Saturday, November 7, 2009

Egypt’s Moments of Decision?


by Barry Rubin

The two main and contending political forces in Egypt—the government and the Muslim Brotherhood—are both facing the choice of a new leader. Will they make a clear decision or postpone their decisions?

Regarding the government, the ruling National Democratic Party is holding its annual meeting. Everyone is asking: will it endorse Gamal Mubarak, 46, son of the current 81-year-old president, as the country's next leader? While President Husni Mubarak has been building up his son, the incumbent has not crossed over into definitely indicating that this is his choice of successor.

Gamal has his supporters but he could be a disastrous choice. On the positive side, he is friendly to the West, a technocrat who might handle the economy well, and a man oriented toward internal affairs who would be unlikely to cause much international trouble or seek regional leadership.

On the negative side, he might be too Westernized and not a good enough politician to rule, nor would he probably be a strong leader in opposing Iran and the Islamist forces.

The disdain in the country's leading circles is to see—as happened in Syria—the regime become a dynastic one. The fear is that an inept or unpopular Gamal could boost the Muslim Brotherhood's prospects for taking power in future.

The next election is scheduled for 2011, assuming Husni can continue that long, and the government's candidate will win. But will the big decision be made now so that Gamal can start to settle into the role and neutralize any opposition while his father will be around to help him, or will it be postponed to the last possible moment—and perhaps too late—in which case there could be some serious internal rifts and a possibly unprepared successor would lead a divided establishment?

At any rate, the longer Husni Mubarak takes to make and implement a decision, the worse.

Then there's the Muslim Brotherhood. The 81-year-old hardline leader Muhammad Mehdi Akef has reportedly stepped down and the hardline number 2, Muhammad Habib, has stepped in, though there's confusion as to whether or not this has actually happened.

One almost never sees in the Western media either examples of the Brotherhood's bloodcurdling statemens in Arabic or of the radical proposals Brotherhood representatives make in parliament. For examples of such things see here and here. Yóu'll also be able to read more about the Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere in my forthcoming new book The Muslim Brotherhood: A Global Islamist Movement (Palgrave-Macmillan).

There are some relative moderates in the Brotherhood—and the word "relative" should be taken seriously—who are brilliant at international public relations. They have persuaded various journalists and think-tank types that they are actually moderate and really have some chance of gaining the leadership, both questionable propositions.

In this context, though, the line is that it's all the government's fault. If it only didn't repress the Brotherhood the group would become more moderate. This is questionable thinking since a stronger Brotherhood under radical leadership would both consolidate the hard line and destabilize Egypt.

Thus, we are given various hollow promises by the self-described moderates who are happy to say what they think will sell in the West. Here's how one recent article puts it:

"`The policies of repression and arrests make it very difficult" to move toward a more moderate Brotherhood because they strengthen conservatives in the group."

The claim that they want to imitate the Justice and Development Party which rules Turkey is hardly encouraging given the fact that the Turkish group is moving steadily toward Islamism. In other words, it isn't that they are more moderate but merely willing to pretend that they are so until they get into power.

Thus we are told:

"Essam el-Erian, a 55-year old doctor and Brotherhood member for almost 35 years, is widely known as a moderate voice in the organization. He has been reported to accept the principle of women and Christians running for the presidency—counter to the group's official line—to agree with greater cooperation with the West, and has been reported to say that it's time to accept Israel as a reality with a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Sure, and I had lunch with the Easter Bunny yesterday and he offered to sell me the Brooklyn Bridge. Note the key word in the above paragraph—"has been reported." Erian hasn't said it publicly or to the reporters, he just lets it be known to those who want to think that way, in the same manner that Hamas and Hizballah drop hints that they are ready to become more moderate in English to reporters and Western officials and then make 100 extremist statements in Arabic.

The above analysis is a bit too cynical. There no doubt are Brotherhood members who are fed up and would like to see their group be more flexible but they are few in number, have no influence, and will never take over. The siren song that the government should let the Brotherhood have more freedom of action would be a prelude to disaster.

This battle between government and Egypt's problems, between government and Brotherhood, and perhaps inside each of these two warring institutions is going to be a feature of the country's life for years to come. We are awaiting the stage to be set for the next step in those conflicts.

There will almost certainly be a succession in Egypt in the next few months. The question is whether there will be a succession crisis.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


When No Means No!

by Bret Stephens

Pleading with Iran will get the West nowhere.

I once overhead a guy try to make a date over the phone. His end of the conversation went roughly as follows:

"How about Friday?" (Pause.) "Not Friday? Because I'm free most of the weekend." (Pause.) "Not this weekend? What about next Saturday?" (Pause.) "Are you free at all next week?" (Long pause.) "Well, are you ever free?"

Apparently she was not, at least as far as he was concerned.

Now it's the turn of the Obama administration to play the guy who won't take a hint. And it falls to the Islamic Republic of Iran to be the girl who's hard—actually, impossible—to get.

Tehran's most recent abrupt rejection came last week, when it reportedly decided that it was not enough for the U.S. to trash four binding Security Council resolutions demanding that Iran cease enriching uranium. Nor was it enough that France and Russia were prepared, with America's blessing, to convert Iran's existing stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to a grade of 19.75%, a hair's breadth shy of the 20% needed for a crude nuclear device.

"The key issue is that Iran does not agree to export its lightly enriched uranium," an unnamed senior European official told the New York Times. "That's not a minor detail. That's the whole point of the deal."

