“Israel will be hit by retaliatory attacks if the United States launches an offensive on Syria since it [the Jewish state] is the first instigator in attacking [Syria],” Iranian Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi said.
Firouzabadi accused Israel of spearheading efforts to drag Washington into a war with the government in Damascus.....
Saturday, August 31, 2013
Activists Warn that Detainees Being Moved to Evacuated Military Sites in Syria = Institute for the Study of War Syria Updates
Syrian activists on twitter are raising the alarm that the regime is moving detainees out of prisons and into evacuated military bases that they think might targeted by a foreign strike. A UN source confirmed that the chemical weapons inspection team has witnessed prisoner movements during their time in Damascus. Activists have also reported that the security forces and Shabiha are forcing the detainees to wear military uniforms.Additionally, a source inside of Syria has reported that the al-Qaeda affiliated group the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is taking down their flags from checkpoints in Aleppo and replacing them with the flag of the Syrian opposition. Presumably this move is to avoid being targeted by a foreign attack.-bth: so detainees (read prisoners) are moved to military bases, military personnel are moved to colleges, al Qaeda types have removed their banners. One wonders what targets besides fixed air facilities will actually be left by the time we get around to attacking.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Survivors have described the horrific aftermath of the "gas attack" in Syria in a series of chilling interviews from Damascus.
Victims told how a gas with "a faint green colour" stung their eyes "like needles", causing their legs to buckle and making their bodies convulse in pain.
One told how he regained consciousness after succumbing to the gas, seeing wild hallucinations "like Alice in Wonderland" with his "eyes on fire".
Others described how they saw hundreds of suffocating, twitching victims in the streets and in hospitals following a barrage of "whistling" rockets....
-bth: this article is worth reading in full and is one of the first credible eyewitness accounts I have read.
(Reuters) - More than two years into Syria's civil war, President Bashar al-Assad is settling his bills for Russian arms orders through the Russian banking system to try to shore up ties with his most powerful ally, according to a Russian arms industry source.
The payments, which have increased in recent months, show how Assad has sustained his ties with his main diplomatic defender, a relationship that has come under the spotlight this week as Western countries plan military action to punish him for suspected chemical weapons attacks on civilians.
A Reuters investigation shows that the relationship has deepened in recent months.
Although it was not possible to say for certain if they are bringing weapons, the number of ships travelling to Syria from a Ukrainian port used by Russia's arms export monopoly has increased sharply since April.
The Russian defense industry source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Assad had started in recent months paying off a nearly $1-billion contract for four S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems and another $550-million order for 36 Yak-130 trainer fighter planes.
"They've already made the first payment for the Yak-130, likely 10 percent of it. Regarding the S-300, they've definitely made a first downpayment of 20 percent, but we are probably at half of the payment at this point," said the source.
Another Russian source who has links with businesses dealing with Syria, and two Moscow-based members of the Syrian opposition, said the Assad family's financial affairs in Russia have been personally looked after by Assad's maternal uncle Mohammad Makhlouf, from a room in a Soviet-era skyscraper hotel, overlooking the Moskva river.
"That's where all the operations have taken place. That's where Makhlouf meets with those bringing money in. He is looking after all the operations, making sure everything goes according to plan," said one of the Syrian opposition members living in Moscow, who is in touch with the central bank in Damascus.
Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs, said the payments for arms were an important way for Syria to prove to Moscow that it deserves its continued support.
"Syria needs Russia to lend it some international credence and any payments would be a way of ensuring Moscow that it can be taken seriously as a partner," he said...
-bth: worth reading in full. So basically Assad is paying his bill to Russia (read Putin) for 14 ships of munitions via his uncle and in return Russia is throwing its full support behind him.
...“To further safeguard our classified networks, we continue to strengthen insider threat detection capabilities across the Community,” reads the FY 2013 congressional budget justification for intelligence programs. “In addition, we are investing in target surveillance and offensive CI [counterintelligence] against key targets, such as China, Russia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and Cuba.”
The White House and the Israeli Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.
The revelations come as no surprise to Georgetown University's Paul Pillar, who retired as the national intelligence officer for the Near East in 1995 after a 28-year career in U.S. intelligence. Israeli spying, he said, has remained a major threat since U.S. citizen Jonathan Pollard received a life sentence in 1987 in a massive spying case that gravely strained relations between the two countries.
