Israel

Billion Dollar Boondoggle: Israel’s Iron Dome Misfires

Schematic of Iron Dome missile defense system. (Wikimedia Commons image, rotated 180 degrees)

Schematic of Iron Dome missile defense system. $1.3 billion price tag removed. (Wikimedia Commons image, rotated 180 degrees)

Less than two weeks after the US announced yet another $429 million in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system (which had already gotten over $900 million from the US), the system malfunctioned badly on Tuesday, resulting in the firing of two interceptor missiles by the system. The mishap frightened citizens in Eilat, where the incident took place around 7:30 am. Iran was quick to note the event and picked up on an important point: initial reports inside Israel claimed another “success” from the Iron Dome system, saying three rockets were incoming to Eilat and two of them were destroyed. The report later was withdrawn and the firing was blamed on an accident. Here is Fars News on the incident:

Israel’s Iron Dome missile system ‘accidentally’ fired interceptor rockets into the Red Sea resort city of Eilat in Southern Negev.

Eilat residents were panicked early on Tuesday morning following a series of explosions that also sent Israeli forces scrambling to find the source of the booms, press tv reported.

The Israeli army initially presumed that a rocket attack had occurred in the area.

Initial reports said three Grad rockets were fired at the resort town. They claimed two of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome while the third one exploded in an open area.

However, the army later claimed that the attacks were really a false alarm caused by an error at the Iron Dome site near the city.

An army spokesperson said the explosions were caused by two Iron Dome anti-missile projectiles accidentally fired at around 7:30 am (0530 GMT).

PressTV took things a bit further, stating that Israel’s bluffing about the capabilities of Iron Dome is meant to deter enemies. So did Israel initially claim that rockets had been intercepted? That does appear to be true. In my searching for news stories on this event, I found a story on Debka.com. The story now reads like this:

The loud explosions heard in Eilat early Tuesday came from Iron Dome which accidentally ejected two rockets. They were earlier accounted for erroneously by another Grad attack on Israel’s southernmost town from Sinai.

But the Google remembered that Debka had originally described things differently. Here is how the story was displayed by Google in the search results (as an aside, whatever happened to the “cached copy” option that used to show up on Google?):

Google result Debka

It turns out that despite cheerleading about Iron Dome from obvious sources like the US Missile Defense Agency and the Heritage Foundation, there are serious questions about just how well the system works and whether Israel has been falsely inflating its capabilities. Just over a year ago, the New York Times looked into how well Iron Dome functions. They found significant problems:

After President Obama arrived in Israel, his first stop on Wednesday was to inspect an installation of Iron Dome, the antimissile system hailed as a resounding success in the Gaza conflict in November. The photo op, celebrating a technological wonder built with the help of American dollars, came with considerable symbolism as Mr. Obama sought to showcase support for Israel after years of tensions over Jewish settlements and how to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

/snip/

Israeli officials initially claimed success rates of up to 90 percent. Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, hailed the antimissile system as the first to succeed in combat. Congress recently called the system “very effective” and pledged an additional $680 million for deployments through 2015.

But a growing chorus of weapons experts in the United States and in Israel say their studies — based largely on analyses of hits and misses captured on video — suggest that Iron Dome destroyed no more than 40 percent of incoming warheads and perhaps far fewer. Many rockets, they argue, were simply crippled or deflected — failures that often let intact or dying rockets fall on populated areas.

The story continues:  Continue reading

With Deal in Sight, Pressure Mounts on All Sides for P5+1, Iran

Fars News reports that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, chief negotiator for the European Union, will meet for lunch tomorrow just before the next round of P5+1 talks with Iran kick off in Geneva later in the afternoon. But even though an interim agreement that would freeze Iran’s current nuclear work in return for a release of some impounded funds to Iran while a longer term agreement is finalized seems more likely than not, those who oppose any deal are desperately lashing out at the last minute. This morning, two bomb blasts near the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed more than twenty and injured well over a hundred. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ramped up his rhetoric even further, making the outrageous claim that Iran has on hand sufficient uranium enriched to 5% to make up to five bombs within a few weeks of a “breakout”. Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem to have quelled for now any Congressional attempts to ratchet up sanctions ahead of this week’s negotiations, but should no agreement emerge this week, look for Washington politicians to race one another to see who can introduce the most severe new sanctions.

