Takes Aim at the Camp David Accords
March. 16….(Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) The new Egyptian Parliament recently issued a statement undermining the 1979 peace agreement by proclaiming it was Israel’s bitter enemy. On March 12, 2012, Dr. Mohamed Al-Saed Idris, Chairman of the Arab Affairs Committee in the Parliament, presented the committee’s official outline of Egypt’s regional policy, as approved by a parliamentary majority that included the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafi party, and the Egyptian Left parties. Idris is one of the founders of the Kefaya protest movement and a member of the leftist al-Karama party, which has formed an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.
The statement of the Arab Affairs Committee is important in its wording and content. The term “the State of Israel” is not mentioned and is replaced throughout by the terms “Zionist entity” and “the enemy.” The statement focused on recent tensions between Israel and Gaza (Israeli attacks against Palestinian terrorist organizations and the launching of hundreds of rockets into Israel). It celebrates Palestinian terrorism, which is called “resistance,” and denies the very existence of Israel, which it defines as “an imperialist settlement entity” which is of “an aggressive nature” and which “drove a nation from its land by force to establish a racist state.” The US is also blamed by the Egyptian parliament for its unconditional support of Israel. The committee’s statement included a list of operative recommendations to the political echelon, including:
1. An official definition of Israel as an enemy, “Post-revolutionary Egypt will never be a friend, partner or ally of the Zionist entity, which we see as the foremost enemy of Egypt and the Arab nation. Egypt will treat this entity as an enemy, and the Egyptian government should reconsider its entire relationship and agreements with this enemy and the threat it poses to the security and national interests of Egypt.”
2. Severance of diplomatic relations with Israel, “The expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Egypt, returning the Egyptian ambassador from Tel Aviv, cessation of the export of Egyptian gas to that entity, freezing of activities under the QIZ agreement [the Qualified Industrial Zones trade agreement] whose terms violate the sovereignty and national interests of Egypt.”
3. Full support for the armed struggle against Israel, “providing all means of support to the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank, in order to allow this nation to stand firm against Israel’s policy of aggression. Adopting resistance in all its forms and manifestations, and referring to this path as the strategic path to the liberation of occupied land, after the leaders of the Zionist entity stressed that the so-called peace process is nothing but a track of lies and red tape in order to gain time to Judaize and annex all of what that entity wants to Judaize and annex in the land of Palestine.”
4.Re-adoption of the total boycott of Israel, “A return to the total Arab boycott policy that includes the Zionist entity and the international companies that maintain ties with it, and referring to the boycott as a factor which supports the struggle.”
5. Raising the issue of Jerusalem as a major issue in the international arena, “Demanding from the Arab states and the Al-Quds Committee [of the Organization of the Islamic Conference] to act against the Zionist entity’s plans to Judaize Al-Quds [the Arabic name of Jerusalem] and force it to become the eternally united capital of the entity, and to work diligently in all international organizations and channels in order to determine that the Zionist attacks which threaten the Al-Aqsa Mosque are crimes against humanity, history and culture.”
6. Support for a united Palestinian front for the liberation of Palestine, “A call to all Palestinian organizations and factions to unite, renounce their differences and divisions, and work for the restoration of the PLO to lead the Palestinian struggle to liberate the occupied land.”
7. Reviewing Egyptian nuclear policy – “A demand that the Egyptian government reopen the Israeli nuclear issue and discuss Israeli nuclear capabilities, as they can cause a direct threat to Egyptian national security and Arab national security. The U.S. and the international community…must act as seriously toward the Israeli nuclear threat as they act toward what they consider an Iranian nuclear threat. Egypt must be prepared to immediately examine the Egyptian nuclear policy which is opposed to nuclear proliferation and which demands to make the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. Israel is the only country that refuses to sign a treaty against nuclear proliferation and to open its nuclear facilities, and particularly the reactor in Dimona, to inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
8. An active and effective policy against Israel – “We demand action and not just words, serious actions are worthy of post-revolutionary Egypt, its government and its parliament. We swear that we will never be neglectful in protecting our homeland and our nation.”
The Arab Affairs Committee’s statement was unanimously accepted and applauded in Parliament and reflects the true perception of the Islamic elements in the Egyptian political leadership (which is also shared by the leftist organizations). In its eyes, Israel is the foremost enemy of Egypt and the Arab and Islamic world, and the peace agreement with it (the Camp David agreement) is considered a dead letter. The new Egyptian tone indicates the beginning of the formation of an Egyptian policy of confrontation against Israel, first of all in the political and economic spheres and through direct support of the Palestinian armed struggle. Egypt is setting itself on a collision course with Israel, using the Palestinian issue in all its aspects, including Israeli military operations against Palestinian terrorism as well as Israeli policy in Jerusalem or the West Bank, as an excuse for direct Egyptian intervention. At the operational level, the new Egyptian leadership declares its commitment “to assist the Palestinian struggle/resistance in all its forms and manifestations,” which means providing direct assistance to Palestinian terrorism, which may be expressed through money, weapons, training, and transfer of intelligence.
Defining Israel as a “major enemy” which threatens national Egyptian and Arab security is of great importance, since its translation into action means building a military capability to deal with the “Israeli threat,” including an attempt to deny Israel any advantage in the nuclear field and/or the development of Egyptian nuclear weapons.
At present, the new Egyptian political leadership cannot translate these policies into actions. The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi party attained an absolute majority in the Parliament and the Upper House, but the full transfer of powers from the military government to the elected civilian government has not yet been completed. Today, Egyptian foreign policy is not directed by the Egyptian Parliament. For now, Egypt is still controlled by the military and the government leaders appointed by it. This situation is likely to change after the presidential elections on May 23-24 and the establishment of a new civilian government. The division of responsibility between the new government and the military in the future remains to be seen. But the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in the presidential election could potentially complete its takeover of the political system in Egypt and allow the Islamic movement to accelerate its political consolidation, to purge the army of its old guard, and to recapture a leadership position in the Arab world, based in part on the struggle against Israel.
The Egyptian position, which is completely supportive of Hamas and the struggle against Israel, in practice, eliminates the ability of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, to lead political moves toward an historic compromise agreement with Israel. Moreover, it gradually prepares the ground for permanent political friction with Israel which, if not addressed, could even develop into military clashes (against an Israeli action in Gaza or along the border between Israel and Egypt).
Salehi: If Israel Strikes Iran, it will Meet its Eternal End
(Iran's foreign minister stresses that an Israeli military strike on nuclear sites in Iran would elicit a "full force" response)
March 16….(Jerusalem Post) If Israel decides to conduct a military strike on nuclear sites in Iran, it will be the end of the Jewish state, said Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbhar Salehi on Thursday. “If Israel ever, ever makes this mistake, that will set the time for the end of Israel. The Israelis are well aware of this,” said Salehi, during an interview with Danish television TV2. The Iranian foreign minister stressed that in the case of an Israeli attack on Iran, the Islamic Republic "will be responding very forcefully."
Earlier Thursday, the Iranian foreign minister met with Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar in Iran, who expressed his full support for the Palestinian cause and condemned the "dastard atrocities of the Zionist regime, " Iranian state-run news agency IRNA reported. Zahar was in Iran, meeting with leaders to gather support following a weekend of military exchanges with Israel, according to the report. Salehi told Zahar that the recent Israeli air strikes in Gaza were a sign of Israel's weakness. “We are quite confident that the Palestinians will win the struggle,” Salehi said. According to IRNA, Zahar praised and thanked Iran for its support.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Iran is the primary actor responsible for escalations in the Gaza Strip. "Gaza is Iran," the prime minister told a special Knesset session in which he was obligated to speak. Connecting the recent round of violence in Gaza and the Iranian nuclear threat, Netanyahu said he is not prepared to accept a situation in which the country, which backs terrorist groups, becomes a nuclear power. Rocket attacks on Israel renewed on Thursday after IAF warplanes targeted a rocket launching site and a smuggling tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip overnight Wednesday. Palestinians did not report casualties in those strikes. The IAF attacks were in response to two Grad-model Katyusha rockets that terrorists in Gaza fired towards Beersheba.