“Israel should be assumed to continue to have an aggressive intelligence collection operations against the United States,” Pillar said. While much information is collected through traditional political contacts, “I would personally have no doubt that that is supplemented by whatever means they can use to find out as much as they can about what we're doing, thinking, deciding on anything of interest to Israel, which would include just about any Middle Eastern topic.”
The issues of continued Israeli settlement construction and Obama's strong interest in reaching a negotiated settlement to avoid a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program, Pillar said, are two issues where U.S. and Israeli interests “certainly diverge,” he said. Spying, he said, could give Israel “warning indicators” before any public decisions, and enable the country to put its “political machine in action” and get the United States to reconsider.
“If I were in [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's shoes and had his perspective,” Pillar said, “I would spare no effort to try to collect every bit of intelligence I could, in secret as well as openly.”
He said the public revelations won't impact U.S.-Israeli relations.
“Everything is trumped by political realities,” Pillar said. “Don't expect any statement by the White House press secretary tomorrow that says, 'Oh my gosh, we are really upset with the Israelis for trying to spy on us'. You're never going to hear anything like that, because politically it is hazardous for basically any American politician – and certainly an incumbent American administration – to underscore ... the divergence of U.S. and Israeli interests.”
-bth: China, Russia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and Cuba. Interesting that Syria isn't on the list or Venezuela.
LONDON (AP) -- British Prime Minister David Cameron lost a vote endorsing military action against Syria by 13 votes Thursday, a stunning defeat for a government which had been poised to join the U.S. in strikes to punish Bashar Assad's regime for an alleged chemical weapons attack this month.
Cameron's nonbinding motion was defeated 285-272 and he conceded after the vote that "the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action."...
-bth: it is significant that the UK parliament calls a halt and the US congress isn't even in session.
MEERUT, India – A militant who topped India’s most-wanted list and helped found one of the nation’s most infamous homegrown insurgent groups was apprehended on the border with Nepal, police said Thursday.
Yasin Bhatkal, 30, mastermind and a co-founder of the Indian Mujahedin, is wanted in connection with more than 40 bombings over the last decade.
Bhatkal – born Mohammed Ahmed Siddhibappa but widely known by his pseudonym – was tracked to Nepal by Indian intelligence agencies. The agencies negotiated with Katmandu to have him taken to their shared border, where he was formally arrested Wednesday night, Indian news reports said, quoting government sources. Police announced his arrest Thursday.
Bhatkal is being interrogated amid heightened security concern in the northern state of Bihar, said state police chief Abhayanand, who goes by one name. He is expected to be transferred Friday to New Delhi. News reports said that another member of his group, Asadullah Akhtar, alias Haddi, was also captured.
Indian security agencies were treating the arrest as a major breakthrough in their bid to destroy the banned Indian Mujahedin, which is accused of being behind bombings in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Pune and Jaipur in recent years....
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
THE HAGUE: United Nations inspectors, in Syria to determine whether forces have used chemical weapons in the civil war, need four days to conclude their investigation and time to analyse the findings, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday.
"They are working very hard, under very, very dangerous circumstances," Ban told a news conference in The Hague where he was attending centenary celebrations for the Peace Palace.
"Let them conclude their work for four days, and then we will have to analyse scientifically with experts and then I think we will have to report to the Security Council for any actions."
-bth: so this article from Beirut says 4 days are needed for a scientific analysis. That is about Sunday. Today or tomorrow the UK is trying to call a meeting at the UN where we know Russia and China will block action. Obama's intel chief speaks on Thursday so that is likely to occur before an attack as the smoking gun hasn't been placed in Assad's hands before the American public. Friday is religiously significant though it might be a good time to target if civilian casualties are to be minimized and next Monday President Obama goes to St. Petersburg for an economic conference where he presumably nees to have already looked tough. So as I would see things, an attack would be after the UN meeting (Thursday) and before Monday/Tuesday.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
BEIRUT: A suspect in custody over last week’s deadly car bombings in north Lebanon has confessed that Syrian intelligence was behind the attacks, a security source said Tuesday, and police released a sketch of a man also wanted in the case.
Sheikh Ahmad Gharib, one of two suspects being interrogated in the Aug. 23 car bombs outside the Al-Taqwa and Al-Salam mosques in Tripoli, north Lebanon, confessed that the explosions were “directly planned by Syrian intelligence,” the source said.
Gharib, after several hours of interrogation, also said he had prior knowledge of the attacks and their planning, the source added.
At least 47 people were killed and more than 500 wounded in the car bombings outside the mosques in Tripoli, a city that has been the scene of frequent violence linked to the crisis in Syria.