Perhaps this is merely some tactical posturing by Iran; as of this writing, its foreign minister hasn't yet categorically ruled a deal out. Then again, it's probably worth rehashing the history of the West's nuclear negotiations with Tehran to see where things are likely to go from here.

In October 2003, the European diplomatic troika of France, Germany and Britain extracted a promise from Iran to suspend most of its nuclear work and promise "full transparency" in its dealings with the International Atomic Energy Agency. In exchange, the EU3 offered a menu of commercial and technological incentives. Then-French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin hailed the deal as "a promising start."

It soon became apparent that Iran had no intention of becoming transparent, as repeated IAEA reports made abundantly clear. As for the idea that Iran could be made to abandon its nuclear ambitions, then-Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi was unequivocal: "We won't accept any new obligations. Iran has a high technical capability and has to be recognized by the international community as a member of the nuclear club," he said. "This is an irreversible path."

So there was the first Iranian "No." In November 2004, however, Tehran made a second deal with the EU3, this time with an even sweeter package of incentives for Iran. The so-called Paris Agreement lasted a few months, until Iran again spurned the Europeans. "Definitely we can't stop our nuclear program and won't stop it," former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani said in March 2005—a second resounding "No."

Still, the wheels of diplomacy kept spinning, thanks to a Russian offer to enrich Iran's uranium for it. The Iranians "studied" the proposal and even reached what an Iranian diplomat called a "basic agreement" with Moscow. But again they turned it down, on the basis that it is "logical that every country be in charge of its own fate regarding energy and not put its future in the hands of another country." Call that the third "No."

Four months later, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Iran had successfully enriched uranium. Over the course of the next two years the Security Council approved four successive resolutions demanding that Iran cease enriching and imposing some mild sanctions. Ahmadinejad replied by insisting that all the Security Council resolutions in the world couldn't do a "damn thing" to stop Iran from developing its nuclear programs. That would be the fourth and clearest "No."

Yet even as Tehran's rejections piled up, a view developed that all would be well if only the U.S. would drop the harsh rhetoric and meet with the Iranians face-to-face. So President Obama began making one overture after another to Iran, including a videotaped message praising its "great civilization." Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei replied that Mr. Obama had "insulted the Islamic Republic of Iran from the first day."

Now American negotiators are dealing directly with their Iranian counterparts, which is just fine with Ahmadinejad. "As long as this government is in power, it will not retreat one iota on the undeniable rights of the Iranian nation," he said last week. "A few years ago, they said we had to completely stop all our nuclear activities. Now look where we are today."

It's hard to deny the truth of that statement. It's also hard to deny that for all of Iran's stalling and cheating, the regime has been crystal clear about where it means to go. It bespeaks a degree of self-respect—the kind that tends to grow stronger the more the opposite party abases itself. Here's hoping someone in the administration can explain to her colleagues that, in matters of diplomacy no less than in matters of the heart, No means nothing else but No.

Bret Stephens

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

"Delivering" the West Bank.



by Khaled Abu Toameh

Even if Israel were to freeze all construction in the West Bank settlements, this would not mean that peace would prevail in the Middle East the following day.

Those who think that Palestinians would take to the streets to express their joy over such a move are living on a different planet and have a short memory.

In the summer of 2005, when Israel destroyed all settlements in the Gaza Strip and evicted more than 8,000 Jews from their homes,  not a single Palestinian welcomed the Israeli pullout.

Neither Fatah nor Hamas saw the Israeli withdrawal as a goodwill gesture that could pave the way for making peace between Israelis and Palestinians. On the contrary, many Palestinians interpreted the withdrawal as a sign of weakness, attributing to the wave of suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israel.

Now the Palestinian Authority is saying that it won't return to the negotiating table unless Israel halts all construction in the settlements. The Palestinian Authority is trying to create the impression that had it not been for the continued construction, peace would have come to the region a long time ago.

This argument, of course, is untrue -- otherwise, peace would have prevailed after Israel destroyed the settlements in the Gaza Strip.

And was there peace between Jews and Arabs before the settlements started popping up after 1967?

The Palestinian Authority's entire approach toward the issue of settlements has been characterized by hypocrisy from the beginning.

If the issue of the settlements were so important, as the Palestinian leadership claims, why didn't Yasser Arafat and his advisors sign the Oslo Accords more than fifteen years ago without demanding that Israel first halt construction of new homes in the settlements?

And why didn't Arafat back then insist that Israel freeze all settlement construction as a precondition for talking to Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon while the bulldozers were working?

Why, also, did Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, continue the peace talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni without demanding any freeze in settlement construction? 

It is interesting that Abbas finally discovered the "threat" of the settlements only after US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton started putting pressure on Israel about the continued construction. Only after Obama and Clinton made a big issue out of the settlements did Abbas come up with his new demand:  that Israel freeze all settlement construction as a precondition for resuming the peace process.

Alarmed by the possibility that Obama and Clinton would appear to be more Palestinian than the Palestinians, Abbas joined the bandwagon by making it clear cut that he would never return to the negotiating table as long as the construction work continued in the settlements.

Abbas climbed a very high tree - one that he now finds very difficult to climb down from safely.

