|Southwest Asia News Digest
Pentagon Denies Blockade Plans for Iran
Aug. 13 (EIRNS)The U.S. Department of Defense, in response to a query from EIR, today denied media reports that Naval forces were being deployed to impose a blockade on Iran. Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon press officer, wrote, in an e-mail reply, that, "As a matter of policy we do not discuss current or future ship's movements. However, I can tell you that reports of an alleged naval blockade of Iran are false." In addition to the Pentagon denial, evidence from the Navy's Status of the Fleet webpage and the intelligence website Stratfor reports that the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, one of the ships named as being on its way to the Persian Gulf, is actually in port in Norfolk, which has also been confirmed to EIR by other sources.
Beginning on Aug. 7, a series of press reports, primarily from Middle Eastern outlets, including the Israeli-intelligence linked Debkafile, claimed that the navies of the U.S., Britain, and France are preparing to impose a blockade on Iran to cripple its economy. These reports began when the Kuwait Times reported that the government of Kuwait was finalizing its emergency plans, after learning that two U.S. aircraft carrier groups (the other being the USS Ronald Reagan, according to the Jerusalem Post) were on their way to the Persian Gulf.
U.S. Puts Brakes on Israeli Plan for Iran Strike
Aug. 13 (EIRNS)The U.S. has been working to prevent an Israeli strike on Iran, according to an article by Aluf Benn in today's Ha'aretz. The article also reveals that the Israeli security establishment appears to be assessing the Georgia crisis as endangering U.S.-Russian cooperation in ending Iran's nuclear weapons program.
Benn states, "The American administration has rejected an Israeli request for military equipment and support that would improve Israel's ability to attack Iran's nuclear facilities."
This request was made while President George W. Bush was in Jerusalem last May, during meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. When they were reviewed back in Washington, they set off alarm bells and were rejected, and instead, the administration offered the Israelis better air defense systems. U.S. National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen both visited Israel in June, "to tell Israeli defense officials that Iran is still far from obtaining nuclear weapons, and that an attack on Iran would undermine American interests. Therefore, they said, the U.S. would not allow Israeli planes to overfly Iraq en route to Iran."
Benn writes that while senior Israeli officials had originally hoped that Bush would order an American strike on Iran's nuclear facilities before leaving office, as an American strike would be more successful than an Israeli one, Jerusalem fears that an Israeli strike, would give Iran international legitimacy for its program, which it currently lacks. Israel would then be portrayed as an aggressor, and would be forced to contend alone with Iran's retaliation, which would probably include thousands of missile strikes by Iranian allies Hezbollah, Hamas, and perhaps even Syria." Now Israel realizes that the U.S. is unlikely to attack, but instead, wants to use diplomatic means.
Then, at the end of July, Barak was in Washington for talks with his American counterpart, Robert Gates, and Vice President Dick Cheney. "Both conversations focussed on Iran, but the two Americans presented conflicting views: Gates vehemently opposes an attack on Iran, while Cheney is the administration's leading hawk."
Benn then writes that while Barak warned that endless deliberations about sanctions have produced little. "He also acknowledged that effective sanctions would require cooperation from Russia, China and India.... Russia, however, is considered key to efforts to isolate Iran, and Israeli officials have therefore urged their American counterparts in recent months to tone down Washington's other disputes with Moscow to focus all its efforts on obtaining Russia's backing against Iran. For instance, they suggested that Washington offer to drop its plan to station a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republica proposal Russia views as a threat, though Washington insists the system is aimed solely at Iranin exchange for Russia agreeing to stiffer sanctions against Iran. However, the administration rejected this idea."
UN's Graziani Lauds Hezbollah, Scores Israel
Aug. 16 (EIRNS)Israeli government officials are going ballistic over remarks by Italian Maj. Gen. Claudio Graziani, the commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), who accused Israel of a "permanent violation" of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Israeli war in Lebanon. Graziani, speaking at a press conference in New York Aug. 14, cited regular violations of Lebanese airspace by Israeli military jets, and Israel's continued refusal to provide maps of areas it covered with cluster bombs during the 34-day war in 2006. The UN Mine Action Coordination Center reported on Aug. 14 that it has cleared about half of all the cluster bombs that Israel dropped, but warned that the remaining ordnance continues to pose a threat to the local population.
But, what has Israeli officials most upset, is Graziani's praise of Hezbollah. According to Ha'aretz, Graziani said that cooperation with Hezbollah has been excellent, and that, apart from UN and Lebanese soldiers, and local hunters, no one is armed in the area south of the Litani River. Unnamed Israeli officials responded by accusing Graziani and the UN of intentionally concealing information about Hezbollah's activities south of the Litani River in order to avoid conflict with the group. They cited an incident back in March, which UNIFIL was forced to admit to, about an encounter between five armed men and UNIFIL soldiers, that was not reported at the time. A security source told Ha'aretz that there have been many such incidents in the past.
EU and U.S. Impose New Sanctions on Iran
Aug. 12 (EIRNS)The European Union imposed new financial sanctions against Iran on Aug. 8, including restrictions on public loans and tougher cargo inspections, that go beyond those of the United Nations. The EU called upon member-states to "exercise restraint" when granting new public loans for trade with Iran, particularly export credits, guarantees, and insurance, and "to exercise vigilance over activities taken by financial institutions with banks based in Iran." It asks member-states to inspect the cargoes of airplanes and ships travelling to and from Iran if they have reason to believe that they are carrying contraband goods. France said it would focus on Iran Air Cargo and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line. This is a prelude to discussion that the U.S. and Britain are pushing at the UN Security Council.
Today, the U.S. Treasury imposed new sanctions against five more Iranian entities it said had provided support or materials to Iran's nuclear and missile programs. This bans Americans from doing business with the firms, and freezes any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction. "Responsible financial institutions and businesses worldwide are taking steps to avoid doing business with Iranian nuclear and missile entities, as well as with the front companies and cut-outs the Iranian regime uses to disguise its activities," said Stuart Levey, the Treasury's Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
'Surgical Strike' Will Not Stop Iran Nuclear Program
Aug. 13 (EIRNS)A new study has revealed that a surgical strike at Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities is not possible. The study was done by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security; authors David Albright, Paul Brannan, and Jacqueline Shire argue that because Iran's nuclear enrichment program is based on the gas centrifuge system, it is, by its nature, decentralized, and therefore a bombing campaign is unlikely to end the program.
The report details that Iran is not just operating centrifuges, but has developed the capacity to manufacture them in widely dispersed locations.
The report argues that if attacked, Iran would be prompted to "hasten its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons," expel IAEA weapons inspectors, and withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Since the facilities are small and dispersed, they are easier to replace at secret locations.
The report concludes, that threats of military strikes might serve to pressure Iran, but if carried out, they are not likely to deliver their promise and "risk leading to a general war that could spill over throughout the region.