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June 30, 2015 / 13 Tammuz, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Der Spiegel’

An Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program in What was Formerly ‘Syria’

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

{Originally posted to author’s website, Liberty Unyielding}

Note: This analysis takes on renewed significance in light of the Iranians’ announcement this week that they intend to build two new nuclear reactors, and the Obama administration’s insistence that such a clear expansion of the Iranian nuclear program does not constitute a violation of the Joint Plan of Action to “freeze” the program while its ultimate status is being negotiated.  The facts on the ground are busy changing under our feet, with almost no notice by the Western media.

It was evident a year and a half ago that there would be no restoration of Syria, as we know it, under the Assad regime.

That reality is something the mind of a global public hasn’t really caught up to yet.  But it is reality – Syria, as delineated after World War I, has fallen apart – and it should color our perception of a report from 9 January that remnants of Assad’s nuclear program are still alive and well.

We should not overestimate what’s going on with those remnants, which don’t have anyone close to a nuclear breakout.  The remnants are real – Western intelligence agencies think so – but the evidence of where they have been relocated is indirect, and mostly non-specific.  Assuming they are there, the best estimate would be that they are in approximately the same state they were four years ago: elements of a program not much degraded, perhaps, but not much advanced, if at all, from its earlier condition.

What matters more, however, is that if the analysis of experts is correct, the physical “stuff” in question was moved from one major battle site in Syria to another one, in 2012 and 2013, and ended up in a region on the border with Lebanon now controlled by Hezbollah and Iran.

In other words, the stuff was present in at least one and possibly two areas being fought over by Assad’s forces and rebel forces.   Natural-uranium stock and uranium fuel rods, for example, could have fallen into the hands of foreign jihadis, and/or the Al-Qaeda-backed Al-Nusra Front.

Now those materials, and probably others (including processing equipment), are thought to be stored in an area seized by Hezbollah in 2013, under the direction of the Iranian Qods Force.

This should alarm us.  While Assad controlled Syria, his nuclear aspirations were a big but boundable problem.  Now that he no longer controls Syria, what has happened to the elements of his nuclear program is likely to have non-boundable implications.  At the very least, it has the potential to empower Iran, Hezbollah, or both, with materials held in locations whose political control and accountability will be uncertain – from an official international standpoint – for the foreseeable future.

It’s a nightmare:  the very real potential for the most dangerous kind of nuclear proliferation.

The nuclear problem

Readers will remember that in September 2007, Israel attacked a nuclear reactor being constructed, with the help of North Korea, at al-Kibar in northeastern Syria.  No follow-on construction resumed at the reactor shell itself, although it was quickly covered with tarps and temporary structures after the strike, to frustrate foreign intelligence collection.

The type of reactor being put up was assessed to be a gas-graphite reactor like the one in Yongbyon, North Korea, which would produce enough plutonium as a byproduct for one to two plutonium bombs per year.

The gas-graphite reactor is different from Iran’s at Bushehr (a “light-water” reactor cooled by pressurized water), which would not be a significant source of plutonium.  Iran’s main path to nuclear weapons has been the separate one of uranium enrichment, with a uranium bomb as the end-product.  The enrichment path involves direct enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade purity, using centrifuge cascades as the principal method (although Iran is also thought to be working with laser enrichment).  No reactor is involved in the production of material for the weapons per se.

That said, Iran does have a heavy-water plutonium-producing reactor under construction at Arak, and is thus pursuing both paths to weaponization.

All of this matters, because it affects two things: the footprint of Assad’s nuclear program – what physical clues we have to look for – and the utility of his program to revolutionary Iran’s aspirations.

In Syria, we are not looking for centrifuge facilities like the vast enrichment complex at Natanz in Iran, or the smaller facility at Fordo, near Qom.  We will be looking instead for plants where yellowcake is converted to a usable form (in this case, uranium tetrafluoride, or UF4) and is metalized into fuel rods for the reactor.  We will also be looking for a facility at which plutonium can be separated out – harvested, essentially – from the spent fuel rods after they are removed from the reactor.  In North Korea, this process occurs at the “Radiochemical Laboratory” at Yongbyon, a six-story industrial building.

