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Posts tagged ‘Washington Institute for Near East Policy’

US Fighters Pose Security Risk on Return From Syria.

Federal officials say Americans are joining the bloody civil war in Syria, raising the chances they could become radicalized by al-Qaida-linked militant groups and return to the U.S. as battle-hardened security risks.

The State Department says it has no estimates of how many Americans have taken up weapons to fight military units loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in the conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people over 2 ½ years. Other estimates — from an arm of the British defense consultant IHS Jane’s and from experts at a nonprofit think tank in London — put the number of Americans at a couple dozen. The IHS group says al-Qaida-linked fighters number about 15,000, with total anti-Assad force at 100,000 or more.

This year, at least three Americans have been charged with planning to fight beside Jabhat al-Nusrah — a radical Islamic organization that the U.S. considers a foreign terrorist group — against Assad. The most recent case involves a Pakistan-born North Carolina man arrested on his way to Lebanon.

At a Senate homeland security committee hearing this month, Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., said: “We know that American citizens as well as Canadian and European nationals have taken up arms in Syria, in Yemen and in Somalia. The threat that these individuals could return home to carry out attacks is real and troubling.”

The hearing came about two weeks after the FBI and other officers arrested Basit Sheikh, 29, at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport on charges he was on his way to join Jabhat al-Nusrah. Sheikh, a legal resident of the United States, had lived quietly, without a criminal record, in a Raleigh suburb for five years before his Nov. 2 arrest. A similar arrest came in April in Chicago. And in September, authorities in Virginia released an Army veteran accused of fighting alongside the group after a secret plea deal.

In August, outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller told ABC News that he was concerned about Americans fighting in Syria, specifically “the associations they will make and, secondly, the expertise they will develop, and whether or not they will utilize those associations, utilize that expertise, to undertake an attack on the homeland.”

Current FBI Director James Comey said this month that he worried about Syria becoming a repeat of Afghanistan in the 1980s, after the Soviet invasion, with foreign fighters attracted there to train. The FBI refused to say whether it has directed agents to increase efforts to stop Americans bound for Syria.

In the case of Sheikh, his North Carolina home isn’t considered a breeding ground for terrorist activity. But Aaron Zelin, who works for both the London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, notes that Sheikh lived about three hours from the hometown of Samir Khan, the editor of an English-language al-Qaida magazine who was killed in a drone attack in Yemen.

Sheikh is charged with planning to assist a group the State Department has declared a terrorist organization. It’s not illegal for Americans who also hold citizenship in another country to fight in that country’s military. But American citizenship can be lost for voluntarily serving in foreign armed forces hostile to the U.S.

For five months this year, Sheikh didn’t know he was being monitored as he posted messages and videos on Facebook expressing support for jihadi militants fighting Assad’s forces, according to a Nov. 2 sworn affidavit by FBI Special Agent Jason Maslow in support of the warrant to arrest Sheikh.

In August, Sheikh commented to an undercover FBI employee’s posts on a Facebook page promoting Islamic extremism. The two struck up an online relationship, the affidavit said. Sheikh told the informant he planned to trek to Syria to join “a brigade in logistics, managing medical supplies.” Days later, Sheikh said he’d bought a one-way ticket to travel to Turkey in hopes of making contact with people who would get him to Syria.

Sheikh said he backed out because “he could not muster the strength to leave his parents,” the affidavit said. Sheikh said he had traveled to Turkey last year hoping to join the fight in Syria, but became dispirited by his experience with people who claimed to be part of the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army. After Sheikh expressed online support for Jabhat al-Nusrah and interest in traveling to the war zone, the FBI employee suggested Sheikh contact a person with the group — another FBI informant.

Sheikh made contract, describing Jabhat al-Nusrah as the most disciplined group of anti-Assad fighters, the affidavit said. “I’m not scared,” Sheikh wrote, according to the affidavit. “I’m ready.”

Two federal public defenders appointed to represent Sheikh are barred by local court practice from discussing their cases, spokeswoman Elizabeth Luck said. Sheikh’s father, Javed Sheikh, said his son was falsely accused but that he trusts U.S. courts to find the truth.

A federal magistrate ruled that Sheikh should be detained until his trial because there was clear evidence that he wouldn’t appear if released on bond and that there was a “serious risk” to the community if he were freed.

Basit Sheikh’s arraignment is scheduled for January. He could face up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Joel Rosenberg: Israel on Its Own When It Comes to Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and U.S. President Barack Obama.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and U.S. President Barack Obama. (Reuters)

It is not exactly starting off as a happy New Year in Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his security cabinet have to be mortified by what they are seeing unfold—not in Damascus, but in Washington.

To be sure, Israeli leaders are concerned but not surprised by the horrific bloodletting that is underway between the evil Assad regime and the demonic forces of al-Qaida and their radical Islamic partners. But the Israelis are stunned and dismayed by the vacillating, lurching, confused and chaotic approach to decision-making being taken by President Obama and his top advisers.

Officially, the Israeli government supports the Obama administration’s approach to Syria.

“Israel agrees with President Obama that the use of chemical weapons is a ‘heinous act’ for which the Assad regime must be held accountable and for which there must be ‘international consequences,’”says Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador in Washington. “Israel further agrees with the President that the use of chemical weapons promotes the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and encourages ‘governments who would choose to build nuclear arms.’”

