Commentary on the economic , geopolitical and simply fascinating things going on. Served occasionally with a side of snark.
Friday, December 13, 2013
War watch December 13 , 2013 - Drone attacks kill more civilians , this time a wedding party .... Syria foreign policy disaster on display as FSA General Idris forced to flee to Turkey and FSA warehouses raided by Al Qaeda linked forces..... US two faced policy on sanctions regarding Iran on display.....
A January drone strike killed civilians, including a science teacher, in Khawlan. The brother of the slain teacher says at the time of the strike he didn’t know anyone who took al-Qaeda seriously in his neighborhood. Since the killings, almost everyone is exchanging al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) videos.
US ‘signature strikes” often target people that even the drone operators haven’t identified, on the grounds that something they were doing looked terrorist-like. Earlier this week, that led to attacking a convoy that turned out to be for a wedding,killing at least 15 civilians.
Most of the time these incidents are considered nothing at all. The Yemeni government dubs everyone slain a “suspected terrorist” no matter how little evidence there is, and on those rare occasions they do admit to civilian deaths, they term them a “necessary evil.”
That’s not setting well with locals in Yemen’s southeast either, many of whom already feel little to no ties to the central government, and are now seeing that government’s unelected president shrug off foreign air strikes as a matter of convenience.
US Drones Kill 15 in Yemen Wedding Convoy, mistaking them for al-Qaeda
The early indications are that this was yet another “signature” attack, where US drones target totally unidentified people doing something they thing seems terrorist-like. In this case, it was driving cars in a convoy, which is bad news for weddings and funeral processions.
The Hadi government has yet to issue an official statement, but is unlikely to be too critical of the US, having openly endorsed drone strikes repeatedly.
Things are looking bad for the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), with reports over the last 48 hours revealing that the group’s warehouses are now under control of the Islamic Front, as is the office of their leader General Salim Idris, who has fled to Turkey. The Islamist gains have forced the US to freeze aid to them, and Turkey has closed the border.
All that puts the FSA in a really tough position going into the Geneva II conference, and the go-to tactic is wholesale denial, as they insist none of that really happened.
Except it all did. The Islamic Front is in control of all their warehouses, and the FSA is now claiming they’re just “protecting” the warehouses from al-Qaeda. They also claim Gen. Idris didn’t flee to Turkey.
Except Idris is in Turkey, and with the border closed he’s probably not getting back to Syria any time soon, meaning it’s really a distinction without a difference.
UN investigators have released a report saying that they believe chemical weapons were “probably used” as many as five times in Syria, saying they have evidence “consistent with the probable use” of them for those cases.
The report (pdf) follows up on preliminary reports on the Ghouta attack, which at the time was being used by the US as a pretext to invade Syria. That plan was eventually scraped in the face of overwhelming opposition.
Still, the reporting continued, and the investigators once against deliberately ducked the question of who used the chemical weapons, leaving that open to interpretation and, if the preliminary report was any indication, different nations will spin it to fit their own narratives.
The report did note that the victims in two of the five cases were Syrian military soldiers, and that in a third case, the victims were both soldiers and civilians.
Perhaps most interestingly, the two that targeted Syrian soldiers exclusively came after the US had already threatened to invade Syria, and both were reported first by the Syrian government. This suggests that a rebel faction likely was trying to grease the wheels for a US invasion.
Underscoring the incredibility bad faith in which the US is negotiating with Iran, the State Department’s head negotiator for Iran talks, Undersecretary Wendy Sherman, insisted that Congress could theoretically keep slapping new sanctions on Iran so long as they didn’t make it about their civilian nuclear program.
Sherman went on to say that “the only commitment we have made in this agreement is no new nuclear-related sanctions.” Since the “why” behind US sanctions is usually little more than an afterthought, that suggests the deal is no deal at all.
Though Sherman didn’t suggest such sanctions were planned, the comments clearly give the Senate cover to try to pump out new rounds of sanctions on whatever other flimsy pretext they can, so long as they avoid the word “nuclear.” Whatever the case, such moves are likely to seriously harm diplomacy with Iran and give a boost to hardliners in the Iranian government who have insisted the US couldn’t be trusted to keep its end of the bargain.
The Obama Administration issues daily warnings to Congress not to impose new sanctions on Iran, noting that such deals dramatically threaten the ongoing diplomacy with the nation. Today was no different.
Actually it was a little different. Though the administration made its same warning to Congress, they alsounveiled new sanctions blacklistingmore than a dozen companies that do business with Iran.
The puzzling move was followed by a declaration from Treasury undersecretary David Cohen, who yesterday denied any sanctions had been eased, and today warned the world that “Iran is still off limits.”
Technically the new sanctions don’t target Iran directly, but rather Iran’s trading partners, allowing the administration some level of deniability about adding to the sanctions against Iran. It remains to be seen if Iran will view it that way, however, and whether or not it will harm the diplomatic discussion that is ongoing.