Reporting from February 2011 – the very outset of the Arab Spring – identified a probable uranium conversion plant at a Syrian military base, Marj as-Sultan, just east of Damascus.  The site had come under IAEA suspicion as early as 2008.  Specific types of major equipment present there were named in a 2011 report from Suddeutsche Zeitung, cited extensively in analysis by experts at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).

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In January 2013, an article at Financial Times (subscription required; see link in ISIS’s link in this report) indicated that “unusual activity” had been taking place at the suspect area of Marj as-Sultan, where the equipment, along with 50 tonnes of uranium and possibly more than 8,000 fuel rods, were thought, based on earlier intelligence, to be stored.

The unusual activity at the suspect site was probably a consequence of the fighting in the area between regime and rebel forces, which occurred at the same time: in the autumn of 2012.  More on that in the next segment.  The point here is that there is good reason to believe that some of the remnants of Assad’s nuclear program – at a minimum uranium stock, fuel rods, and conversion equipment – were still at the Marj as-Sultan site sometime in 2012.

This brings us to the report by Der Spiegel last week, which indicated that a site in Qusayr, Syria, on the border with Lebanon between Damascus and Homs, has been identified as a nuclear-related site.  Spiegel cites government intelligence sources who have studied activity at the site since 2009, when work on it began.  The site appears to be an underground facility for which the excavation was carefully disguised:

According to intelligence agency analysis, construction of the facility began back in 2009. The work, their findings suggest, was disguised from the very beginning, with excavated sand being disposed of at various sites, apparently to make it more difficult for observers from above to tell how deeply they were digging. Furthermore, the entrances to the facility were guarded by the military…

The most recent satellite images show six structures: a guard house and five sheds, three of which conceal entrances to the facility below. The site also has special access to the power grid, connected to the nearby city of Blosah. A particularly suspicious detail is the deep well which connects the facility with Zaita Lake, four kilometers away. Such a connection is unnecessary for a conventional weapons cache, but it is essential for a nuclear facility.

Syria-nuke-Qusayr

Beyond the observed developments at the site, Spiegel quotes a source as offering communications intelligence confirmation:

But the clearest proof that it is a nuclear facility comes from radio traffic recently intercepted by a network of spies. A voice identified as belonging to a high-ranking Hezbollah functionary can be heard referring to the “atomic factory” and mentions Qusayr. The Hezbollah man is clearly familiar with the site. And he frequently provides telephone updates to a particularly important man: Ibrahim Othman, the head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission.

There is, moreover, an intriguing possibility suggested by the disappearance of the North Korean scientist, Chou Ji Bu, who has been most closely associated with the Syrian nuclear program.  The possibility is that Chou has been in Syria since sometime in 2007Spiegel again:

Chou was long thought to have disappeared. Some thought that he had fallen victim to a purge back home. Now, though, Western intelligence experts believe that he went underground in Damascus.

In sum: prior to the Arab Spring, Syria had accumulated important elements of a program to build a working reactor like the one at Yongbyon and produce material for plutonium bombs.  Although Israel destroyed the reactor itself while it was under construction, several elements of the program remained intact in Syrian hands.  It is not clear what progress, if any, has been made with them in the nearly four years since the Arab Spring began, but there is credible evidence not only that the nuclear program continues, but that the previously-accumulated elements of it are still in Syria.

The question, however, is who is really in charge of them at this point.

The political control problem

That a Hezbollah operative is making reports on the “atomic factory” to the godfather of Assad’s nuclear program – Ibrahim Othman – is hardly meaningless.  It means at least that Iran still works through Assad in Syria, for important purposes.  There is still a convention of gestures between the two governments.  Othman himself, as we should expect, retains a unique significance.

But given everything else about this situation, including the location of a suspect site at Qusayr, and the history of the site at Marj as-Sultan in the civil war, we would be wrong to think of the nuclear program in Syria as still being Assad’s nuclear program, to do with as he wants.  Like the territory of Syria itself, the true ownership of the nuclear program is now a question more of who has local control – and who will set boundaries for Assad, since he is unable to reconsolidate “Syria” in his own power.

First, we must stipulate that the activity at the Qusayr site, which began in 2009, was directed originally by the Assad regime.  Revolutionary Iran has always had an interest in Assad’s nuclear program, and some degree of influence over it, but in 2009, Assad was still making his own decisions.

