Saturday, May 30, 2009

LA TIMES: Shadow War in Azerbaijan?

Azerbaijan Seen as New Front
in Middle East Conflict

Officials say they foiled a plot by Hezbollah and Iran to bomb the Israeli Embassy in revenge for the 2008 slaying of Imad Mughniyah. Anti-terrorism officials fear a new militant hub.
By Sebastian Rotella
May 30, 2009
Reporting from Paris -- It happened in Baku, transforming the capital of Azerbaijan into a battleground in a global shadow war.

Police intercepted a fleeing car and captured two suspected Hezbollah militants from Lebanon. The car contained explosives, binoculars, cameras, pistols with silencers and reconnaissance photos. Raiding alleged safe houses, police foiled what authorities say was a plot to blow up the Israeli Embassy in Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic that borders Iran.

Western anti-terrorism officials say the arrests a year ago thwarted swift retaliation by Hezbollah and Iran for the slaying of Imad Mughniyah, the legendary warlord of the Shiite Muslim militia based in Lebanon whose death was widely blamed on Israel.

The prosecution remained largely a secret until this week, when closed court proceedings began for two Lebanese and four Azeris charged with terrorism, espionage and other crimes.

The case offers an inside look at one of the stealthy duels being fought by Israel on one side and Hezbollah and Iran on the other in remote locales, from Latin America to Central Asia.

"They had reached the stage where they had a network in place to do an operation," said an Israeli security official, who requested anonymity for safety reasons. "We are seeing it all over the world. They are working very hard at it."

Hezbollah steadfastly denies that it conducts armed activity outside Lebanon, the base for its military, political and social service wings. Iran rejects allegations that it sponsors terrorism. Both, however, have sworn to avenge the death in February 2008 of Mughniyah, one of the world's most-wanted terrorist suspects and the longtime nexus between Tehran and Beirut.

His assassination by car bomb in Damascus, Syria, which Hezbollah blamed on Israel, spurred into action a secret apparatus teaming Iranian intelligence with Hezbollah's external operations unit, say European, Israeli and U.S. officials.

That alleged alliance is accused in the bombings in Argentina of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and a Jewish community center in 1994, attacks that left 114 people dead. Both were allegedly the work of Hezbollah suicide bombers directed by Iranian spies in response to Israel's assassination of Hezbollah leaders.

"In Buenos Aires in 1992, the attack came a month after an assassination in Lebanon," said Magnus Ranstorp, a top expert on Hezbollah at the Swedish National Defense College. "They strike where they have infrastructure, a network, a target in place."

The choice of Baku last year reflects Iran's influence, said Matthew Levitt, a former intelligence chief at the U.S. Treasury Department. He described the alleged plot as "in the advanced stages."

"The Iranians have a history of a presence there," said Levitt, who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "And they wouldn't mind undermining the country, given Azerbaijan's Western leanings." ... (more)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sorting Out The Narratives in the Middle East

A Flipcam interview with students brought together in Jordan by the British Council to discuss issues in the Middle East and attend the World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Video: Hannity report on "Securing the City"

Fox News Video, Hannity: "Lives on the Line," 22 May 2009
A straight report on NYPD counterterror operations that draws heavily on "Securing the City" and a long interview with Dickey at the site of the failed 1997 suicide bomb plot in Brooklyn. The report was finished before the recent arrest of "Bronx bombers," but there are some relevant sidelights on that case, especially about the Intelligence Division's efforts to penetrate "groups of guys."

NYT on the Newburgh Informer

We already know the plotters were basically morons -- a common affliction among wannabe terrorists. What is striking here is the clumsiness of the "cooperating witness," and the evident willingness of the Feds to burn this guy in order to make their case. There is a notable contrast with what we know so far about the undercover officers and informants who work for the Intelligence Division of the NYPD. The Herald Square plotters in 2004 simply could not believe their eyes when the cop to whom they'd confided all their anger and ambitions was produced in court, still undercover, as the last prosecution witness in their trial. - CD

May 23, 2009

Informer’s Role in Bombing Plot

Everyone called the stranger with all the money “Maqsood.” He would sit in his Mercedes, waiting in the parking lot of the mosque in Newburgh, N.Y., until the Friday prayer was over. Then, according to members of the mosque, the Masjid al-Ikhlas, he approached the young men.

