... Odierno told Congress earlier this week that sequestration might force the Army to cull another 100,000 troops from its ranks. Speaking at Brookings he went further, estimating that beginning with the 80,000 already scheduled, “in the end, it’ll be over 200,000 soldiers that we will have to take out of the active duty component National Guard and Army Reserve” if sequestration is implemented for the long term.
“We’ll take almost a 40 percent reduction in our brigade combat teams once we’re finished,” he cautioned.
When looking at the Army’s bottom line, Odierno said that if the fiscal 2014 budget is implemented without sequestration, the Army will have taken a 45 percent reduction in its budget since 2008, a number that rises to over 50 percent with sequestration.
As for the long-term consequences of such cuts, the general said that such huge reductions would send the wrong message to potential adversaries around the world....
Saturday, February 16, 2013
(Reuters) - Tighter U.S. sanctions are killing off Turkey's gold-for-gas trade with Iran and have stopped state-owned lender Halkbank from processing other nations' energy payments to the OPEC oil producer, bankers said on Friday.
U.S. officials have sought to prevent Turkish gold exports, which indirectly pay Iran for its natural gas, from providing a financial lifeline to Tehran, largely frozen out of the global banking system by Western sanctions over its nuclear program.
Turkey, Iran's biggest natural gas customer, has been paying Iran for its imports with Turkish lira, because sanctions prevent it from paying in dollars or euros.
Iranians then use those lira, held in Halkbank accounts, to buy gold in Turkey, and couriers carry bullion worth millions of dollars in hand luggage to Dubai, where it can be sold for foreign currency or shipped to Iran.
Halkbank had also been processing a portion of India's payments for Iranian oil....
Turkey, which is not a major gold producer, was a net gold, jewelry and precious metals importer in 2011 but swung to being a net exporter last year. Analysts said Iranian demand had prompted both the high imports two years ago - which were largely sold on to Iran - and the surge in exports last year.
Gold exports to Iran rose to $6.5 billion in 2012, more than ten times the level of 2011, while exports to the United Arab Emirates - much of it for onward shipment to Iran or conversion to hard currency - rose to $4.6 billion from $280 million.
Overall Turkish bullion exports fell to 10.5 tonnes in December from 15.2 tonnes in November.
-bth: other metals, iron, copper might be traded and have shown spikes in volume though Turkey.
Friday, February 15, 2013
... But after 11-plus years of war, the accumulated American hardware in Afghanistan amounts to more than 600,000 pieces of equipment valued at $28 billion. In that arsenal are systems that always present challenges to international shipping, including MRAP mine-resistant troop transports and Stryker infantry fighting vehicles, each built with tons of armor, and heavy tractor-trailers and tankers.
So far, the heavy vehicles have all been shipped out by air because Afghanistan is landlocked, it has a primitive road system and the Taliban remain strong in many parts of the country. But the real problem to withdrawing from Afghanistan is the same one that has helped make fighting there so difficult: the tenuous relationship with neighboring Pakistan, which offers the cheapest land route to the closest seaport but through border crossings that are unreliable....
But American officials hope that up to 60 percent of the hardware in Afghanistan can be sent out by way of Pakistan.
As Mr. Obama delivered his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, almost 40,000 armored or other large vehicles remained in Afghanistan. The military has a goal of bringing out 1,500 of them every 30 days, a target it can reach — in a good month — by air. But there are just 22 months until the American-led combat mission ends in December 2014. It is going to be a challenge, requiring Pakistan to permanently open those border crossings, and it is going to be expensive....
Regardless, the movement north from Afghanistan requires passage through the Salang Tunnel, dug into the mountains of Parwan Province. The tunnel was a favorite of insurgent ambushes during the Soviet invasion and withdrawal. And, today, American troops are not deployed in Afghanistan’s north.
“About 85 to 90 percent of our equipment is south and east of the tunnel,” General Stein said, noting that the military never relies on what officers call “a single point of failure” like the lone and vulnerable tunnel on the northern exit route....
The immense backlog of 7,000 containers that had piled up during the Pakistani closing still had to be reduced. Officials had anticipated starting dry runs for withdrawal — essentially running trucks through the border crossings — in January. But labor strikes by drivers, squabbles between Afghan and Pakistani custom offices, and internal disputes among Pakistani bureaucracies delayed the initial phase until last weekend. Similar tests of cargo routes are being conducted along the Northern Distribution Network....