Fast-forward, however, to the critical period in 2012 and 2013 when the nuclear program was imperiled by local fighting in the civil war.  The regime’s air base at Marj as-Sultan was endangered by fighting in the larger Eastern Ghouta area in 2012, and rebel forces made significant headway there throughout the year.  In late November 2012, they overran the air base as part of their campaign in Eastern Ghouta.  Later reporting revealed that Assad’s forces had evacuated the operable military equipment from the base before it was overrun; that information, and the imagery observation of unusual activity at the suspect nuclear site, support the assessment that the nuclear-program material was also removed.

The Telegraph’s characterization (link above) was the common one at the time: the rebels, making gains in Eastern Ghouta, just outside Damascus, were “tightening the noose” on Assad.  The period from late 2012 to mid-2013 was actually a critical inflection point in the fortunes of the Syrian civil war.  Assad was on the ropes, losing strategic ground in the north as well as around Damascus.

Syria-nuke-map-2

A big part of what changed the momentum in his favor was a decision in the early spring of 2013 to shift regime forces from the Qusayr area, where they were in a standoff with the Al-Nusra Front, and bring them to Eastern Ghouta and Daraya, east and south of Damascus.  This shift enabled the turning tide that saw regime gains later in 2013, a campaign that included the battle in Eastern Ghouta in which Assad is alleged to have used chemical weapons.

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Qusayr would not be left to fall, of course.  Situated at the north end of the Beqaa Valley, Qusayr commands the approach from Lebanon to Homs, and must be held in order to keep the entire province secure, and prevent Homs from being cut off from Damascus.

But this feature of the campaign is where the sand shifted under Assad’s feet, so to speak.  He couldn’t regain momentum in Damascus and also establish control of Qusayr.

Iran and Hezbollah, executing an Iranian plan, stepped in to do the fighting and defeat the rebels at Qusayr.

The Hezbollah campaign at Qusayr in the spring of 2013 marked a significant break in Hezbollah’s level of political and military involvement in the Syrian civil war, which had hitherto been minimal – a fact quickly noted by analysts.  There was no question who had seized control of Qusayr when the battle was won: Hezbollah was in charge, not the forces of the Assad regime.  In fact, when the defeated rebels sought safe passage out of the city, their flight was negotiated by Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a long-time associate of Hezbollah in the ever-shifting politics of Beirut.

Some of the impact on Lebanon of the disposition of Qusayr, and Hezbollah’s control of the city, is hinted at by this brief report from April 2014, which notes the arrest by the Lebanese army of a “military council leader” from Qusayr.  The report suggests he was engaged in arms trafficking; he would have been a Hezbollah operative.  Hezbollah has been an encroaching force in Lebanon for decades, controlling parts of the country and resisted in others.  With Assad’s status on the other side of the border increasingly subject to an Iranian veto, Hezbollah is on the cusp of holding a worrisome new strategic advantage.

A new picture emerges

It is no accident that the site of a nuclear facility in Syria has ended up under the control of Hezbollah and Iran.  It’s a question for another time what the Assad regime’s original purpose was in locating it in Qusayr, but we do know that in 2013, the commander of the Iranian paramilitary Qods force, Qassem Soleimani, is reported to have fully orchestrated the Hezbollah takeover in Qusayr:

According to Will Fulton, an Iran expert at the American Enterprise Institute, Hezbollah fighters encircled Qusayr, cutting off the roads, then moved in. Dozens of them were killed, as were at least eight Iranian officers. On June 5th, the town fell. “The whole operation was orchestrated by Suleimani,” [said former CIA officer John] Maguire, who is still active in the region. “It was a great victory for him.”

There has been extensive recognition of Iran’s involvement in Syria; see here, here, and here, for example.  Much of that discussion has already understood that the battle of Qusayr was both a turning point in the civil war and a key feature of the Iranian strategy.  But the emerging information about the nuclear site at Qusayr sheds a new light on the strategic import of the Iranian involvement, and on the critical inflection point in Assad’s fortunes in late 2012 and early 2013.

Qusayr’s geographic features are an important reason for Hezbollah to have wanted to make an investment there.  But the existence of a nuclear site would have intensified Iran’s interest, explaining the focus Tehran put on orchestrating a victory there – a victory by Hezbollah, and not by Assad’s forces.  The before-and-after implied in that sentence speaks volumes.

