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Global Security Brief

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A daily, open source, around the world tour of international security-related news.
By Professor Joseph B. Varner


Global War on Terror
Taliban militants attacked an Australian patrol with automatic rifles and rocket propelled grenades in southern Afghanistan, and the ensuing battle left one of the commandos dead and four others wounded, officials said Monday. The battle occurred Sunday in Uruzgan province about 16 miles southeast of the town of Tirin Kot, said Air Marshal Angus Houston, the Chief of Australia’s Defense Forces. He said he did not have information on Taliban casualties. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd warned on Monday that Australians should brace themselves for more casualties in Afghanistan in the months head. Rudd said Australia’s 1,000 troops in Afghanistan will face a more “difficult and dangerous and bloody” campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents as the winter snow melts with spring. (Source: AP)


The attack came hours after militants firing rockets and automatic rifles attacked the Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a ceremony in Kabul on Sunday, missing their target but killing three and wounding eight others. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault that sent President Karzai and foreign Ambassadors scurrying for cover. Gunmen opened fire as a 21-gun salute echoed over the capital at an anniversary ceremony to mark the mujahedeen victory over the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The president was hustled away, surrounded by bodyguards, and left in a convoy of four black SUVs.

The gunfire apparently came from a three-story guesthouse, popular with migrant laborers, about 300 yards from the stands where Karzai was seated alongside Cabinet ministers and senior diplomats, who all escaped unharmed. A U.S. Embassy official confirmed U.S. Ambassador William Wood was also not hurt. A lawmaker who was about 30 yards from the president was killed in the attack. Residents reported that a 30-minute gun battle broke out between security forces and gunmen holed up in the guesthouse, located in a neighborhood of ruined mud brick buildings. Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak said three attackers were killed by security forces, and assault rifles and machine guns were confiscated. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujaheed said six militants were deployed to target the president, and three of those militants died in the attack. He said they were armed with guns, rockets and suicide vests although no suicide bombings were reported. (Source: AP)


In eastern Afghanistan, U.S. and Afghan army troops fought off coordinated insurgent attacks, leaving a dozen militants dead and a dozen others wounded, a U.S. military statement said Monday. As many as 40 insurgents attacked five military outposts on Sunday in Korangal Valley of volatile eastern Kunar province, using small arms fire, rockets and mortars. The joint force returned fire and called in airstrikes that left 12 militants dead and 12 others wounded, the coalition said. No U.S. or Afghan soldiers were hurt. (Source: AP)


The UN in Yemen has raised the level of security in its buildings in a bid to mitigate any terrorist attacks against it but has not closed any of its offices, a senior UN official told IRIN. (Source: Reuters)


Algerian government forces killed 14 Al Qaeda fighters and destroyed a number of rebel hideouts in mountains east of Algiers, newspapers reported on Sunday. Four rebels, including a leading member of Al Qaeda’s north Africa wing, were killed by the army last week in El Oued province, 435 miles southeast of Algiers. The military, backed by helicopters, also killed 10 rebels and destroyed several Al Qaeda hideouts in a separate operation during the same week in Boumerdes province, about 31 miles east of Algiers. Four soldiers were wounded in the Boumerdes operation, which is still going on against more rebels in surrounding mountains areas. (Source: Reuters)


The United States and Germany have signed a deal allowing the two nations to share data on suspected terrorists. The pact, which must still be approved by German lawmakers, would allow the two allies to trade information on such things suspects’ ethnic origin, religious beliefs, union membership and even their sex lives, Der Spiegel reported Sunday. The proposed bilateral agreement has drawn criticism from union leaders in Germany. (Source: UPI)


The top White House terrorism expert reportedly thinks some gains are being made in the worldwide public relations battle against Al Qaeda, as the administration and its overseas allies press efforts to show that Osama bin Laden’s network is killing Muslim civilians rather than defending its interests. Juan Carlos Zarate, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser for Combating Terrorism, said Wednesday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy: “More and more Muslim and Arab populations, [including] clerics and scholars, are questioning the value of Al Qaeda’s program.” The efforts he described are in line with plans that Michael E. Leiter, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, discussed in February before the same organization. Leiter, who is responsible for strategic communications planning in the fight against terrorism, said the goal is “to prevent the next generation of terrorists from emerging.” One approach, he said, is “to show that it is Al Qaeda, not the West, that is truly at war with Islam.” (Source: Washington Post)