The settlements may be a problem, but they are in no way the major obstacle to peace. As past experience has shown, settlements can be destroyed or removed and settlers can be thrown out of their homes when and if the Israeli government deems it necessary. Various Israeli politicians have even suggested compensating the Palestinians with land from inside Israel proper in return for any land that Israel chooses to keep in the West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership has blown the issue of settlements out of proportion to deflect attention from its own problems. And the biggest problem is that Abbas knows very well that he cannot "deliver":  he has lost his credibility among many Palestinians.

Abbas cannot "deliver" not only because of lack of credibility, but also because he does not have control over half of the Palestinians living in this part of the world  -- those in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas does not want to return to the negotiating table - - not because Jews are building new homes in the West Bank, but because he knows that he will not pass any test becacuse of his weakness, lack of credibility and inability to "deliver."


Khaled Abu Toameh
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


The mullahs' big week.


by Caroline B. Glick

 At first glance, this past week seems like a week that Iran's mullahs would very much like to forget. Early Wednesday morning, IDF naval commandos boarded the merchant ship Francop and diverted it to the naval base at Ashdod. There the IDF displayed its cargo of three thousand rockets and various and other sundry ordnance useful only to terror forces. The Francop originated in Iran and was intercepted en route to Iran's Hizbullah proxy force in Lebanon via Iran's Arab toady Syria.

As Israel's political leadership noted, this shipment constitutes hard proof that Iran is actively sponsoring terrorist armies in Lebanon, and doing so in full breach of binding UN Security Council resolutions. The commando raid also exposed the depth of Syria's collusion with Iran in arming Hizbullah. After Israel's seizure of the Francop, voices claiming that Syria is but a bit player in the terror game can be laughed off the international stage.

Israel's interception of the Francop came a week after Yemeni forces seized an Iranian ship transporting armor-piercing weapons to Houthi Shiite rebels in northern Yemen. As Saudi Arabia's al Watan reported over the weekend, Iranian Revolutionary Guards are training Houthi rebels in Eritrea and sponsoring their insurgency against the Yemini regime.

Earlier in October, the Hansa India, which sailed from Iran to Germany, fell under suspicion as it made its way to Syria. It was diverted from Egypt to Malta where its cargo of bullets and industrial materials intended for weapons production was removed.

Wednesday morning, just as Israel was announcing the capture of the Francop , scores of thousands of Iranians in cities throughout the country took advantage of the regime's planned demonstrations celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the seizure of the US Embassy in Teheran to protest against the regime. These regime opponents willingly placed themselves in front of the batons, tear gas cannons and guns of Iranian regime goons to protest June's stolen presidential election and to call for the overthrow of the mullahs' regime of tyranny and its replacement with a democracy.

The protesters turned regime supporters' calls for "Death to America," and "Death to Israel," into big, deadly jokes by calling out, "Death to the Dictator," (that is, Supreme ruler Ali Khamenei), and "Death to Russia."

Far from embracing the regime's thirty-year war against the US and the nation-state based international system, representatives of the "Green Revolution," asked the US to forgive Iran for taking 52 US embassy personnel hostage in 1979.

Back in Israel, for the past two weeks some 1,400 US military forces have been deployed throughout the country for the annual Juniper Cobra missile defense exercise with the IDF. Although Juniper Cobra is a routine maneuver, this year's exercise was unprecedented in size and scope. Observers claim that there have never been so many American generals in Israel at one time.

No previous Israeli-American joint exercise has been conducted with such a high profile. And Israeli leaders did not hesitate to name the enemy in this year's exercise. This year's Juniper Cobra exercise, they said, was part of the two nations' preparations for a joint response to a potential Iranian strike against Israel. The obvious message Israel and the US hoped to transmit to Iran was that the strategic alliance between the two countries remains strong.

All in all then, on the surface, this past week seemed like a horrible week for the mullahs. But appearances can be deceiving. Unfortunately and counterintuitively, the past week has been one of the best weeks the mullahs have had for a long, long time. Certainly, it was the best week the Iranian regime has had since it falsified the results of the June 12 presidential elections.

In January 2002, the IDF commandeered the Iranian Karine-A weapons ship en route to Gaza. The Karine-A was carrying a tenth of the weapons that the Francop was carrying. But the impact the Israeli commando mission then had on Israel's political position was more than ten times greater than the political impact of this week's successful operation.

The exposure then of Iran's support for Palestinian Authority-backed terror forces caused the Bush administration to abandon its previous acceptance of Yassir Arafat as a legitimate political leader. That in turn paved the way for Israel's launch of Operation Defensive Shield three months later. In that operation Israel wrested military control over Judea and Samaria away from Palestinian militias and terror cells.

Wednesday's raid has had no discernible impact on US policy. The US did not denounce either Syria or Iran for breaching the UN Security Council resolution barring Iranian arms shipments as well as the Security Council resolution prohibiting nations from arming Hizbullah. The US did not state that in response to what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called a "smoking gun," it will reconsider its decision to send an ambassador to Damascus or its commitment to appeasing Iran through its nuclear talks in Geneva. The only thing a State Department official could bring himself to say was that the US is concerned about "Hizbullah's efforts to rearm in direct violation of various UN Security Council resolutions," and remark that the groups remains, "a significant threat to peace and security in Lebanon and the region."

Despite the government's energetic efforts to use the Francop interception as a means to convince the nations of the world to unite against Iranian-backed terror, no one seems willing to acknowledge the clear strategic implications of Iran's exports of terror weaponry. Today no one is any more willing to treat Iran as the enemy of the international system it has been for thirty years than they were before Israel exposed the Francopcargo of terror for all the world to see.