Put that development in the context of growing recognition that there is no “Syria” anymore – see, for example, the treatments here and here – and a new picture begins to emerge of what Iran is really doing in what used to be Syria.

Take that picture, moreover, and add to it data points from the last few days.  After the Spiegel piece came out, members of the Free Syrian Army in the Qusayr area reported on 12 January that Iranian officers were there supervising the suspect facility, and that Hezbollah was mounting an “unprecedented” security presence for it.

[FSA official] Al-Bitar said the Friday report [in] Der Spiegel has been discussed at length in command meetings of rebel factions in the Kalamoon area.

He went on to say that “what can be confirmed is that what’s going on there is happening under direct Iranian supervision and the Syrian regime is only a cover-up for this.”

On 13 January, Adam Kredo reported at Washington Free Beacon that Iran acknowledges building missile manufacturing plants in Syria.

IRGC Aerospace Commander Haji Zadeh touted Iran’s capabilities and bragged that Iran has gone from importing most of its military hardware to producing it domestically, as well as for regional partners such as Assad.

“A country such as Syria which used to sell us arms, was later on to buy our missiles,” Zadeh was quoted as saying earlier this week by the Young Journalists Club. “Right now the missile manufacturing firms in Syria are built by Iran.”

Iran’s involvement in weapons manufacturing in Syria was already well known.  But the statement by Zadeh is a reminder of the scope of what Iran does in Syria – and the potential created by that array of activities for hemispheric power projection, through terror and intimidation.

The beauty of the territory of “Syria” for Iran is not only that it is in political turmoil.  It’s also that Syria is a wedge into the West, with a coastline on the Mediterranean: on the “other side” of both Israel and the Suez Canal from Iran’s regional encroachments on the Red Sea.  Under today’s chaotic conditions, Iran has an “interior” line of communication between her territory and Syria.  She can move men and material in and out of Syria via that LOC for many purposes, without being interdicted.  Eventually, Iran can foresee consolidating her position on the Syrian Mediterranean coast, and using it for purposes that can’t be accomplished without that unfettered access to points west.

Opportunity for Iran

All that said, however, Syria is now uniquely important to Iran’s nuclear aspirations because of the internal turmoil.  There is no meaningful mechanism for enforcing “national” Syrian accountability to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.  This is an ideal situation for Iran, and is only enhanced by the fact that the Syrian nuclear program has been on the alternate path to a plutonium bomb, as opposed to Iran’s well-advanced path to a uranium bomb.

Syria-nuke-map-5

Omri Ceren, an analyst with The Israel Project, made the following point in correspondence with me this week:

Between Hezbollah and the IRGC, Syria hasn’t existed as Syria for a long time. Even without the IRGC and Hezbollah physically there – which they are – a Syrian nuclear plant is an Iranian nuclear plant. The Iranians are building redundancy into their program. They’re just putting some of their facilities across what used to be the Syrian border. It’s the equivalent of building a new plant inside northern Iran, except it’s a little farther out in their frontier.

It’s actually better than building a new plant inside Iran.  It’s taking the work already done in Syria under Iran’s wing, and, by keeping it geographically distinct, putting a whole segment of the Iran-supervised effort outside any reasonable prospect of international inspection or accountability.

The State Department made it clear on Monday that the Obama administration has no intention of pursuing this as an issue with Iran.  Under questioning from reporters, Marie Harf was adamant about that (emphasis added):

QUESTION: On the Spiegel story, you said you’re seeking – who are you seeking more – I mean, you know – you should know this area better than anybody –

HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: — certainly better than a German, although highly respected, news magazine

HARF: I would agree with you that we probably have information they don’t.

QUESTION: So who are you seeking information from or are you —

HARF: Seeking internally or from our partners to see what more we can – if we can cooperate this, but again, not sure we can.

QUESTION: Is that – well, you couldn’t corroborate it because of intelligence reasons or because the story’s false and you want to leave it out there?

HARF: We don’t know yet. We just saw the reports and we’re looking into it.

QUESTION: Will you discuss this issue with the Iranians in the upcoming talks?

