Milestones Snippets 12-16th March 2014

 

IS-UK:140312:(16-03-14):Full Transcript: UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s Speech at Israel’s Knesset, 2014

The Algemeiner 12-Mar-14

Well worth reading. http://www.algemeiner.com/2014/03/12/full-transcript-uk-prime-minister-david-camerons-speech-at-israels-knesset-2014/

RUK-RU-EU:140312:(16-03-14):Russia and the EU Exchange Threats Over Ukraine

Stratfor 12-Mar-14

 

Over the past few days, threats have flown back and forth across Eurasia as a result of the ongoing Ukraine crisis. Russia is committed to its long-term goal of ensuring a neutral Ukraine, which it considers part of its sphere of influence, as a buffer with the European Union. While Moscow is willing to accept Ukrainian neutrality, EU and NATO integration is a red line for the Kremlin. Russia has threatened to use powerful economic, political and military levers to pressure the fledgling government in Kiev and its European supporters. In the meantime, the Europeans have repeatedly warned of impending sanctions should Russia keep its troops in Crimea and refuse to negotiate with the interim government in Kiev.

The Kremlin has warned of plans to award Russian citizenship to native Russian speakers across the former Soviet periphery, to cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine, to annex Crimea and to discontinue U.S. inspections of strategic nuclear missile facilities. Russia is using these threats to highlight its ability and willingness to disrupt Europe’s basic economic and defense structures.

In response, the European Union has also been publicly building up its leverage vis-a-vis Russia. On Monday, Brussels put its decision regarding the OPAL pipeline and its negotiations with regards to South Stream on hold, reminding Russia of its financial reliance on European customers and distribution networks. Today, the European Commission announced plans, subject to members’ approval, to cut tariffs on Ukrainian goods temporarily in an attempt to show its ability to provide Ukraine strong economic incentives for Western integration. European leaders have repeatedly said that sanctions and asset freezes for Russian officials are forthcoming if Russia doesn’t engage in negotiations more meaningfully.

Both sides have refrained from acting on the most significant of their threats, each waiting to see what step the other will take over the coming days. The threats are meant to display each side’s respective leverage. Actually following through with them is another matter.

For Russia, the costs of acting on its threats are enormous. Though Russia already has a strongly protectionist economy, new trade restrictions on Ukraine would still harm Russian industry, especially in regions bordering Ukraine, where Russia’s already-struggling regional economies are closely linked to Ukraine’s industrial east. Cutting natural gas exports to Ukraine would reduce Gazprom’s revenues, while pulling out of the New START treaty or the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty could potentially draw Russia into an expensive arms race that would drain the country’s limited resources. Moreover, annexing Crimea sets a dangerous precedent for Russia itself. If Ukraine can be divided, than separatist regions within the Russian Federation, such as Chechnya and Tatarstan, which are primarily populated with non-ethnic Russians, may conclude that Russia itself is divisible. This is also a concern for countries such as Kazakhstan that are currently in Russia’s camp but are wary of a potential repeat of Crimean secessionism in their own territories. Ultimately, annexation could also lessen Russia’s influence over Ukraine’s political future, since the largely pro-Russian Crimeans would no longer be able to vote in Ukrainian national elections, at least in theory.

While Russia does not want its economy, national security and international influence to suffer as a result of its Ukrainian intervention, it would be willing to carry out its threats if these remain the only means for guaranteeing Ukraine’s neutrality. Russia previously has shown its willingness to weather the fallout from similar threats involving energy cuts and military action in a neighboring country.

For its part, the European Union would also face difficult repercussions if it chose to follow through on its threats of more significant sanctions and stalled energy negotiations. Europe’s dependence on Russian energy, coupled with close financial links between the business hubs of Western Europe and Moscow, translate into steep costs for any disturbance to Russia’s commercial ties with Europe. For now, EU willingness to follow through on its promises and threats regarding Ukraine depends on Russian maneuvers. European leaders, who are divided because of the diverse set of constraints facing each member country, are watching the Kremlin’s moves closely.

Russia and the European Union have demonstrated that they each have sufficient leverage to cause the other side significant grief, but both sides have left themselves space to back down. As Crimea prepares for its March 16 referendum and the interim government in Kiev hopes to sign the political aspects of its association agreement with the European Union the following week, Moscow and Brussels are stalling on definitive actions. Neither side wants to bear the costs of all the threats it has made, but both are keeping their fingers on the trigger.