And the US-led international community's refusal to take any action against Iran in response to this latest evidence of its rogue behavior is a great victory for the mullahs. Thirty years after their first criminal challenge to the US and the free world as a whole, no one seems to care when their criminality is so graphically exposed.

With the international community making its unwillingness to confront Iran for its support of global terrorism clear, the greatest single threat to the Iranian regime today is the Iranian people. Since the likes of Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole the June 12 Presidential elections, the Iranian people have daily risked death in their desperate and courageous bid to overthrow the regime.

The Iranian opposition movement announced weeks ago that its members would be out in force at the anniversary rallies on Wednesday. And on Wednesday, the protesters begged the world for support. They called out to US President Barack Obama, "You're either with us or with them."

But Obama — in full appeasement mode — issued a statement ahead of Wednesday's "Death to America" rallies announcing, "We do not interfere in Iran's internal affairs." That is, when asked to choose between Iran's freedom riders or their oppressors, he chose the oppressors. The US is with the mullahs against the Iranian people.

No doubt Obama's statement brought contemptuous smirks to faces of the illegitimate leaders in Teheran.

As for the Juniper Cobra exercise, far from being a cause for concern for Teheran, it is a cause for celebration. As Iran's centrifuges churn on, by loudly voicing its determination to defend Israel if Israel is attacked by Iran, the US signaled that it is willing to take its chances with a nuclear-armed Iran. More than anything, Juniper Cobra demonstrated that the Obama administration has abandoned its previously stated pledge that it will not accept a nuclear-armed Iran. Rather than working with Israel to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the US is using Juniper Cobra to noisily demonstrate that it merely hopes to deter Iran from using nuclear weapons once it acquires them.

While this was perhaps the mullahs' greatest reason for rejoicing this week, three additional developments no doubt also warmed the cockles of their hearts. First, Obama's pledge not to support the anti-regime protesters was part of a larger message in which the President of the United States effectively groveled at the mullahs' feet and begged them to allow the US to enrich uranium for them.

Obama said, "I have made it clear that the United States of America wants to move beyond this past, and seeks a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. We have recognized Iran's international right to peaceful nuclear power. We have demonstrated our willingness to take confidence-building steps along with others in the international community. We have accepted a proposal by the International Atomic Energy Agency to meet Iran's request for assistance in meeting the medical needs of its people. We have made clear that if Iran lives up to the obligations that every nation has, it will have a path to a more prosperous and productive relationship with the international community."

And when Khamenei responded to Obama's obsequious bowing and scraping by saying that negotiating with the US was a "nave and perverted" enterprise, the Obama administration had nothing to say.

The White House won't even acknowledge that the Iranians have already rejected the IAEA brokered deal to have the US, France and Russia enrich uranium for them. Indeed, rather than accept that the Iranians are playing them for fools, administration officials were furious at Israel for Defense Minister Ehud Barak's announcement early last week that their proposed deal with Iran would have little impact on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

According to Channel 10, the White House demanded that Netanyahu applaud their efforts. They threatened Israel with unspecified sanctions if he failed to announce his support for their pathetic attempts at appeasement. And so he did. And about five minutes after Netanyahu applauded the Americans for their brilliant offer to enrich uranium for Iran, the Iranians rejected their offer as insufficient.

Finally, Obama has threatened that if Iran rejects his nuclear appeasement offer the US will move swiftly to enact painful sanctions against it. But with the UN the only international institution the administration believes can legitimately initiate sanctions, and with the UN currently busy discussing the Goldstone report accusing Israel of committing war crimes in its campaign against Iran's Hamas proxy in Gaza, no one can expect any movement on yet another sanctions resolution against Iran any time soon. (And as to Gaza, neither the US nor anyone else had any significant reaction to Israel's revelation Tuesday that Hamas successfully tested an Iranian missile capable of reaching Tel Aviv.)

Today we are in a waiting period. At the end of this period, either Iran will emerge as a nuclear power or Iran will see itself disarmed of nuclear power, its regime humbled, and its terror proxies deterred.

Through their actions again this week, the US and the international community as a whole have demonstrated their preferred outcome. It must be fervently hoped that like the brave Iranian people themselves, Israel will not bend to their will.


Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East Fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Better see it berore it's pulled.

Without comments…

Better see it berore it's pulled.

YouTube - Obama Admits He Is A Muslim#t=28

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How Israel Destroyed Syria's Al Kibar Nuclear Reactor Part I, II. III.

The Story of 'Operation Orchard'

by Erich Follath and Holger Stark

1st part of 7

In September 2007, Israeli fighter jets destroyed a mysterious complex in the Syrian desert. The incident could have led to war, but it was hushed up by all sides. Was it a nuclear plant and who gave the orders for the strike?

The mighty Euphrates river is the subject of the prophecies in the Bible's Book of Revelation, where it is written that the river will be the scene of the battle of Armageddon: "The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East."

Today, time seems to stand still along the river. The turquoise waters of the Euphrates flow slowly through the northern Syrian provincial city Deir el-Zor, whose name translates as "monastery in the forest." Farmers till the fields, and vendors sell camel's hair blankets, cardamom and coriander in the city's bazaars. Occasionally archaeologists visit the region to excavate the remains of ancient cities in the surrounding area, a place where many peoples have left their mark -- the Parthians and the Sassanids, the Romans and the Jews, the Ottomans and the French, who were assigned the mandate for Syria by the League of Nations and who only withdrew their troops in 1946. Deir el-Zor is the last outpost before the vast, empty desert, a lifeless place of jagged mountains and inaccessible valleys that begins not far from the town center.