Members of Congress are carefully watching to see how the Pentagon deals with the MRAP troop carriers in Afghanistan, part of a $45 billion urgent effort to build a fleet of armored transports to deflect lethal roadside bombs. The military does not want to pay for hauling them home and fixing them if they are not relevant to future wars. Likewise, officers do not want to scrap them or give them to Afghans or other allies — and then have to buy them again if needed in the future....
-bth: the Pentagon is going to be tempted to do several things. First they will likely increase the length of deployment of troops already in Afghanistan to reduce costs. Second they are going to burn up suppies in place hence the money saving move of eliminating hot breakfasts and eating the MREs that otherwise would need to be shipped. Third, they are going to have to continue to bride the Pakistani officials necessary to move that equipment out. Likely we will see the US offer more aircraft and helicopter spare parts to Pakistan in the process. Fourth, we will likely see the Russians yank our chain on the northern route. Fifth, watch for the Army to try to scrap the MRAPS and MATVs because the Pentagon and the big contractors want an equally large series of contacts to build new ground vehicles to essentially do what the MRAP has already done. this would be an ill considered move given the costs and financial constraints the military will face in the next couple of years.
..."We will try to divert money so we do not have to extend people in Afghanistan," Odierno told a conference at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "That's a very big concern of mine."
He said that right now the Army is facing a shortfall of as much as $8 billion in operating funds for Afghanistan, and there could be an additional $5.4 billion in cuts if Congress can't resolve a budget standoff and automatic reductions – called sequester – go into effect.
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Friday that he expects the sequester to go into effect March 1, triggering $46 billion in automatic cuts to the overall Pentagon budget through September. "I think it's going to happen," McKeon told reporters. "We have just not been able to get past the politics of it to really focus in on the devastating effects."...
-bth: so hot breakfasts have been replaced by MREs for 17 bases in Afghanistan to save a buck. Now they are going to extend deployments probably to 15 months to reduce costs of training and rotating men out of theater. The basic PFC and Lance Corporal are totally screwed by this congress and administration.
Some warriors inside the Pentagon are reacting with amusement and anger over outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s decision to create a prestigious heroism medal for cyber and drone combatants who sit inside stations outside a war zone.
Mr. Panetta is exiting the building as a man generally admired by the Pentagon population, including hundreds of those tested in battle, for his hawkish views on killing Islamic terrorists and his devotion to the troops....
-bth: an unwise decision.
.... “Building Guam as a strategic hub has played a critical role in balancing U.S. security interests in responding to and cooperating with China as well as in shaping China’s perceptions and conduct,” wrote Government Accountability Office analyst Shirley A. Kan in a September 2012 report.
“Since 2000, the U.S. military has been building up forward-deployed forces on the westernmost U.S. territory of Guam to increase U.S. presence, deterrence, and power projection for potential responses to crises and disasters, counterterrorism, and contingencies in support of South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, or elsewhere in Asia.”
-bth: I was not aware that more supplies were sent by sea infiltratoin and through Shhanoukville than the Ho chi Minh Trail.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
... Here, the euro zone's largest economy, Germany, and the European Central Bank, are pushing for fresh commitments to curb borrowing - in line with their own tough medicine for the currency bloc's ailing periphery.
The United States, where the Federal Reserve has vowed to keep monetary policy loose until unemployment comes down, is opposed. Russia, which runs a balanced budget and has low debts, has yet to show its hand in the debate.
Japan's embrace of 'Abenomics' entails a huge round of fiscal and monetary expansion aimed at raising the inflation rate to 2 percent.
The yen has fallen by around 20 percent since November, triggering a rally in Japanese stocks that, the government hopes, will kick-start growth by encouraging savers to spend and companies to invest.
With the United States, Britain and euro zone all running ultra-loose monetary policies, some emerging market exporters have sounded the alarm over 'currency wars' that they say will devalue their foreign reserves and hit their competitiveness....
-bth: so Russia is running a balanced budget and buying huge gold reserves. The democracies are inflating, or trying to, to spark growth in the economy, the US is about to create a fiscal policy driven recession and the Chinese are left holding a bunch of devaluing foreign debt. Yet in all there is no inflation in the system. The world seems to have an insatiable desire for more currency in circulation. Is this evidence of a growing global economy?
... Republicans and Democrats have yet to agree on a plan to delay or replace sequestration, although they have begun to trade competing proposals to do so.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) joined Republicans in calling on President Barack Obama to force congressional leaders to deal with the matter.