 

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RUK-RU:140312:(16-03-14):Russia: Rights Of Crimean Tatars To Be Reinstated In Event Of Annexation

Stratfor 12-Mar-14

 

The Russian State Duma said March 12 that it would guarantee the restoration of rights for Crimean Tatars if Crimea votes for reunification with Russia, Interfax reported. The Turkish government on March 11 expressed concern for the fate of the Tatars, a Turkic ethnic group, living in Crimea.

 

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RUK-RU:140312:(16-03-14):Ukraine: Crimea To Take Over State Firms On Peninsula

Stratfor 12-Mar-14

 

Crimean First Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliev said March 12 that Crimea would begin taking over Ukrainian state companies on the peninsula, Reuters reported. The Chornomornaftogaz energy company and the state railway company will be taken over along with multiple resorts owned by ministries in Kiev, Temirgaliev said. Owners of private companies should register their property under Russian law, he added.

 

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MEPT-IS-MPA:140312:(16-03-14):At the Heart of the Jewish State Issue

Daily Alert summary from – Jonathan S. Tobin (Commentary) 12-Mar-14 (Full story http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2014/03/06/at-the-heart-of-the-jewish-state-issue-palestinians-zionism-refugees/

 

    Let’s first dismiss the claim that the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is an innovation on Netanyahu’s part whose purpose is to derail the peace process. There’s nothing new about it. The original 1947 UN partition resolution stated that the land was to be divided between an Arab state and one it designated as a “Jewish state.” If the Palestinians are now reversing their adamant rejection of partition by saying they will be satisfied by an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, there should be no problem accepting this term.

But the Palestinians can’t say the words “Jewish state” because to do so would force them to give up their historical narrative. The key principle of Palestinian nationalism is rejection of Zionism and the existence of Israel no matter where its borders are drawn. If Palestinians agree that a Jewish state has a right to exist, that means they are forever giving up their dreams of extinguishing it.

Palestinians claim that agreeing to Israel being a Jewish state would compromise the rights of Israel’s Arab minority. Yet they know very well that Israel’s basic laws hold that it is both a Jewish state and one in which ethnic and religious minorities have full rights. Israeli Arabs are equal before the law in Israel, and serve in its Knesset, government, and judiciary.

While some are mindlessly blaming Netanyahu for fighting a two-state solution he has already accepted, the Palestinians persist in laying down terms for peace that are unrealistic. Two little words would be enough to convince the world that the Palestinians are sincere about peace. The more the Palestinians explain why they cannot say them, the more obvious it becomes that peace is not their objective.

 

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MIN-MEO:140313:(16-03-14):Iran: Natural Gas Export Deal Signed With Oman

Stratfor 13-Mar-14

 

Iran signed a deal with Oman whereby it will supply 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas through an as-yet-unconstructed pipeline, Press TV reported March 13. The project should be online within three years, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh said. The infrastructure will be funded by Oman at an estimated cost of $1 billion, Namdar-Zanganeh said, adding that some of the natural gas could be sold to nearby countries through a joint marketing company. Oman has a special relationship with Iran and has served as a conduit between the Americans and the Iranians.

 

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MIN-RU:140313:(16-03-14):Russia: Iranian Oil Minister In Moscow To Discuss Economic Cooperation

Stratfor 13-Mar-14

 

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh arrived in Moscow late March 13 to meet with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, IRNA reported. Namdar-Zanganeh will discuss ways to deepen economic cooperation between the countries. This is the third meeting between Iran and Russia in recent weeks.

 

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RUK-RU-CR:140307:(16-03-14):The Black Madonna and the Russian Problem

Asharq Al-Awsat 07-Mar-14 [An Arabic newspaper based in London]

 

(Mr. Taheri is an Iranian columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic newspaper based in London, which bills itself as “the leading Arabic international paper” and “the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper.” The web site says: “Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.” Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for many publications, has published 11 books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.)

Last month, when Vladimir Putin ordered that the Black Madonna of Kazan, the holiest icon of the Russian Orthodox Church, be flown over the Black Sea, many believed he wished to secure blessings for the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

It was the first time the icon, or rather a copy of it, since the original was stolen and possibly destroyed in 1904, was deployed to bless a peaceful enterprise. Over the centuries, the “Black Virgin” has been taken to battlefields to bless Russian armies fighting Swedish, Polish, Turkish, Persian, French and German invaders. Stalin sent it to Stalingrad in 1943 to ensure victory over the German invaders under Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus.