This statement of official support should not be surprising. Israel is, after all, America’s best friend in the Middle East and its most loyal ally on the planet.

But behind the scenes, Netanyahu and his team have never felt more alone.

If President Obama is so distrusted by the American people and her representatives in Congress that he cannot build solid support for limited military strikes against Syria’s chemical weapons facilities, the Israelis are coming to the painful realization that there is no chance for the president to pull together support for preemptive military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

Mr. Obama cannot even persuade former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld or former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton—two outspoken hawks, ready and willing to use military and force against WMDs in the Middle East when necessary—to support his limited plan for action in Syria. This just shows how deeply the president is mistrusted by those who would otherwise support bipartisan efforts to take out tyrants and their most dangerous weapons.

That means one thing: The Israelis are on their own, and now they know it.

“Until [recently], Obama’s Middle East policies were generally regarded by the Arab world as confused and incoherent,” notes the Times of Israel. “As of Saturday, he will be perceived as one of the weakest presidents in American history. That scent of weakness has emphatically reached Iran. … Khamenei and his advisers recognize that the likelihood of this administration using military force against a country with Iran’s military capability are very low, if not nonexistent.

“And they’re not the only ones who realize this. The same conclusions are being drawn by Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet colleagues, who will doubtless have been watching the Rose Garden speech, will have internalized what they had long suspected: that Washington will not be the place from which good news will emanate about thwarting Iran’s nuclear drive.”

“The punch line is that the more that Israel perceives the U.S. as hesitant, the more Israel will be pushed to deal alone with the Iranians, something that the U.S. really did not want,” Michael Herzog, an Israel-based fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policytold the New York Times. “People ask, ‘If this is the case on a relatively simple thing like striking Syria, how will they act against Iran?’ It deepens the question marks.”

Ari Shavit, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretztold the New York Times that U.S. actions were leaving Israelis with the “feeling of orphans” and that they are wondering “if there is still a reliable parent in Washington who is really committed, who understands what’s going on and who is willing to act.”

On a radio show this morning, I was asked whether I thought my novel Damascus Countdown was coming to pass. Not yet, I said. But it’s getting dangerously close. Let me explain:

  • The premise of Damascus Countdown (and the novel that preceded it, The Tehran Initiative) is that an American president tries to persuade an Israeli prime minister not to launch a preemptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities on the premise that this could blow up the entire Middle East.
  • The Israeli prime minister sees weakness, vacillation and indecision in the president and knows that, regretfully, he cannot depend on Washington to neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat before it’s too late.
  • Fearing a nuclear Holocaust, Israel decides it is all alone and thus has no choice to take military action against Iran.
  • Then Iran teams up with Syria to launch weapons of mass destruction against Israel from Syrian soil.

No, we are not there yet—thank God. But we are getting close. And President Obama’s approach toward Syria is driving us there all the faster.

It’s all the more reason to be praying for the peace of Jerusalem, as the psalmist commands.



Joel C. Rosenberg is the author of numerous New York Times best-selling novels and nonfiction books, with nearly 3 million copies sold. He is also the founder of the Joshua Fund( His books include The Last Jihad (2002), The Last Days (2003), The Ezekiel Option (2005) and The Copper Scroll (2006).

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Obama’s Upcoming Illegal Syrian War Is Really About Iran And Israel.

The dirty little not-so-secret behind President Obama’s much-lobbied-for, illegal and strategically incompetent war against Syria is that it’s not about Syria at all. It’s about Iran—and Israel. And it has been from the start.

Obama Hates Israel

By “the start,” I mean 2011, when the Obama administration gradually became convinced that it could deal Iran a mortal blow by toppling President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, a secular, Baathist strongman who is, despite all, an ally of Iran’s. Since then, taking Iran down a peg has been the driving force behind Obama’s Syria policy.

Not coincidentally, the White House plans to scare members of Congress into supporting the ill-conceived war plan by waving the Iranian flag in their faces. Even liberal Democrats, some of whom are opposing or questioning war with Syria, blanch at the prospect of opposing Obama and the Israel lobby over Iran.

Item for consideration: a new column by the Syria analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the chief think tank of the Israel lobby. Andrew Tabler headlines his piece: “Attacking Syria Is the Best Way to Deal with Iran.” In it, he says:

At first glance, the festering Syria crisis seems bad news for diplomatic efforts to keep Iran from developing nuclear capabilities. In actuality, however, achieving U.S. objectives in the Syria crisis is an opportunity to pressure Iran into making hard choices not only in Syria, but regarding its nuclear program as well. More U.S. involvement to achieve its objectives in Syria will inevitably run counter to Tehran’s interests, be it to punish the Assad regime for chemical weapons use or to show support for the Syrian opposition in changing Assad’s calculus and forcing him to “step aside” at the negotiating table or on the battlefield.

Many in U.S. policymaking circles have viewed containing swelling Iranian influence in Syria and preventing Iran from going nuclear as two distinct policy discussions, as the Obama Administration only has so much “bandwidth” to deal with Middle East threats. But the recent deepening of cooperation between Tehran, Hezbollah and the Assad regime, combined with their public acknowledgement of these activities, indicates that they themselves see these activities as furthering the efficacy of the “resistance axis.”