The sense from Pentagon officials was an increasing level of gloom and doom about the prospect of cuts, which they contend will cost more money rather than contribute to deficit reduction.
“There was a time when I thought that sequestration wasn’t likely,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the committee. “I used to say that I was hopeful and optimistic. Then I said I was just hopeful, and now I’m not even hopeful.”
WASHINGTON - North Korea is upgrading one of its two major missile launch sites, apparently to handle much bigger rockets, and some design features suggest it is getting help from Iran, a U.S. research institute said Thursday.
A successful satellite launch in December and a nuclear test on Tuesday, both in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, have intensified concern that North Korea is moving toward its goal of building a bomb small enough to be fitted on an intercontinental missile.
An analysis written for 38 North, the website of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, indicates that North Korea has made significant progress since October in constructing a new launch pad and other facilities at Tonghae, on the country's northeast coast. The assessment is based on commercial satellite photos, the latest taken in January.
It says design features, including a flame trench covering that protects large rockets from the hot exhaust gases they emit on takeoff, is similar to one at a launch complex in Semnan, Iran, and hasn't been used by the North before....
-bth: so if Iran's nuclear program were purely peaceful, why would they have a directly hand in N. Korean missile and weapons systems?
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With President Barack Obama's first term characterized by strained relations between Pakistan and the U.S., more than nine in 10 Pakistanis (92%) disapprove of U.S. leadership and 4% approve, the lowest approval rating Pakistanis have ever given.
Pakistanis' approval of the leadership of their ostensible ally, the United States, has historically been quite low. However, perceptions began to change, albeit modestly, through much of Obama's first term. As recently as May 2011, 27% of Pakistanis approved of U.S. leadership, the apex of support. Noticeably, approval declined after the May 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden, carried out by the U.S. military without the assistance of the Pakistani military -- an event that many Pakistanis viewed as a blatant disregard for Pakistani sovereignty....
-bth: worth reading in full.
Iran recently sought to acquire tens of thousands of highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines, according to experts and diplomats, a sign that the country may be planning a major expansion of its nuclear program that could shorten the path to an atomic weapons capability.
Purchase orders obtained by nuclear researchers show an attempt by Iranian agents to buy 100,000 of the ring-shaped magnets — which are banned from export to Iran under U.N. resolutions — from China about a year ago, those familiar with the effort said. It is unclear whether the attempt succeeded.
Although Iran has frequently sought to buy banned items from foreign vendors, this case is considered unusual because of the order’s specificity and sheer size — enough magnets in theory to outfit 50,000 new centrifuges, or nearly five times the number that Iran currently operates....
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Boehner: Sequester Will Force Congress to Make Decisions Read Latest Breaking News from Newsmax.com http://www.newsmax.com/Politics/State-Union-boehner-budget/2013/02/13/id/490316#ixzz2KpKoTcyh Urgent: Should Obamacare Be Repealed? Vote Here Now!
... But it's the economy and deficit at the top of the congressional priority list as Obama and lawmakers face looming fiscal crises confronting the nation: the deep automatic spending cuts, called a "sequester," to take effect March 1, followed by the government running out of money to fund federal agencies March 27.
Boehner, seeking to keep the government from lurching from one crisis to another, has also pressed for Washington to get back to passing regular budgets. But he expressed pessimism about whether that was possible given the deep divisions on Capitol Hill.
"It's hard to imagine that you could reconcile what the House and Senate pass, but at some point, in some manner, it almost has to happen if we're going to deal with our long-term spending problem," Boehner said.
The Ohio Republican also reiterated his opposition to letting the sequester take effect, and served up a reality check to members of his caucus who say publicly that they would be willing to let the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts take effect on March 1.
"None of them have ever lived under a sequester. For that matter, neither have I," Boehner said. "This is going to be a little bleak around here when this actually happens and people actually have to make decisions."
The president wants to put off the sequester through a combination of targets spending cuts and increased tax revenue. Republicans want to offset the sequester with spending cuts alone....
Infrastructure investments in roads, bridges, and power stations have dropped significantly in 2012 as banks struggled to offer long-term debt and governments targeted cost savings. There were hopes that infrastructure spending would boost the world economy in 2012, but funding fell from $159 billion worldwide in 2011 to $99 billion.
Infrastructure investments in roads, bridges, and power stations have dropped significantly in 2012 as banks struggled to offer long-term debt and governments targeted cost savings.