With Putin’s troops in control of Crimea and threatening to move further into Ukraine, we now know that the icon was brought in to bless a military operation this time as well.

Putin appears strong because US President Barack Obama, accidentally cast as the leader of Western democracies, is weak. Putin is over-using the power Russia really doesn’t have because Obama under-uses the power the US does have. As long as Obama prevents the US from playing the leadership role it has had since the end of World War II, Putin will see no reason why he should not pursue his dream of reviving the Soviet Empire wherever possible. In doing so he is acting within a tradition established since the 18th century, when Russia emerged as a power with a pathological fear of encirclement. That fear has always made Russia aggressive.

Throughout the 19th century, Russia used “the protection of Christian minorities” as an excuse for invading its Muslim neighbors, especially the Ottoman Empire and Iran, annexing vast chunks of territory. The whole of Northern Caucasus, plus Georgia and Armenia, were annexed with that excuse, as was Crimea. In the 18th century, Empress Catherine II used the pretext of protecting Christians to wrest away Dagestan and Georgia from Iran.

Russia also used the excuse to seize territories that belonged to European neighbors, including Germany, Poland and Finland. For almost 100 years, Russia expanded at the average rate of 62 square miles (100 square kilometers) a day, creating history’s largest empire in terms of territory.

Casting itself as the “Third Rome” and the final defender of Christianity, Russian empire-builders claimed that their enterprise enjoyed divine blessing.

Russia has used the trick of granting Russian nationality to people in neighboring countries as a pretext for invasion since the 18th century. In 1829, Russia used the excuse of freeing Georgian women, supposedly granted Russian citizenship, from the harem of the Qajar Shah of Persia as a pretext for an invasion of Iran. A Tehran mob retaliated by murdering the Russian chargé d’affaires, Alexander Griboyedov.

In 1911, a number of Qajar princes led by Shu’a Al-Saltaneh (The Light Beam of Monarchy) and opposed to Iran’s Constitutional Revolution declared themselves subjects of the Tsar and raised Russian flags on top of their palaces. The Tsar used the pretext of “protecting” his subjects for invading Iran, occupying five Iranian provinces and sending an army to destroy the newly created Iranian parliament.

In 1912, Russia used the excuse of protecting its citizens for invading parts of China and annexing large chunks of land, especially in what is now Mongolia. After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the empire, re-named the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, replaced Christianity with Communism as its ideological matrix. It was in the name of defending “Socialism” that, in the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet Union sent is tanks to Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. The invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, too, was sold as a bid to “defend Socialism.”

After the disintegration of the Soviet Empire in 1991, Russia revived the old excuse of protecting its “kith and kin” in neighboring countries. In some instances, those minorities are genuine communities shaped over a century or so. In others, however, “kith-and-kin” communities are artificial creations to be used as a means of pressure on weaker neighbors.

Under Putin, Moscow has been distributing large numbers of Russian passports, some suggest millions, in neighboring countries, notably Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Kazakhstan. There are also significant numbers of Russian passport-holders in Transnistria, part of Moldova, which does not have a border with Russia.

The first test of the “kith-and-kin” excuse came in 2000 when, as prime minister, Putin forced Tajikistan to host 15,000 Russian troops stationed at six bases. The next time “kith-and-kin” was cited was in August 2008, coinciding with the Beijing Olympics, when Putin, this time as president, ordered an invasion of Georgia and annexed the autonomous republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Today, Russia has some 40,000 troops stationed in the two enclaves.

Ukraine is the third nation to experience Putin’s “kith-and-kin” game, and if Putin manages to pull this one off, it will not be the last. Putin’s shenanigans in Crimea are symptoms of a deeper malaise caused by Russia’s inability to gauge its place in the post-Cold War international order and the inability of European powers and the United States to accommodate Russia in a way commensurate with its weight, if not its ambitions.

In the past quarter of a century, with the loss of its glacis in eastern and central Europe, Russia has seen NATO arrive right at its borders. The entire European continent has been reorganized within the framework fixed by NATO and the European Union. Today, Russia is just one of four European powers still shut out of both NATO and the EU. It took Russia almost two decades to gain admission into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and, more tentatively, be offered a side chair at the G8. The only leadership slot Russia has had is its veto-holding seat in the UN’s Security Council, a relic of the Cold War. But even then, until Obama paralyzed US foreign policy the Western powers, led by Washington, simply ignored Russia whenever it suited them, as was the case in the 2003 military intervention in Iraq.