Like every alliance, its members will only make hard policy choices if the costs of its current policies far outweigh the benefits. U.S. strikes on the Assad regime, if properly calibrated as part of an overall plan to degrade the regime, would force Tehran to become more involved in Syria in order to rescue its stalwart ally. This would be costly for Iran financially, militarily and politically. Those costs would make the Iranian regime and its people reassess aspirations to go nuclear.

Needless to say, such a strategy is bound to be counterproductive, since—by slamming Syria, never mind toppling Assad—Washington is likely to undermine doves and bolster hawks in Tehran and undermine the chances for successful negotiations with Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, who’ll be speaking at the UN General Assembly later this month.

In fact, both Russia and Iran have signaled recently, in the wake of Syria’s obvious deployment and use of sarin gas and other deadly weapons that they might be getting ready to join the rest of the world in condemning Syria’s chemical warfare, and that makes it far more likely that the much-postponed US-Russia “Geneva II” peace conference on Syria might work. The hawkish Washington Post today notes Rouhani’s new administration in Tehran is softening its tone on Syria, and it reports that the new Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has acknowledged the Syria has erred, saying: “We believe that the government in Syria has made grave mistakes that have, unfortunately, paved the way for the situation in the country to be abused.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, while issuing scathing denunciations of the coming U.S. attack on Syria, has dropped broad hints that he might be willing to join with other nations if and when the United Nations weapons team concludes that Assad used nerve gas, suggesting that Russia might not block a UN Security Council resolution against Syria. In hismuch-reported interview with the Associated Press, Putin insisted on waiting for the UN report:

“If there is evidence that chemical weapons have been used, and used specifically by the regular army, this evidence should be submitted to the U.N. Security Council. And it ought to be convincing. It shouldn’t be based on some rumors and information obtained by intelligence agencies through some kind of eavesdropping, some conversations and things like that.”

Then, according to the Washington Post, Putin declared that he might join a UN-sponsored coalition on Syria:

He said he “doesn’t exclude” backing the use of force against Syria at the United Nations if there is objective evidence proving that Assad’s regime used chemical weapons against its people. But he strongly warned Washington against launching military action without U.N. approval, saying it would represent an aggression. Russia can veto resolutions at the U.N. Security Council and has protected Syria from punitive actions there before.

But a change in tone on the part of Russia and Iran—the latter of whom the Obama administration still refuses to invite to Geneva II if and when it occurs—won’t mean a thing if the object of war with Syria is to send a message to Iran. As Jeffrey Goldberg, writing for Bloomberg, says, for Israel it’s all about Iran:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel would prefer that Obama enforce his red line on chemical weapons use, because he would like to see proof that Obama believes in the red lines he draws. From Netanyahu’s perspective, Israel isn’t unduly threatened by Assad. Syria constitutes a dangerous, but ultimately manageable, threat.

Netanyahu believes, of course, that Iran, Syria’s primary sponsor, poses an existential threat to his country, and so would like the Iranians to understand very clearly that Obama’s red lines are, in fact, very red. As Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me last night, the formula is simple: “If the Iranians do not fear Obama, then the Israelis will lose confidence in Obama.”

In his round-robin television appearances on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry—now the administration’s über-hawk—repeatedly said that bombing Syria would send a message to Iran. As he told Fox News on Sunday:

“The fact is that if we act and if we act in concert, then Iran will know that this nation is capable of speaking with one voice on something like this, and that has serious, profound implications, I think, with respect to the potential of a confrontation over their nuclear program. That is one of the things that is at stake here.” source – The Nation

by NTEB News Desk

Attack on Syria Likely to Trigger Terrorist Strikes Against US.

With the White House closer to launching a surgical military strike on Syria, questions swirl over the extent to which such an attack could trigger a wave of terrorism directed at the U.S. and Israel.

Some analysts say that Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia fighting in support of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, likely would be inspired to ramp up operations in Iran’s “shadow war” with the U.S. and its allies.

Tensions between the West and Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program have fueled the protracted and secretive war — a tit-for-tat exchange marked most often by operations and attacks carried out from the Middle East to Eastern Europe and Asia by Hezbollah and Israel’s lead intelligence agency, the Mossad.

“These are groups that have long memories,” Matthew Levitt, who heads the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Monday.

“I think that the type of asymmetric activities that we’ve been seeing already in the context of the shadow war over Iran’s nuclear program would continue with [an American military strike in Syria] serving as yet another factor motivating Hezbollah.”

Iran’s government, which most in the U.S. intelligence community think exerts heavy influence over the activities of Hezbollah, sought Monday to downplay the likelihood of a U.S. strike. But some officials in Tehran said that if a strike occurs, Israel would be targeted in response.

The Associated Press quoted Hossein Sheikholeslam, a member of Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly, as saying that “the Zionist regime” — a reference to Israel — “will be the first victim of a military attack on Syria.”

The remark seemed to dovetail with what has for months been a claim by some lawmakers in Washington — Republican and Democrat — that Iran’s proxy presence in the Syrian war presents all the more reason for the Obama administration to get the U.S. military more deeply involved.