There were hopes that infrastructure spending would boost the world economy in 2012, but funding fell from $159 billion worldwide in 2011 to $99 billion, according to the trade publication Infrastructure Journal...
-bth: relative to what we are spending in Afghanistan this is less even at the higher 2011 figure. Somehting is very wrong with our priorities.
Italy's former intelligence chief Nicolo Pollari has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the rendition of a terror suspect.
The court in Milan also sentenced his former deputy Marco Mancini to nine years in jail over the 2003 kidnapping.
Italy's courts have already convicted in absentia 22 CIA agents over the same case. The abducted Egyptian cleric said he was flown to Egypt and tortured.
Pollari and Mancini are expected to appeal against their convictions.
Defence lawyer Nicola Madia says he has not been able to properly defend his clients because the Italian government has declared the case covered by state secrecy laws.
The Italian trials, which began in 2007, were the first in the world to bring to court cases involving extraordinary rendition, the CIA's practice of transferring terror suspects to countries where torture is permitted.
Extraordinary rendition - launched by the administration of US President George W Bush in the wake of the 9/11 attacks - has been condemned by human rights groups as a violation of international agreements....
A new study using data from a pair of gravity-measuring NASA satellites finds that large parts of the arid Middle East region lost freshwater reserves rapidly during the past decade. Scientists found during a seven-year period beginning in 2003 that parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 117 million acre feet (144 cubic kilometers) of total stored freshwater. That is almost the amount of water in the Dead Sea. The researchers attribute about 60 percent of the loss to pumping of groundwater from underground reservoirs.
A new study using data from a pair of gravity-measuring NASA satellites finds that large parts of the arid Middle East region lost freshwater reserves rapidly during the past decade.
Scientists at the University of California, Irvine; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, found during a seven-year period beginning in 2003 that parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 117 million acre feet (144 cubic kilometers) of total stored freshwater. That is almost the amount of water in the Dead Sea. The researchers attribute about 60 percent of the loss to pumping of groundwater from underground reservoirs....
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Sequestration or no sequestration, austerity will be a fact of life inside the Pentagon for the foreseeable future. The most important question is whether financial managers will come at our warfighters with a meat ax or with sensible procurement changes that will give taxpayers the maximum “bang” for available bucks.
The president requested $525 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal 2013 and annual growth to more than $600 billion a year by the end of this decade. Sequestration would hold the 2020 defense budget down to $550 billion, but that means an immediate cut of at least $45 billion — and a 10 percent to 12 percent haircut off major defense contractors’ top lines. This year’s governmentwide, $25 billion buzzcut in contract spending already felt more like a scalping....
One day after the largest dam in Syria fell to jihadists spearheaded by al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, Islamist fighters seized control of a nearby airbase. Jihadists have now taken control of four major military installations in Syria since October 2012.
"Rebel fighters from several islamist factions have fully taken over the al-Jarrah military airport," according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely tracks the Syrian civil war. Five "rebels" were killed, and more than 40 "regime forces" were wounded or captured during the fighting.
A video of Islamist fighters battling at the al-Jarrah airbase was released on YouTube. Several aircraft are seen in hangars, and others, which appear to be unserviceable, are parked on the sides of the runway. Cases of ammunition are seen stacked next to what appears to be an operational MiG fighter that is inside a hangar....
-bth: I don't understand why these bases are being taken intact with usable supplies.
wo Nigerian journalists have been arrested over the killing of nine female polio vaccinators in northern Kano state on Friday, police have said.
Kano police chief Ibrahim Idris told the BBC the journalists would be charged with culpable homicide.
They had incited the public to oppose vaccinations through their Wazobia FM radio station, he alleged.
Some Muslim leaders in northern Nigeria believe polio vaccinations cause infertility among women.
They see it as a Western conspiracy to reduce the Muslim population.
Such opposition is a major reason why Nigeria is one of just three countries where polio is still endemic.
There were 121 cases of polio in Nigeria last year, compared to 58 in Pakistan and 37 in Afghanistan, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
No group has said it carried out Friday's two separate attacks on the polio vaccinators.
Some have accused Islamist militant Boko Haram of the killings but the group has not commented on the allegations.....
Monday, February 11, 2013
SEOUL, Feb. 11 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean military is pushing to develop unmanned attack helicopters capable of hitting North Korea's front-line bases as a way to counter growing threats from the communist country, a senior military official said Monday.