But on a night two years ago, something dramatic happened in this sleepy place. It's an event that local residents discuss in whispers in teahouses along the river, when the water pipes glow and they are confident that no officials are listening -- the subject is taboo in the state-controlled media, and they know that drawing too much attention to themselves in this authoritarian state could be hazardous to their health.

Some in Deir el-Zor talk of a bright flash which lit up the night in the distant desert. Others report seeing a gigantic column of smoke over the Euphrates, like a threatening finger. Some talk of omens, while others relate conspiracy theories. The pious older guests at Jisr al-Kabir, a popular restaurant near the city's landmark suspension bridge, believe it was a sign from heaven.

All the rumors have long since muddied the waters as to what people may or may not have seen. But even the supposedly advanced Western world, with its state-of-the-art surveillance technology and interconnectedness through the mass media, has little more solid information than the people in this Syrian desert town. What happened in the night of Sept. 6, 2007 in the desert, 130 kilometers (81 miles) from the Iraqi border, 30 kilometers from Deir el-Zor, is one of the great mysteries of our times.

'This Incident Never Occurred'

At 2:55 p.m. on that day, the Damascus-based Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported that Israeli fighter jets coming from the Mediterranean had violated Syrian airspace at "about one o'clock" in the morning. "Air defense units confronted them and forced them to leave after they dropped some ammunition in deserted areas without causing any human or material damage," a Syrian military spokesman said, according to the news agency. There was no explanation whatsoever for why such a dramatic event was concealed for half a day.

At 6:46 p.m., Israeli government radio quoted a military spokesman as saying: "This incident never occurred." At 8:46 p.m., a spokesperson for the US State Department said during a daily press briefing that he had only heard "second-hand reports" which "contradict" each other.

To this day, Syria and Israel, two countries that have technically been at war since the founding of the Jewish state in 1948, have largely adhered to a bizarre policy of downplaying what was clearly an act of war. Gradually it became clear that the fighter pilots did not drop some random ammunition over empty no-man's land on that night in 2007, but had in fact deliberately targeted and destroyed a secret Syrian complex.

Was it a nuclear plant, in which scientists were on the verge of completing the bomb? Were North Korean, perhaps even Iranian experts, also working in this secret Syrian facility? When and how did the Israelis learn about the project, and why did they take such a great risk to conduct their clandestine operation? Was the destruction of the Al Kibar complex meant as a final warning to the Iranians, a trial run of sorts intended to show them what the Israelis plan to do if Tehran continues with its suspected nuclear weapons program?

In recent months, SPIEGEL has spoken with key politicians and experts about the mysterious incident in the Syrian desert, including Syrian President Bashar Assad, leading Israeli intelligence expert Ronen Bergman, International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammed ElBaradei and influential American nuclear expert David Albright. SPIEGEL has also talked with individuals involved in the operation, who have only now agreed to reveal, under conditions of anonymity, what they know.

These efforts have led to an account that, while not solving the mystery in its entirety, at least delivers many pieces of the puzzle. It also offers an assessment of an operation that changed the Middle East and generated shock waves that are still being felt today.

Part 2: Syria's Unpredictable President

Tel Aviv, late 2001. An inconspicuous block of houses located among eucalyptus trees is home to the headquarters of the legendary Israeli foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad. A memorial to agents who died in commando operations behind enemy lines stands in the small garden. There are already more than 400 names engraved on the gray marble, with room for many more. In the main building, intelligence analysts are trying to assemble a picture of the new Syrian president.

In July 2000, Bashar Assad succeeded his deceased father, former President Hafez Assad. The Israelis believed that the younger Assad, a politically inexperienced ophthalmologist who had lived in London for many years and who was only 34 when he took office, would be a weak leader. Unlike his father, an unscrupulous political realist nicknamed "The Lion" who had almost struck a deal with the Israelis over the Golan Heights in the last few months of his life, Bashar Assad was considered relatively unpredictable.

According to Israeli agents in Damascus, the younger Assad was trying to consolidate his power by espousing radical and controversial positions. He supplied massive amounts of weapons to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, for their "struggle for independence" from the "Zionist regime." He received high-ranking delegations from North Korea. The Mossad was convinced that the subject of these secret talks was a further upgrading of Syria's military capabilities. Pyongyang had already helped Damascus in the past in the development of medium-range ballistic missiles and chemical weapons like sarin and mustard gas. But when Israeli military intelligence informed their Mossad counterparts that a Syrian nuclear program was apparently under discussion, the intelligence professionals were dismissive.

Nuclear weapons for Damascus, a nuclear plant literally on Israel's doorstep? For the experts, it seemed much too implausible.

Besides, the senior Assad had rebuffed Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani "father of the atom bomb," when Khan tried to sell him centrifuges for uranium enrichment on the black market in the early 1990s. The Israelis also knew all too well how complex the road to the bomb is, after having spent a lengthy period of time in the 1960s to covertly procure uranium and then develop nuclear weapons at their secret laboratories in the town of Dimona in the Negev desert. They took extreme measures to prevent then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from following their example: On a June night in 1981, Israeli F-16s, in violation of international law, entered Iraqi airspace and destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad.