US Warns Iran: Accede or be Attacked
March 15….(Jerusalem Post) The United States asked Russia to send Iran a message that the upcoming round of nuclear talks is its last chance to avoid a military confrontation this year, Russian newspaper Kommersant reported Wednesday according to a diplomatic source. The unusually stark warning by the US was passed on by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, after the two met in New York on Monday, the diplomatic source told the Russian newspaper. The source said pressure from Jerusalem on Washington was forcing the latter to support a military option within the year in order to stop Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb. "The invasion will happen before the year's end," the source told Kommersant. "The Israelis are, in effect, blackmailing Obama: either he supports the war, or he risks losing the support of the Jewish lobby," the year of US presidential elections.
Israel and the US have said all options are on the table for dealing with Iran's nuclear program, though both countries have highlighted the importance of seeking a diplomatic solution before any military option is considered. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, though diplomats in the UN's nuclear watchdog say recent intelligence indicates otherwise.
On Tuesday, Iran rejected claims that it was attempting to clean up radioactive traces possibly left over from covert nuclear work at its Parachin military site. The P5+1, a group of Iran mediators that includes the permanent UN Security Council members and Germany, received a letter earlier this month from Tehran which indicated that Iran sought to resume international discussions at the earliest opportunity. The diplomatic source said talks between Tehran and the international group will take place in April, when the P5+1 wants Iran to clarify details surrounding its nuclear program. The US wants Tehran to understand that these talks represent the Islamic Republic's last chance to avoid a military confrontation with the West over its nuclear program, according to the report.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a series of television interviews, said last week that an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities could take place within months. "We're not standing with a stopwatch in hand," he said. "It's not a matter of days or weeks, but also not of years. The result must be removal of the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran's hands." Netanyahu met with US President Barack Obama last week and tried to pressure him to harden his tone on Iran. Netanyahu told Obama that he had not yet made any decision about whether to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, though he made it clear he did not rule out such a move in the future. In statements to the press both before and after the meeting Netanyahu said Israel has the sovereign right to defend itself against Iran.
Russia Frustrated Over Syria
March 15….(Arutz) Russia's foreign minister on Wednesday gave air to a rare moment of pique with President Bashar al-Assad saying he has been slow to implement reforms as affairs in Syria spiral out of control. Moscow has protected Assad's regime from UN sanctions over its year-long bloody crackdown on a popular uprising that UN Human Rights officials say has claimed at least 7,500 civilian lives. Syria is Russia's last ally in the Arab world dating back to the Soviet era and provides Russia with its only year-round warm water port outside of the Black Sea. Moscow has billions of dollars in oil and weapons contracts tied to Assad's regime, and has adamantly refused to stop arms sales despite emergent reports of war crimes by Syrian troops.
Lavrov said none of the weapons Russia currently is supplying to Syria could be used against the protesters, and that the arms trade is aimed at helping Syria fend off external threats. Lavrov insisted that Moscow's stance was rooted in respect for the international law, Russia has long opposed military interventions, not a desire to defend its client. "We aren't standing up for the regime or specific personalities, we are defending the international law that demands that internal conflicts are settled without foreign interference," Lavrov told the parliament. Russia and the United States have been at loggerheads over Moscow's refusal to back sanctions against Assad's regime.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Assad "is going to go down, whether it's a matter of days or a matter of weeks." "He can run around and use this horrific violence all he wants, but it's not going to change the fact that his country no longer supports his leadership and certainly doesn't support these tactics," she said. The Obama administration opposes military intervention in Syria, saying it could lead to a full blow civil war, but maintain sanctions could hasten Assad's ouster.
Iran Threatens Northern Israel With Bombardment From Lebanon
March 15….(DEBKA) Tehran has begun capitalizing on its allies” two perceived victories: Bashar Assad’s success in seizing Idlib from rebel hands and the Palestinian Jihad Islami’s triumphal missile assault from Gaza. The Iranians are now moving forward with plans to match the Palestinian assault on southern Israeli with an offensive on the north from Lebanon. This is reported by debkafile’s exclusive sources in the wake of a visit paid by high-ranking Iranian and Hizballah officials Wednesday morning, March 14, to the Lebanese-Israeli border region opposite Metulah, Israel’s northernmost town at the tip of the Galilee Panhandle.
The Iranian group, led by Ali Akbar Javanfekr, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s spokesman, arrived in a heavily guarded convoy at the Fatma outpost opposite Metulah for its rendezvous with Hizballah military intelligence officers. Once there, they kept moving around near the Lebanese-Israeli border fence. At times, they came up close and examined the Israel Defense Forces’ ongoing work for fortifying the border fence and upgrading it from a boundary marker to a military barrier able to withstand terrorist incursions into the Galilee panhandle. The Iranian visitor, Javanfekr, commented in the hearing of our sources: “The Zionists can build any wall they like, whether of concrete, iron or plastic, but we and Hizballah will knock it down, like Israel itself.” His words were taken by top Israeli commanders as a blunt threat of a missile offensive on similar lines to the Gaza confrontation, only this time instead of Jihad Islami in Gaza, Hizballah would be entrusted with shooting missiles from Lebanon. Word of this threat spurred Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to sharpen his tone in his speech to the Knesset later Wednesday and declare, “We shall strike Iran even if our American friends object.”
He was further irked by a decision by US President Barack Obama and visiting British premier David Cameron, reported by Debkafile’s Washington sources, to intensify their efforts for holding Israel back from striking Iran’s nuclear facilities. Netanyahu therefore stressed once again that Israel would decide for itself the best way to pre-empt a nuclear Iran. No sooner were his comments broadcast, than Washington announced that Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro would be traveling to Israel forthwith. He will no doubt try and clarify how far Netanyahu really means to go.
Obama’s Former Pastor Endorses Anti-Semitic March on Jerusalem
March 15….(WND) President Barack Obama’s longtime pastor at Trinity United Church, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has announced his support for the anti-Semitic “March to Jerusalem” at the end of March. The White House has refused comment. The “March to Jerusalem” is a massive campaign designed to send anti-Israel partisans across Israel’s borders and into Jerusalem. The National Conference on Jewish Affairs reports Iran's government is involved in the organization of the event and plans to send thousands of participants in caravans, whose schedules have been published by the Quds News agency. As the Anti-Defamation League has pointed out, the Facebook page for the group features “worldwide Jewish lobby news”; when you click for such nefarious news, you’re directed to a website pushing Holocaust denial. The Facebook page is also virulently anti-gay, condemning Tel Aviv for its gay-friendly policies and stating that such policies are part and parcel of “historical Jewish efforts to spread corruption and perversion among all human societies.”
Does Jeremiah Wright still matter? Of course. These are the sorts of folks Obama has spent a lifetime palling around with and learning from. And no amount of throwing-things under-the-bus can change Barack Obama’s history of anti-Semitic associations.