The Associated Press revealed today that “retired” FBI agent Robert Levinson was recruited by a band of rogue CIA analysts to run a totally unauthorized spying operation. He’d been working with them for years, and had a contract since 2006 related to writing articles about his “travels.”
In 2007, Levinson went to the Iranian resort of Kish and promptly disappeared. The State Department insisted he was a private citizen there on private business, and the CIA involvement wasn’t even reported in the mediauntil today, over 6 years after his disappearance.
The report raises more intrigue about the faction fight within the CIA Levinson was caught in the middle of, and the possibility that his disappearance involves more than meets the eye.
The CIA is roughly split between analysts, who process information for the administration, and operatives who are supposed to actually gather it. Levinson was hired to work with analysts, but from the moment he arrived, he was gathering information on overseas trips.
To keep the fact a secret, Levinson was sending his intelligence to the private home of another CIA analyst, Anne Jablonski, and having her smuggle it into the office on her way to work. Likewise, while overseas operatives are cleared with the top CIA officer in the country they’re going to, Levinson’s trips were never reported at all. The whole matter sparked a significant faction fight leading to an internal investigation, which ruled the analysts were trying to illegally conduct spying operations without the upper office finding out.
On March 3, Levinson arrived in Dubai. On March 8 he flew to Iran to meet with Iranian-American fugitive Dawud Salahuddin, supposedly about Iran’s nuclear program. On March 9, he vanished.
The official assumption is that he’s a “hostage” of the Iranian government, but whether Iran even has him is not really confirmed, and if they did it is unusual that they would neither publicize the capture of a CIA spy, nor brag about how they identified him as such. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested in 2011 that the US believed he was being held “somewhere in southwest Asia,” which suggests he might’ve been taken by someone other than Iran.
If this was a movie, the immediate suspicion would be that Levinson’s operations, which admittedly ran afoul of CIA operatives, had sparked some sort of retaliatory action. The cliche narrative would be that the rival CIA faction “outted” him to be caught.
That’s not to say that really happened, but what the CIA did next certainly raises questions. With the Levinson family trying to secure his safe return, and the State Department denying everything, the CIA cut them a big check, paying them both $120,000 for the operation in Iran, plus a tax-free $2.5 million annuity on the promise that they wouldn’t sue and bring the actual facts of the case to public scrutiny.
If this was really just a case of a small group of analysts exceeding their authority, would the CIA have thrown millions at the Levinsons to keep that a secret? Three analysts were reportedly fired for their roles in the Levinson affair, and seven others received unspecified “discipline.”
Levinson, however, remains unaccounted for, and with the AP’s narrative falling back to the Iran assumption and the idea that the US could “pressure” Iran, who may or may not even have him, about the matter, leaving totally open the questions about where he is, and perhaps even more importantly, how he got there.
US Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the provisions for Israel’s security in the future Palestinian state with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in Jerusalem Friday, Dec. 13, just two days after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards chief Maj. Gen, Mohammad Ali Jafari laid bare an issue embodied in the Nov. 24 Geneva accord.which is of high relevance to Israel's security.
After a lecture captioned “Islamic Revolution against Global Arrogance,” which he delivered at the Imam Sadegh University in Tehran Wednesday, Dec. 11, a student asked the Revolutionary Guards commander whether any of the Western powers in Geneva had asked for Iran’s missiles to be reduced.
“We will never do this,” he replied.
Asked by another student to clarify his statement that Iranian missiles can reach Israel, Jafari replied: “We are still increasing the range of our missiles, but currently the Supreme Leader has commanded that we limit the range of our missiles to 2,000 km.”
The general therefore released to the public four facts already known to Israeli, Saudi and Turkish leaders,say DEBKAfile’s military sources:
1. The American and European negotiators in Geneva asked to discuss the ranges of Iranian ballistic missiles with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, without citing the types capable of delivering nuclear warheads. Zarif refused to discuss this.
2. The Western delegations persevered, stressing that the US and Europe were concerned over the accelerated co-production by Iran and North Korea of the Shehab-6, which has a range of 3,000-5,600 km, and when operational can reach America and most parts of Europe.
3. The US and European delegates gave the Iranians to understand that they would like to extend the six-month nuclear freeze agreed in Geneva (for which no starting date has yet been set) to the apply to extra range being added to Iran’s ballistic missiles.
There was no objection, they said, to Iran retaining the Shehab missiles with a range of 1,500-2,000 km, which would be capable of striking Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. They were only concerned about extending their range to cover America or Europe.
4. Jaafari’s remarks to students’ questions, which were most probably planted beforehand, lifted a corner of the veil concealing from the public the secret provisions of the deal with Iran on its missile arsenal. According to DEBKAfile’s Middle East sources, officials in authority in Ankara, Riyadh and Jerusalem knew all about it.