Key Phase

The Israelis took a pinprick approach to dealing with the "little" Assad. In 2003, the air force conducted multiple air strikes against positions on the Syrian border, and in October Israeli fighter jets flew a low-altitude mission over Assad's residence in Damascus. It was an arrogant show of power that even had many at the Mossad shaking their heads, wondering how Assad would respond to such humiliating treatment.

At that time, the nuclear plant on Euphrates had likely entered its first key phase. In the spring of 2004, the American National Security Agency (NSA) detected a suspiciously high number of telephone calls between Syria and North Korea, with a noticeably busy line of communication between the North Korean capital Pyongyang and a place in the northern Syrian desert called Al Kibar. The NSA dossier was sent to the Israeli military's "8200" unit, which is responsible for radio reconnaissance and has its antennas set up in the hills near Tel Aviv. Al-Kibar was "flagged," as they say in intelligence jargon.

In late 2006, Israeli military intelligence decided to ask the British for their opinion. But almost at the same time as the delegation from Tel Aviv was arriving in London, a senior Syrian government official checked into a hotel in the exclusive London neighborhood of Kensington. He was under Mossad surveillance and turned out to be incredibly careless, leaving his computer in his hotel room when he went out. Israeli agents took the opportunity to install a so-called "Trojan horse" program, which can be used to secretly steal data, onto the Syrian's laptop.

The hard drive contained construction plans, letters and hundreds of photos. The photos, which were particularly revealing, showed the Al Kibar complex at various stages in its development. At the beginning -- probably in 2002, although the material was undated -- the construction site looked like a treehouse on stilts, complete with suspicious-looking pipes leading to a pumping station at the Euphrates. Later photos show concrete piers and roofs, which apparently had only one function: to modify the building so that it would look unsuspicious from above. In the end, the whole thing looked as if a shoebox had been placed over something in an attempt to conceal it. But photos from the interior revealed that what was going on at the site was in fact probably work on fissile material.

One of the photos showed an Asian in blue tracksuit trousers, standing next to an Arab.

The Mossad quickly identified the two men as Chon Chibu and Ibrahim Othman. Chon is one of the leading members of the North Korean nuclear program, and experts believe that he is the chief engineer behind the Yongbyon plutonium reactor. Othman is the director of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission.

By now, both Israeli military intelligence and the Mossad were on high alert. After being briefed, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked: "Will the reactor be up and running soon, and is there is a need to take action?" Hard to say, the experts said. The prime minister asked for more detailed information, preferably from first hand.

Part 3: The CIA Catches a Big Fish

Istanbul , a CIA safe house for high-profile defectors, February 2007. An Iranian general had decided to switch sides. He was a big fish, of the sort rarely caught in the nets of the CIA and the Mossad.

Ali-Reza Asgari, 63, a handsome man with a moustache, was the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard in Lebanon in the 1980s and became Iran's deputy defense minister in the mid-1990s. Though well-liked under the relatively liberal then-President Mohammad Khatami, Asgari fell out of favor after the election victory of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005. Because he had branded several men close to Ahmadinejad as corrupt, there was suddenly more at stake for Asgari than his career: His life was in danger.

Sources in the intelligence community claim that Asgari's defection to the West was meticulously planned over a period of months. However Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, a former Iranian media attaché in Beirut who fled to Berlin in 2003 and who had known Asgari personally for many years, told SPIEGEL that the general contacted him twice to ask for help in his escape -- first from Iran in the second half of 2006 and later from Damascus. In Ebrahimi's version of events, Asgari succeeded in crossing the border into Turkey at night with the help of a smuggler. Ebrahimi says he only notified the CIA and turned his friend over to the Americans after Asgari had reached Istanbul.

But from that point on, the versions of the story coincide again. The Americans and Israelis soon discovered that the Tehran insider was an intelligence goldmine. For the Israelis, the most alarming part of Asgari's story was what he had to say about Iran's nuclear program. According to Asgari, Tehran was building a second, secret plant in addition to the uranium enrichment plant in Natanz, which was already known to the West. Besides, he said, Iran was apparently funding a top-secret nuclear project in Syria, launched in cooperation with the North Koreans. But Asgari claimed he did not know any further details about the plan.

After a few days, the general's handlers flew him from Istanbul, considered relatively unsafe, to the highly secure Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt. "I brought my computer along. My entire life is in there," Asgari told his friend Ebrahimi, who identified him for the Americans. Asgari contacted Ebrahimi another two times, once from Washington and then from "somewhere in Texas." The defector wanted his friend to let his wife know that he was safe and in good hands. The Iranian authorities had announced that Asgari had been "kidnapped by the Mossad and probably killed." But then nothing further was heard from Asgari. The American authorities had apparently created a new identity for their high-level Iranian source. Ali-Reza Asgari had ceased to exist.

The Need for US Support

Olmert was kept apprised of the latest developments. In March 2007, three senior experts from the political, military and intelligence communities were summoned to his residence on Gaza Street in Jerusalem, where Olmert swore them to absolute secrecy. The trio was to advise him on matters relating to the Syrian nuclear program. Olmert wanted results, knowing that he would have to gain the support of the Americans before launching an attack. At the very least, he needed the Americans' tacit consent if he planned to send aircraft into regions that were only a few dozen kilometers from military bases in Turkey, a NATO member.