As boating season approaches, Opening Day is Saturday in Seattle, the Bush administration reportedly wants to enlist the country’s 80 million recreational boaters to help reduce the chances that a small boat could be used in a terror attack. According to an April 23 intelligence assessment, “The use of a small boat as a weapon is likely to remain Al Qaeda’s weapon of choice in the maritime environment, given its ease in arming and deploying, low cost, and record of success.” While the U.S., so far, has been spared this type of strike, terrorists have used small boats to attack in other countries. To reduce the potential for such an attack in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Coast Guard, has developed a new strategy intended to increase security by enhancing safety standards. Today, officials are expected to announce the plan, which asks states to develop and enforce safety standards for recreational boaters and asks them to look for and report suspicious behavior on the water, much like a neighborhood-watch program. (Source: AP)


Iraq
American and Iraqi troops killed 38 militants in the fiercest clashes with militants in weeks in Baghdad, including 22 who attacked a military checkpoint in a Shiite militia stronghold, the U.S. military said Monday. The clashes Sunday were concentrated in Sadr City, the stronghold of the Mahdi Army, where U.S. soldiers used Abrams main battle tanks to repel the attackers. (Source: AP)


Fifty-eight people, including five children and eight women, were also injured in clashes in Sadr City since Sunday, local health officials said Monday. (Source: AP)


Attacks continued Monday morning as insurgents lobbed more rockets or mortar shells toward the Green Zone, which houses the U.S. embassy and much of the Iraqi government on the west side of the Tigris River. The U.S. Embassy on Monday confirmed the area was hit by indirect fire, the military’s term for rocket or mortar attacks, and said there were “no reports of serious injury or deaths at this time.” On Sunday, the U.S. military claimed success with operations that have effectively sealed off the southern section of Baghdad’s Sadr City, a militia stronghold that is believed to be one of the prime launching sites for the Green Zone attacks. (Source: AP)


One Iraqi soldier was killed and nine people wounded including four soldiers on Sunday, when a parked car bomb struck the Jamiaa District in western Baghdad. (Source: Reuters)


One civilian was killed and seven other people wounded, including four policemen, when a car bomb exploded near a police checkpoint on Sunday in Harthia district, in western Baghdad. (Source: Reuters)


Six bodies were found in different districts across Baghdad on Sunday. (Source: Reuters)


A roadside bomb wounded one policeman when it struck his patrol on Sunday in central Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad. (Source: Reuters)


The fighting escalated as anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, rejected terms set by the Iraqi government for lifting a crackdown against his Mahdi Army militia. On Sunday, Al-Sadr’s spokesman in the holy city of Najaf called the Shiite-led government’s terms for ceasing the crackdown against the militias “illogical.” (Source: AP)


Meanwhile, representatives from rival factions in Iraq, senior Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish politicians, said Monday that all parties agreed to renounce violence at weekend talks in Finland facilitated by former peace negotiators in Northern Ireland and South Africa.
(Source: AP)


Turkish warplanes and artillery units struck Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq who were preparing to cross the border to carry out attacks, the military said Saturday. The raids took place Friday and Saturday, according to a brief statement on the military’s Web site. The strikes were in the regions of Zap, Avasin-Basyan and Hakurk near the border, where rebels were known to have maintained bases in the past. In the statement, the military said all of its planes had returned to their bases safely after “successfully completing their duty.” There was no word on any casualties, but the military said it had taken care not to harm the local civilian population there. The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, has been fighting for self-rule in Turkey’s southeast from bases in northern Iraq. The fighting has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984. (Source: AP)


United States
An important article in the current issue of National Defense magazine has echoed warnings in the press over the past three years about the growing tactical threat of China’s diesel-electric submarines to U.S. surface warships in the Western Pacific Ocean. The article by Grace V. Jean in the April 2008 issue of National Defense notes that diesel submarines are proliferating rapidly in navies around the world. They may, indeed, be the most popular type of warship being constructed. Russia, China, Germany and France all now make excellent combat diesel submarines. Russia and France are particularly aggressive in exporting them to boost their arms sales revenues. Israel’s reported survivable second strike nuclear deterrent is carried on three German Dolphin class diesel submarines, with two more being constructed. India has reportedly followed Israel’s example and has bought French Scorpion diesel-electric subs to carry its own survivable second strike deterrent that, like Israel’s, is carried on submarine-launched cruise missiles.