“Addressing the crisis in Syria at this stage will be extremely difficult, but every day that Assad remains in power helps Iran and Hezbollah and threatens stability across the region,” Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., Pennsylvania Democrat, said Monday. “Iran and terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah, are plotting against the United States and its allies every day.”

Some Middle East analysts, meanwhile, said a U.S. strike likely would inspire the cadre of military and intelligence officials running Syria to commission their own terrorist activities with the goal of disrupting the existing U.S. military presence in the region and deepening instability surrounding Israel.

Joshua Landis, who heads the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, suggested that the Assad government in Syria already has backed terrorist activities in Lebanon.

“Assad is not powerless,” Landis said. “We just saw car bombs go off in Tripoli that killed many Sunni Muslims. So he can do things like that to destabilize things and inflame sectarian tensions in Lebanon.”

“The reaction of the Assad regime will depend on how hard the strike is,” said Landis, who added that the Assad government might respond by hiring Palestinian groups to target U.S. military officials believed to be in Jordan.

Citing rumors that American special forces officers are presently “camped out” at hotels in Jordan’s capital of Amman, Landis said the Assad government might aim to commission terrorists to try and “blow up a hotel” in the city.

Away from the region, there were signs Monday that Assad continues to enjoy rhetorical support but likely would struggle to draw another international power into the conflict in the event of an American military strike.

Russia remains a key ally to Assad and one of the main weapon suppliers to Syrian military forces.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signaled Monday that Moscow has no plans to be drawn into a deeper military conflict over Syria’s civil war.

Reuters quoted Lavrov as warning Western powers against intervening in the war on grounds that doing so would violate international law.

“The use of force without the approval of the United Nations Security Council is a very grave violation of international law,” Lavrov said at a news conference. He said the use of chemical weapons in Syria was likely the work of rebels who wanted to derail plans by Washington and Moscow to hold peace talks on Syria’s future.

“If anybody thinks that bombing and destroying the Syrian military infrastructure, and leaving the battlefield for the opponents of the regime to win, would end everything — that is an illusion,” Lavrov said.

© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC
By Guy Taylor

Breakup of Syria: An Opportunity for Iran to Strike Israel?.

Syrian army
Free Syrian Army members are seen on top of a seized tank in Idlib, May 18, 2013. (Abdalghne Karoof/Reuters)

Several years ago, when I mapped out the plot for my novel Damascus Countdown, I tried to imagine a scenario in which Iran and its agents would attempt to take over Syria, attempt to make it a fully-owned and operated province of the Islamic Revolution, and then try to use Syrian territory to launch a “War of Annihilation” against Israel.

What once seemed fictional premise now seems increasingly plausible.

The chaos, carnage and bloodshed in Syria continues unabated. Chemical weapons have been used in limited amounts but with tragic effect. But as bad as it has been so far, I don’t think we’ve seen the worst yet. As I have stated on this blog for months, the countdown to something worse appears to have started.

A growing number of analysts agree that Syria is imploding. Now, some very hard questions need to be asked:

  • How much longer can Assad and his regime hold on?
  • Will Syria completely collapse?
  • Can Syria ever really be put back together?
  • If they can’t help Assad survive and defeat the rebels, will Iran and Hezbollah move to take over Syria, or can Syria remain an independent sovereign country?
  • If Syria comes fully under its control, might Iran use Syrian territory to launch an apocalyptic attack on Israel?
  • Is it possible that in our lifetime, we could actually see the end of the geopolitical entity known as the “Syrian Arab Republic”?
  • Is it possible that we will see the tragic utter destruction of Damascus as a city in our lifetime, in fulfillment of Bible prophecy?
  • What should the nations of the world be doing to help the people of Syria and help make peace?
  • What should the church be doing to help those who are suffering, to care for our persecuted brothers and sisters, and to bring the good news to those in great darkness?

This column is not about offering answers to these questions today. Rather, my hope is simply to begin raising the right questions and to draw your attention to the latest geopolitical assessments.

One thing is clear: The trend lines are ominous.

“After more than two years of conflict, Syria is breaking up,” reports the New York Times. “A constellation of armed groups battling to advance their own agendas are effectively creating the outlines of separate armed fiefs. As the war expands in scope and brutality, its biggest casualty appears to be the integrity of the Syrian state.

“The black flag of jihad flies over much of northern Syria. In the center of the country, pro-government militias and Hezbollah fighters battle those who threaten their communities. In the northeast, the Kurds have effectively carved out an autonomous zone. … As evidence of massacres and chemical weapons mounts, experts and Syrians themselves say the American focus on change at the top ignores the deep fractures the war has caused in Syrian society. Increasingly, it appears Syria is so badly shattered that no single authority is likely to be able to pull it back together any time soon. Instead, three Syrias are emerging: one loyal to the government, to Iran and to Hezbollah; one dominated by Kurds with links to Kurdish separatists in Turkey and Iraq; and one with a Sunni majority that is heavily influenced by Islamists and jihadis.”

“It is not that Syria is melting down—it has melted down,” says Andrew J. Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle With Syria. “So much has changed between the different parties that I can’t imagine it all going back into one piece.”