Gharib’s arrest Saturday was due to his appearance in a surveillance video taken near Al-Salam Mosque at the time of the blast. Police are also questioning Sheikh Abdel-Razzak Hammoud in the case....
-bth: So Syrian intelligence services are blowing up Sunni mosques in Lebanon it seems.
...Nabulsi warned that any strike against Syria could cause a regional or even an international war.
“Approaching Syria [militarily] would be like approaching a dangerous zone and a threat to regional and international security alike,” said Nabulsi.
“Any defect to the present equation will cause a war that would begin from Syria, but no one knows where it could end,” he said.
Nabulsi also received a cable from Iranian President Hasan Rouhani confirming “the Iranian Republic support to the great people of Lebanon.”
Separately, caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Masnour warned that a possible war against Syria would affect the whole region.
“In case a war is waged against Syria, this would have negative repercussions on the whole region,” Mansour told Sawt Al-Shaeb radio station.
“I do not think that such a step would serve peace and stability in the region,” he said....
Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran
... In an interview during a diplomatic trip to South Korea, Sen. John McCain—one of the administration’s fiercest critics on Syria policy—said that recent statements by Dempsey signaled to Assad that he could escalate his use of chemical weapons against his own population without significant international consequences.
“General Dempsey has to be embarrassed,” McCain said about Dempsey’s letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Democrat Elliott Engel (D–New York) on August 19, in which Dempsey said the U.S. should not intervene militarily in Syria and that even destroying Assad’s air force was not a good idea.
“It would not be militarily decisive, but it would commit us decisively to the conflict,” wrote Dempsey, the highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. “Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides ... We should evaluate the effectiveness of limited military options in this context.”
McCain said those comments, combined with Obama’s tepid responses to multiple other reported instances of chemical weapons being used in Syria by the Assad regime, convinced Assad that he could escalate his use of weapons of mass destruction.
“Dempsey made an incredible illogical statement and then a few days later we saw a massive use of chemical weapons,” McCain said. “I’m sure that Bashar al-Assad paid attention to the top military man in America’s words that we were not going to get involved.”
Obama also shares blame for giving Assad the impression he could escalate the use of chemical weapons by not responding forcefully to previous alleged chemical-weapons attacks over the past year, McCain said....
-bth: Gen. Dempsey is one of the most rational men in Washington. Over the last ten years I've watched Sen. McCain migrate from national hero to sore loser to cranky old man to meddling whackjob. He has become a liability.
"No military attack will be waged against Syria," Director-General of the parliament for International Affairs Hossein Sheikholeslam said on Monday.
"Yet, if such an inciden takes place, which is impossible, the Zionist regime will be the first victim of a military attack on Syria," he added.
Sheikholeslam stressed the Syrian army's high capabilities, and said it can heavily attack and raze the occupied territories, a place which is of vital importance to the US national security.
In relevant remarks today, a senior Iranian legislator said Washington is not ready for any new military invasion, but in case the US and its allies dare to wage war on Syria, Moscow will support Damascus.
"The US as well as the western and Arab states and certain regional countries are beating on the drums of war, but they should know that this is not to their benefit," member of the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Mohammad Esmayeeli told FNA.
He said the US is in no good condition to wage a war against Damascus, and "if starts a war with Syria, the US will not achieve its desirable and needed results."
Esmayeeli said if the US and its western and Arab allies launch an aggression against Syria, "Russia will likely stand up to these threats"....
-bth: it is miscalculations like this that lead to bigger wars.
BEIRUT: A massive military strike by the United States and its Western allies on Syria aimed at changing the balance of power in the country will likely trigger a swift intervention by Hezbollah, political analysts and sources close to the group said Tuesday.
Hezbollah’s response will likely involve the firing of rockets into Israel, igniting the dormant front in south Lebanon, they added.
However, analysts and experts predicted a limited U.S.-led military operation against sites in Syria suspected of stockpiling chemical arms or materials.
A senior source close to Hezbollah told The Daily Star the party was unlikely to retaliate in case the U.S. and its Western allies carried out a punitive operation against Lebanon’s neighbor.
But analysts warned that if the Western attack on Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians was aimed at striking the Syrian army or toppling the regime of President Bashar Assad, this would prompt a retaliation from Iran and Hezbollah against Israel.
“In the event of a qualitative [Western military] strike that aims to change the balance of power in Syria, Hezbollah will fight on various fronts,” the senior source said.