Jean cited Richard Dorn of AMI International as estimating that currently there are about 377 diesel subs in service around the world operated by 39 nations. Jean also noted a trend we have tracked over the past two years in these columns of Russia’s remarkable success in selling Kilo-class subs. China was already an enthusiastic customer. Now Venezuela and Indonesia have reportedly ordered them from Russia. Jean has tallied 30 sales of Russian Kilos around the world, with five more going to Venezuela by 2020, six to Indonesia, and China having bought in all 12 of them.

Jean also noted that China is already operating 10 Song-class diesel submarines. In November 2006 a Song-class submarine, surfaced within sight of the USS Kitty Hawk. (Source: UPI)


Lockheed Martin has sent the Pentagon plans for a new series of space-based combat-support systems. The company said in a statement Wednesday it has sent the U.S. Department of Defense suggested projects for next-generation combat support space systems. The plans were sent to the Operationally Responsive Space Office at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., following the publication of three Broad Agency Announcements in March. Lockheed Martin said its new proposals offered ORS mission projects for “responsive spacecraft bus and payloads technologies; a multi-mission low earth orbit modular space vehicle; and responsive launch, range and system architecture and modeling technologies.” (Source: UPI)


Oil prices hit an all-time high near $120 a barrel Monday after a weekend refinery strike closed a pipeline system that delivers a third of Britain’s North Sea oil to refineries in the U.K. The shutdown comes amid supply outages in Nigeria that have helped to support oil against a strengthening dollar. (Source: AP)


The President of OPEC, the cartel of oil-producing countries, has given warning that the price of crude could hit $200 a barrel, sparking fears that rising fuel costs will force more businesses into bankruptcy. Chakib Khelil, the Algerian Energy Minister and President of OPEC, said that the falling value of the U.S. dollar would continue to drive up oil prices as investors sought to store their wealth in other assets. (Source: The Times-UK)


Africa
Congo troops clashed Friday with Rwandan Hutu militias with whom they were formerly allied, culminating a week of violence that has forced more than 12,000 people from their homes and prompted the U.N. refugee agency to suspend operations. (Source: AP)


The top U.S. envoy for Africa urged the international community on Sunday to take a tougher stance against Zimbabwe’s longtime leader Robert Mugabe. Jendayi Frazer’s comments came as Zimbabwe’s electoral commission said it was getting closer to releasing the results of the presidential vote one month after the election. Frazer said the most immediate priority was to halt increasing violence against opposition supporters, an apparent attempt to intimidate people ahead of a possible election runoff. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is believed to have won the Presidential election, though not with enough votes to avoid a runoff. He has accused Mugabe of engineering the long delay, and the campaign of intimidation and violence, in a bid to hold onto power.

The electoral commission will reportedly invite Mugabe and Tsvangirai, or their polling agents, to a final “verification and collation exercise” on the tallies on Monday, according to the Sunday Mail newspaper, a government mouthpiece. However, the electoral commission confirmed that the opposition would hold a majority in parliament for the first time since Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980. (Source: AP)


Authorities paid pirates a ransom of $1.2 million to win the freedom of a Spanish fishing boat and its 26-member crew seized off the Horn of Africa a week ago. Suspected pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades had seized control of the tuna-fishing boat from Spain’s Basque region last Sunday about 200 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia, a region where piracy has escalated recently. The pirates released the ship Saturday, authorities said. The crew was freed after Spanish authorities paid a $1.2 million ransom, Abdi Khalif Ahmed, chairman of the Haradhere local port authority in central Somalia, said late Saturday. (Source: AP)


Americas
U.N. peacekeeping operations are expected to cost about $7 billion for the year that ends June 30, up from the $5.6 billion spent the previous year. That contrasts with the $1,232 billion the world’s militaries spent in 2006. The U.N. has 84,000 soldiers, observers and police officers in 17 operations around the world under its direction. (Source: Worldwatch Institute)


Massive gun battles broke out between suspected drug traffickers who fired at each other while speeding down heavily populated streets of this violent border city early Saturday, killing 13 people and wounding nine. (Source: AP)


President Rene Preval on Sunday chose an international banking official to be the troubled country’s next Prime Minister. Preval has designated Ericq Pierre, a senior official with the Inter-American Development Bank, to succeed ousted Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, said Stephen Benoit, a member of Preval’s Lespwa party in the lower house of Parliament. (Source: AP)