Seoul has been mulling ways to beef up deterrence and combat capability to cope with rising tension following Pyongyang's warning of a third nuclear test in response to the U.N. sanctions for its December rocket launch. Last week, South Korea's military chief warned of a pre-emptive strike even at the risk of war if Pyongyang showed intent to go through with a nuclear attack.
"The military is considering using unmanned combat helicopters to destroy North Korea's military bases used for infiltration, including artillery bases and a naval base for air-cushioned vessels," the military source said, asking for anonymity due to sensitivity of the issue....
Syrian rebels once welcomed fighters of the jihadist Al-Nusra Front with open arms but disputes over the extremists' strict interpretation of Islam are beginning to strain the ties.
In a rebel rear base at Atme in northern Syria, on the border with Turkey, at least four fights have broken out in recent weeks between jihadists and mainstream rebels, witnesses and residents told AFP.
One fight degenerated into an exchange of fire.
While the majority of the population -- and the rebels -- are Sunni Muslims, close interaction with people from dozens of other religious groups has over centuries softened most Syrians' interpretation of Islam.
But the jihadists, who are linked to Al-Qaeda, follow a puritanical interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence, considering for example a man smoking a cigarette or choosing to shave his beard to have become "anti-Islamic".
In the village of Qah in the northwest Syria province of Idlib, Al-Nusra Front fighters arrested a man for cursing after a minor car accident, sparking a heated standoff with villagers when they brought him before an Islamic tribunal.
The arrested man was the brother of a respected local leader and longtime insurgent, who quickly mobilised dozens of armed men, residents told AFP on condition of anonymity.
After a prolonged face-off with Al-Nusra fighters during which some jihadists were kidnapped, Qah residents secured the release of the arrested man in exchange for an Al-Nusra commander.
The jihadist commander was released only after his long Salafist beard had been trimmed, the sources added....
....“Jaysh is essentially an Iran-Hezbollah joint venture,” said David Cohen, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department. “Given the other constraints on Iranian resources right now, it’s obvious that this is an important proxy group for them.”
In slapping sanctions on the militia in December, the Treasury Department said Iran had provided it with “routine funding worth millions of dollars.”
A Treasury statement noted that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard commander has said that Jaysh was “modeled after Iran’s own Basij,” which it described as “a paramilitary force subordinate to the IRGC that has been heavily involved in the violent crackdowns and serious human rights abuses occurring in Iran since the June 2009 contested presidential election.”
bth: there have been earlier reports that Assad was living on a naval ship. This might also explain Russia's reactivation of its small naval facility in Syria and Iran's transfer of a few ships to the Med.
In a divided Syria, Iran’s natural allies would include Shiites and Alawites concentrated in provinces near Syria’s border with Lebanon and in the key port city of Latakia. Under the most likely scenarios, analysts say, remnants of Assad’s government — with or without Assad — would seek to establish a coastal enclave closely tied to Tehran, dependent on the Iranians for survival while helping Iran to retain its link to Hezbollah and thereby its leverage against Israel.
Experts said that Iran is less interested in preserving Assad in power than in maintaining levers of power, including transport hubs inside Syria. As long as Tehran could maintain control of an airport or seaport, it could also maintain a Hezbollah-controlled supply route into Lebanon and continue to manipulate Lebanese politics.
Preservation of an Iranian-supported area on the coast has always been “Plan C or Plan D” for core regime supporters, Salem said. “If everything fails and they lose, they have always prepared for the fortress region . . . with everything they can cart away, even if they lose Damascus.”
“That’s not necessarily what they want,” he said. “They want to hold on to the whole thing.” But the worst-case scenario is that “the whole regime relocates to the northwest, and they still have the most powerful [armed] unit inside Syria, with a lot of the current structure.”
Newly installed Secretary of State John F. Kerry expressed during his confirmation hearing last month the administration’s concern that Syria could break apart, saying that “one of the scenarios everybody’s talking about is that people could sort of break up off into their places . . . and you could have a disintegration, and who knows where that leads?”
“These are the risks,” Kerry said. “I mean, this is what is at stake in this new world that we’re dealing with. And nobody could sit here and tell you how it all plays out.”
In a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council last week, U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi cited two “big risks that are of serious concern to the international community.”
“The first is the transformation of Syria into a playground for competing regional forces, governments and non-state actors alike,” Brahimi said. “This process is largely underway.” The second risk, he said, is “full-fledged regionalization of the Syrian civil war.”