In August, Major General Yaakov Amidror, the trio's spokesman, delivered a devastating report to the prime minister. While the Mossad had tended to be reserved in its assessment of Al Kibar, the three men were now more than convinced that the site posed an existential threat to Israel and that there was evidence of intense cooperation between Syria and North Korea. There also appeared to be proof of connections to Iran. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, who experts believed was the head of Iran's secret "Project 111" for outfitting Iranian missiles with nuclear warheads, had visited Damascus in 2005. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled to Syria in 2006, where he is believed to have promised the Syrians more than $1 billion (€675 million) in assistance and urged them to accelerate their efforts.

According to this version of the story, Al Kibar was to be a backup plant for the heavy-water reactor under construction near the Iranian city of Arak, designed to provide plutonium to build a bomb if Iran did not succeed in constructing a weapon using enriched uranium. "Assad apparently thought that, with his weapon, he could have a nuclear option for an Armageddon," says Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, the former director of Israeli military intelligence.

Suspicious Ships

Olmert approved a highly risky undertaking: a fact-finding mission by Israeli agents on foreign soil. On an overcast night in August 2007, says intelligence expert Ronen Bergman, Israeli elite units traveling in helicopters at low altitude crossed the border into Syria, where they unloaded their testing equipment in the desert near Deir el-Zor and took soil samples in the general vicinity of the Al Kibar plant. The group had to abort its daring mission prematurely when it was discovered by a patrol. The Israelis still lacked the definitive proof they needed. However those in Tel Aviv who favored quick action argued that the results of the samples "provided evidence of the existence of a nuclear program."

One of them was the head of the trio of experts, Yaakov Amidror. Amidror, a deeply religious man strongly influenced by his fear of a new Holocaust, also found evidence suggesting that construction on the Syrian plant was to be accelerated. He told Olmert about a ship called the Gregorio, which was coming from North Korea and which was seized in Cyprus in September 2006. It was found to have suspicious-looking pipes bound for Syria on board. And in early September 2007, the freighter Al-Ahmad, also coming from Pyongyang, arrived at the Syrian port of Tartous -- with a cargo of uranium materials, according to the Mossad's information.

At the time, no one was claiming that Al Kibar represented an immediate threat to Israel's security. Nevertheless, Olmert wanted to attack, despite the tense conditions in the region, the Iraq crisis and the conflict in the Gaza Strip. Olmert notified then-US National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and gave his own military staff the authority to bomb the Syrian plant. The countdown for Operation Orchard had begun.

Erich Follath and Holger Stark

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


How Israel Destroyed Syria's Al Kibar Nuclear Reactor. Part IV and V

The Story of 'Operation Orchard'

by Erich Follath and Holger Stark

4th part of 7

Part 4: 'Target Destroyed'

Ramat David Air Base, Sept. 5, 2007. Israel's Ramat David air base is located south of the port city of Haifa. It is also near Megiddo, which according to the Bible will be the site of Armageddon, the final battle between good and evil.

The order that the pilots in the squadron received shortly before 11 p.m. on Sept. 5, 2007 seemed purely routine: They were to be prepared for an emergency exercise. All 10 available aircraft, known affectionately by their pilots as "Raam" ("Thunder"), took off into the night sky and headed westward, out into the Mediterranean. It was a maneuver designed to deflect attention from the extraordinary mobilization that had been taking place behind the scenes.

Three of the 10 F-15's were ordered to return home, while the remaining seven continued flying east-northeast, at low altitude, toward the nearby Syrian border, where they used their precision-guided weapons to eliminate a radar station. Within an additional 18 flight minutes, they had reached the area around Deir el-Zor. By then, the Israeli pilots had the coordinates of the Al Kibar complex programmed into their on-board computers. The attack was filmed from the air, and as is always the case with these strikes, the bombs were far more destructive than necessary. For the Israelis, it made little difference whether a few guards were killed or a larger number of people.

Immediately following the brief report from the military ("target destroyed"), Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, explained the situation, and asked him to inform President Assad in Damascus that Israel would not tolerate another nuclear plant -- but that no further hostile action was planned. Israel, Olmert said, did not want to play up the incident and was still interested in making peace with Damascus. He added that if Assad chose not to draw attention to the Israeli strike, he would do the same.

In this way, a deafening silence about the mysterious event in the desert began. Nevertheless, the story did not end there, because there were many who chose to shed light on the incident -- and others who were intent on exacting revenge.

Washington , DC , late October 2007. The independent Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) is located less than a mile from the White House. It is more important than some US federal departments.

The office of its founder and president, David Albright, who holds a degree in physics and was a member of the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) group of experts in Iraq, is in suite 500 of the brick building that houses the ISIS. As relaxed as he seems to his staff, in his pleated khaki trousers and rolled up shirtsleeves, they know that it is no accident that Albright has managed to turn the ISIS into one of the leading think tanks in Washington. Albright's words carry significant weight in the world of nuclear scientists.

The ISIS spent four weeks analyzing the initial reports about the mysterious air strike in Syria, combing over satellite images covering an area of 25,000 square kilometers (9,650 square miles) before they discovered the destroyed complex of buildings in the desert.

In April 2008, Albright received an unexpected invitation from the CIA to attend a meeting. There, then-CIA Director Michael Hayden showed him images that the Israelis had obtained from the Syrian computer in London (much to the outrage of officials in Tel Aviv, incidentally, as it provided insights into Mossad sources). The photos enabled Albright, who was familiar with the dimensions and characteristics of North Korea's Yongbyon reactor, to compare the various stages at Al Kibar. "There are no longer any serious doubts that we were dealing with a nuclear reactor in Syria," the scientist concluded.