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Sunday he will try to facilitate the release of three Americans held captive by Colombia’s largest rebel group even though he has lost contact with the guerrillas. Chavez confirmed his willingness to help a day after New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said the socialist leader had agreed to mediate a possible exchange of the U.S. defense contractors for imprisoned guerrillas. Chavez helped pave the way for the release of six captives earlier this year. But on Sunday, he reiterated previous claims that his government has lost contact with leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). (Source: AP)


Bolivia’s leftist government has established dozens of outposts in the high Andes region of Peru, which Peruvian officials fear have become centers of revolutionary training that threaten to revive Marxist-inspired insurgencies that terrorized the nation for decades.

Some are located in public buildings; others operate out of private homes. Hernan Fuentes, the governor of Peru’s Puno province, openly supports the centers, claiming they are part of an anti-poverty effort to channel aid for local humanitarian projects. Most centers feature large iconic images of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is using his nation’s windfall from surging oil prices to fund what he calls a “Bolivarian” revolution throughout Latin America. The centers are known as “ALBA houses,” named after Mr. Chavez’s Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas, a socialist trading bloc founded by Mr. Chavez as an alternative to U.S.-backed free-trade efforts. (Source: Washington Times)


Asia
North Korean military engineers are completing an underground runway beneath a mountain that can protect fighter aircraft from attack until they take off at high speed through the mouth of a tunnel. The 6,000 foot runway is a few minutes’ flying time from the tense front line where the Korean People’s Army faces soldiers from the United States and South Korea. The project was identified by an air force defector from North Korea and captured on a satellite image by Google Earth, according to reports in the South Korean press last week. It is one of three underground fighter bases among an elaborate subterranean military infrastructure built to withstand a “shock and awe” assault in the first moments of a war. (Source: The Times-UK)


A North Korean officer fled across the heavily armed border with the capitalist South, the first officer to do so in about 10 years, a South Korean military official said on Monday. (Source: AP)


South Korea President Lee Myung-Bak has instructed his Cabinet to secure overseas land near North Korea to produce grain for that country’s communist neighbor “on a long-term basis.” Enroute to the U.S. last week, Lee expressed his concerns about the impact of soaring international grain prices on South Korea, which imports more than 70 percent of its food needs from overseas markets. Global food prices skyrocketed 57 percent in March from a year ago, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. These price hikes involve such grains as rice, wheat and corn. Even meat prices have spiked due to the increased cost of livestock feed. To cope with the soaring food costs, Lee told his Cabinet to consider leasing land in the Russian Far East and Southeast Asia to grow crops, which could be used to help North Korea. Eventually, South Korea should be prepared to feed the combined 70 million people in a unified Korean nation. (Source: World Tribune)


The U.S. aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk sailed into Hong Kong on Monday on its final away-from-home port call five months after being turned away by China. (Source: AP)


An eastern Chinese province has introduced a daily reporting system to monitor the spread of a virus that has killed 19 children and spread panic among residents, Xinhua news agency reported on Monday. The enterovirus 71, or EV71, which can cause hand, foot and mouth disease, began spreading in Anhui province’s Fuyang city from early March, Xinhua said, but was only publicly reported on Sunday. (Source: AFP)


Security was tightened Sunday in Myanmar’s largest city as rumors spread that pro-democracy activists would launch protests against an upcoming referendum on a draft constitution backed by the ruling military. (Source: AP)


Australia will withdraw 200 troops from nearby East Timor because security in the restive nation has improved since rebel soldiers wounded the President. (Source: AP)


An Indian rocket blasted off and successfully launched a cluster of 10 satellites in a single mission Monday, marking a milestone for the country’s 45-year-old space program. The PSLV rocket lifted off at 9:20 am (0350 GMT) from the Sriharikota space station in southern India in clear weather, leaving behind a massive trail of orange and white smoke, on its 13th flight. (Source: AFP)


India reportedly has signed a deal with France’s Dassault to upgrade its 51 Mirage multi-role fighter planes at a cost of $1.57 billion. (Source: UPI)


Authorities in eastern India arrested at least 100 villagers and deployed a huge police force to quell a protest against a proposed deep-sea port, officials said on Monday. Villagers in Orissa state, fearing they will lose their land without adequate compensation, forced officials to suspend construction work late on Sunday in Dhamra, where India is planning to build one of its biggest ports. The proposed port on the eastern coast will handle 83 million tonnes of cargo per year. (Source: Reuters)


Separatist rebels used light aircraft to bomb an army defense line in Sri Lanka’s war-torn north early Sunday, hours after fierce clashes killed 42 combatants. Military spokesman said the Tamil Tiger plane dropped three bombs near Sri Lankan forces in the Welioya region but that no soldiers were hurt. Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan was not immediately available for comment Sunday. Troops and insurgents engaged in ferocious fighting Saturday along the front lines of Welioya killing 22 insurgents and seven soldiers. One soldier was missing.