“A large-scale Western strike on Syria will plunge Lebanon virtually and immediately into the inferno of a war with Israel,” the source said, clearly referring to the possibility of Hezbollah firing rockets into Israel.
“However, if the Western attack is limited to certain targets in Syria, then, Hezbollah will not intervene,” the source added....
-bth: So if this is right, Hezbollah has a staged response from none at all to a second front on Israel depending on if the US's response to Syria is a slap on the wrist of a full out regime change.
Beirut’s perpetually traffic-clogged streets have become even more jammed in the past 10 days in the southern neighborhoods of the Lebanese capital as the Shiite militant group Hezbollah implements intensive security measures to head off retaliatory attacks spurred by anger over its role in Syria.
Hezbollah men wearing rubber surgical gloves man checkpoints at the entrances to the southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, searching all vehicles entering the area. They open hoods, inspect trunks, and pat doors to see if they sound hollow or could be packed with explosives.
“It is annoying, but what choice do we have? We are under attack,” says Mohammed Atwe, a local resident sitting in his car in a line at a checkpoint.
After a recent deadly car bomb attack in southern Beirut, Hezbollah finds itself in a position similar to that of its enemies in Israel and the West in the post-9/11 era – trying to maintain security without causing too much disruption to people’s lives.
And following deadly twin car bombings last week against two Sunni mosques in Tripoli that left at least 47 people dead, Sunni residents of that city are mulling over setting up local vigilante groups to help provide security. ...
-bth: is there any doubt that the Syrian conflict is about to spread over into Lebanon?
Monday, August 26, 2013
Warplanes and military transporters have begun arriving at Britain's Akrotiri airbase on Cyprus, less than 100 miles from the Syrian coast, in a sign of increasing preparations for a military strike against the Assad regime in Syria.
Two commercial pilots who regularly fly from Larnaca on Monday told the Guardian that they had seen C-130 transport planes from their cockpit windows as well as small formations of fighter jets on their radar screens, which they believe had flown from Europe.
Residents near the British airfield, a sovereign base since 1960, also say activity there has been much higher than normal over the past 48 hours.
If an order to attack targets in Syria is given, Cyprus is likely to be a hub of the air campaign. The arrival of warplanes suggests that advanced readiness – at the very least – has been ordered by Whitehall as David Cameron, Barack Obama and European leaders step up their rhetoric against Bashar al-Assad, whose armed forces they accuse of carrying out the chemical weapons attack last Wednesday that killed many hundreds in eastern Damascus....
... Before ordering any such action, President Obama should answer several questions. He should share those answers with the American people, before not after pulling the trigger.
First, why does this particular heinous act rise to the level of justifying a military response? More specifically, why did a similarly heinous act by the Egyptian army elicit from Washington only the mildest response? Just weeks ago, Egyptian security forces slaughtered hundreds of Egyptians whose “crime” was to protest a military coup that overthrew a legitimately elected president. Why the double standard?
Second, once U.S. military action against Syria begins, when will it end? What is the political objective? Wrapping the Assad regime on the knuckles is unlikely to persuade it to change its ways. That regime is engaged in a fight for survival. So what exactly does the United States intend to achieve and how much is President Obama willing to spend in lives and treasure to get there? War is a risky business. Is the president willing to commit U.S. forces to what could well become another protracted and costly struggle?
Third, what is the legal basis for military action? Neither Russia nor China is likely to agree to an attack on Syria, so authorization by the U.N. Security Council won’t be forthcoming. Will Obama ask Congress for the authority to act? Or will he, as so many of his recent predecessors have done, employ some dodge to circumvent the Constitution? With what justification?
Andrew Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, he received his Ph.D. in American Diplomatic History from Princeton University. Before joining the faculty of Boston University, he taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins Universit
Israeli Gas Mask Distribution Ramps Up Amid Syria Escalation, Suspected Chemical Weapons Use - The Tower
Israelis are rushing to equip themselves and their families with gas masks, amid an escalation in the Syrian crisis and the widely suspected use of chemical weapons by the Bashar al-Assad regime.
Syria has one of the world’s largest chemical-weapons arsenals, containing roughly 1,000 tons of nerve agents.
The Israel Postal Company, which provides the masks through a call-in service, has registered a fourfold rise in gas masks requests nationwide.
Sixty-two percent of Tel Aviv residents are already equipped with the masks, compared to three-quarters in Israel’s northernmost city Kiryat Shmona.