Although Beirut has seen several attacks back and forth recently with various Sunni and Shia groups attacking one another, the timing of today’s blasts suggest that the nuclear negotiations may be a target, as well. The Reuters article informs us that an al Qaeda group has claimed responsibility:

A Lebanese-based al Qaeda-linked group known as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for what it described as a double suicide attack on the Iranian mission in southern Beirut.

Lebanon has suffered a series of bomb attacks and clashes linked to the 2-1/2-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria.

Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy before blowing himself up, Lebanese officials said. They said the second explosion was caused by a car bomb parked two buildings away from the compound.

But the Syrian information minister goes further, blaming Israel and Saudi Arabia for supporting the attack:

Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi implicitly blamed Saudi Arabia and Qatar for supporting radical militants, who have been accused for previous attacks against Shi’ite targets.

Just as they have been working together to arm and fund Sunni fighters for Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia have joined together to fight against any agreements between the West and Iran on nuclear technology.

The pending deal on Iran’s nuclear technology has been described by Al-Monitor: Continue reading

IAEA Report Shows Iran Halting Expansion of Nuclear Program — Slowdown Began Before Rouhani Elected

Despite a near-miss last weekend on an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations, a report released yesterday by the IAEA shows that Iran has already carried out several of the steps that such an agreement would have called for. The news is good enough that Joby Warrick even opens with a hopeful tone:

Iran appears to have dramatically slowed work on its atomic energy program since the summer, U.N. officials said Thursday. The report could add momentum to diplomatic efforts to resolve a decade-old dispute over Iranian nuclear activities.

The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran all but halted the installation of new centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plants beginning in August, the same month that moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani was sworn in as president. Work on a controversial nuclear reactor also slowed, the U.N. watchdog agency said. Iran continued producing low-enriched uranium, but at a slightly reduced rate, it said.

Similarly, the New Times also finds the report encouraging and associates the improvement with the election of Hassan Rouhani:

President Obama made a vigorous appeal to Congress on Thursday to give breathing space to his efforts to forge a nuclear deal with Iran, and the prospects for an interim agreement may have improved with the release of a report by international inspectors who said that for the first time in years, they saw evidence that the Iranians have put the brakes on their nuclear expansion.

The inspectors, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that very few new advanced centrifuges had been installed since President Hassan Rouhani of Iran took office in June, promising a new start with the West, and that little significant progress has been made on the construction of a new nuclear reactor, which became a point of contention in negotiations in Geneva last week.

Note that one of the big pieces of news heralded by the Post and the Times is the halting of installation of new centrifuges. But buried in the back of the report (pdf), in the second annex, is a graph showing the total number of centrifuges installed, the number of centrifuges dedicated to enrichment of uranium up to 5% and the number of centrifuges dedicated to enrichment to 20%. I have reproduced that graph here, but I have added arrows pointing to two major discontinuities in the trends shown in the graph.

The early arrow, where we see a halt of nearly two years in the installation of new centrifuges and a loss of a number of centrifuges enriching to 5%, corresponds very closely to the release of the Stuxnet worm in early 2010 (although it looks like the loss of functioning centrifuges may have been in late 2009, so the actual release most likely was around that time).

IAEA graph of Iran centrifuge operation over time. I have added arrows for the release of the Stuxnet worm and imposition of stronger sanctions.

IAEA graph of Iran centrifuge operation over time. I have added arrows for the release of the Stuxnet worm and imposition of stronger sanctions.