Separate clashes along the northern Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya fronts left 13 other rebels dead. It was the first attack by the rebels’ air wing, made up of a few self-assembled light aircraft, since it helped insurgents on the ground attack a government Air Force base last October. The government lost eight planes in that assault. Nanayakkara said two rebel aircraft were spotted on the radar and ground troops fired at them with anti-aircraft guns. An air force plane also chased the Tiger bomber but it escaped. On Saturday, Sri Lankan fighter jets pounded a rebel artillery position in Welioya. (Source: AP)


Police found and defused a makeshift time bomb Monday that was set to go off at a bus station in central Sri Lanka during the crowded morning rush hour. (Source: AFP)


A member of Nauru’s government claimed victory Sunday for the ruling administration in a snap parliamentary election, but results couldn’t be confirmed with the electoral office because communications to the mid-Pacific island were down. Justice Minister Mathew Batsiua announced the results of Saturday’s poll in an e-mail, President Marcus Stephen was expected to have a larger majority in the 18-seat Parliament. (Source: AP)


Europe
Police stopped a car carrying weapons and ammunition from Kosovo toward Macedonia on Monday and arrested four Kosovo Albanians. The weapons, which were given to NATO-led peacekeepers responsible for securing Kosovo’s borders, apparently were intended for extremists in neighboring Macedonia. The cargo contained high-caliber weapons and ammunition, including rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds and anti-aircraft machine guns. (Source: AP)


Twenty-two years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, work is under way on a colossal new shelter to cover the ruins and deadly radioactive contents of the exploded Soviet-era power plant. (Source: AP)


Russia said Friday it may use military force if conflict breaks out between Georgia and its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, voicing concern about the presence of Georgian troops in the area. (Source: AP)


Middle East
A new report has warned that the U.S. faces tense relations with Egypt that could affect their security cooperation. The report by the Washington Institute said the regime of President Hosni Mubarak has dismayed the U.S by continued human and civil rights violations. Authored by former Pentagon official and senior fellow David Schenker, the report said the latest violations came in wake of a waiver by President George Bush of legislation that would freeze $100 million in U.S. military aid to Cairo. Egypt receives $1.3 billion per year in U.S. military aid. “These domestic problems have unfolded at a time when Egypt’s relations with the United States are at their nadir, a situation that undermines Washington’s already tenuous ability to encourage the kind of political and economic reforms that might help ameliorate Egypt’s internal crises.” (Source: World Tribune)


Egyptian security forces detained four people and have accused them of plotting to buy fuel for a pilotless aircraft for the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, security sources said on Saturday. Two of those detained were members of Egypt’s opposition Muslim Brotherhood. Sources said the aircraft was meant to be loaded with explosives for an attack. (Source: Reuters)


Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said Saturday that his group would accept an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire with Israel, but that “It is a tactic in conducting the struggle.” He called it “normal for any resistance” to sometimes escalate, sometimes retreat from fighting. “In 2003, there was a cease-fire and then the operations were resumed.” On Friday, an Israeli government spokesman dismissed the proposal, saying Hamas was just “biding time in order to rearm and regroup.” (Source: AP/New York Times)


Hamas militiamen in Gaza on Sunday attacked fuel trucks headed toward the Nahal Oz border crossing to pick up fuel for UNRWA, to enable food distribution, and for hospitals, forcing them to turn back. Sources in the Palestinian Petroleum Authority said: “Dozens of Hamas militiamen hurled stones and opened fire at the trucks. The trucks were on their way to receive fuel supplied by Israel. The drivers were forced to turn back. Some of them had their windshields smashed.” Eyewitnesses in Gaza City said that at least on four occasions over the past few weeks, Hamas militiamen confiscated trucks loaded with fuel on their way from Nahal Oz to the city. The fuel was taken to Hamas-controlled security installations. (Source: Jerusalem Post)