Joel C. Rosenberg is the author of numerous New York Times best-selling novels and nonfiction books, with nearly 3 million copies sold. He is also the founder of the Joshua Fund( His books include The Last Jihad (2002), The Last Days (2003), The Ezekiel Option (2005) and The Copper Scroll (2006).

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Analysis: After Algerian incident, West Africa fears Mali spillover.

  • Benin soldiers stand in preparation to leave for their deployment to Mali, in the capital Cotonou January 18, 2013. The contingent of around 30 Benin troops will leave Cotonou for the Mali capital Bamako. REUTERS/Charles Placide

    View PhotoReuters/Reuters – Benin soldiers stand in preparation to leave for their deployment to Mali, in the capital Cotonou January 18, 2013. The contingent of around 30 Benin troops will leave Cotonou for the Mali …more 

DAKAR (Reuters) – By seizing hundreds of hostages at a gas plant in the Algerian desert, al Qaeda-linked militants angry at French intervention in Mali sent a clear message: they could strike anywhere in the Sahara.

Many experts now believe the sight of a former colonial power leading unprepared West African armies into war against Islamists in Mali could spark similar attacks across a swathe of smaller, more vulnerable nations to the south.

Islamist fighters who escape the French onslaught are likely to scatter, with some remaining in Mali to fight a guerilla-style war while others trickle across its porous borders into countries where pockets of radicalism already exist.

“This could lead to frustration amongst Muslims towards the French,” said young Senegalese man Adama Sall, leaving afternoon prayers at a mosque in the Senegalese capital Dakar.

“In any intervention there is collateral damage, there are innocent people who could die. This could radicalize people.”

Security experts have traditionally played down the threat of radical Islam across West Africa apart from Nigeria, where Boko Haram militants operate.

They cite the moderate form of Sufi Islam which predominates across the region, its largely open if ineffectual governments, and the limited number of past attacks by fundamentalist groups.

But the crisis in Mali has radically changed the dynamics in a region where a growing number of international firms operate, ranging from mining and petroleum to transport and construction.

Al Qaeda-linked groups which seized control of Mali’s north had time to organize, recruit and rearm last year as regional governments wasted time trying to prise apart their alliance by offering talks to Ansar Dine, one of its main factions.

African nations now face the challenge of tracking groups of mobile Islamists across virtually meaningless borders while monitoring threats from radical Islam at home.

Paris had long pledged to back an African intervention in Mali but was determined to avoid French boots on the ground for fear of being painted as a crusading force. But images of French troops and armor in Mali are being beamed across the world, inflaming sentiment among some Muslims.

Aaron Zellin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who monitors jihadi forums, said Mali had overtaken Syria as the top subject of online discussion.

“A lot of these people are more like online cheerleaders,” he said. “But this could lead individuals to put away the keyboard and pick up an AK47 instead.”


Islamists have repeatedly warned they will strike regional powers or Western interests if attacked. With the Algerian gas plant drama still unfolding, the group claiming responsibility threatened foreign companies with fresh attacks.

Experts warn that if the Islamists can hit Algerian interests, protected by security forces hardened by a bloody conflict against Islamists in the 1990s, West African nations with ill-equipped and inexperienced troops look vulnerable to a militant threat that has become increasingly international.

Among the militants killed in the Algeria hostage siege, Algerian security sources reported there were Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, a Frenchman and a Malian.

During the months they occupied northern Mali, West African security sources say Islamists in Mali lured a range of foreign recruits, including significant numbers from sub-Saharan Africa, previously under-represented within regional al Qaeda factions.

In Senegal, a neighboring Muslim nation proud of its religious tolerance, Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye warned this week that al Qaeda had set up sleeper cells in the country.

President Macky Sall called on all Senegalese to report suspicious activities by Muslims coming from abroad. “We must remain vigilant in our towns and villages as infiltrations exist,” said Sall, who is sending 500 troops to Mali.

In Mauritania, bordering Mali to the west, both secular and Islamist parties across a deeply divided political spectrum have insisted the Islamic republic must stay out of Mali.

Before Islamists seized northern Mali, Mauritania was the country of the region most exposed to al Qaeda’s activities. It has launched raids on Islamist camps across the border in Mali after attacks on its army and Western interests in the country.

“Mauritania will not get involved in the conflict,” said Mohamed Yahya Ould Horma, vice president of the ruling UPR party. “We have already paid too high a price for acting alone against terrorist groups over the years.”

Underlining the presence of radical thinking in a nation straddling Black and Arab Africa, a group of 30 Mauritanian religious scholars have called on Muslims across the region to protect jihadists from Mali.

“France wants to drive out extremists. But to where? Mauritania and Niger could be in trouble. Burkina Faso will face threats,” said Kwesi Aning, an expert at the Ghana-based Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre.


But it is Nigeria which could be the greatest concern. With the region’s biggest oil reserves and economy, its security forces are already bogged down in on-off fighting with Boko Haram militants in the north.

Abuja has wavered between not wanting to overstretch its army by intervening in Mali and hoping the mission could stamp out links between homegrown and global militants.

By dispatching the first of 1,200 soldiers this week, President Goodluck Jonathan opted for the latter.