Beginning in early 2011, Iran put more of its installed centrifuges into operation for enrichment to 5% and continued at a fairly steady pace throughout much of the year. At the beginning of 2012, the US and EU imposed much stronger sanctions on Iran. Although Iran did put some centrifuges into operation for enrichment to 20% around that same time, this graph shows that even though Iran restarted installation of new centrifuges in 2012, no additional centrifuges have been put into service for enrichment to either 5% or 20% since early 2012. This capping of enrichment capacity that is in actual operation has rarely, if ever, been noted in the press. Significantly, it predates Rouhani’s election by over a year. Perhaps it is a sign that the sanctions were effective in getting Iran to put the brakes on their program. Alternatively, it might suggest that Iran knew where Israel’s “red line” would be (a stockpile of around 200 kg of 20% enriched uranium might be enough to make a bomb after further enrichment) and made sure that the approach to this line would be slow. They also delayed its onset by converting some of the 20% enriched uranium to fuel plates so that it would be less readily subjected to further enrichment under a “breakout” scenario.

The halting of new centrifuge installation shows up in the graph, where we see the installed centrifuge line level off in the middle of this year, but this seems less dramatic than stopping the process of putting installed centrifuges into use for enrichment.

When we realize that significant steps were taken to slow advancement of Iran’s nuclear program before Rouhani was elected, it becomes easier to understand why his “moderate” stance and willingness to enter into negotiations have not met with significant resistance from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Kahmenei and other leading clerics.

 

Do We Dare Dream of a Middle East Without WMD’s?

Just a few short months ago, speculation regarding a US attack on Syria centered only around when the attack would take place, how large it would be and how long bombardment would continue. But then accidental diplomacy broke out and it appears to be moving along remarkably well. Last week, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons certified that Syria has complied with the first stage of its giving up chemical weapons:

The Joint Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – United Nations Mission confirmed today that the government of the Syrian Arab Republic has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants, rendering them inoperable.

By doing so, Syria has met the deadline set by the OPCW Executive Council* to “complete as soon as possible and in any case not later than 1 November 2013, the destruction of chemical weapons production and mixing/filling equipment.”

On a separate front, Iran’s Foreign Minister announced yesterday that he feels an agreement on Iran’s nuclear technology could be reached as early as this week:

Two days before negotiations resume in Geneva between Iran and the United States and other Western powers aimed at ending a fight over the disputed Iranian nuclear program, the country’s foreign minister sounded an optimistic note on Tuesday, saying a deal was possible as soon as this week.

“I believe it is even possible to reach that agreement this week,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with France 24, a major television network here, before meeting with the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius.

It is possible that these two diplomatic breakthroughs have provided cover for an even bigger diplomatic effort. An initiative had grown out of the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference to work toward an agreement banning all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. A conference based on the initiative had been planned for last year, but the United States announced it had been delayed just before it was scheduled to begin.

A planning meeting for the formal conference was held October 21-22 in Switzerland. The Nuclear Threat Initiative outlined a number of issues that were to be addressed a few weeks before that meeting:

A United Nations-appointed diplomat on Tuesday said he will convene multinational consultations in Switzerland later this month as a potentially key step toward discussing an eventual ban on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

If nations in the region can agree on the terms and objectives of regional discussions, a formal conference on creating a Mideast WMD-free zone could occur in Helsinki, Finland, as early as mid-December, according to international diplomats and expert observers.

Jaakko Laajava, a Finnish envoy who serves as facilitator for the prospective talks, played down continued differences between Israel and its Arab neighbors over the necessity of this month’s multilateral planning session, which is to take place in Glion, a lakeside retreat roughly 60 miles northeast of Geneva.

Yes, you read that correctly. Even though Israel was not a participant in the 2010 conference that created this initiative, Israel now is suddenly a party to the discussions. Of course, the region faces a multitude of WMD issues and especially non-compliance issues for agreements already reached: Continue reading

Journalists Grope Blindly Around Syria CW Destruction Without Discovering Need for Ceasefire

Please support Marcy’s continued efforts to lead us through the weeds of obfuscation. The Emptywheel fundraiser is nearing its final push.