Egypt's Parliament Votes to Expel Israel's Ambassador
March 13….(AP) Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament unanimously voted on Monday in support of expelling Israel's ambassador in Cairo and halting gas exports to the Jewish state. Only Egypt’s ruling military council can make such decisions final. The action signals the seismic change in Egypt after the ouster of longtime leader and Israel ally Hosni Mubarak a year ago in a popular uprising that ended his 29 years in power. The vote was taken by a show of hands on a report by the chamber's Arab affairs committee that declared Egypt will "never" be a friend, partner or ally of Israel. The report described Israel as the nation's "number one enemy" and endorsed what it called Palestinian resistance "in all its kinds and forms" against Israel's "aggressive policies." There was no immediate comment from Israel on the vote by the People's Assembly, the Egyptian parliament's lower house.
Egypt became the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. The treaty came six years after the two Middle East neighbors fought the last of their four wars. However, the accord produced a "cold" peace, and most Egyptians still view Israel as their nation's enemy. There have been bouts of tension in relations between the two neighbors, mostly over Israel's perceived reluctance to proceed in good faith with peace talks with the Palestinians, but leaders of the two nations have consistently kept open channels of communication. The parliamentary report also called for the recall of Egypt's ambassador in Israel and a revision of Egypt's nuclear power policy in view of the widespread suspicion that Israel has a nuclear arsenal of its own. "Revolutionary Egypt will never be a friend, partner or ally of the Zionist entity (Israel), which we consider to be the number one enemy of Egypt and the Arab nation," said the report. "It will deal with that entity as an enemy, and the Egyptian government is hereby called upon to review all its relations and accords with that enemy." Monday's vote by parliament could serve as an indication of what may lie ahead.
The Islamists who dominate the 508-seat chamber, as well as the largely powerless upper house, would like to see the president's wide executive powers curtailed in the country's next constitution, while boosting those of the legislature. If they have their way, statements like Monday's could impact on relations with Israel. The parliament's vote could also give the generals who succeeded Mubarak an added incentive to keep the office of the president as the nation's most powerful institution and ensure that Egypt's next leader is beholden to the military. The ruling military council is led by Mubarak's Defense minister for 20 years, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Many of its members are veterans of Egypt's last war with Israel in 1973, but they also have worked to maintain the peace since 1979. The Muslim Brotherhood, which controls just under half of the seats in the powerful People's Assembly, wants a president with an Islamist background.
Rick Warren Considers Christian God and Muslim God as ONE
March 13….(Apprising Ministries) Rick Warren, megachurch pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, is currently working to build a “bridge” (through a document called “King’s Way”) between Christians and Muslims by claiming that the two faiths worship the same God. “The Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest and one of America’s most influential Christian leaders, has embarked on an effort to heal divisions between evangelical Christians and Muslims by partnering with Southern California mosques and proposing a set of theological principles that includes acknowledging that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.”
Iran Backs Assad, Blames West for Syria Carnage
March 13….(Jerusalem Post) Tehran says US, allies pouring massive amounts of weaponry into Syria; dozens of civilians, including kids killed in Homs. The Iranian regime on Monday voiced its support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, blaming the US and its allies for contributing to instability in the country by delivering massive amounts of weapons into the hands of the opposition. Tehran's endorsement of its longtime ally Assad came as dozens of civilians were killed in cold blood in the Syrian city of Homs. Footage posted by opposition activists on YouTube showed men, women and children lying dead in a blood-drenched room.
The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists, said at least 45 women and children had been stabbed and burned in the Homs district of Karm al-Zeitoun. It said another seven people were slain in the city's Jobar district, which adjoins the former rebel bastion of Baba Amr. Activists contacted in Homs accused Alawite militiamen loyal to Assad of carrying out the killings under the protection of regular Syrian military forces. State media blamed "armed terrorists" for the massacre.
AFP quoted Iran's Deputy Foreign Minster Hossein Amir Abdollahian as saying to the Iranian media on Monday that "the Islamic Republic of Iran underlines its total support for the Syrian people and government." Abdollahian added that Western and Arab nations "that support the insecurity and instability in Syria are responsible for any aggravation of the crisis in Syria." The Iranian official said that the Islamic Republic believes a political solution based on reforms suggested by Assad can pacify the situation. "The troubles in Syria are happening with the backing of the United States, European and Arab countries with the massive delivery of weapons to the country," AFP quoted Abdollahian as saying in an interview with the Russian media on Monday.
The UN Security Council was set to hold a special meeting on Arab revolts later on Monday and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was expected to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines. Russia and China have blocked attempts to pass a Security Council resolution condemning Damascus for its attempts to crush the rebellion, in which the United Nations says well over 7,500 people have been killed. Syrian authorities said in December insurgents had killed over 2,000 soldiers and police. The United States has drafted a new resolution, but Washington and Paris say they doubt it will be accepted.
Netanyahu Blames Iran for Gaza Rocket Attacks
(Gaza attacks from Gaza are “an Iranian problem,” Netanyahu says)
FOJ….Gaza terrorists have launched rocket attacks on Israel over the weekend and Sunday morning with over 100 rockets and mortar shells fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip.
March 12….(Arutz) Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has pointed the finger at Iran in ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza. “The fire from Gaza is an Iranian problem, not a Palestinian problem,” he said Sunday in a meeting of Likud ministers. Iran has been accused of funding Islamic Jihad, one of the main terrorist groups operating in Gaza, Judea and Samaria and the group behind many of the recent rocket attacks. IDF spokesman, Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai, leveled similar accusations. “Islamic Jihad continues to act as the long arm of Iran, which finances, supports, and encourages it even today with weapons and money that come straight from Tehran,” he said. Hamas has, so far, distanced itself from direct rocket attacks, defense officials said Sunday, but allows attacks to continue unimpeded. Ministers warned that they would hold Hamas responsible for all terrorism perpetrated from Gaza whether or not its members carried out the actual attack. The IDF has succeeded in dealing a blow to the terrorist infrastructure of Hamas as well as that of other terrorist groups in Gaza, Mordechai said. Assassinations targeting Islamic Jihad have weakened that group’s leadership as well, he noted.
Southern Israel Comes Under Iranian Attack From Gaza
March 12….(DEBKAfile Exclusive Report) Israel has passed a stern warning to the Palestinian Jihad Islami shooting missiles from Gaza for the third day to expect Israel punishment on a different scale from the current surgical air strikes if they dare fire the Fajr surface missiles supplied them by Iran, debkafile reports. The warning was relayed Sunday, March 11, through Egyptian Intelligence Chief Gen. Murad Muwafi who is working with Washington to halt the Gaza violence. The Iran-backed Jihad has in its arsenal Fajr 5 missiles whose range is 110 kilometers and Fajr 3 which has a 60-kilometer reach. They bring into range Israel’s urban, commercial and population hub cities between Tel Aviv and Rehovoth, which are outside the range of the Grads and Qassams, more 110 of which were fired from Gaza since Friday.
Military sources told Debkafile that the Jihad terrorists are aiming for a spectacular, multi-fatality strike in a major Israeli city before ending this round of violence on order to strut as victors in Palestinian and Middle East public eyes. This ambition has been frustrated for three days by the Israeli invention, the Iron Dome interceptor of short-range missiles, which has saved important towns like Beersheba and the ports of Ashdod and Ashkelon from casualties and serious damage by intercepting the Grads before they land.
Islami Jihad tacticians are thought to be wracking their brains for some gadget capable of disarming the Iron Dome batteries. They efforts of Gen. Muwafi to negotiate a ceasefire are complicated by not knowing whether Jihad Islami went into action against Israel on its own initiative, although the victim of Israel’s targeted killing Friday, March 9, was not one of its members, only the Popular Resistance Committee’s chief Zuheir al-Qaisi, or on instructions from its masters in Tehran and Damascus to promote their own interests.