HARF: No. The upcoming talks are about the Iranian nuclear program.

QUESTION: Yeah, but if they are helping the –

HARF: Yes, but we don’t discuss other issues with them at those talks, as you all know.

QUESTION: But if they are –

HARF: Let’s move on to North Korea and let’s —

QUESTION: But if they are helping the Assad regime to build a nuclear facility –

HARF: I just said we’re not going to. I’m not sure what you don’t understand about that. We’re moving on to North Korea.

Not only will we not address this with Iran: we have only long-term and ineffectual plans to address the turmoil in Syria.  Our plan to train and equip an opposition force capable of fighting either the ISIS jihadi group or the Assad regime hasn’t even started yet.  It is, in any case, a plan with a long lead-time – at least a year – which the Obama administration does not intend to accomplish through its longstanding association with the Free Syrian Army.  (See here as well.)  Just this week, the commander of Special Operations Forces in CENTCOM met with Syrian opposition leaders to begin laying out a strategic vision.

The plan, moreover, doesn’t envision pacifying or unifying Syria, or taking territory from Assad or ISIS.  It’s a wholly defensive plan, which will apparently result only in setting up defended enclaves in a Syria left divided and unsettled.

In other words, nothing we plan to do will make the slightest headway against the very real problem of Syria as an unsupervised storage shed and back-room manufactory, for Iran or for whoever can manage to get hold of its contents.  Some of those contents are still from the Assad regime’s nuclear program.  It’s by no means impossible for ISIS to get hold of them; we don’t know where everything from the old program is.

If they are under the active supervision of Iran today, and are incorporated in a strategic plan of the mullahs’ devising, it is suicidal to be complacent about where they may end up, or how they may be used.

Iranian Official: Iran’s Nuclear Capability Irreversible

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

A senior Iranian nuclear negotiator told a German news source that Iran’s nuclear capabilities cannot be reversed.

Majid Takht-e-Ravanchi, who serves as deputy foreign minister for Euro-American affairs, told Der Spiegel that the Islamic Republic of Iran is moving forward and any issues that were under discussion back in 2005 could no longer be discussed.

The Iranian official noted that Iran possesses about 20,000 centrifuges, and half of them are being used to produce nuclear material. He also pointed out that from Iran’s perspective the Americans simply refuse to acknowledge Iran’s nuclear achievements.

However, he said that while Iran is adamant it can and will maintain its present nuclear status and is entitled to be treated like any other member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, should current P5+1 talks fail before the Nov. 24 deadline, Iran will not be punished or even accused of wrongdoing by ‘impartial’ observers.

However, shrugging his shoulders at even increased sanctions against Iran which some American hardliners are pushing, the Iranian official said that the U.S. and Europe are not the only players around.

That, he explained, was the reason for Iran’s increased economic cooperation with China, Russia and India.

“Europe and America are not the whole world. When a country decides not to have any ties with Iran, this certainly does not mean that it is the end.”

But beyond the ability of the Islamic Republic to create economic links with non-western countries, the Iranian shared what he suggested are diplomatic fissures in the western bloc on the issue of dealing with Iran.

The official said that managers of many European economic entities are constantly contacting Iranian officials to explore existing investment opportunities.

He believed this is a strong indication that Iran sanctions will crumble and the world will move forward, leaving the era of ‘Iranophobia’ – a reference to the Bush years – behind.

Can’t Say Terrorism, Can’t Say War on Terror, Islamist Now a No-No

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

It seems to have started during the spring of 2009, when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano first appeared in her new role at a congressional hearing.

Some close listeners of her testimony realized that while Napolitano was head of the U.S. government’s cabinet-level department created specifically in response to the terrorist attacks against this country on September 11, 2001, the word “terrorism” never crossed her lips.

The English online version of the German newspaper Der Spiegel interviewed Napolitano shortly after her maiden congressional speech, and asked her about that glaring inconsistency.

Napolitano explained that by substituting the phrase “man-made disaster” for “terrorism,” the Obama administration was demonstrating “that we want to move away from the politics of fear.”

In the four years since the word “terrorism” was dropped from the play list, several other terms or words have been placed on the “no speak list.”

