We turn off our computers and phones for two days and look what happens:
An Iranian scientist revealed on Monday (1st day Rosh Hashana) that separate explosions targeted two of Iran’s uranium enrichment sites back in August:
Iran’s most senior atomic energy official revealed on Monday that separate explosions, which he attributed to sabotage, had targeted power supplies to the country’s two main uranium enrichment facilities, including the deep underground site that American and Israeli officials say is the most invulnerable to bombing.
The official, Fereydoon Abbasi, a nuclear scientist who narrowly escaped an assassination in his car nearly two years ago, just before he was appointed to lead the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said one of the attacks occurred on Aug. 17, a day before international inspectors arrived at the underground site.
The most recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations arm that conducts the inspections, said nothing about power cutoffs. On Monday, a spokesman for the agency would not comment on whether power to the site had been disrupted.
There was no way to verify Mr. Abbasi’s assertions; he also contended that the I.A.E.A. had been infiltrated by “terrorists and saboteurs,” suggesting they were responsible for the attacks. But if they were acts of sabotage, as he claimed, they would raise the question of whether Israel, the United States or some groups within Iran had moved beyond cyberattacks to take other steps, short of a military attack, to disable Iran’s nuclear fuel plants.
Mr. Abbasi said that on Aug. 17, power lines from Qum to the Fordow site “were cut using explosives.” He also said a “power outage is a way of damaging centrifuge machines.” He said I.A.E.A. officials had requested “a snap inspection of the facility” early the next day.
He did not say what damage the attack might have done. Asked by reporters at the conference to elaborate, he was quoted by The Associated Press as saying backup batteries and diesel generators had prevented disruptions to the centrifuges, which are vulnerable to damage from abrupt changes in the power supply.
Fordow is the newest known plant in Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which Western countries suspect is a cloak for developing the capacity to make atomic bombs despite Iran’s repeated denials.
Mr. Abbasi said a similar attack had hit Natanz, an older plant where most of Iran’s enrichment has taken place. But he gave no date.
Hmm. Things that go bump in the night? I sincerely hope this story is true and that Israel had a hand (or more) in it. Let them be afraid of us.
In rather more alarming news, a Syrian general who defected from Bashar Assad’s army, reported that Damascus planned to send its chemical weapons to Hezbollah:
he regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad drew up plans to transfer chemical weapons to Hezbollah, a defected general formerly in charge of the country’s massive chemical weapon stockpile has said.
Maj.-Gen. Adnan Sillu, who defected from Assad’s regime three months ago, told the Times (of London) that Damascus also had plans in place to use the weapons in its battle against rebel forces seeking to oust Assad.
The issue of Syria’s chemical arms stockpile, considered to be the third largest in the world, has vexed Western and Israeli officials, who fear they may fall into terrorists’ hands or be deployed inside Syria.
Though the West has rebuffed calls to intervene in the 18-month conflict, which has claimed upwards of 20,000 lives, US President Barack Obama recently called the transfer of chemical weapons a “red line” which Washington would not abide.
Funny how Obama can draw some red lines but not others.
The transfer of chemical weapons to Hezbollah would be a veritable game changer in Israel’s relationship toward the terror group, which controls much of southern Lebanon and fought a war with Israel in 2006. Officials have hinted that Israel would take action before letting such a transfer take place.
Sillu told the paper that Syria had been kept from such a move for fear of consequences in the international arena, but now had nothing to lose. “If another war breaks out between Israel and Hezbollah, it will only help the Syrian Regime,” he said.
Reports of the movement or testing of chemicals weapons have multiplied as Assad’s grip on the country has become more tenuous. On Monday, the German weekly Der Speigel reported that, in August, the regime, with the help of Iranian advisers, had tested weapons that could carry chemical warheads.
How history repeats itself. We all remember how Israel was threatened to be burnt up by Saddam Hussein in the lead-up to Gulf War I, and how we all had to take shelter in sealed rooms with gas masks when Hussein launched Scuds at us, and which no one could be sure did not contain chemical weapons. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Only the name of the dictator changes.
Whether in response to all these threats, or whether as part of the IDF’s routine, the Chief of Staff, Gen. Benny Gantz has just announced a sudden military exercise involving moving troops from the center to the Golan in the north. The news is so fresh I don’t have an English link yet. Here’s a free translation from Hebrew Ynet, and I’ll update when I find an English link:
At a time of increasing threats from a nuclear Iran, the IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz this morning (Wednesday) ordered a surprise exercise to test the army’s capabilities and preparation. The exercise will comprise forces from the Northern Command, Central Command, the Air Force and other units. A large number of soldiers in the regular army and the reserves received surprise phone calls from their units early this morning ordering them to present themselves immediately for an exercise.