The general assumption in Cairo and Washington is that the Jihad chiefs jumped in at first without asking for permission. But after 110 missiles pounded Israeli without incurring serious retribution, the decision about carrying on passed to Iran and Syria. Both have an interest in a relatively low-intensity Palestinian missile offensive continuing against Israel. Tehran sees it as a card to play at the nuclear talks with the six powers opening in Istanbul next month. It would show them that Iran is capable of generating a war situation in the Middle East without risk of a confrontation with the United States.
The Assad regime would typically use the Gaza Strip violence to turn the glare of international and Arab publicity away from its savage crackdown on the opposition and show the Israeli military to be the real persecutors of Arab civilians. Gen. Muwafi’s queries have brought no responses from the Palestinian side and so it is hard for the American and Egyptian mediators to judge which way the wind is blowing in Damascus and Tehran. Amid the uncertainty about the players behind the Gaza violence and their motives, Debkafile’s military sources foresee a Palestinian war of attrition stretching out into the next couple of months. Unless halted by a ceasefire, it could escalate sharply if Jihad introduces Fajr missiles to its operations and/or if Israel decides to send its army into the Gaza Strip and finally root out the missile threat Palestinian extremists have been wielding against Israeli civilians for a decade.
WEEK OF MARCH 4 THROUGH MARCH 10
Israel is The Only Mideast State Safe for Christians
(Michael Oren compares what he calls the current repression of Christians in the Muslim world to the expulsion of Jews from Arab states)
March 9….(Ha Aretz) Israel is the only country in the Middle East that is safe for Christians, Israel's ambassador to the United States Michael Oren wrote in an op-ed column for the Wall Street Journal on Friday, comparing what he said was the suppression of Christian communities in Arab states to the twentieth-century expulsion of Jews from these nations. In his article, Oren cited the continuing violence against Egypt's Coptic Christians, the burning of Iraqi churches, a Saudi ban on Christian worship and the desecration of the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank as instances indicating a threat to Christianity in the Muslim world, adding that conversion "to Christianity is a capital offense in Iran, where last month Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was sentenced to death." The Israeli official went on to compare what he called a sweeping action against Christian communities in the Arab world to the expulsion of 800,000 "from Arab countries, mostly following the Six-Day War."
Ultimately, Oren concludes, the only place in the Middle East where Christians aren't endangered, but are actually flourishing, is in Israel. "Since Israel's founding in 1948, its Christian communities (including Russian and Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Armenians and Protestants) have expanded more than 1,000%," he added. Oren concluded the article, in which he cites the exodus of Palestinian Christians from the West Bank and Gaza over increased pressure by Islamist groups such as Hamas, by saying that the "extinction of the Middle East's Christian communities is an injustice of historic magnitude." "Yet Israel provides an example of how this trend can not only be prevented but reversed. With the respect and appreciation that they receive in the Jewish state, the Christians of Muslim countries could not only survive but thrive," Oren wrote.
Syrian Chemical-Biological Missiles & WMD May be Bigger Threat than Iran
March 9….(DEBKAfile Exclusive Report) US military officials said today that contrary to the prevailing impression, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed not only their dispute over an attack on Iran at their White House meeting on March 5, but devoted considerable attention to the Syrian crisis, focusing on the hundreds of surface-to-surface missiles armed with chemical and biological warheads possessed by Syria. The peril of the Assad regime launching them now tops America’s chart of the threats looming over Israel and Turkey, those sources told Debkafile.
The US president accordingly prevailed upon his Israeli guest to hurry up and patch up relations with Turkey, which he was willing to assist, because it would take a combined US-Turkish-Israeli military effort to ward off an attack by Syria’s poisoned missiles. Indeed, if the Syrian conflict is not solved, America might be forced to turn its missile shield against Bashar Assad’s missiles before they are needed against an Iranian attack. The hazard could be accelerated by three elements, say American sources:
1. Assad might decide to respond with extreme violence to foreign military intervention in Syria, even an operation confined only to drawing the civilian population into security zones safe from the attacks of his security services. On Tuesday, March 6, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan reverted to his call for security zones, and last week, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman offered humanitarian aid to Syria’s beleaguered civilian population. Both such actions, say the American sources, might well be taken by Assad as provocations deserving of reprisal by missiles, first those carrying chemical warheads, then biological ones.
2. Assad might respond to an Iranian request to take part in a preemptive strike launched by Tehran or Iranian retaliation for attacks on its nuclear facilities by the US or Israel.
3. Assad might transfer the unconventional missions to Iran’s Lebanese surrogate, the Hizballah, in which case, the US, Turkey and Israel would have no option but to smash them. That arsenal is being closely watched by US surveillance drones after the lessons from the Libyan war when at least 5,000 advanced anti-aircraft missiles were spirited out of Qaddafi’s weapons stores, some of them smuggled into Gaza for Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations. Testifying to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, the Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey said the Assad regime had ““approximately five times more sophisticated air defenses than existed in Libya covering one-fifth of the terrain” and “about ten times more than we experienced in Serbia.” He also has chemical and biological weapons.
Admiral William McRaven, head of the US Special Operations Command, also spoke to the committee about Syria’s weapons of mass destruction and American preparations to deal with this menace. Those briefings were the first assessments of Syrian chemical and biological weapons capabilities to be given publicly by the heads of America's armed forces. This was the direct result, US sources say, of the candid and open conversation on the subject between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu Tuesday.
Netanyahu, A Leader Under Fire
March 9….(Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein) It was a week filled with impassioned leaders and strong words. The annual meeting of AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee), which took place in the nation’s capital this past weekend, brought together more than 13,000 people, including grassroots pro-Israel activists and high-level public officials and decision makers. President Obama was one of the first to address the crowd, taking the podium to reassure those gathered of his commitment to a strong US-Israel relationship, and determination to stop Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
While Obama’s pledge was well received, the crowd really seemed to be waiting for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who spoke the following day. Throughout his statements, Netanyahu repeatedly asserted one principle: Despite the strong, enduring nature of the US-Israel relationship, Israel must reserve the right to defend herself as she sees fit. “The purpose of the Jewish state is to secure the Jewish future,” he said. “That is why Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. We deeply appreciate the great alliance between our two countries. But when it comes to Israel’s survival, we must always remain the masters of our fate.”
These are the words of a man who is sensitive to political realities, determined to maintain the strong ties between two historic allies, but, above all, determined to protect his country and his people from the hateful radical Islamists of Iran and elsewhere. It is a huge responsibility, and one can only imagine how it must weigh on the Prime Minister. But it is a responsibility he discharges admirably, with great passion, intelligence, and conviction. Everyone at the conference has now returned home, inspired by the words, strengthened in their resolve to support Israel. The Jews in attendance join their friends and family today in celebrating Purim, a festive holiday that recalls the Jewish people’s deliverance from their enemies in ancient times. We mark this occasion by, among other things, reading the biblical account of the Purim story from the book of Esther. In that story Mordecai tells Queen Esther, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
As I reread these words this year, I know I will think of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Surely he is a leader for Israel “for such a time as this,” when existential threats to the Jewish people are as real and pressing as they have ever been. May God continue to give the Prime Minister strength, wisdom, and courage as he seeks to work together with the U.S. to ensure a peaceful and secure Israel. And may we all take comfort in knowing that no matter what, Israel is never truly alone in “securing the Jewish future,” as “he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps”
Netanyahu: Israel Can't Wait Much Longer on Iran
(Netanyahu vows he will never "let my people live in the shadow of annihilation," says Israel has waited years for sanctions to work)
March 7….(Jerusalem Post) Intoning the mantra “never again,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Monday night in an impassioned speech to AIPAC that “as prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.” Just hours after meeting US President Barack Obama for some three hours, much of the time spent discussing Iran, Netanyahu adopted a tough tone toward the Islamic Republic, drawing on the tragic history of the Holocaust to argue that the world, and the Jewish people, cannot “accept a world in which the Ayatollahs have atomic bombs.” While expressing appreciation for Obama’s efforts to impose tougher sanctions, he said that Tehran’s “nuclear march goes on.” “We've waited for diplomacy to work,” he said. “We've waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.” “We are determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu declared. “We leave all options on the table. And containment is definitely not an option. The Jewish state will not allow those seeking our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal.”