In my post yesterday morning on the French move to submit a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to an international group for their safe destruction, I noted that this process naturally would require an immediate ceasefire. My underlying assumption was that the need for a ceasefire would be obvious to anyone giving the situation any thought.  Personnel will need to move freely about the country to find and log the materials that will need to be destroyed. These materials will need to be moved to central locations for incineration or chemical processing to render them safe. If the personnel and the dangerous materials they will be transporting are attacked indiscriminately, the risk of releasing huge quantities of very dangerous agents looms large and the very process of trying to prevent civilian deaths could instead to lead to widespread lethal exposure.

Sadly, as I noted in the post, the French proposal does not appear to include a call for a ceasefire. Now that Russia is opposing the proposed language (because it calls for Syria to admit it carried out the August 21 attack and it includes a mandate for military action if Syria does not comply with the resolution), the opportunity exists for a new proposal to add the concept of a ceasefire.

Even more sad, though, is how our two leading bastions of foreign policy journalism, the New York Times and Washington Post, addressed the issue of how the chemical stockpiles can be destroyed. Both noted how “difficult” the process will be during the ongoing hostilities, but neither managed to point out the necessity of a ceasefire.

Here is how the Times addressed the issue:

As difficult as it may be to reach a diplomatic solution to head off a United States strike on Syria, the details of enforcement are themselves complex and uncertain, people with experience monitoring weapons facilities said.

Syria would first have to provide specifics about all aspects of its chemical weapons program. But even that step would require negotiation to determine exactly what should be declared and whether certain systems would be covered, because many delivery systems for chemical weapons — including artillery, mortars and multiple-rocket launchers — can also fire conventional weapons.

Then, experts said, large numbers of foreign troops would almost certainly be needed to safeguard inspectors working in the midst of the civil war.

“We’re talking boots on the ground,” said one former United Nations weapons inspector from Iraq, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still works in the field on contracts and did not want to hurt his chances of future employment. “We’re not talking about just putting someone at the gate. You have to have layers of security.”

Of course, many more “boots on the ground” are needed to protect the inspectors if there has not been a ceasefire negotiated and agreed to by both the Syrian government and the many factions of rebels fighting them. The Times even trots out the Pentagon estimate of how many troops would be required to secure the weapons in an invasion scenario:

A Pentagon study concluded that doing so would take more than 75,000 troops. That rough estimate has been questioned, but the official said it gave “a sense of the magnitude of the task.”

The Post does no better in its quest for just how the weapons could be secured and destroyed:

As diplomats wrangled over competing plans for securing Syria’s chemical weapons, arms-control experts warned Tuesday of the formidable challenges involved in carrying out such a complex and risky operation in the midst of a raging civil war.

U.N. teams dispatched to Syria for the mission would be attempting something new: finding and safeguarding a long-
hidden arsenal in a country that has long stood outside key international arms-control agreements — all while exposed to crossfire from Syria’s warring factions.

Poor Joby Warrick and his associates just can’t conceive of how the “crossfire” could end, even though the process of sending in the inspectors begins through UN negotiations.

Yes, there are many different factions on the “rebel” side in this conflict, but even brief investigation shows that many of them are actually proxies for several of the foreign powers that claim to have “interests” in Syria. A UN resolution that has at its heart a ceasefire would be a huge step toward showing that all of the various countries supporting militias in Syria intend to provide the opportunity for safe destruction of what could be the third largest repository of chemical weapons in the world. Although a truly international force of armed peacekeepers likely will be needed, sending them in without a ceasefire already negotiated would make the whole process of rounding up and destroying the chemical weapons a recipe for a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions.

Of course, a true optimist would note that a ceasefire would open the door to discussions to defuse political tensions within Syria while the process of destroying the chemical weapons is carried out. That would of course thwart those whose real objective is regime change in Syria through violent means but would perhaps create the opportunity for peaceful regime change. Is the world finally ready to give peace a chance after twelve years of unfocused rage?

Why is Obama Changing the Date and Size of First CIA Death Squads to Enter Syria?

There is a very interesting point thrown in as a small tidbit in Monday’s New York Times story on Barack Obama securing the support of John McCain for a military strike on Syria:

Officials said that in the same conversation, which included Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, Mr. Obama indicated that a covert effort by the United States to arm and train Syrian rebels was beginning to yield results: the first 50-man cell of fighters, who have been trained by the C.I.A., was beginning to sneak into Syria.