For example, during the George W. Bush administration the U.S. was fighting something called “the war on terror.”  But “terror” and “war” are both such negative terms that the Obama administration gave it the heave-ho,  replacing it with “overseas contingency operations.”

This week a new change in parlance was introduced.  Although the U.S. government is not responsible for this change, it will have at least as enormous an impact on how we speak as if it were ordered from the White House, probably even greater.

The Associated Press Stylebook is an extensive compilation of standardized terminology, abbreviations, capitalizations and other information journalists use to convey information.  It is the most widely-used resource for journalists, and therefore the way in which it chooses to define words or concepts has an enormous ripple effect on the public’s understanding of many subtle and not so subtle issues.  The Stylebook also plays a major role in determining when, whether and how new words or concepts enter the general lexicon.

For example, in the 2010 edition of the AP Stylebook, a new section was added on social media, for the first time addressing how “Twitter” and “Facebook” can be used by journalists and therefore how it will be introduced to consumers of news.  That new section also was responsible for officially transforming the word website from a two-word phrase to one word.

From a report in Politico on Friday, April 6, we learned there’s more change afoot.  While there has already been some discussion of the change in reference to “illegal aliens” to “undocumented workers,” another change has thus far received less attention.  This changed has been traced directly to campaigning by the Council on American-Islamic Relations against the use of a term it described as pejorative.

In a January CAIR press release, the organization which describes itself as a Muslim civil rights group, but which government officials have described as a front-group for Hamas, was unhappy with the way the AP Stylebook defined “Islamist.”

The AP added the term “Islamist” to its Stylebook in 2012.  The term was defined:

Islamist—Supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi.

CAIR found that definition objectionable, and urged the AP to drop the term from its Stylebook.

The AP went even further.

Although “Islamist” is still a defined term in the AP Stylebook, reporters are now admonished not to use it to mean something objectionable.  The entry for “Islamist” now reads, with emphasis added by Politico:

An advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists. Where possible, be specific and use the name of militant affiliations: al-Qaida-linked, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi.

CAIR issued a press release Friday, April 5, welcoming the change by AP, and calling the Stylebook revision a “step in the right direction.”

Der Spiegel: Online Jihad Cool, Getting Cooler

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Jihad marketers are making militant Islam cool, according to a new article in Germany’s Der Spiegel newspaper.

Berlin hip-hop artist Deso Dogg has catapulted to fame since taking the name Abu Malik and switching from rap songs like “Gangxta” to Anasheed – Islamic vocals in which he promotes the tenets of jihadist Islam.

To such a degree has Deso Dogg/Abu Malik (given name: Denis Cuspert) garnered a cult following, that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Berlin has requested that three of his songs be labeled harmful to minors due to their inciting nature

His rise to fame is just one example of ways jihadist Islam has taken to the internet to promote its message, according to a new study by the Berlin-based Foundation for Science and Politics, an advising body to the German government.

According to the Der Spiegel report, the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), the worldwide jihad promotion oranganization, was established only at the end of 2005 in Germany, and was quickly utilized by sympathizers of al-Qaida.

Its German leader, Mohamed Mahmoud, was arrested for a GIMF video threatening attacks on Germany and Austria in 2007, and was released in September 2011.

Yet after serving his jail time, Mahmoud continued in his mission, joining forces with Abu Malik to transform the western German city of Solingen’s mosque, the Millatu Ibrahim Mosque, into a nationally-known organization center for Salafist Muslims.

They set up professional, sophisticated websites drawing on youth culture to sell the Islamic message online.

And though Germany could systematically shut down those sites, the Foundation for Science and Politics says it may be too late to stem the tide of Jihad on the web.  According to the organization, Mahmoud’s jail time only serves to impress consumers of his product, and has led to the up-cropping of many smaller follower sites and blogs.

And now that Mahmoud and Cuspert have gone into hiding in the wake of a ban on Millatu Ibrahim Salafist meetings and police pressure against violent acts by Islamic groups in Germany, the two are underground heroes whose periodic online messages draw the excitement of a growing group of adherents.

While authorities can trace and infiltrate jihadist movements more readily online, the anonymity and ease of conversation has led to jihad’s greater cohesion and emboldenment.  No solution to the swell of jihad online has been found.