“They want to cut off the Islamist problem at the root,” said Bismarck Rewane, CEO of Lagos-based consultancy Financial Derivatives. “Not only could it inflame things here, but in the long run it won’t solve the problem of Boko Haram’s insurgency, which is to do with inequality and poor governance.”

Most West Africans, including the Malians themselves, have been largely supportive of French intervention while regretting the inaction of regional powers to come to Bamako’s rescue.

However, the failure of democracy to improve daily life in some of the world’s poorest countries has opened the door to Islamic organizations to play a bigger role.

Ultra-conservative Wahhabism, spread by preachers coming from the Gulf, has made inroads.

“This intervention (in Mali) makes the whole sub-region considerably more vulnerable,” Aning added.

“We are going to see the spread of the fronts from Mali.”

(Additional reporting by Diadie Ba in Dakar, Laurent Prieur in Nouakchott, Tom Perry in Cairo and Tim Cocks in Lagos; Editing by Daniel Flynn)


By David Lewis | Reuters

As Syria’s rebels close in, Assad has three options.

The most likely is a retreat into the mountains controlled by his minority Alawite community.

The magnificent views across Damascus from the presidential palace on Mount Qassioun are unlikely to provide much comfort these days for Bashar al-AssadSyria’s beleaguered head of state.

For several weeks, the skyline to the north, east, and south has been stained by black columns of smoke from artillery explosions and air strikes as Syrian government forces struggle to prevent the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels from inching ever closer to their goal of unseating Mr. Assad’s regime.

After 20 months of confrontation, Assad’s hold on power is looking increasingly frail, leaving him and his regime with few remaining options.

“There is no doubt that the regime’s capacity is declining and that the FSA continues to become ever stronger and better armed,” says a European diplomat closely following developments in Syria.

Sunni and Shiite Islam: Do you know the difference? Take our quiz.

The current status of the regime is uncertain and it is not even clear if Assad is still in charge. The diplomat says that Assad appears to have become a “prisoner of his own system,” no longer playing an active leadership role and confined to his palace. Instead, there are indications that an informal “security council” has emerged consisting of between 50 to 100 top regime and military figures drawn from the minority Alawite community which is handling the daily confrontation against the armed opposition.


Either way, the regime is steadily losing ground as the rebels attempt to encircle Damascus for an apparent final push into the city center, leaving Assad with three possible choices. The first – although least likely – option is to remain in the presidential palace to the bitter – and probably bloody – end, fulfilling a promise he made last month in an interview with Russian television to “live and die in Syria”.

A second possibility is to escape Damascus with his family and seek asylum in a third country, perhaps Iran or Venezuela, the governments of which openly support the Syrian regime. Faisal Miqdad, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, was reported to have visited Venezuela, Cuba, and Ecuadorrecently. Ecuador subsequently announced that it was not entertaining the idea of granting asylum to Assad.

The most likely option, however, and one that appears already to be under way, is for the regime and the core of the army and security forces to retreat to the Alawite-populated mountains on the Mediterranean coast. Diplomatic sources say that there are unconfirmed reports that the regime is planning to register all Sunnis who live in the coastal cities of Tartous, Banias, and Latakia which could potentially form part of an Alawite-dominated enclave. The coastal cities are predominantly Sunni-populated while the mountain hinterland is mainly Alawite.


Furthermore, there appears to be a steady and discreet trickle of families of pro-regime Alawite army officers leaving the upmarket Mezzeh neighborhood of Damascus for the coastal mountains.

“More and more regime supporters and, or their families are moving up the coast, and there are persistent rumors that at least part of the government now sits in Tartous,” the European diplomat says. “All indications are that the regime’s fallback position is to retreat to the coastal area of ​​Tartous and Latakia.”

Significantly, units of the rebel Free Syrian Army operating north of Damascus appear to be limiting ambushes to south-bound military traffic heading to the capital along the main highway, the sources say. Vehicles heading north are left unmolested, raising the possibility that the highway, which leads to Tartous, is being offered as an escape route for the regime to prevent a protracted and bloody last stand in Damascus.


Still, there might not be a mad dash for the mountains as Damascus falls but more of an incremental retreat.

“I think that the Assad regime will go in stages,” says Andrew Tabler, Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “You have the north and east go and then after that there will be a real effort to hold on to Damascus as long as possible. But in the end I don’t see that as viable.”

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Mr. Tabler says he envisages a staged pullback from Damascus first to the area west of Homs, Syria’s third largest city which lies two-thirds of the way along the Damascus-Tartous highway, and then to the mountains.

“Those areas are viable, I think, in the short- to medium-term,” he says.

A fallback to Homs would explain the fierce fighting that erupted in September and October in a string of villages between Homs and the border with Lebanon, 20 miles to the south. Syrian troops assisted by pro-regime Shabiha militiamen and combatants from Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant Shia group, fought rebel forces to maintain control of the villages which flank the vital Damascus-Tartous highway.


While there appears to be consensus among analysts that the regime will eventually decamp to the coastal region, what remains unclear is the nature of the enclave – if any – that would be established there. The prospect of creating a mini Alawite state along the lines of the French-engineered statelet between 1920 and 1937 appears improbable under current circumstances. It would require the suppression of hostile Sunnis in the coastal cities and would be internationally ostracized and subject to attack by the FSA.