A statement issued by the E.U. on the fuel shortage in Gaza placed blame on Hamas. (Source: Jerusalem Post)


The Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank on Sunday accused the Islamist Hamas movement of preventing the delivery of fuel oil to hospitals in Gaza. Israel has said that it cannot deliver any more fuel as the tanks on the Palestinian side of the fuel terminal are full because Hamas will not allow the distribution of the one million liters of petrol and diesel stored there. (Source: AFP)


Pressure is reportedly picking up on Israel to reach a cease-fire deal with Hamas in Gaza ahead of U.S. President George W. Bush’s planned visit to Jerusalem in two weeks, Israeli defense officials said Sunday. Head of the IDF Southern Command Major-General Yoav Galant recently expressed fierce opposition to a cease-fire with Hamas, warning it would be used by the terrorist organization to rebuild its damaged infrastructure and to increase its arms smuggling under the Philadelphi Corridor from Sinai. (Source: Jerusalem Post)


Israeli security officials have said that if Hamas cannot restrain the smaller militant Palestinian groups, first and foremost Islamic Jihad, there will not be much point to any cease-fire agreement. (Source: Ha’aretz)


Palestinians in Gaza fired Kassam rockets at Israel on Sunday. One rocket exploded in the yard of a home in Sderot, causing damage. Another exploded in Kibbutz Zikim, south of Ashkelon. (Source: Ha’aretz)


Palestinian terrorists fired a Grad-type Katyusha rocket at Ashkelon on Sunday, causing serious damage to a garage in the city’s industrial zone. (Source: Jerusalem Post)


Palestinians open fire at an Israeli bus passing the village of Silwad in the Ramallah area on Sunday. No one was wounded, but the bus was damaged. (Source: Jerusalem Post)


An Israeli tank shell slammed into a tiny Gaza Strip home Monday during a skirmish with gunmen, killing a Palestinian woman and four of her children as they prepared to sit down for breakfast. (Source: AP)


A militant and an unidentified man were also killed in fighting in Beit Hanoun, a northern Gaza border town Palestinian militants frequently use to fire rockets and mortars at southern Israel. (Source: AP)


Israel’s Amos 3 communications satellite was launched into space successfully on Monday from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The satellite, designed and built by Israel Aerospace Industries, is expected to function for 18 years and will replace its predecessor, Amos 1. (Source: Ynet News)


Senior Isreali sources have charged that UNIFIL is intentionally concealing information about Hizbullah activities south of the Litani River in Lebanon to avoid conflict with the group. In the last six months there have been at least four cases in which UNIFIL soldiers identified armed Hizbullah operatives, but did nothing and did not submit full reports on the incidents to the UN Security Council. (Source: Ha’aretz)


Turkey’s prime minister flew to Damascus Saturday and said he was trying to restart direct talks between Syria and Israel, stepping up his nation’s behind-the-scenes efforts to negotiate a peace deal between the longtime enemies. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spent five hours in Syria meeting with President Bashar Assad and discussing Turkish efforts to mediate a deal. (Source: AP)


For the first time, Congress is threatening to link U.S. weapons sales to the oil production policies of the Gulf States. Leading Democrats in Congress have warned that they would block U.S. arms sales to such states as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait unless they increase crude oil production. They said the failure of Saudi Arabia to raise production has been a major factor in the soaring price of gasoline in the U.S. (Source: World Tribune)


The U.S. intelligence community has determined that North Korean work on a nuclear weapons facility in Syria was nearly ready for testing and within weeks of completion when it was destroyed by an Israel air strike in September 2007. The CIA has told Congress that Pyongyang constructed a plutonium production facility in Syria in 2007. CIA Director Michael Hayden told members of the House and Senate intelligence committees and Senate Armed Services Committee that the nuclear facility in Dir Zeir in northeastern Syria had been weeks or months away from completion before the strike. (Source: World Tribune)


Syria has the biggest missile arsenal and the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the Middle East, built up over the past two decades with arms bought from North Korea. North Korea, which detonated a nuclear device in October 2006, has become pivotal to Syria’s plans to enhance and upgrade its weapons. Syria’s liquid-fuelled 550 kilometer range, Scud-C missiles depend on “essential foreign aid and assistance, primarily from North Korean entities”, said the CIA in a report to the US Congress in 2004. Diplomats based in Pyongyang have said they now believe reports that about a dozen Syrian technicians were killed in an explosion and train crash at Ryongchon, North Korea, on April 22, 2004. North Korea blamed a technical mishap, but there were rumors of an assassination attempt on Kim, whose special train had passed through the station en route to China some hours earlier. No independently verified cause of the disaster was made known.