He asked Shakir Rashada, 34, if he wanted to come over for lunch. He offered Shafeeq Abdulwali, 39, a job, perhaps at his construction company. Jamil Muhammed, 38, said he was offered cellphones and computers.

The man, a Pakistani, occasionally approached the assistant imam of the mosque, proposing meetings, or overpaying for a sandwich he would buy at a mosque fund-raiser. In time, many of the mosque’s older members had made the man for a government informant, according to mosque leaders. They said that he seemed to focus most of his attention on younger black members and visitors.

“It’s easy to influence someone with the dollar,” said Mr. Muhammed, a longtime member of the mosque. “Especially these guys coming out of prison.”

The members of the mosque now believe that Maqsood was the government informant at the center of the case involving four men from Newburgh arrested and charged this week with having plotted to explode bombs at Jewish centers in New York City. The government has said that the four men, several of whom visited the mosque in Newburgh and all of whom spent time in prison, were eager to kill Jews, and prosecutors charged that they had actually gone so far as to plant what they believed to be bombs on the streets of New York, an act the F.B.I. captured on videotape....(more)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Putting the Bronx Bombers in Context

18-Wheel Surprise

Why the NYPD heavily publicizes foiled terror plots.

When the 18-wheel police truck pulled across the street in front of them and cops from the New York City Police Department's Emergency Service Unit wearing full battle gear started smashing in the smoked-glass windows of their SUV on Wednesday night, the four men who allegedly conspired to bomb Bronx, N.Y., synagogues must have known they'd been had. Perhaps the most intriguing question in this latest homegrown terrorist plot to be busted up by the Federal Bureau of Investigation is how these characters could have been so stupid to begin with. The record of Al Qaeda is fearsome, of course. But the record of Al Qaeda wannabes in the United States has followed the same pattern repeatedly, whether they plotted to blow up New York City's Herald Square subway station in 2004, or shoot troops at New Jersey's Fort Dix or incinerate John F. Kennedy Airport, both in 2007.

These clumsy conspirators have seen their plots penetrated early on by undercover police or government informants. As the plotters fulminate against the United States and dream of reaching Paradise through martyrdom, the informants are there, it would seem, to help them on their way.... (more)

This is from Newsweek Online, written a couple of hours after the news about the Newburgh conspirators broke. They fit into a pattern covered in considerable detail in Securing the City. A reader may find pages 224 to 240 especially relevant.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Zbig Talks to Iran about Iran Talking to America

An interesting interview on Iran's English-language satellite station, PressTV:

By Susan Modaress, Press TV

The following is a Press TV interview with Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Polish-American statesman and former national security advisor under President Jimmy Carter.

Press TV: Dr. Zbigniew, thank you for joining us today on this special edition of Face to Face.

Brzezinski: It's nice to be with you. It is nice to have the opportunity to talk to Iranian viewers.

Press TV: And our international viewers abroad as well?

Brzezinski: Of course, but the former are more important.


Press TV: What do make of President Obama's comments acknowledging Iran as the Islamic Republic after thirty years?

Brzezinski: I totally endorsed him. You know, I met with [head of Iran's interim government Mehdi] Bazargan and [leader of the Iran Freedom Movement Ebrahim] Yazdi after the [1979 Islamic] revolution.

And without going into enormous amount of historical detail, I am positive, without pointing accusatory fingers, there was even then a chance for some normalization. I am glad it may be now beginning to become reality. But normalization takes two, it can not be undertaken by one side alone.

I think President Obama made a historic effort. I think it was intellectually brave, politically courageous, and potentially and historically constructive. I think it is therefore very important to go forward. But it can only go forward if there is reciprocity.

Press TV: Iranian officials have asked for action, saying that actions speak louder than words. Do you think that these comments are basically enough on the part of the United States in reaching out to Iran?

Brzezinski: A relationship has to be built on mutual accommodation. A relationship between serious powers is not built on begging or pleading. If there is a genuine interest in mutual accommodation, actions as well as words, have to be reciprocal. Words are usually the beginning of a diplomatic dialogue. I think President Obama made a really historically significant gesture, and it can leads to things.

But, we sit down and start pointing fingers at each other, but and if we start to say: you have to take the first action ... No, you have to take the first action, it is not going to be very productive.

Press TV: I do not think that either side is at that point right now. I think that acknowledging that Iran is the Islamic Republic was a positive gesture definitely. But, then there are analysts who say what America needs to do, is stop setting pre-conditions for negotiations with Iran. You cannot set preconditions for pre-negotiations and negotiations.