The exercise will simulate a sudden war scenario on the Golan Heights which will entail the need for immediate movement of large numbers of troops via the “National Asset” procedure. The exercise will continue with flying troops by helicopter from the Central Command to the Golan Heights and will end with a live fire exercise in the afternoon.
It was also reported that the exercise is part of the routine checks and surprise exercises that the IDF Ombudsman performs throughout the year. IDF sources stressed that the exercise was planned in advance and no change in preparedness should be read into the exercise.
However it should be noted that the exercise is taking place only one week after an even bigger exercise took place in the Galilee Division with a Lebanese scenario, during which very large numbers of troops were brought to the Lebanon border for several days.
Hmm… Another point raised by Henry is that the army never conducts exercises or non-routine activities on a fast day unless absolutely necessary. Today is Tzom Gedalya (the fast of Gedalya). Can one read anything into the timing?
(Update as promised: Here is an English link).
In related news, the US and 25 of its allies have launched the largest ever drill in the Persian Gulf.
Sailors from 25 nations began mock military battles in the Persian Gulf on Sunday in the largest ever naval exercise in the region, IMCMEX-12. The war games are focused on clearing mines that Tehran, or guerrilla groups, may deploy in an attempt to block traffic in the waterway. Included in the armada along with the United States are Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others.
“Planning was completed last week for the exercise that will focus on a hypothetical threat to mine the international strategic waterways of the Middle East, including the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, and the Persian Gulf,” according to a statement quoted by Bloomberg and issued by the U.S. Central Command.
The 12-day drill, which lasts until September 27, is largely meant to test whether the United States and its allies can block an offensive from Iran. The Islamic Republic has threatened more than once to block the Strait of Hormuz – the entrance to the Gulf – a waterway that is a main artery through which more than 20 percent of the world’s oil is shipped. The drill is also subtly intended to show Israel the U.S. is serious about blocking the Islamic Republic’s nuclear development activities – an issue the Obama administration has refused nail down with Israel’s Netanyahu government. The Obama White House has grown increasingly fearful that Israel will launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear installations before America’s national elections in November.
This is very good news both on the military and the diplomatic level. Let’s hope the Iranians are paying attention.
And to finish up, an item that is not strictly from the Middle East although it is certainly connected directly: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has caused another rumpus in the US and the international media by stating that the Palestinians are not interested in peace at all with Israel (my emphases):
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Tuesday referred to as “absolutely unacceptable,” comments by US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that the Palestinians are not seeking peace.
“No one stands to gain more from peace with Israel than Palestinians and no one stands to lose more in the absence of peace than Palestinians,” Erekat told Reuters. “Only those who want to maintain the Israeli occupation will claim the Palestinians are not interested in peace.”
In a video published Tuesday by US magazine Mother Jones, Romney questioned the feasibility of the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.
“I’m torn by two perspectives in this regard,” Romney said at a $50,000-per-plate fundraising dinner on May 17. “One is the one which I’ve had for some time, which is that the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.”
Romney then launched into a hypothetical scenario in which Israelis allow the Palestinians to establish a state in the West Bank but are then forced to contend with unsolvable security and border issues.
It is “maybe seven miles from Tel Aviv to what would be the West Bank,” he said, repeating an oft-cited Israeli security concern alleging that an opposing Arab army in the West Bank could cut Israel in half horizontally in a matter of minutes. “And now how about the airport?” he asked.
Romney said that the Palestinians would demand full control over its own borders, and suggested they could open access to military armaments. “And of course the Iranians would want to do through the West Bank exactly what they did through Lebanon, what they did near Gaza. Which is that the Iranians would want to bring missiles and armament into the West Bank and potentially threaten Israel.”
Concluding that the Palestinians remain “committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel,” the US presidential candidate endorsed a strategy of maintaining the status quo. “You move things along the best way you can,” he said. “You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney rejected Romney’s comments on the peace process on Tuesday, saying, “It is simply the wrong approach to say we can’t do anything about it so we’ll just kick it down the field; that’s not leadership.”
Carney added that peace is in the best interests of Israelis and Palestinians, and that US President Barack Obama “will continue to pursue it.”
I can’t see anything wrong with what Romney said. He was stating the simple truth and it’s about time that someone actually came out and said it. All this talk about “pursuing peace”, “searching for peace” will not bring peace any closer. Peace doesn’t need to be pursued or searched for. It is there for the taking if both sides show willing. The Palestinians have rejected offer after offer from the Israelis, continue their incitement against Israelis and Jews in their media and educational system – what chance is there of peace in that environment?
Now that Romney has courageously stated the truth and declared the Emperor has no clothes, maybe the Palestinians will come to their senses at last. That’s certainly a fervent wish for the New Year.