Report: Iran Planning Massive Oil Spill in Strait of Hormuz

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Iran may purposefully contaminate the waters of the Strait of Hormuz by performing an oil spill, according to a report in the German weekly Der Spiegel on Sunday.

The plan, codenamed “Murky Waters”, would block oil shipping routes in the Gulf. It would also drive up oil prices and force the west into an emergency cleanup in cooperation with Iran, which would likely reduce sanctions on the country.

The decision whether to implement the plan rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  It is the brain child of Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander General Mohammed Ali Jafari and Navy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi.

Will the Greek Revolution Spread to the Rest of Europe?

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

After Greece’s second parliamentary election this year (June 2012), there was a collective sigh of relief in Europe. The political parties that negotiated the bailouts of Greece in 2010 and 2011 had secured a majority in the new parliament and formed a government that was committed to avoiding a Greek default. Europe’s political leaders could now hasten to damp down the next brush fire in the Eurozone, the crisis of the Spanish banks.

What those political leaders overlooked was that the Greek political scene has undergone a revolution.

To be precise, Greece’s conservative New Democracy party (ND) had narrowly defeated SYRIZA, the leftist alliance, and formed a government with the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), its old rival, and the Democratic Left.

SYRIZA had campaigned for repudiation of what Greeks call “the memorandum” (to mnimonio), that is, the program of drastic financial measures to which the preceding Greek governments had agreed in exchange for the bailouts.

Other parties in the new parliament also opposed the memorandum: the veteran Greek Communist Party and, on the right, the chauvinist Independent Greeks and the New Dawn. This last is a party whose symbols and manifestations are unashamedly reminiscent of Nazism. In the elections of 2012, it succeeded in supplanting LAOS, a religious nationalist party.

So what is the revolution? Ever since the restoration of Greek democracy in 1974, the New Democraty party and Panhellenic Socialist Movement had dominated parliament and alternated in government. Between them, they regularly held over 80% of the seats. That constant of Greek politics has vanished. Now the New Democracy party is challenged on the right and the Panhellenic Socialist Movement has been eclipsed by SYRIZA, which exemplifies the Trotskyite doctrine of permanent revolution.

SYRIZA sympathizers are prominent in violent and destructive demonstrations. Their baleful influence in Greek universities, which they have turned into permanent bases of operations, was recently documented in the Times Higher Education Supplement. Not surprisingly, the dedicated website permanentrevolution.net urged the Greeks to vote SYRIZA.

Compare the results of the Greek elections from October 2009 and those recently held June 2012. (There was also a May 2012 election, but that can be seen as merely transitional.) Note that the Greek electoral law sets aside a number of the 300 seats in the parliament as a bonus for the party that polls highest. The remaining seats are divided in proportion to the votes cast among those parties which receive at least 3% of the total votes.

In October 2009 the result in seats and percentages was as follows:

Panhellenic Socialist Movement 160 (43.92%, plus a bonus of 40), New Democracy party 91 (33.47%); Communists 21 (7.54%); LAOS 15 (5.63%); and SYRIZA 13 (4.60%). By contrast, the election of June 2012 went as follows:

New Democracy party 129 (29.66%, plus a bonus of 50); SYRIZA 71 (26.89%); Panhellenic Socialist Movement 33 (12.28%); Independent Greeks 20 (7.51%); Communists 12 (4.50%); Golden Dawn 18 (6.92); and Independent Left 17 (6.26%). The figures speak for themselves. SYRIZA, coming from almost nowhere, has largely supplanted the Panhellenic Socialist Movement on the left. Considering that in the election of March 2007, the New Democracy party won 152 seats (41.83%, bonus of 40), the right has also been seriously split. Indeed, the New Democracy party “won” the latest election with a smaller percentage of votes than when the percentage it received when it lost in 2009. MOST PEOPLE will conclude that this is a purely Greek phenomenon, reflecting the dire situation of the Greek state and economy. They could not be more wrong. The Netherlands has one of the three strongest economies in the Eurozone, up along with Germany and Finland. Nevertheless, the same fundamental shift in the political landscape is underway there.

The Dutch parliament has two chambers; the more important second chamber has 150 seats. For decades, most of them were won by three parties: the conservative Christian Democrats (CDA), the Liberals (VVD) and the Labor Party (PvdA). In the election of June 2010, the CDA went down from 41 to 21 seats, losing out to its upstart rival on the right, the Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders, which jumped from 15 to 24 seats.