Putin has built his narrative on the theme of encirclement by hostile powers and their “agents” inside Russia. To the West, Russia is shut out of Europe, which paradoxically remains its principal trading partner. To the south, Russia is hemmed in by a string of Muslim-majority nations with deep-rooted resentment of Tsarist and Communist oppression. To the east, Russia faces two hostile powers—China and Japan, part of whose territories remain under Russian occupation.

At home, Russia faces a seemingly endless war against jihadist forces in five Caucasian republics, while relations with Georgia and Armenia remain strained. Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev claims that Russia today is in the vanguard of fighting “Islamic terror” and its aim of world conquest. However, jihadists are not alone in posing a threat to Putin’s idealized vision of a greater Russia seeking global leadership. Well-financed Christian missionary groups, mostly from the US, are expanding their networks throughout Russia at the expense of the Orthodox Church, which has become Putin’s principal ideological ally.

To make matters worse for Putin, his autocratic style of rule is also challenged by a growing number of Russians seduced by the Western ideas of multi-party democracy, pluralism and desacralization of political power.

Meanwhile, the domination of the Russian economy by the oligarchs, whose support Putin needs, has slowed down, and in some cases even prevented, genuine development. Russia has become an exporter of raw materials, especially oil and gas, dependent on European markets. Worse still, a good part of the capital formed in Russia finds its way into European banks, especially in Britain and Switzerland.

Today, the real issue is not whether Russian troops remain inside their bases in Crimea or show their teeth in the streets of Sebastopol. The real issue is how to find Russia a place in a world order in the creation of which it played no part. Putin’s current policy could transform Russia into a fully fledged rogue state. And that would be dangerous both for Russia and the world, even if the Black Madonna of Kazan were brought in to perform a miracle.

 

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MIN-RU:140314:(16-03-14):Iran, Russia to finalize trade deal soon: Iran oil minister

PressTv 14-Mar-14 [Iran]

 

Iran and Russia are set to finalize an agreement they have reached for broader economic and trade cooperation, Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh says.

“The memorandum of understanding for the development of Tehran-Moscow cooperation will be finalized early next [Iranian calendar] year [starting on March 21],” Zanganeh, currently on a state visit to the Russian capital, Moscow, said on Friday.

He added that the Islamic Republic is determined to raise the volume of its “economic transactions” with Russia under long-term deals, underscoring the “unacceptably low level” of Iran-Russia trade.

Iran-Russia trade currently totals USD 5 billion a year, but economists say they can at least quadruple the volume of their trade exchanges.

“The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is seriously determined to broaden its cooperation with Russia in the technical and technological sectors for the bilateral procurement of commodities and services,” said Zanganeh.

In February, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Moscow is in talks with Iran for increasing energy cooperation with a view to raising trade exchanges.

Novak said Iran and Russia are looking for a “financial scheme” to facilitate the supply of “metallurgy, machine-building and energy equipment” by Russian companies to Iran.

Russia’s second largest oil producer Lukoil has voiced its willingness to return to Iran to develop a block of oil fields as international sanctions against Iran are shrinking.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation has expressed hope for the finalization of a deal for the construction of a second unit at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant.

 

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IS-ME:140313:(16-03-14):Mideast Realignment Solidifies Global Oil Flow

http://mydesert.com/beschloss  13-Mar-14 [I know nothing about this blogger!]

 

Morris Beschloss

The major geopolitical event facilitating the free flow of Mideast crude oil, in light of increasing global demand, is the once incredible cooperation developing between Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt.

While sanctioned Iran’s oil, with one of the world’s most extensive reserves, has directed most of its external oil shipments to China, India and other nations not abiding by the U.N. sanctions, and most of Mideastern oil production undergoing substantial internal turbulence, precluding normal production, Saudi Arabia is under excruciating pressure to produce to full limit.

However, its hostile relationship with Iran has increasingly endangered its future stability, which has caused it to unofficially “recognize” Israel and its military power. Egypt, led by the new Mideast strongman, Field Marshall el-Sisi, which has crushed the nefarious Moslem Brotherhood, has also joined with Israel to pacify the lawless Sinai peninsula. Also, Egypt is quietly enhancing its economic relations with the Jewish state, especially in the areas of oil production in the Sinai, as well as onshore and offshore natural gas, while Israel is sharing its advanced desalination technology with Cairo, and likely the Saudis in the future.