Taken at face value, this version of the story would have us believe that the first group of 50 trained by the CIA was presumably still in the process of “sneaking” into Syria on Monday. But the timeline of US training for these fighters is much more complex than that. Some foul-mouthed blogger noted back in May that this training program had already been underway for some time and the LA Times caught up with her in June, disclosing that the program began at least as far back as November 2012 on US bases in Jordan and Turkey.

The LA Times article details that the training is carried out by both special operations troops and CIA personnel. That would put this program squarely within the US tradition of training and releasing death squads that seem to be as adept at killing innocent civilians as they are at killing military targets. We have seen details of their operation in Iraq and Afghanistan under David Petraeus’ vaunted COIN program. There is no information in the LA Times article regarding the death squads entering Syria at that time. Reading between the lines of the article suggests that the squads were in a holding pattern at that point, awaiting better weapons from the US.

In direct contradiction to Obama’s Monday statement to McCain and Graham on the timing of the entry of the first US-trained death squads into Syria, we have this report from the Jerusalem Post that quotes a story first reported in Le Figaro:

The first group of 300 handpicked Free Syrian Army soldiers crossed the border on August 17 into the Deraa region, and a second group was deployed on August 19, the paper reported.

The paper quoted a researcher at the French Institute for Strategic Analysis as saying the trained rebels group was passing through Ghouta, on their way to Damascus.

Okay, now this gets interesting. Obama claimed only the first group of 50 were entering, while Le Figaro claimed there were two groups, with the first one being 300 and the second one not specified by size. Further, note the dates and location: they entered on August 17 and 19 and they passed through Ghouta. The large number of deaths from a suspected chemical warfare agent occurred on August 21 in Ghouta. In fact, the second paragraph of the Jerusalem Post article notes:

Le Figaro reported that this is the reason behind the Assad regime’s alleged chemical weapons attack in Damascus on Wednesday morning, as UN inspectors were allowed into the country to investigate allegations of WMD use.

Were these first groups of CIA-trained death squad members the target of the attack? Or could it be even worse than that? Vladimir Putin had some very interesting things to say in a wide-ranging interview today, but this bit stands out in relation to the death squad story:

“If it is determined that these rebels used weapons of mass destruction, what will the United States do with the rebels?” Mr. Putin asked. “What will the sponsors of the rebels do? Stop the supply of arms? Will they start fighting against the rebels?”

Whether they were the targets of an attack by Assad’s forces or whether they were the agents carrying out a false flag attack, US-trained death squads could well be at the center of the disputed use of chemical weapons. That would seem to be both a strong incentive and a huge tell for Obama to change both the date and the size of the entry of the first of these agents trained by the US. After all, even while reporting Obama’s leak to McCain and Graham on Monday, the New York Times noted that the training program is covert.

Except that it’s not just the US training them. Going back to the Jerusalem Post article:

The rebels were trained for several months in a training camp on the Jordanian-Syrian border by CIA operatives, as well as Jordanian and Israeli commandos, the paper said.

Oh my. That’s quite the international faculty for this training program. What new wonders await us as more graduates of the program pour into Syria?

Morally Depraved Obama Fails in Response to Egyptian Massacre

The New York Times headline for its story summarizing Barack Obama’s statement yesterday on the violence in Egypt parrots the administration’s hapless plea that Obama has few options in dealing with Egypt: “His Options Few, Obama Rebukes Egypt’s Leaders“. Obama’s grand statement delivered the stinging blow of canceling joint military exercises with the Egyptians. We also are reminded later in the article that the US has delayed delivery of four F-16 fighter jets without also being informed that this delay was announced prior to the massacre of Egyptian civilians.

In his statement, Obama never addressed the huge piece of leverage that the US does have in relation to Egypt. The roughly $1.5 billion in US aid that flows to Egypt each year is primarily for the military and supports about a third of the military’s budget. The article in the Times goes to great lengths to explain to us just why Obama can’t cut off this aid. We are told first that if we cut off aid, “Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates” will rush into the void to provide the missing funding And if that isn’t scary enough, we are told a couple of paragraphs later that cutting off the aid would open the door for Russia and China to step in.