The chief motivation for retreating to the mountains in the first place is self-preservation rather than state-building (Alawites represent about 12 percent of Syria’s 23 million, while Sunnis comprise about 70 percent).

“The Alawite community … is counting on [Assad’s] army to protect them from possible retribution from the rebel militias,” writes Joshua Landis, professor of Middle East history at the University of Oklahoma and author of the influential Syria Comment blog. “Sectarian hatred has been driven to a fever pitch by the brutality of the regime. Syrians have been putting hate into their hearts over the past two years, making the likelihood of some sort of retribution ever more likely and the ethnic cleansing a possibility, even if a small one at the time.”

A rump regime well-entrenched into the mountain villages defended by the Alawite core of the army and security services equipped with armor, artillery, air power and possibly even chemical and biological weapons could buy the Assads some breathing space during a likely period of chaos caused by a sudden leadership vacuum in Damascus. But it is questionable whether it would provide a long-term solution for the Assad clan’s survival.


Also working against a more formally established enclave is the fact that not all Alawites support the Assad regime. Some may prefer to cut a deal with the opposition rather than link the fate of the community to that of the Assads. Even Assad’s home town of Qordaha, 15 miles south east of Latakia, has reportedly seen some intra-Alawite unrest between supporters and opponents of the Assad clan.

The Assad family, under Bashar’s 12-year rule, has “all but seceded socially and economically” from its roots and has done “precious little” for the Alawites which remains one of the poorest communities in Syria, says Fred Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and former special adviser for transition in Syria at the State Department.

“On top of that, they have placed this community in grave jeopardy by recklessly pursuing a sectarian strategy to save their skins and preserve their ability to acquire material wealth,” he says. “In sum, I think it would be inadvisable for the [Assads] and their chief enablers to try and set up shop in Latakia and vicinity. If they have to escape in that direction because of a closed Damascus airport, they’d do well to keep moving. Where to? I don’t know who would have them at this point.”


By Nicholas Blanford | Christian Science Monitor

Who’s Sabotaging Iran’s Nukes?.


The chief of Iran’s nuclear program says the power lines to his nuclear facilities were sabotaged. U.S. Special Forces have trained for operations inside Iran for years. Do these latest disclosures suggest they are already on the ground?

On Monday, Fereydoun Abbasi, Iran’s vice president and the chief of its nuclear-energy agency, disclosed that power lines between the holy city of Qom and the underground Fordow nuclear centrifuge facility were blown up with explosives on Aug. 17. He also said the power lines leading to Iran’s Natanz facilities were blown up as well. On the day after the power was cut off at Fordow, an inspector from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) asked to visit the facility.

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“It should be recalled that power cut off is one of the ways to break downcentrifuge machines,” Abbasi said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks to the IAEA on Monday. “Then during the early hours of next morning an agency inspector requested to conduct an unannounced inspection. Does this visit have any connection to that detonation?”

In recent years, the West’s stealth war on Iran’s nuclear program has been waged through sabotage, industrial explosions, cyberviruses, and targeted killings. But until recently elements of the country’s civilian infrastructure were off limits in this not-so-secret shadow war.

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The disclosure is significant. To start, it is the first piece of evidence to suggest opponents of the Iranian program are targeting the country’s electrical grid and doing so on the ground. The U.S. military has studied Iran’s infrastructure closely. In 2009, a research lab attached to the U.S. joint staff and combatant commands known as the Joint Warfare Analysis Center discovered a weakness in Iran’s electrical grids that at the time would make it vulnerable to a cyberattack.

The attack described by Abbasi suggests, however, a physical explosion as opposed to a cyberattack. He specifically said the power lines from Qom to the Shahid Ali Mohammadi complex at Fordow “were cut using explosives.” In this case, special-operations forces on the ground in Iran would carry out such an attack, as opposed to cyberwarriors half a world away.

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A retired U.S. intelligence officer who still works as a contractor with the U.S. military on operations with regard to Iran told The Daily Beast that U.S. Special Forces have trained for sabotage missions inside Iran for years. “From the first reports, this attack looks like something from our guys,” this source said. This former official also said U.S. Special Forces conducted a series of targeted attacks on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in late 2011 as the U.S. military was exiting Iraq. That stealth offensive is widely credited with stopping Iran from attacking U.S. forces as they left Iraq.

If the United States conducted the sabotage of Iran’s power lines, it may help ease concerns from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Last week a private disagreement between Netanyahu and President Obama went public when the Israeli leader chastised Western countries for failing to set red lines for Iran, beyond which there would be a military strike. While at times Israel and the United States have disagreed on Iran policy, the intelligence services of the two countries continue to cooperate on efforts to sabotage the program.

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Patrick Clawson, the director of research for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said, “Covert American operations against the Iranian program is a good way to persuade the Israelis that the United States will back up its words with deeds.” Spokesmen for the National Security Council, the CIA, and the IAEA all declined to comment on Abbasi’s disclosure.

Overall the shadow war against Iran’s nuclear program is one reason some top national-security officials in Israel have said they have more time. Meir Dagan, the chief of Israel’s Mossad between 2002 and 2010, said in an interview aired by CBS’s 60 Minutes in March that bombing Iran would be the “stupidest idea” he’d ever heard. Dagan said other measures conducted by Israel and the United States, which he did not elaborate on, had done enough to delay Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon.