Do you think that on that front perhaps the United States stop its "carrot and stick" policy, as some analysts like to put it?

Brzezinski: Well, you confused the two. Preconditions is one aspect of the American policy, and the "carrot and stick" is a generalized description of some aspects of it. It so happens that in my testimony before Congress, in my writings, I have said that if there are to be negotiations, they can not be based on unilateral preconditions. The United States should not insist on unilateral preconditions. Or alternatively there can be reciprocal preconditions; one side does this, the other side does that-more or less simultaneously.

But that kind of process can only get on the way if there is a willingness, seriously to sit down, to in effect signal a willingness to discuss seriously, and not start by making demands that one side only has to undertake actions and the other side can simply sit back and wait on whether it approves of these actions.

That is a formula for a stalemate. So I am hopeful that mature leadership in both countries, sense of responsibility for the region in the future, and awareness of the fact that both countries play important roles in the world, will accumulate to create condition under which we sit down in the wake of the intuitive undertaken and talk with each other as people are prepared seriously to negotiate.

Press TV: And for the United States at this point in time, what is that concrete action? What is the bottom line for the United States to see for negotiations to resume?

Brzezinski: Willingness to negotiate. That is all.

Press TV: Will the United States change its policies, change its actions and not just its words?

Brzezinski: Well you know, I could ask you the same question, except that you are interviewing me and I am not interviewing you.

Press TV: I could give the answer that Iranian officials are saying ...

Brzezinski:"If you were someone who was involved with Iranian government I could ask you: what actions are you prepared to take?

I am not authorized to negotiate. I am not negotiating. I speak for myself. But as someone who knows something about international affairs, I can say that you are not going to get negotiations going if one side insists that the other side undertake actions, that the side insisting then approves and then after that there are negotiations. Negotiations begin by serious discussions.

I think, what Mr. Obama did is to initiate the process in a constructive way, from the American side. It is a decision for Iran to make on its own, from the standpoint of its own sense of history and interests, whether it wants relations with the United States or whether it does not.

I hope that it does, because I think that it would be good for the world. I think it would be good for the United States. I think it would be good for Iran. But that is a judgment that each side has to make on its own.

Press TV: And on the part of Iranian officials, what I have been hearing - of course I do not have a government post - but what they say is that they are open to dialogue, if and when they see a change of policy and if and when the situation is right, hopefully the situation is right and to the benefit of both sides.

Brzezinski: I do not think that you are getting the point that I am making. If the Iranian position is that negotiations will only take place when they see evident changes in American policy, then I think they are failing to see something important that has already taken place; namely an overture that is constructive in spirit and in historic significance.

And the proper response to that is not to say that we are going to wait and see that you prove by some actions, that we either desire or specify or will then judge. That is not the way to begin serious negotiations.

Press TV: So what you are saying is that the United States' change of tone has been a step forward.

Brzezinski: Well, in diplomacy and in international affairs, tones are very important. Abusing, accusing, insulting, are sometimes also negotiating methods. The intent then if it is conducted by intelligent people, who know what they are saying, is obviously to prevent negotiations.

You can operate that way either if you are very stupid, or if very, very Machiavellian. But if you do not want negotiations to succeed, you can start them by insulting, abusing, accusing.

Press TV: Let us talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You were an extremely influential figure during the Camp David negotiations. Do you think that a two-state solution is possible at this point in time?

Brzezinski: I think it is not only possible, but it is necessary. It seems to me that if there is not such a solution in the not too distant future, the opportunity for that solution may pass.

There is settlement activity, which makes a real accommodation difficult. There are incidents, events, tragic situations, like what happened in Gaza, which poisoned the atmosphere.

There is a tendency, in different degrees perhaps and not yet irrevocable, but there is a tendency on both sides towards more extremist views.

So I think, time is of the essence. But I do think that still, it is possible to have a settlement in part because, according to public opinion polls, both within Israel itself and within Palestine, the majorities are still for settlement. And very interestingly, public opinion polls show that the majority of American Jews, who are as Americans interested in American policy and try to influence it, the majority, 60%, favor a two-state solution.

Press TV: What about the coming to power of a figure like Benjamin Netanyahu. Do you think that this will affect negotiations between the two sides? ... (more)