With the death toll from the crackdown now above 600 and likely to go much higer, and with grisly videos surfacing of civilians being gunned down in cold blood by the military, we see a quote from the standard anonymous “senior official” who says “There’s a basic threshold where we can’t give a tacit endorsement to them.”

Just wow. The Egyptian military has staged a coup in which they have removed a democratically elected (although dysfunctional and failed) government and massacred over 600 of its citizens in cold blood. None of that rises to the level of the “threshold where we can’t give a tacit endorsement to them”? What on earth do they have to do to get the US to cut them off?

One answer to that question is in the next paragraph:

And it could destabilize the region, particularly the security of Israel, whose 1979 peace treaty with Egypt is predicated on the aid.

It would appear that Egypt can kill all of its own civilians it wants with the weapons and money we provide as long as they don’t also kill any Israelis.

But there is another insidious tie in the US aid to Egypt. US defense contractors are making tons of money off of it. From a Bloomberg piece describing US support of the Egyptian military two years ago at the beginning of the uprising against Mubarak: Continue reading

The Stenography Dance between Israel and the US

I’ve been meaning to comment on this story from Bill Gertz from last week. After reporting that the Israelis bitched about US reports of the Israeli strike on Russian made missiles shipped to Syria,

Israeli government officials voiced anger at U.S. press leaks traced to the Pentagon following the July 5 Israeli missile attack on the Syrian port of Latakia that destroyed a shipment of Russian-made anti-ship missiles, according to U.S. officials.
Senior Pentagon officials, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter who is currently visiting Israel, discussed the leaks during meetings with Israeli officials this week. The Israelis argued in private meetings and other exchanges that the disclosures could lead to Syrian counterattacks against Israel and should have been coordinated first with the Israeli government. [my emphasis]

It catalogs multiple people — both American and Israeli — talking about the intent of the gag and concerns about secrecy.

A U.S. official said signs of Israeli anger over the Latakia raid disclosures appeared in several Israel press outlets. One Israeli official was described as “furious” over the leak because the Pentagon did not coordinate its release of information first with Israel.

Other Israeli officials were quoted as saying that in the aftermath of the Yakhont missile strikes that ties between Israel and Syria had reached a new peak and that there are worries that tying Israel to the attack will prompt Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to retaliate soon or against a future Israeli attack. [my emphasis]

As far as I know, no one besides Gertz has reported on Israeli anger, in spite of the fact that the reports were published by notorious DOD mouthpieces. There’s Barbara Starr,

A series of explosions on July 5 at a critical Syrian port was the result of airstrikes by Israeli warplanes, according to multiple U.S. officials.

Regional media widely reported the predawn explosions at Latakia, but no one had officially claimed responsibility.

Three U.S. officials told CNN the target of the airstrikes were Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship missiles that Israel believes posed a threat to its naval forces.

And Michael Gordon,

Israel carried out an air attack in Syria this month that targeted advanced antiship cruise missiles sold to the Syria government by Russia, American officials said Saturday.

The officials, who declined to be identified because they were discussing intelligence reports, said the attack occurred July 5 near Latakia, Syria’s principal port city. The target was a type of missile called the Yakhont, they said.

Mind you, the Israelis don’t claim to be pissed that the leaks occurred (in spite of claims that revealing it publicly will make it more likely someone — I’m not sure precisely who — will attack Israel. Just that they (allegedly) occurred without coordinating with the Israelis.

Compare this treatment with the efforts to mandate investigations of leaks last year that made it harder to gin up war against Iran.

And with reports that retired General Hoss Cartwright is being investigated for repeating stories about Israel’s purported role in letting StuxNet escape Iranian nuke facilities (a leak which, it should be said, added to an earlier Michael Gordon co-byline).

Funny. Just a few weeks before the Latakia leaks to noted stenographers, leaking about Israel could get even a top General investigated.