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But it’s unclear whether the sabotage by Western spies is still working. Abbasi in his speech, for example, said Iran was now taking countermeasures to protect its scientists. He said Iran’s nuclear facilities have become better at spotting cyberattacks.

Whether a cutoff in the power supply is successful depends on whether the nuclear facility has a backup power supply. Robert Avagyan, a research analyst at the Institute for Science and International Security, said, “If a cutoff of power is aimed at the centrifuges, it would be aimed at slowing down the centrifuge. Sudden changes of spinning speed can cause severe damage to the centrifuge. But this kind of attack would not be effective if there was a backup power source that prevents such a power cutoff.”

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The latest IAEA reports paints a mixed picture on the success of Iran’s nuclear program. On the one hand, Iran has yet to install the advanced centrifuges it has been developing for at least 10 years. The latest report says the centrifuges it has installed at the Fordow facility are still based on the 1970s-era model first stolen by Pakistani nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan.

At least in his presentation to the IAEA, Abbasi said Iran’s program was resilient in the face of sabotage. He said, “Plotters of attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities have realized, through the IAEA published reports, that they have not gained any success in this regard.”


By Eli Lake | The Daily Beast

Egypt’s female VP: Proof that President Morsi is a real reformer?.

The country’s newly elected Islamist leader appears willing to form an inclusive government, easing fears that he will turn Egypt into an Islamic state

Egypt’s president-elect, Mohamed Morsi, is following through on promises to represent all Egyptians — not just Islamists — by picking a woman and a Christian as vice presidents, according to his top policy adviser, Ahmed Deif, who says that Egypt “definitely” will not be an “Islamic Republic.” Morsi, who was the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, once supported banning women from the presidency; ahead of the vote, however, he vowed to stand up for women’s rights if elected. Does Morsi really plan to realize the dreams of Egypt’s pro-democracy reformers?

Morsi is delivering on his reform promises: Many skeptical Egyptians were understandably concerned that an Islamist president might lead them away from democracy, says Nada Tadros at They can “breathe a sigh of relief” now. By appointing a Coptic Christian and a woman to serve as vice presidents — historic firsts — Morsi has demonstrated in just three days as president-elect that his first priority is to “reunite the Egyptian people” and deliver the reform needed to “revive Egypt.” “Mohamed Morsi begins to make a change in Egypt”

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Don’t be fooled. Morsi is no moderate: Morsi is trying to mollify his critics by putting on a moderate face, Eric Trager, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, tells the Detroit Free Press. But make no mistake: He will rule as an Islamist. Morsi helped write the Brotherhood’s 2007 platform against letting women run for president, even if he later publicly disavowed it. Don’t expect an extremist like him to hand over any real power to anyone who disagrees with the “cult-like” Brotherhood. “Egyptian president’s aims unknown”

Morsi has to be inclusive, whether he wants to or not: Morsi isn’t just “extending an olive branch” to women and Christians, says South Africa’s Times LIVE in an editorial. He has also promised to appoint an independent as prime minister, and his inclusiveness appears to be winning over some tough critics. “The wisdom of his approach is obvious: No one political party can fix Egypt’s formidable problems,” and even the powerful Muslim Brotherhood can’t pry power from the military’s hands without help. “Morsi’s inclusive approach right step in rebuilding Egypt”

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By The Week’s Editorial Staff | The Week 

Obama Blames ISRAEL For High US Gas Prices.

The Obama administration is blaming Israel for the recent rise in global crude oil prices, according to a Sunday report in The World Tribune. The rise in fuel prices is deemed as harming the U.S. economy and has also hurt Obama in the polls as he seeks re-election in November.

It is obvious to even the casual observer how much disdain Obama has for Netanyahu and the state of Israel

The report cited a leading U.S. analyst, Robert Satloff, who returned from talks with Israeli officials.

Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said, according to The World Tribune, that the Israeli leadership saw Washington as attributing the higher gas prices to “Israel’s posturing” on Iran.

“They think the Iranians should be held responsible for the higher gasoline prices,” Satloff was quoted as having said.

He added that the officials told him the Obama administration was staging a campaign to undermine Israel.

“I cannot underscore how deep and visceral the [Israeli] comments of the leaking that came out of Washington were,” Satloff said, noting Israel is alarmed by what officials determined were leaks by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama of purported Israeli preparations to attack Iran.

The Israeli concerns come in the wake of a report in Foreign Policy magazine last week, according to which Israel has purchased an airfield in Azerbaijan on Iran’s northern border, prompting the United States to watch very closely.

Journalist Mark Perry wrote that the Obama administration is monitoring Israel’s relations with Azerbaijan, particularly its military ties.

The Americans believe Israel may use the site as a springboard for an attack on Iran’s nuclear plants, or as a landing and refueling spot following one. The site could also be used for aircraft needed for search, rescue and recovery in the wake of an attack.

“We’re watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we’re not happy about it,” an official told the Foreign Policy writer. Azeri president Ilham Aliyev later dismissed the speculation and said, “Azerbaijan’s territory will never be used to launch an attack against its neighbor, Iran.” source – Israel National News.

by NTEB News Desk.

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