... An analysis of Nasrallah's recent speeches indicates that he has reached certain conclusions regarding the next conflict with Israel:
1) Rocket and missile salvos on the periphery do not impress the Israelis. Only a devastating strike on the Tel Aviv metropolitan area or on Tel Aviv itself, or an attack on a key infrastructure facility, will deal a serious blow to public morale in Israel and around the world and grant him the victory photos he craves.
2) The Israeli public is more sensitive to deaths among soldiers fighting on the front – "our children" – than it is to civilian casualties. So, from Nasrallah's perspective, heavy casualties among the fighting forces will damage Israel's internal resilience and undermine the public's support for the war. Nasrallah expects that Israel will move five divisions into Lebanon.
3) The ability to intercept and down Israel Air Force planes will provide Nasrallah with an umbrella that will allow him to maximize the damage to the Israeli home front and shore up support from his target audiences. The sinking of an Israeli Navy ship will also be considered a great achievement for Hezbollah.
Based on these and other insights, Nasrallah has designed the following strategy: At the onset of the next war Hezbollah will fire its heaviest and most accurate missiles and rockets (including M-600 missiles Hezbollah received from Syria, which are fitted with GPS-aided inertial navigation) on the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, as well as on infrastructure installations and perhaps on military targets. The rockets will be fired at the fastest pace possible. This opening strike will last a few hours, maybe more, until the Air Force creates room to operate in Lebanon's airspace in a way that will allow it hit every rocket launcher that was detected in advance or during the fighting itself.
In addition to the attack on the Tel Avivian home front and infrastructure, Nasrallah plans to cause heavy casualties among Israeli soldiers who will enter Lebanon in order to stop the firing of short-range rockets from the southern part of the country. To carry this plan out, his men will use thousands of advanced anti-tank missiles, bombs and mortars that have been deployed in villages. The goal is to kill and injure hundreds of Israeli soldiers. These losses, along with the IDF's inability to stop the rocket and missile fire until the latter part of the war, will grant Nasrallah an unprecedented moral and physical victory –particularly if Hezbollah will manage to down Israeli planes or sink a ship.
However, there is another aspect to this strategy: Nasrallah plans to order "intervention forces" - Hezbollah's special units – to launch killing raids on Israeli communities and seize control of roads located near or along the border. Nasrallah assumes these raids will cause delays in Israel's activity to stop the rocket fire from within Lebanon. Such raids will also hurt morale. Many fighters belonging to these special units have recently been sent to Syria to fight alongside Assad's forces. Some of them have already been killed or wounded in battles with rebels, but the units and their commanders gained invaluable combat experience.
At what point will Hezbollah set this strategy in motion? Most likely when a certain element – be it the US, Israel or a joint force - attacks Iran's nuclear installations. Tehran may also order Hezbollah to attack Israel in order to divert attention from its efforts to obtain nuclear capabilities. The imminent collapse of the regime in Syria makes Hezbollah even more dependent on Iran, and it will not dare disobey an order from Tehran.
Another possibility is that Hezbollah will launch rockets and missiles toward Israel in the event of a massive IDF attack in Lebanese territory. However, the probability that the Shiite group will get involved in a war with Israel over attacks on convoys transporting modern weapons or chemical weapons from Syria to Lebanon (such as the recent airstrike on a convoy transporting advanced anti-aircraft missiles, which foreign media outlets attributed to Israel), is not high. It's response to such attacks will most likely be limited.
The IDF is ware of Nasrallah's strategy and is closely following Hezbollah's preparations on a daily basis. At the same time, the army is training incessantly to deal with the threat, if and when it is realized. "We will have to operate fast and aggressively from the get-go," says a very senior IDF official in the Northern Command. "We have to tell ourselves and to the world, so that no one will be surprised....
-bth: interesting article worth reading in full at Ynet. A couple of points of note, First if Hezbollah has GPS guided rockets, the level of lethality is going to go way up. Second, the use of aerial drones by both sides will be stepped up. Increased loiter times, targeting and indeed attack drones are going to be needed. Third, this article does not address the problem ground forces will face against dug in and prepared anti-tank positions. RPGs are only part of the problem. EFPs will be far more dangerous and likely I would think. Windbreaker does not address this so far as I can tell. Finally given the huge devastation Hezbollah will experience it will take an awful lot of money from Iran to make this worthwhile. Money i don't think they have to give at the moment. One side effect of economic sanctions against Iran might be a curtailed threat out of Lebanon.