But when stenographers report similar stories, crickets.

Will North Korean Bomb Test Provide Opening for Nuclear Negotiations with Iran?

Shortly after we learned last night that North Korea had carried out a nuclear weapon test, I saw some suggestions along the lines of “this may as well have been an Iranian test since Iran and North Korea are sharing data”. I wonder, however, whether the outcome of this test will in fact provide more room for Iran and the West to make real progress in negotiations that have been stalled for over a year.

Perhaps the most encouraging development after the test became known was this from Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman:

Iran said on Tuesday that all the world’s nuclear weapons should be destroyed, shortly after North Korea said it had conducted its third nuclear test in defiance of United Nations resolutions.

“We think we need to come to a point where no country will have any nuclear weapons,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a weekly news conference when asked about the test. “All weapons of mass destruction and nuclear arms need to be destroyed.”

Mehmanparast added that all countries should be able to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

That is not a new position for Iran, but the timing for reiterating it is encouraging.

Of course, those who want war with Iran (and especially Israel, with Netanyahu continuing to use inflamed rhetoric) will dismiss such a statement quickly, but this statement from Iran actually comes with concrete actions to back it up. I have yet to see Western media sources acknowledge that in addition to Iran’s claims that it is using nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, it actually is taking steps to expand its production of medical isotopes (see this post where I point out Iran’s plans to construct four new research reactors for production of medical isotopes). We see more evidence of those concrete steps today, with Iran confirming in a news conference today that more of the stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has been converted to fuel plates for use in research reactors: Continue reading

Hagel Hearing: Twilight of the Neocons Makes Senate Armed Services Committee Dysfunctional

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiXTyDnA2TI#![/youtube]

The disgusting bullying of former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) during his hearing yesterday on his nomination to be Secretary of Defense is demonstrated clearly in the short clip above where Senator Lindsey Graham (R-Closet) asks Hagel to “Name one person, in your opinion, who’s been intimidated by the Israeli lobby.” Hagel said he couldn’t name one. A quick look at this word cloud from the hearing, though, or at this tweet from the Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran: “At Hagel hearing, 136 mentions of Israel and 135 of Iran. Only 27 refs to Afghanistan. 2 for Al Qaida. 1 for Mali.” shows that Hagel should be at the top of the list of those intimidated by the Israeli lobby, which yesterday was embodied by the SASC.

Hagel did himself no favors when he stumbled badly on one of the few substantive and relevant topics brought up. On Iran’s nuclear program, even after being handed a note, he bungled the Obama administration’s position of prevention, stating first that the US favors containment. [His bungled statement of the Obama administration's position should be considered separately from the logic of that position, where containment of an Iran with nuclear weapon capability is seen by some as a stabilizing factor against Israel's nuclear capabilities, while prevention could well require a highly destabilizing war.]

Overall, however, the combative nature of Republican questioning of Hagel was just as hostile as the questioning last week of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the Benghazi incident. Why would Republicans turn on one of their own with a vengeance equal to that shown to their long-term nemesis? Writing at Huffington Post, Jon Soltz provides an explanation with which I agree when he frames yesterday’s hearing as a referendum on neocon policy (emphasis in original):

“Tell me I was right on Iraq!”

Essentially, that’s what Sen. McCain said during most of his time in today’s confirmation hearing for Chuck Hagel. And that sums up why the die had been cast on the Hagel nomination, before we even got to these hearings today, which I am currently at. This vote, I believed (and now believe more than ever) is a referendum on neocon policy, not on Chuck Hagel.

Much of McCain’s bullying of Hagel was centered on McCain trying to get Hagel to admit that he had been wrong to oppose the Iraq surge. This clinging to the absurd notion that the Iraq surge was a success sums up the bitter attitude of the neocons as the world slowly tries to emerge from the global damage they have caused. And that this view that the surge was a success still gets an open and unopposed position at the Senate Armed Services Committee highlights the dangerous dysfunction of one of the most influential groups in Washington.