While forcefully asserting Israel’s right to defend itself, and spelling out the dangers Iran poses the world, Netanyahu stopped well short of providing any indication of how or when Israel might act. “Every day, I open the papers and read about these red lines and these time lines,” Netanyahu said in reference to weeks of speculation on differences between the US and Israel about how to deal with Iran. “I read about what Israel has decided to do or what Israel might do. Well, I’m not going to talk to you about what Israel will do or will not do. I never talk about that.” Instead, the speech focused on Israel’s historical imperative and justification to act if it felt the need to do so.
Netanyahu said he has warned against a nuclear Iran for 15 years, the international community has tried diplomacy to stop it for the last decade, and the world has imposed sanctions over the last six years. But none of it has worked, he stated.
Netanyahu chastised unnamed “commentators” for saying that stopping Iran from getting a bomb is more dangerous then letting it have one. “They say that a military confrontation with Iran would undermine the efforts already underway, that it would be ineffective, and that it would provoke even more vindictive action by Iran,” he said, adding that he has heard, and even read those arguments before. Then, dramatically, he displayed copies of an exchange of letters between the World Jewish Congress and the US War Department at the height of the Holocaust in 1944 that implored the US government to bomb Auschwitz. Netanyahu read from the letters: “Such an operation could be executed only by diverting considerable air support essential to the success of our forces elsewhere," he read, “and in any case would be of such doubtful efficacy that it would not warrant the use of our resources. And here’s the most remarkable sentence of all,” Netanyahu said. “And I quote, ‘Such an effort might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans.'” “Think about that, ‘even more vindictive action, than the Holocaust,” Netanyahu declared. “My Friends, this is not 1944. The American government today is different. You heard it in President Obama's speech yesterday. But here's my point. The Jewish people are also different. Today we have a state of our own. The purpose of the Jewish state is to secure the Jewish future. That is why Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”
Netanyahu reiterated what he said earlier in public statements before meeting Obama: “We must always remain the masters of our fate.” Netanyahu made mention of the upcoming Purim holiday, saying that in every generation there are those who wish to destroy the Jewish people. But, he added, “In this generation we are blessed to live in a time when there is a Jewish state capable of defending the Jewish people.” Those words were met by a thunderous ovation.
Obama Administration Moves to Aid Syrian Rebels
March 7….(FP) The Obama Administration is moving to provide direct assistance to the internal opposition in Syria for the first time, marking a shift in US policy toward a more aggressive plan to help oust President Bashar al-Assad. Last week, a group of senior Obama administration officials met to finalize a package of options for aiding both the internal and external Syrian opposition, to include providing direct humanitarian and communications assistance to the Syrian opposition, two administration officials confirmed to The Cable. This meeting of what's known as the Deputies Committee of the National Security Council set forth a new and assertive strategy for expanding US engagement with Syrian activists and providing them with the means to organize themselves, but stops short of providing any direct military assistance to the armed opposition.
For now, riskier options, such as creating a no-fly zone in Syria, using US military force there, or engaging directly with the Free Syrian Army, are all still off the table. But the administration has decided not to oppose, either in public or in private, the arming of the rebels by other countries, the officials said. "These moves are going to invest the US in a much deeper sense with the opposition," one administration official said. "US policy is now aligned with enabling the opposition to overthrow the Assad regime. This codifies a significant change in our Syria policy." The package of options will be debated by cabinet-level officials at what's known as a Principals Committee meeting as early as this afternoon, the two officials said. The principals could endorse the entire package or make some changes, the officials said, although the package does have the consensus of the interagency coming out of last week's Deputies Committee meeting.
The administration is planning to greatly expand its interactions with the external Syrian opposition, led by the Syrian National Council, as well as with internal opposition bodies to include Syrian NGOs, the Local Coordinating Councils, and the Revolutionary Councils that are increasingly becoming the de facto representation of the Syrian opposition. The Free Syrian Army works with these councils, but the administration is not ready to engage the armed rebels directly out of concern that they are still somewhat unaccountable and may have contacts with extremist elements.
As part of the new outreach, the State Department and USAID have been tasked with devising a plan to speed humanitarian and communications assistance to the internal Syrian civilian opposition, working through State's Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) office. There is no concrete plan yet as to how to get the goods into Syria if the Assad regime doesn't grant access to affected areas.
At last month's initial Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said that arming the Syrian rebels was "an excellent idea," though there are conflicting reports as to whether and to what extent Saudi weapons and cash were already flowing into the country. In preparation for the next Friends of Syria meeting in Turkey later this month, the Obama administration has decided not to openly oppose direct military assistance to the rebels as long as it comes from another country, not the United States, one of the administration officials said.
Inside the administration, there is still a consensus that US military intervention in Syria is not wise at this time and there are still voices expressing hope that political transition could take place in Syria without all out civil war. "It's more about what could be accomplished by intervening. So many questions haven't been answered," another administration official said, expressing the widespread internal uneasiness about involving the US military in yet another war in the Middle East. "There's a chance we could get embroiled in a conflict. What does that do to our preparedness for other contingencies?"
Some in the administration still hold out hope that the Russians can be persuaded to play a more helpful role in Syria. But two officials confirmed that Russian arms deliveries to Syria are ongoing and one administration official said that the latest shipment included large amounts of advanced anti-aircraft missile systems, which are meant to help Syria repel any attempt to establish a no-fly zone. "What that says is that the Russians are doubling down on Assad. They're preparing for the next step, which is the internationalization of the conflict," one administration official said. For the critics of Obama's Syria policy, these moves represent a step in the right direction but still fall short of what is needed for the United States to halt the violence.
Netanyahu to Obama: We Can’t Keep Waiting
March 7….(DEBKAfile Special Report) Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu brought 14,000 pro-Israel lobby cheering delegates to their feet repeatedly, especially when he pledged Monday night, March 5, “Never again will our people have to live in the shadow of annihilation.” Earlier, he and US President Barack Obama took a break from rhetoric and used a brief private interlude during their three-hour long meeting attended by advisers to get down to brass tacks in their argument over how and when to arrest Iran’s race for a nuclear weapon. Debkafile’s Washington sources disclose a couple of their comments.
While publicly reiterating that there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution of the issue, Obama admitted privately to Netanyahu that the Fordow underground uranium enrichment plant can no longer be destroyed by bombs and missiles; American commanders say all that can be done is to block the vents of this underground facility and slowly stifle the personnel inside. Time and several strikes would be needed to accomplish this. Netanyahu said: Iran is building not one Fordow but ten. We can’t wait much longer. In other words, the talk of open windows and more time is moot. Obama said: But there is no intelligence that Iran has made a final decision to pursue a nuclear weapon.