In Jerusalem the number is just 30 percent. In the capital’s Shmuel Hanavi neighborhood, a member of the Sanz Hasidic community picked up nine gas masks for his large family.
He told the Hebrew edition of Yedioth Ahronoth that while he “pray[s] to God to protect the Nation of Israel,” he believes that “to pray without taking a mask is like buying a lottery ticket without buying a ticket.”
All told, the Israel Postal Service has thus far distributed at least 4.8 million gas masks, accounting for six in ten Israelis.
Gas masks were first distributed and used widely in Israel when the Saddam Hussein fired SCUD missiles at Tel Aviv during the First Gulf War. The Iraqi dictator had deployed chemical weapons against his own country’s Kurds three years earlier. He limited his attacks on the Jewish state to conventional weapons.
-bth: 4.8 million is a lot of gas masks.
Weapons inspectors investigating an alleged chemical attack in Damascus have been shot at by snipers, a spokesman for the UN has said.
The team's lead vehicle was "deliberately shot at multiple times" as they left a government checkpoint during a visit to part of the city where hundreds of people were allegedly killed, Martin Nesirky told Sky News.
None of the inspectors, who were dressed in body armour, are believed to have been injured in the shooting, which came after two mortar bombs landed close to their hotel....
Sunday, August 25, 2013
While veterans waited longer than ever in recent years for their wartime disability compensation, the Department of Veterans Affairs gave its workers millions of dollars in bonuses for “excellent” performances that effectively encouraged them to avoid claims that needed extra work to document veterans’ injuries, a News21 investigation has found.
In 2011, a year in which the claims backlog ballooned by 155 percent, more than two-thirds of claims processors shared $5.5 million in bonuses, according to salary data from the Office of Personnel Management.
The more complex claims were often set aside by workers so they could keep their jobs, meet performance standards or, in some cases, collect extra pay, said VA claims processors and union representatives. Those claims now make up much of the VA’s widely scrutinized disability claims backlog, defined by the agency as claims pending more than 125 days....
Britain is planning to join forces with America and launch military action against Syria within days in response to the gas attack believed to have been carried out by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against his own people.
Royal Navy vessels are being readied to take part in a possible series of cruise missile strikes, alongside the United States, as military commanders finalise a list of potential targets....
Government sources said talks between the Prime Minister and international leaders, including Barack Obama, would continue, but that any military action that was agreed could begin within the next week....
-bth: what the hell are we about to get ourselves into? This is very ill considered.
...There is no estimate of the number of Indian hackers for hire. And security industry professionals said while they knew the number of attacks from India was rising, they could not pinpoint individual attacks that could be attributed to Indian hackers.
"It used to be the eastern European countries that had the skilled manpower to provide hackers for hire, but now we can see that moving to emerging economies like India and Sri Lanka where job opportunities have shrunk," said Diwakar Dayal, who leads security sales for Cisco in South Asia.
Hackers are also emboldened by the belief that they are unlikely to get into trouble with the law. While there are sections in the IT Act that govern hacking, cross-border crimes are hard to police even in the real world.
"We have the requisite laws to try and punish such cross-border cyber crimes, even if they are committed by foreign nationals. But it becomes practically difficult due to the need for information sharing and reciprocity (in case of extradition) between countries," said Dipak Parmar, founder of Cyber-IPR.
Experts said a number of steps need to be taken if the rise in this type of crime has to be stemmed.
"The government's cyber-security policy is a step in the right direction, but Internet service providers also play a role. Network security across the board has to be strengthened in the country," Cisco's Dayal said.
Continued rise in US dollar to bring Asia to a 1990s like situation: Morgan Stanley = Economic Times
... "In this cycle, like that in 1995 to 2001, as US real rates moved up along with a decline in its trade deficit, the dollar appreciated - forcing Asian currencies to weaken and Asian real rates to rise," it said.
The report further noted that within Asia, excluding Japan, those countries with current account deficit would face greater immediate pressure due to funding risks.
"These metrics indicate that India, Indonesia, Australia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore will be most exposed," Morgan Stanley said.
The upward pressures on real rates in Asia will likely remain as a trend, as this is the beginning of the cycle of a rise in the US dollar and rates.
"As real interest rates move higher, the region will have to sharpen its focus on the productivity dynamic to lift GDP growth," the report said adding that the situation now could be more challenging than the 1990s - "because demographic trends are now weaker".
The report noted that structural reforms that boost the productivity dynamic will lift the quality of growth in the region and help ensure that it can withstand the impact of higher real rates.