A functional SASC would have spent much time in discussion with Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, who provided a meticulous debunking of the myth that the Iraq surge was a success. His report, however, has been quietly ignored and allowed to fade from public view. Instead, this committee has essentially abandoned its oversight responsibilities in favor of pro-war jingoism. That Hagel refuses to engage in their jingoism is at the heart of neocon hatred of him.

Hagel would have done himself and the world a favor by turning the tables on the Committee during the hearing. A report (pdf) released Wednesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction highlights a massive oversight failure by the Senate Armed Services Committee that lies at the juxtaposition of US defense policy in both Iran and Afghanistan. Despite long-standing sanctions against US purchases of Iranian goods, the Committee has allowed the Department of Defense to purchase fuel for use in Afghanistan that could well have come from Iran. Here is the conclusion of the report (emphasis added):

DOD’s lack of visibility—until recently—over the source of fuel purchased for the ANSF raises some concerns. DOD lacked certification procedures prior to November 2012 and had limited visibility over the import and delivery sub-contracts used by fuel vendors. As a result, DOD is unable to determine if any of the $1.1 billion in fuel purchased for the ANA between fiscal year 2007 and 2012 came from Iran, in violation of U.S. economic sanctions. Controls—recently added by CJTSCC to the BPAs for ANSF fuel—requiring vendor certification of fuel sources should improve visibility over fuel sources. To enhance that visibility, it is important that adequate measures are in place to test the validity of the certifications and ensure that subcontractors are abiding by the prohibitions regarding Iranian fuel. Recently reported steps to correct weaknesses in the fuel acquisition process may not help U.S. officials’ in verifying the sources of fuel purchased with U.S. funds for the ANSF. Given the Afghan government’s continued challenges in overseeing and expending direct assistance funds, it will become more difficult for DOD to account for the use of U.S. funds as it begins to transfer funds—in March 2013—directly to the Afghan government for the procurement and delivery of ANSF fuel. In light of capacity and import limitations of the Afghan government, the U.S. government may need to take steps to place safeguards on its direct assistance funding—over $1 billion alone for ANSF fuel from 2013-2018—to ensure that the Afghan government does not use the funds in violation of U.S. economic sanctions.

Imagine the sputtering that would have ensued if Hagel had managed to ask Graham or McCain why the committee had failed to enforce the sanctions against purchasing Iranian fuel by the Defense Department. While he was busy singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” on the campaign trail in 2008, McCain was failing in his responsibility to see that Iranian fuel wasn’t purchased by the Defense Department.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @JohnAmato @ddayen David, I just gave @laRosalind and @JasonLeopold a heads up too.
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bmaz RT @JohnAmato: Next Friday @ http://t.co/hfoB0Hi6u1 RT @ddayen: @JohnAmato @bmaz I guess my invite got lost in the mail
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bmaz RT @rdevro: Re-upping @SarahKnuckey's excellent piece on the familiar, frustrating and predictable cycle of following US strikes http://t.c…
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bmaz @JoshMBlackman Not that coherent if he really thinks those amendments will pass.
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bmaz @kevinjonheller @lyssophobe @MaxBlumenthal I have a couple of deadbeat clients that won't pay me. #IBlameMax
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bmaz Obama Signs Into Law Non-Bill-Of-Attainder But Issues Signing Statement Saying He Won't Enforce It http://t.co/iILOG81G6t via @JoshMBlackman
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bmaz RT @moorehn: What Obamacare doesn't cover- the little costs that add up. Asthma inhalers and others. http://t.co/vRymBitQYn
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bmaz @gideonstrumpet Hasn't worked so good for Mary Ann Franks.
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bmaz @ColMorrisDavis At least we are consistent, as we also drone execute for Christmas too.
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bmaz @MarkSZaidEsq @BradMossEsq @emptywheel @Thomas_Drake1 Your augment this morning has not displayed that preference.
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emptywheel @zeynep Oh, I like @wunderground's redesign. I find the Graph very useful, even the wind graph.
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bmaz @BradMossEsq Or maybe the accusation is still a load of shit and respect does not not equal agreement.
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