Debkafile’s Washington source denied media reports that the prime minister had assured the president that Israel has not yet decided to attack Iran’s nuclear sites, meaning he had offered the president the time he wanted for diplomacy and sanctions to work. Our sources report, to the contrary, that he insisted Israel is operating on a shorter timeline than the United States. Then, in his speech to AIPAC, he set the record straight by declaring Israel can’t afford to wait much longer” and lauded the president for affirming Israel was entitled to “defend itself, by itself.” How much is “much longer” is the subject of debate, but one thing is clear: Israel won’t wait beyond 2012 or until after the US presidential election in November. “Israel has waited six years for sanctions to stop Iran,” he told the AIPAC audience, but they have failed.
He produced two documents dated 1944 in reply to the widely-reported view that Israel is short of the capacity to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities and an attack would cause disastrous consequences for the region and the world. One document was a World Jewish Congress plea to the US State Department for the Americans to bomb the Auschwitz death camp. The second was a rejection of the WJC’s appeal, explaining that diverting large-scale air power from America’s primary front would bring forth “even more vindictive action from the Germans.”
Netanyahu drew loud cheers when he declared, “As Israeli Prime Minister I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation! Never again!” Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Washington did not resolve Israel’s differences with the Obama administration on if, when and by whom military force should be applied to shutting down a nuclear Iran. Therefore, no joint communiqué or statement followed their White House meeting, which was also attended by White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and the prime minister’s security adviser Yaakov Amidror. But he made a powerful address to American Jews to rally them behind his conviction that a nuclear weapon in Iran’s hands imperils not just Israel’s survival but, if it is not preempted, would allow Tehran to use it in one form or another to as a weapon of terror against every nation in the world. An Israeli attack on Iran is therefore to be expected at some time in the coming months
Baby Dropped in Field by Tornado Buried in Indiana
March 6….(AP) A 15-month-old Indiana girl who clung to life for two days after being scooped up by a tornado that killed her parents and two siblings was buried Monday in a snow-covered cemetery, a poignant end to what had seemed to be a miracle story of survival. An American flag hung at half-staff as relatives of Angel Babcock gathered for the private burial. Angel, her mother and her 2-month-old sister were buried in one casket. Her father and 2-year-old brother were in another. The little girl died Sunday at Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville, Ky., after suffering severe head injuries when a tornado struck her family's home in New Pekin, Ind., and swept her into the field. Her death is one of 40 from the tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest and South on Friday. The miracle survivor amid widespread devastation wrought by the storms, Angel captivated the world with her fight to live. Though found critically injured, she was opening her eyes when she arrived at the hospital in Kentucky, which workers said was a hopeful sign.
But her condition deteriorated Saturday as her brain swelled, chief nursing officer Cis Gruebbel said. As the day went on, Angel's eyes stopped moving, and there was no sign of brain activity. Her grandmother said the family decided to take her off life support, after hospital workers said there was nothing else they could do. "I had my arm around her when she took her last breath," her grandmother, Kathy Babcock, told ABC News. "I sang to her `Itsy-bitsy spider.'"
Angel's family had already been reeling from the loss of her grandmother and great-uncle last year, and her death, along with her parents and siblings, was a fresh blow, said Natasha Brooks, of Salem. "It's so much for one family," Brooks said after a memorial service at the Pentecostal church the Babcock family attended. At least two banks set up funds to benefit the Babcock family, and Salem Police Maj. Scott Ratts said contributions have come in from all over the country. "This family had been suffering with the bad economy, and now with the storms, I mean, they have five burials in one day," Ratts said. The family was buried in two caskets in the pauper section of a Salem cemetery, he said.
Obama, Netanyahu Show No Sign of Agreement on Iran
March 6….(Reuters) President Barack Obama appealed to Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to give sanctions time to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, but the Israeli prime minister offered no sign of backing away from possible military action, saying his country must be the "master of its fate." The two men, who have had a strained relationship, sought to present a united front in the Iranian nuclear standoff as they held White House talks. But their public statements revealed differences over how to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Behind closed doors, however, Netanyahu confirmed to Obama what the president has already stated publicly, that Israel has yet to decide whether to hit Iran's nuclear sites but retains the right to resort to military action, a source close to the talks said. Kicking off one of the most consequential meetings of US and Israeli leaders in years, Obama and Netanyahu made no mention of lingering disagreements over what Washington fears could be an Israeli rush to attack Iran's nuclear program in the coming months.
Obama, facing election-year pressure from Israel's US supporters and Republican presidential contenders, sought to assure Netanyahu the United States was keeping its own military option open as a last resort and "has Israel's back." But he also urged Israeli patience to allow sanctions and diplomacy to work. Netanyahu, who has made clear that Israel is operating on a shorter timeline than the United States, said in public that Israel was entitled to "defend itself, by itself." Israel sees Iran's nuclear program as a threat to its existence, though Tehran insists it has only peaceful purposes. "We do believe there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue," Obama said, even as he sought to convince Netanyahu of U.S. resolve against Iran.
Given his chance to speak, Netanyahu said his "supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate." Even though Obama has ratcheted up his tone against Iran in recent days, he and Netanyahu went into the talks divided over how quickly the clock is ticking toward possible military action. The meeting appeared unlikely to change that. In private, the leaders made no concrete decisions but looked at both the price of taking action against Iran, which could spike oil prices and sow global economic upheaval, and the consequences of inaction, which could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. They remain far apart on any explicit nuclear "red lines" that Iran must not be allowed to cross, and they have yet to agree on a time frame for when military forces might be needed. There was no sign from Monday's talks that Obama's sharpened rhetoric against Tehran and his calls for restraint by Israel would be enough to delay any Israeli military plans against Iran, which has called for the destruction of the Jewish state. Despite that, the body language between the two leaders was a stark contrast to their last Oval Office meeting in May 2011 when Netanyahu lectured Obama on Jewish history and criticized his approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
This time, Obama and Netanyahu appeared businesslike but cordial as they sat side-by-side, chatting amiably as reporters entered the room and sometimes nodding when the other spoke. Obama's encounter with Netanyahu was considered crucial to preserving the trust of America's closest Middle East ally, which fears that time is running out for an effective Israeli strike on Iran, and to counter election-year criticism from Republican rivals who question his support for the Jewish state. He is also trying to tamp down increasingly strident talk of another war in the region, which could have damaging repercussions for the fragile US economic recovery, a consequence that could threaten his re-election chances. Speculation is mounting that Israel could opt to act militarily on its own unless it receives credible guarantees that the United States will be ready to use force against Iran if international sanctions and diplomacy fail.
Israel, believed to be the only nuclear weapons power in the Middle East, fears Iranian nuclear facilities may soon be buried so deep that they would be invulnerable to its bunker-busting bombs, which are less powerful than those in the US arsenal. Israel insists that military action against Iran would be warranted to prevent it from reaching nuclear weapons capability, as opposed to when it actually builds a device. Washington has not embraced that idea. US officials say that while Iran may be maneuvering to keep its options open, there is no clear intelligence that the country has made a final decision to pursue a nuclear weapon. Obama said both he and Netanyahu "prefer to resolve this diplomatically" and also understand the cost of military action. Netanyahu did not echo that sentiment, saying instead: "If there's one thing that stands out clearly in the Middle East today, it's that Israel and America stand together." After talks with Obama and his aides and lunch with the president, Netanyahu told reporters, "They understood Israel's position that it has a right to defend himself." What is clear is the potential political liability for Obama's re-election bid if hostilities break out in the Middle East before the November 6 US presidential election.