Another election is scheduled for September 12, 2012. Recent opinion polls suggest that the Christian Democrats will drop further, to a humiliating 13 seats. But the big surprise is that on the left the Labor party will drop from 30 to 15-17, while its rival, the Socialist Party (SP), will jump from 15 to 38.

The Circumcision Debate in Germany, Austria and Switzerland

Monday, July 30th, 2012

A German regional court held at the end of June that circumcision of males, practiced by Jews and Muslims, is a “bodily injury” of the child and punishable as a crime. German political leaders reacted against the opinion, and the probability that it would portray today’s Germany in a negative light. The court order will likely be nullified definitively by the German parliament and constitutional court, but anti-circumcision policies have spread to Switzerland and Austria as well.

A month later, on July 20, the German federal parliament, the Bundestag, passed a resolution calling for the protection of the rights of Jewish and Muslim parents to circumcise of their male offspring with medically-qualified personnel. A draft law guaranteeing these religious liberties has been proposed for introduction this autumn.

The action by German politicians was followed, however, by news that two medical institutions in Switzerland, the Children’s Hospital in Zurich and the St. Gallen teaching hospital, decided temporarly to suspend circumcision of infants unless medically necessary.

Then, on July 24, came an order by Markus Wallberg, governor of the western Austrian province of Vorarlberg, also prohibiting the circumcision of males for non-medical reasons in all public hospitals, pending clarification of the German situation.

The Cologne case originated in November 2010, when a four-year old Muslim boy was circumcised at a clinic in the city, on the request of his parents. After two days, because the child was bleeding, the parents took him to the emergency room at the University Hospital of Cologne.

The public prosecutor in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia filed a complaint against the doctor who performed the procedure. The lower, district court determined in June 2012 that the doctor was blameless, and the doctor was acquitted. The district court held that circumcision was a form of “bodily injury,” but was justified by the approval of the parents, the cultural prevalence of circumcision among Muslims, and evidence of medical advantages among circumcised males.

Medical researchers have affirmed that circumcised males are less susceptible to sexually-transmitted diseases and to penile cancer. Der Spiegel acknowledged that “It remains undisputed that circumcision leads to better hygiene and can also be helpful in preventing some forms of cancer,” but noted that while common in the U.S., Israel, Muslim countries, and elsewhere, male circumcision is less widespread in Europe. Currently, about 55 percent of newborns in the U.S. are circumcised. Only 11 percent of German males are circumcised.

The public prosecutor in North Rhine-Westphalia appealed and the case was moved up to a regional court. The regional court also rejected the charge against the doctor in the matter, ruling that the “grey area” of legal uncertainty about male circumcision left the practitioner innocent. The judges, however, reaffirmed that, as a precedent for the future, circumcision was a form of “bodily injury” that was not justified by the parents’ wishes, and was unnecessary for the health of the child.

The regional court determined that the child’s “right to physical integrity” was more important than the constitutionally-guaranteed religious rights of the parents. The judges held that the religious freedom of parents, and their right to decide how to raise their children, would not be restricted if they were compelled to wait until the child himself decided whether he wanted to be circumcised. As described by the German weekly Der Spiegel, the court concluded that “a child’s right to self-determination should come first.”

The regional court opinion did not apply to the whole of Germany. But the Berlin Jewish Hospital announced that in accord with the law, it would suspend circumcision for religious purposes.

The controversy brought universal condemnation of Germany by Jewish and Muslim representatives, who were joined by Christian religious leaders in condemning the court action. Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the criminalization of circumcision could make Germany a “laughing-stock” of the world. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle pointed out that it would harm Germany’s efforts to present itself as a tolerant country. Many commentators agreed that the court opinion was especially problematic because of Germany’s history of anti-Jewish genocide during World War II.

Religious leaders were more severe in their comments. Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, called the court decision the worst attack on Jews in Germany since the Holocaust. Noting that the opinion was based on the ostensible rights of the child, Rabbi Goldschmidt warned that “the language of the human rights” is a new medium for anti-Jewish prejudice.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/the-circumcision-debate-in-germany-austria-and-switzerland/2012/07/30/

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