While martial circumstances are uniting these strange bedfellows, this tri-partite relationship will likely generate positive economic consequences— while replacing America’s failed policies in this region. With Egypt, and its 80 million strong population serving as a “demand” cornerstone, Israel adding technological development, and the Saudis contributing record oil production capability, this comprises a solid offset against Iran and its Lebanese Hezbollah and Gaza’s Hamas satellites.

It is supremely ironic that such a dramatic new alliance would be the positive upshot of an Arab regional animosity, which seemed to view the ultimate destruction of “Zionism” as its ultimate goal.

 

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CR-CV:140314:(16-03-14):Patriarch Kirill Praises Ties With Vatican in Letter to Pope

RIA Novosti 14-Mar-14

 

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church praised ties between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Holy See on Thursday in his letter congratulating Pope Francis on his first anniversary as pontiff.

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill said bilateral ties between the Russian Orthodox and the Catholic churches have improved in the past year.

“I am pleased to note the high degree of mutual understanding and efforts by both sides to strengthen cooperation between the Russian Orthdoxy and Catholicism for the purpose of strengthening Christian moral values in the modern world,” Patriarch Kirill said.

Relations between the two churches have been strained over a few issues that have prevented the churches’ leaders from meeting. The Moscow Patriarchate has in particular accused the Vatican of trying to lead believers away from the Russian Church – an accusation the Roman Catholics have denied.

 

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CV-US:140314:(16-03-14):Pope Francis invited to address US Congress

Catholic World News 14-Mar-14

 

Rep. John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives, has invited Pope Francis to address the United States Congress.

“Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manners and servant leadership,” Boehner said in his invitation letter, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times.

After referring to the Pope’s “tireless call for the protection of the most vulnerable among us,” Boehner said that “these principles are among the fundamentals of the American idea. And though our nation sometimes fails to live up to these principles, at our best we give them new life as we seek the common good.”

 

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MGA-IS-MEG:140319:(16-03-14):Israeli, Egyptian intel tie Al Qaida revolt in Sinai to Hamas in Gaza

GeoStrategy direct w/e 19-Mar-14

 

“The Egyptian military has specific information indicating that members of prominent terror outfits, some affiliated with Al Qaida, are hiding in Gaza.”

The Islamist revolt in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has been linked to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, a report said.

The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies asserted that the Gaza Strip was serving as the operational base for the Al Qaida-aligned revolt in Sinai. In a report, the center cited assessments by both the Egyptian and Israeli intelligence communities, said to be cooperating in monitoring the revolt.

“According to Israeli and Egyptian intelligence, most of the terror groups operating today in the Sinai Peninsula have an organizational base in Gaza,” the report, titled “Egypt and the Threat of Islamic Terror,” said. “Some of the groups have weapons caches there, while others operate training camps.”

Author Shaul Shay, former deputy director of Israel’s National Security Council, cited the presence of such Al Qaida militias in Sinai as Ansar Beit Al Maqdis and the Furqan Brigades.

Ansar claimed responsibility for the recent suicide car bombing near a security installation in the Egyptian city of Mansoura, in which at least 16 people were killed.

The report said Egypt faced three insurgency trends since the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. They consisted of:

The revolt in Sinai;

The recent spillover in the African mainland and

The recruitment of Al Qaida and Hamas against the military-backed regime in Cairo.

The military has sent 20,000 troops to Sinai, the largest deployment in decades.

“The Islamist insurgency is composed of Islamist militants who escaped prison, were released during the revolution, or returned from exile after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak,” the report said.

The report has cited Hamas as playing a leading role in the Sinai revolt.

The state-controlled Egyptian media said Hamas was facilitating the flow of Palestinian fighters to Sinai as well as cooperating with the ousted Brotherhood. In response, the military has warned of attacking the Gaza Strip, particularly the southern city of Rafah.

An Egyptian armored personnel carrier is seen next to the Rafah border.  AFP

“In addition, the Egyptian military has specific information indicating that members of prominent terror outfits, some affiliated with Al Qaida, are hiding in Gaza,” the report said. “One of the organizations, the Army of Islam enjoys close relations with the Hamas leadership.”

Shay warned that Ansar and other militias were developing skills and attack strategies. He cited the new trend of suicide strikes and mass-casualty bombings.

“The Egyptian authorities have to take in consideration that radical elements of the Muslim Brotherhood can in the future open an armed internal front that can be a serious challenge to internal security and stability,” the report said.