However, teams of military personnel wearing protective suits were seen removing debris from the section of the train in which the Syrians were travelling, according to a detailed report quoting military sources which appeared on May 7, 2004, in the Sankei Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper. The technicians were said to be from Syria’s Centre D’Etudes et de Recherche Scientifique, a body known to be engaged in military technology. Their bodies were flown home by a Syrian military cargo aircraft which was spotted on May 1, 2004 at Pyongyang. There was speculation among military attachés that the Syrians were transporting unconventional weapons, the paper said at the time. Diplomats said the Sankei Shimbun report was now believed to be accurate.

Last year, Jane’s Defence Weekly reported that dozens of Iranian engineers and Syrians were killed on July 23 attempting to load a chemical warhead containing the nerve gases VX and Sarin onto a Scud missile at a plant in Syria. The Scuds and warheads are of North Korean design and possibly manufacture. Some analysts think North Korean scientists were helping the Syrians to attach air-burst chemical warheads to the missiles. Syria possesses more than 100 Scud-C and the 700 kilometer range, Scud-D missiles which it bought from North Korea in the past 15 years. In the 1990s it added cluster warheads to the Scud-Cs that experts believe are intended for chemical weapons.

Like North Korea, Syria has an extensive chemical weapons program including sarin, VX and mustard gas. The Scud-C is strategically worrying to Israel because Syria has deployed it with one launcher for every two missiles. The normal ratio is one to 10. The conclusion that has reportedly been drawn by Israeli intelligence is that Syria’s missiles are set up for a devastating first strike. (Source: The Times-UK)


Since 2004 there have been a series of leaks designed to suggest that Syria has renewed its interest in atomic weapons, a claim denied by Damascus. In December 2006 the Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Siyasa, quoted European intelligence sources in Brussels as saying that Syria was engaged in an advanced nuclear program in its northeastern Hasakah province. It also quoted British security sources as identifying the man heading the program as Major Maher Assad, brother of the President and Commander of the Republican Guard. Early last year, foreign diplomats had noticed an increase in political and military visits between Syria and North Korea. They received reports of Syrian passengers on flights from Beijing to Pyongyang, almost the only air route into the country. They also spotted Middle Eastern businessmen using trains between North Korea and the industrial cities of northeast China.

On August 14, Rim Kyongman, the North Korean Minister of Foreign Trade, was in Syria to sign a protocol on “cooperation in trade and science and technology”. His delegation held the fifth meeting of a “joint economic committee” with its Syrian counterpart. No details were disclosed. Initially, the conclusion of diplomats was reportedly that the deal involved North Korean ballistic missiles, maintenance for the existing Syrian arsenal and engineering expertise for building silos and bunkers against air attack. Now it is known that Israeli intelligence interpreted the meeting as the last piece in a nuclear jigsaw; a conclusion that Israel shared with President George W Bush. (Source: The Times-UK)


The danger to Israel is multiplied by the triangular relationship between North Korea, Syria and Iran. Syria has served as a conduit for the transport to Iran of an estimated £50million of missile components and technology sent by sea from North Korea to the Syrian port of Tartous. They say Damascus and Tehran have set up a £125m joint venture to build missiles in Syria with North Korean and Chinese technical help. North Korean military engineers have worked on hardened silos and tunnels for the project near the cities of Hama and Aleppo. Israel also noted reports from Pyongyang that Syrian and Iranian observers were present at missile test firings by the North Korean military last summer and were given valuable experimental data. Israeli sources said last week that Iran was informed “in every detail” about the nuclear reactor and had sent technicians to the site. (Source: The Times-UK)


These factors are the reported background against which Israel took its decision to strike at the Syrian nuclear facility in September 2007. Two signals from the North Koreans in the aftermath reportedly showed that the bombs hit home. On September 10, four days after the raid, Kim sent a personal message of congratulations to Assad on the Syrian dictator’s 42nd birthday. Just days later a top Syrian official, Saeed Elias Daoud, Director of the ruling Syrian Arab Ba’ath party, boarded a Russian-made vintage jet belonging to the North Korean airline, Air Koryo, for the short flight from Beijing. Daoud brought reportedly counsel and sympathy from President Assad. (Source: The Times-UK)