Netanyahu and Obama Discuss Book of Esther
(Netanyahu draws a scriptural parallel between Israel's face-off with Iran and Purim for US President Barack Obama)
March 6….(Arutz) US President Barack Obama reportedly on Monday gave Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a copy of the Book of Esther in honor of the Jewish holiday of Purim, which is celebrated on Thursday and Friday this week. Netanyahu took the opportunity to draw a parallel between the narrative in the Book of Esther, wherein the wicked Haman seeks to destroy the Jewish people throughout the Persian Empire, with Israel's modern day conflict with Iran.
Iranian leaders, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have repeatedly called for the destruction of the Jewish state, referring to Israel as a "one bomb state." Iran is geographically Persia and the Iranians are descendants of the ancient Persians. The exchange took place at the end of the meeting between the two leaders, which lasted approximately 3 hours. After the meeting, Netanyahu told reporters that Obama understood that Israel has the right to defend it against its enemies, and has the full right to take its future and security into its own hands.
A deep and high-profile schism between Jerusalem and Washington on how to confront Iran's nuclear ambitions has resulted in a nadir in relations between the two allies. The Obama administration is convinced that an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear program would "cause a conflagration" in the Middle East. US intelligence officials believe Israeli leaders have already decided to attack Iran, barring significant change in Iran's nuclear posture in the coming weeks or months. Analysts say it is unlikely Jerusalem will warn Washington ahead of a strike on Iran due to numerous leaks in Washington, compromising Israel's plans and stature in its face-off with Tehran.
North Korea Tested Iranian Warhead or “Dirty Bomb” in 2010
*FOJ Note: Both Israel and the US know that Iran has utilized North Korea to acquire its nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, President Obama continues to bury his head in the sand in this issue. The recent death of Kim Jong Il and the subsequent announcement last week that North Korea will submit its own nuclear program to inspections clearly serves to highlight the fact that Iran has gotten its money’s worth out of North Korea already, and no longer requires mutual subterfuge) In other words, Iran has the bomb!
March 6….(DEBKA) German and Japanese intelligence sources Monday, March 5, confirmed, and qualified to Debkafile reports in the German Der Spiegel and Welt am Sonntag that Western intelligence had known for 11 months that at least one of North Korea’s covert nuclear tests in 2010 was carried out on an Iranian radioactive bomb or nuclear warhead. Those sources report five facts are known for sure:
1. North Korea carried out two covert underground nuclear explosions in mid-April and around May 11 of 2010 equivalent to 50-200 tons of TNT.
2. Two highly lethal heavy hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, typical of a nuclear fission explosion and producing long-term contamination of the atmosphere, were detected and analyzed by Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBOTO) monitoring stations in South Korea, Japan and Russia.
3. The presence of tritium in one of the tests led several intelligence agencies watching North Korea’s nuclear program and its longstanding links with Iran and Syria to examine the possibility that Pyongyang had tested the internal mechanism of a nuclear warhead on Iran’s behalf. This strongly indicated to German and Japanese intelligence that Iran had already developed the nuclear warhead’s outer shell and attained its weaponization.
4. Another possibility examined was that North Korea had tested an Iranian “dirty bomb,” a conventionally detonated device containing nuclear substances. Tritium would boost its range, force and lethality. This was one of the conclusions of atmospheric scientist Larsk-Erik De Geer of the Swedish Defense Research Agency in Stockholm, who spent a year studying the data collected by various CTBOTO stations tracking the North Korean explosions.
5. The Japanese and German sources found confirmation of their suspicions that North Korea had abetted Iran’s nuclear aspirations in three events:
a) Shortly after the April explosion, a large group of Iranian nuclear scientists and technicians arrived in Pyongyang. They apparently came to take part in setting up the second test in May.
b) In late April, Tehran shipped to Pyongyang a large quantity of uranium enriched to 20+ percent, apparently for use in the May test.
c) After the May test, the Central Bank of Iran transferred $55 million to the account of the North Korean Atomic Energy Commission. The size of the sum suggests that it covered the fee to North Korea not just of one but the two tests, the first a pilot and the second, a full-stage test.
It is not by chance that this incriminating disclosure about Iran’s nuclear achievements sees the light Monday, just hours before US Barack Obama receives Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the White house for an argument over an expeditious military action to stop Iran going all the way to a nuclear weapon. The disclosure invalidates the main point the US President made in his speech Sunday to the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC convention in Washington that there was still time for diplomatic pressure and sanctions to bring Iran’s leaders to a decision to halt their nuclear momentum before military action was called for, whether by the US or Israel.
It now appears that Western intelligence has known about the North Korean tests for Iran for eleven months. Therefore, it is too late for him to try and persuade the Israeli prime minister that there is still time to spare for cutting short a nuclear Iran. It was announced in Washington Monday that no joint American-Israeli communiqué would be issued at the end of their talks, meaning they will have agreed to disagree: Obama, to stand by his opposition to military action against Iran; Netanyahu, to decide what Israel must do in the interests of its security. There is no doubt he would have preferred an American initiative for, or partnership in an operation for curtailing the Iranian nuclear threat. But that is not part of Obama’s policy.
Adamant Obama Confronts Netanyahu With a Lone Decision on Iran
March 5….(DEBKAfile Exclusive Report) Expectations that the meeting between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Monday, March 5, will produce accord on how and when to stop Iran going nuclear are likely to prove unfounded, say debkafile’s military and Washington sources. Obama has made it clear that a military strike would be “premature” and economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure and negotiations must be allowed to run their course before a military option is considered as a last resort. When Netanyahu flies home, therefore, he will come away from the White House facing exactly the same dilemma as before: It is up to him to determine Israel’s window of opportunity for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and decide if and when to go through with it.
After he met Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa Friday, March 2, Netanyahu tried to temper his disagreement with Obama by offering to go along with the Six Power negotiations with Iran starting in Istanbul next month, which are a cornerstone of the US president’s Iran policy, although Israel firmly believes Iran is just playing for time. Nonetheless, for the talks to have any point, he proposed that they should aim for three results:
1. The dismantling of the uranium enrichment facilities buried underground at Fordo;
2. The transfer of highly-enriched uranium outside the country to international control, effectively removing the material for assembling a bomb out of Tehran’s hands;
3. A ban on uranium enrichment to a grade higher than 5 percent instead of the 20 percent concentrated fissile fuel stocked at present.
The Israeli prime minister’s proposal was rejected by the White House after Moscow too found it unacceptable. A number of confidential Russian messages advised Israel to forget any reversals of Iran’s nuclear progress. The coming international negotiations, they said, must start with accepting the current status of Iran’s nuclear program, “There’s no turning back.”
The White House message to Netanyahu on the eve of his meeting with Obama was that Tehran would simply not come to the negotiating table if faced with those three demands. This message was reinforced by a leak to the New York Times Sunday, March 4, asserting that “American intelligence agencies continue to say that there is no evidence that Iran has made a final decision to pursue a nuclear weapon. Recent assessments by American spy agencies have reaffirmed intelligence findings in 2007 and 2010 that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program.” By reverting to its long-abandoned attitude of denial on the Iranian nuclear threat, Washington flies in the face of the last two International Atomic Energy Agency quarterly reports. The last one published ten days ago stated: “The agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program,” and “Iran has produced nearly 110kg of uranium enriched to 20 percent since early 2010. Western experts say about 250 kg is needed for a nuclear weapon.” The report also pointed out that “Iran is shifting the most sensitive aspect of its nuclear work, refining uranium to a level that takes it significantly closer to potential bomb material, to the site.” Nuclear watchdog concerns were further exacerbated by Tehran’s refusal to allow inspectors to visit the Parchin site suspected of nuclear explosion tests in two recent visits.
The Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak has warned that Iran was in the process of moving clandestine nuclear projects to a “zone of immunity” safe from outside attack. Notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary, the Obama administration has resorted to turning the Iran’s nuclear clock back to 2007. Then, too, in an effort to hold Israel back from a preemptive attack on Iran, the National Intelligence Agency informed President George W. Bush that Iran had abandoned its military program in 2003. A year ago, all the evidence accumulating of Iran’s rapid nuclear advances appeared to put the US-Israeli dispute to rest.
But now, the White House may be reacting to the explicit statement of Israel’s case by former Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin in the NYT ofn March 2. He wrote: “What is needed is an ironclad American assurance that if Israel refrains from acting in its own window of opportunity, and all other options have failed to halt Tehran’s nuclear quest, Washington will act to prevent a nuclear Iran while it is still within its power to do so.” Debkafile’s Washington sources report that no American president can be expected to tolerate Israel dictating terms, however just and pressing its case may be. Even before hearing what Israel had to say, Obama was resolved to oppose military action on Iran and not be moved on this. Now he is additionally determined to put his Israeli visitor in his place and draw a line on Jerusalem’s influence in Washington, both as a lesson to Jerusalem and an incentive for Tehran.
Obama to AIPAC: Diplomatic Pressure Will Bring Iran to the Right Decision
March 5….(DEBKAfile Special Report) US President Barack Obama followed Israeli President Shimon Peres in addressing the opening of the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC convention in Washington, Sunday, March 4. Both condemned a nuclear Iran as a threat to the US, Israel and the world. President Obama urged the efficacy of diplomacy backed by pressure since “Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon.” He also stressed that his policy is not one of containment but preventing Iran obtaining nuclear weapons by every element of US power including a military effort. Obama added: “There is no doubt about the resolve of the US or about Israel’s right to make its own decisions about its security needs.” He said no one should doubt his commitment to Israel’s security: “When the chips are down I have Israel’s back,” he said to applause.
President Obama then made a point of listing the great effort he had invested in engagement with Iran and sanctions during his three years in office. He did not explain why the only result so far was the unprecedented acceleration of Iran’s nuclear program in defiance of pressure, sanctions and diplomatic isolation. As for sanctions, European oil sources reported Saturday, March 3 that since last month, when the European Union imposed an embargo on Iranian oil, Tehran’s exports to European nations had mushroomed and Iran was now supplying 46 percent of the continent’s oil needs, not far below the 49 percent sold by Saudi Arabia.
“No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear bomb in the hands of a regime that denies the holocaust, threatens to wipe if off the map and supports terrorists committed to its destruction. So I understand the responsibility on the shoulders of Binyamin Netanyahu,” said Obama. “A nuclear Iran is a threat to American national security,” he stressed. The job is not over and there is more to be done. “Both Israel and US have an interest in solving the problem diplomatically,” he went on to say, without going into the core of his dispute with the Israeli prime minister whom he meets at the White House Monday, which is at what point will America decide to use all the “elements of American power” to stop a nuclear Iran. “There is still time for Iran’s leaders to make the right decision,” said Obama, “I hope President Ahmadinejad makes it.” A few hours before the Obama speech at AIPAC, nearly final results of Iran’s parliamentary election were in, showing that Ahmadinejad’s great rival, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had swept up three quarters of the house, throwing out most of the president’s supporters and leaving him a lame duck for the remaining 18 months of his presidency.
Khamenei Political Allies Rout Ahmadinejad in Iran Election
March 5….(Jerusalem Post) Loyalists of Iran's paramount clerical leader have won over 75 percent of seats in parliamentary elections, a near-complete count showed, largely reducing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a lame duck in a contest between conservative hardline factions. The outcome of Friday's vote, largely shunned by reformists whose leaders are under house arrest, will have no major impact on Iran's foreign policy including its nuclear dispute with the West. But it will give Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's camp a significant edge in the 2013 presidential election.
The widespread defeat of Ahmadinejad's supporters was likely to erode the authority of the president, under fire from Khamenei's allies for challenging the utmost authority of the supreme leader in Iran's multi-layered ruling hierarchy. With 90 percent of ballot boxes counted, Khamenei acolytes were expected to occupy more than three-quarters of the 290 seats in the Majlis (parliament), according to a list published by the interior ministry. In the race for the 30 seats in the Islamic Republic's capital Tehran, a Reuters tally of unofficial preliminary returns showed Khamenei supporters had taken 19 and pro-Ahmadinejad candidates the rest.
Pro-Khamenei candidates won in the Shi'ite Muslim holy cities of Qom and Mashhad and were leading in other major provincial cities like Isfahan and Tabriz, where over 90 percent of voters backed Ahmadinejad in the 2009 parliamentary poll. Even in rural areas that have been strongholds of Ahmadinejad's and his populist brand of non-clerical nationalism, Khamenei loyalists appeared to have swept around 70 percent of the seats. Independents and women candidates fared relatively well in many provincial towns, where they campaigned on the immediate concerns, generally economic, of their constituents.
Iran's energy-driven economy is suffering badly from Western sanctions, now expanding to block its lucrative oil exports, imposed over its refusal to halt sensitive nuclear activity and open up to UN nuclear inspectors. Final election returns are expected by Monday. The results are hard to compare with the outgoing parliament since Khamenei and Ahmadinejad loyalists were united in the 2008 elections, garnering about 70 percent of seats.
But analysts said the combative Ahmadinejad, who is constitutionally barred from running for a third term, would not readily bow to the rout of his supporters and may fight back. "Ahmadinejad's camp has not been demolished. We have to wait and see what happens after the new parliament convenes in June," said analyst Hamid Farahvashian. "The vote showed that there is a deepening rift between the ruling elites. It might emerge in the coming weeks." Ahmadinejad is likely to be summoned to an unprecedented hearing in the outgoing parliament by Friday to answer questions about his handling of the economy and foreign policy. Some critics say he has inflicted higher inflation on Iranians by slashing food and fuel subsidies and replacing them with cash handouts of about $38 a month per person.
Parliament could impeach Ahmadinejad if his explanations are unconvincing, but Khamenei's green light would be needed. Analysts said Ahmadinejad is likely to survive his term - but as a lame duck president. "The establishment is under Western pressure and does not want to look divided," said analyst Babak Sadeghi. "Ahmadinejad will finish his term as a weak executive." Under mounting Western pressure over its nuclear program and concerns that Israel might attack, Iran's clerical elite needed a high election turnout to shore up their legitimacy damaged since Ahmadinejad's 2009 re-election, in which fraud allegations triggered eight months of anti-government protests.
Khamenei, 72, said a high turnout would be a message of defiance to "the arrogant powers bullying us", a reference to Western states and sanctions against Iran. State officials said the turnout was over 64 percent, higher than the 57 percent in the 2008 parliamentary vote. Absent from the vote were the two main opposition leaders. Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who ran for president in 2009, have been under house arrest for more than a year.
Eastern Kentucky Devastated by Tornadoes
March 5….(FOJ) A massive tornado outbreak occurred in the US on Friday, with a total of 101 tornado reports according to NOAA. We here in Central Kentucky suddenly found ourselves right at ground zero for the region’s deadliest outbreak of tornadoes in nearly 40 years. Central Kentucky is home to FOJ, and we would like to encourage our many friends in Eastern Kentucky to offer sanctuary and help in this trying time for many here. While most of the state escaped the wrath of these storms, many people in Wolfe, Morgan, Menifee, Laurel, Johnson, Kenton, Elliott Counties are suffering. Yet, while the storms are terrible, the grace of God still abounds.