AFP - Israeli firms Delek and Avner signed an agreement on Monday to acquire a 30 percent stake in exploration rights for gas and oil off Cyprus's southern shore carried out by US company Noble Energy.
Commerce Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis told reporters that the signing provided a "new era of Cyprus-Israeli strategic cooperation which includes economic and political dimensions".
Noble Energy Inc was the first to drill when awarded Block 12 after Cyprus launched its energy search in 2007.
In December 2011, Noble said it had discovered gas reserves of up to 8 trillion cubic feet (226.5 billion cubic metres), with an estimated value of 100 billion euros.
This would satisfy domestic needs for decades and could enable Cyprus to become a regional player by exporting gas to Europe from 2019.
Delek Drilling and Anver Oil and Gas Exploration own majority rights in Israel's own large gas finds in the nearby Leviathan and Tamar fields.
The latest deal move comes less than a week after Cyprus signed an agreement with French energy giant Total to conduct exploratory drilling for gas and oil in two blocks off its southern shore.
Cyprus aspires to become a regional energy hub with the prospect of oil as well as natural gas being tapped beneath the sea bed.
Total signed a deal to exploit blocks 10 and 11 that are adjacent to a large natural gas find in block 12 and said it seeks to proceed in drilling for oil as well as gas reserves.
Turkey has protested strongly against Nicosia's energy search, branding it illegal and beginning its own exploratory drilling off the breakaway north of the island.
Ankara has warned that companies involved in the Cyprus process could be shut out of Turkey's energy investment.
Sylikiotis said that having countries such as France, the United States, Israel and Italy involved in the island's hydrocarbon exploration acted as a "political shield" against Turkish threats.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia aimed at union with Greece....
Sunday, February 10, 2013
....Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, including bombs and rockets tipped with chemical warheads, remains for now under government control, according to Israeli assessments.
“The [intelligence] monitoring of the Syrian chemical weapons depots is quite strict, so there’s a fairly good chance that any movement would be detectable,” said Dany Shoham, a former military intelligence analyst and an expert on unconventional weapons at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.
Nizar Abdul Kader, a Lebanese analyst and retired general, said that Israeli reconnaissance missions are keeping an eye on roads between Syria and Lebanon and that any preparation for movement of advanced weaponry is likely to provoke an Israeli strike. He said Hezbollah has stored heavy weapons and long-range missiles in Syria but is not likely to expose them by transferring them under current conditions.
With the Syrian army preoccupied with internal fighting and Hezbollah wary of jeopardizing its position in Lebanon as its Syrian sponsor weakens, neither is likely to risk wider conflict by retaliating against Israel for the Jan. 30 strike, according to the Israeli official and analysts.
“The Syrians are interested in keeping the civil war in Syria, where they are militarily much stronger than the rebels,” Yadlin said. “Against external forces, they would be inferior.”
“If Hezbollah attacked [Israel], they would basically be admitting that the air defense system was on its way to them, infuriating the Russians” who supplied the weapons to Syria with the understanding that they would not be moved to Hezbollah, he said.
Still, Yadlin cautioned, every additional Israeli strike would raise the risk of escalation.
“The decision makers have to reevaluate every time,” he said. “It’s not a mathematical equation.”
When Vladimir Putin says the U.S. is endangering the global economy by abusing its dollar monopoly, he’s not just talking. He’s betting on it.
Not only has Putin made Russia the world’s largest oil producer, he’s also made it the biggest gold buyer. His central bank has added 570 metric tons of the metal in the past decade, a quarter more than runner-up China, according to IMF data compiled by Bloomberg. The added gold is also almost triple the weight of the Statue of Liberty....
Iran: Gallup published the results of a December survey taken in Iran about the effects of sanctions on Iranians.
• A majority of Iranians (56%) said sanctions have hurt their livelihoods a great deal; an additional 29% said sanctions have hurt somewhat, according to a Gallup survey conducted in Iran in December 2012.
• The majority of Iranians (63%) said that Iran should continue to develop its nuclear program, even given the scale of sanctions.
• Iranians hold the U.S. (47%) responsible for the sanctions against Iran. One in 10 Iranians said their own government is most to blame for sanctions.
Comment: The Gallup survey indicates that sanctions are succeeding in making life difficult, but hardship is not translating into popular pressure on the government to end or even freeze the nuclear program. The data suggest the sanctions are strengthening public support for the program.