Ten North Koreans helping to build a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria may have died in an Israeli air raid last September, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said on Monday, citing South Korean Party unit that exports weapons and military technology and members of the North Korean military unit which made nuclear facilities in the country. Two or three North Koreans survived the air strike. (Source: Reuters/Washington Post)


On Thursday, CIA Director Hayden told the Congressional committees in closed-door sessions that since the Israeli air strike North Korea was not believed to have renewed nuclear assistance to Syria’s Al Kibar facility. But the director said the CIA could not rule out North Korean nuclear programs in other areas of Syria. The statement, hours after the CIA briefing, said Syria did not inform the International Atomic Energy Agency of the construction of the nuclear reactor. After the Israeli strike, the White House said, the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad “moved quickly to bury evidence of its existence.” Officials said the U.S. intelligence community was persuaded of North Korea’s nuclear program by aerial photographs and a video provided by Israel. The photographs displayed the contours of a nuclear reactor complex similar to that of Yongbyon, while the video reported the presence of a North Korean scientist at Al Kibar. (Source: World Tribune)

Conservatives consolidated control of Iran’s legislature in run-off elections but opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gained strength, according to final results Saturday. The results indicate that the hard-line leader is growing increasingly vulnerable ahead of a bid for re-election next year. The Conservative majority in the 290-seat parliament is divided between supporters of Ahmadinejad and opponents who say he has mishandled a nuclear standoff with the West and concentrated too much on fiery, anti-U.S. rhetoric while neglecting the economy.

Within the conservative bloc, Ahmadinejad’s supporters added 27 seats to the 90 they won previously. His moderate opponents gained 11 on top of 42 from the first round in March, according to final results released by the Interior Ministry. Reformists, who favor greater democracy, closer ties with the West, and reducing clerical powers in Iran, made a respectable showing even after most of their candidates were barred from running. They added at least 15 seats to the 31 they won in the first round, a gain of six seats over the 40 they have in the outgoing parliament.

Independents picked up 32 seats on top of 39 they won in the first round. Results for three seats were annulled by the Interior Ministry for unspecified reasons. (Source: AP)


Iran demanded Sunday that Azerbaijan deliver a Russian shipment of nuclear equipment blocked at its border with Iran for the past three weeks. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said in his weekly briefing that his country has asked the Azerbaijani ambassador in Iran to get his government “to deliver the shipment as soon as possible.” Hosseni claimed that the blocked nuclear equipment “is in the framework of Iran-Russia cooperation” and there should be “no ban on it.” The shipment is destined for a Russian-built nuclear reactor in the southern Iranian port city of Bushehr.
Azerbaijan has said it was seeking more information about the shipment due to fears that it might violate any of the three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed on Iran over its failure to halt uranium enrichment. (Source: AP)


The U.S. navy fired warning shots at two Iranian boats in the Arabian Gulf Friday. A U.S. forces security team on a chartered transport ship used loudhailers, radios and flares to warn off two small Iranian boats acting in an “unclear” manner. But the boats ignored the warning and the Americans opened fire, unleashing several bursts of live ammunition. The incident took place in the early morning near the international boundary. (Source: Telegraph-UK)


The top U.S. military officer said Friday that the Pentagon is planning for “potential military courses of action” as one of several options against Iran, criticizing what he called the Tehran government’s “increasingly lethal and malign influence” in Iraq. Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a conflict with Iran would be “extremely stressing” but not impossible for U.S. forces, pointing to reserve capabilities in the Navy and Air Force. U.S. Army General David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who was nominated this week to head all U.S. forces in the Middle East, is reportedly preparing a briefing soon on increased Iranian involvement in Iraq. The briefing will reportedly detail, for example, the discovery in Iraq of weapons that were very recently manufactured in Iran. Mullen said: “The Iranian government pledged to halt such activities some months ago. It’s plainly obvious they have not.” He said unrest in the Iraqi city of Basra had highlighted a “level of involvement” by Iran that had not been clear previously. (Source: Washington Post)


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Joe Varner is Assistant Professor and Program Manager for Homeland Security at American Military University.

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