Albright believes that the CIA's strange behavior had to be understood in the context of the Iraq disaster. At the time, the administration of then-President George W. Bush, citing CIA information, constantly repeated the false claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. This time around, American intelligence wanted to prove that the threat was real.

But where did the Syrians get the uranium they needed for their heavy-water reactor, and in which secret plants was it enriched? In addition to the North Koreans, were the Iranians also involved? And what did the latest images of this "Manhattan project" in the Syrian desert actually depict -- the conversion of an existing plant or a completely new facility?

Part 5: The Sisyphus of Non-Proliferation

Vienna, the UN complex on Wagramer Straße, headquarters of the IAEA's nuclear detectives. An impressive collection of national flags hangs in the lobby, like sails waiting for a tailwind. Of the 192 UN member states, 150 are also members of the IAEA, and almost all UN members have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The problem children of the nuclear world, Israel, Pakistan and India, have not signed the treaty. All three of them possess -- or in the case of Israel, are believed to possess -- nuclear weapons.

Signatory states like Syria and Iran are entitled to support in pursuing the peaceful use of nuclear energy. They are also required to either phase out nuclear weapons and prevent their proliferation (in the case of the nuclear "haves") or refrain from developing them in the first place (in the case of the "have-nots").

The IAEA, whose job is to verify compliance with the provisions of the NPT, has 2,200 employees and an annual budget of roughly $300 million. That may sound impressive, but it is really just peanuts if the claim repeatedly made by politicians around the world is true, namely that the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of blackmailing dictators or terrorists poses the greatest danger to humanity.

During an interview with SPIEGEL in his Vienna office in May 2009, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, 67, sighed as he took stock of his life. At times, the IAEA boss says, he has felt like Sisyphus, the tragic figure in Greek mythology who is constantly pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to lose hold of it shortly before the summit. ElBaradei, the winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, has repeatedly pointed out that his organization is subject to the whims of the member states. The nuclear detectives can admittedly be deployed to use their highly sensitive testing equipment to obtain a "nuclear fingerprint" in any particular place, but they also need access to reactors. Libya has caused problems in the past, while today's recalcitrants are North Korea and Iran -- in other words, the usual suspects. And now Syria. The news about the desert nuclear plant came as a great shock to the IAEA.

"What the Israelis did was a violation of international law. If the Israelis and the Americans had information about an illegal nuclear facility, they should have notified us immediately," says ElBaradei, who only learned of the dramatic incident from media reports. "When everything was over, we were supposed to head out and search for evidence in the rubble -- a virtually impossible task."

Alarming Findings

But he had underestimated his inspectors. In June 2008, a team of IAEA experts visited the destroyed Al Kibar plant. The Syrians had given in to pressure from the weapons inspectors, but they had also done everything possible to dispose of the evidence first. They removed all the debris from the bombed facility and paved over the entire site with concrete. They told the inspectors that it had been a conventional weapons factory, and not a nuclear reactor, which they would have been required to report to the IAEA. They also insisted that foreigners had not been involved.

The IAEA experts painstakingly collected soil samples, and used special wipes to remove minute traces of material from furnishings or pipes still on the site. The samples were sent to the IAEA special laboratories in Seibersdorf, a town near Vienna, where they were subjected to ultrasensitive isotope analyses capable of determining whether samples had come into contact with suspicious uranium. And indeed, the analysis produced some very alarming findings.

In its report, the IAEA describes "a significant number of anthropogenic natural uranium particles (i.e. produced as a result of chemical processing)" which were "of a type not included in Syria's declared inventory of nuclear material." The Syrian authorities claimed that the uranium was introduced by the Israeli bombing, something that the IAEA said was of "low probability."

In its latest report, released in June 2009, the IAEA demanded, in no uncertain terms, that Damascus grant it permission for another series of inspections, this time with access to "three other locations" that may have been related to Al Kibar. "The characteristics of the complex, including the cooling water capacities, bear a strong similarity to those of a nuclear reactor, something which urgently requires clarification," says one IAEA expert. In the cautious language of UN officials, this is practically a guilty verdict.

In the Crosshairs

"Syria is not giving us the transparency we require," ElBaradei says angrily. A picture hanging in his office seems to reflect his mood. It is a print of "The Scream," by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, which depicts a deeply distraught person. ElBaradei does not believe that he is too lenient with those suspected of illegally pursuing nuclear weapons programs, as the Bush administration repeatedly claimed, particularly in relation to Iran. The IAEA, he says, will probably receive permission for a new inspection trip to Syria soon. Or at least he hopes it will.

If and when that happens, a different host will greet the UN team. The affable Brigadier General Mohammed Suleiman, an Assad confidant in charge of all manner of "sensitive security issues," was formerly in charge of presiding over the inspections. However he was assassinated in 2008. He landed in the crosshairs of his pursuers, just like Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah.

For the Israelis, Mughniyah was the epitome of terror, the most notorious terrorist mastermind in the Middle East. He was responsible for the bloody attack on American military headquarters in Beirut in the 1980s and on Jewish institutions in Argentina in the 1990s, attacks in which hundreds of innocent people died. He is regarded by some as the inventor of the suicide attack and was deeply rooted in Iranian power structures.

The Mossad had information that Mughniyah was planning to avenge the air strike on Al Kibar with an attack on an Israeli embassy -- either in the Azerbaijani capital Baku, Cairo or the Jordanian capital Amman.

Erich Follath and Holger Stark

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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