Meanwhile, Arab diplomatic sources said Al Qaida’s Ansar has planned to kill Gen. Ahmed Wasfi, commander of Egypt’s 2nd Army. The sources said Ansar determined that Wasfi was the architect of Egypt’s counter-insurgency campaign in the Sinai Peninsula.

“It is fair to say that whatever successes have been achieved [by the army] in Sinai is because of Wasfi, and Al Qaida knows this very well,” a diplomat said.

The sources said Ansar and its Islamist allies have been targeting Egyptian Army convoys in search for Wasfi, believed based in the Northern Sinai provincial capital of El Arish. They said Ansar has already been killing and abducting senior officers and government officials, some of whom were released for ransom.

“Ansar has excellent intelligence, and through its Bedouin collaborators was monitoring virtually every army and police base in northeastern Sinai,” the diplomat said.

The sources said Ansar has become the leading insurgency militia in Egypt, claiming responsibility for the killing of hundreds of soldiers and police. They said Ansar was also believed to be working with elements in the ousted Muslim Brotherhood, which established operational cells in both Sinai as well as on the African mainland.

For his part, the army has enhanced protection of Wasfi, who oversees both ground and air operations throughout central and eastern Sinai. The sources said Wasfi helped draft a CI strategy that over the last four months led to the killing of at least 300 insurgents and the flight of several hundred additional fighters from Sinai.

“It’s clear that Wasfi’s strategy of daily air operations is hurting Ansar and its allies,” another diplomat said. “It’s also clear that he commands the respect and authority of [Egyptian Defense Minister Abdul Fatah] Al Sisi to continue this campaign despite heavy losses.”

 

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US-IS-ME:140319:(16-03-14):U.S.-Israel Iron Dome accord may lead to regional BMD umbrella

GeoStrategy direct w/e 19-Mar-14

 

Israel and the United States have signed an agreement to produce a missile and rocket defense system.

On March 5, Israel and the United States concluded an accord to support production of the Iron Dome. Officials said Washington would provide assistance and expertise to enhance Iron Dome, meant to intercept missiles and rockets with a range of more than 100 kilometers.

“The agreement represents strategic value for both nations,” the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said. “Israel will obtain valuable resources to contribute to its defense and U.S. industry will receive meaningful co-production opportunities for Iron Dome components.”

On March 8, the agency said the agreement would ensure continued American funding for procurement of Iron Dome. The accord stipulated that the administration of President Barack Obama would relay $429 million. Israel has deployed at least six Iron Dome batteries and sought to build a fleet of 12 such systems.

“Yesterday’s agreement ensures continued U.S. funding for procurement of Iron Dome systems and interceptors, and provides for significant co-production opportunities for U.S. industry,” the agency said. “Under the terms of the agreement, $429 million will be transferred immediately to Israel to support Iron Dome procurement.”

On March 10, a U.S. defense representative raised the prospect that Israel would be asked to develop a regional BMD umbrella that could protect neighboring states. U.S. defense attache to Israel, Brig. Gen. John Shapland, said this represented “an idea to consider.”

“If we were able to build a regional defense capability in, say, Jordan, that capability could easily defend Israel, Jordan and even Egypt, if you so desired, adding one more layer to your multi-layered defense,” Shapland told an air defense conference by Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.

 

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RUK-RU:140315:(16-03-14):Ukraine: Russian Troops Reportedly Land Near Strilkove

Stratfor 15-Mar-14

 

Forty Russian troops landed from helicopters outside the Crimean coastal town of Strilkove on March 15, local witnesses and law enforcement sources said, UNIAN reported. The reasons for the reported landing are unknown, though natural gas extraction rigs belonging to Chornomornaftogaz are located nearby. Local residents said Russian military helicopters have flown over the town several times in recent days. Ultimately, it is Putin, not the Crimeans, who will decide if the standoff between his country and the West intensifies.

 

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UK-EU:140316:(16-03-14):Cameron demand over EU commitment

BelfastTelegraph 16-Mar-14

 

David Cameron wants to silence fears that Britain could be “sucked into” a United States of Europe

David Cameron is to demand that Britain is no longer bound by the commitment to an “ever closer union” in Europe as part of his renegotiation of the UK’s membership of the EU.

The Prime Minister said he is determined to scotch fears that Britain could be “sucked into” a United States of Europe against its will, claiming the concerns have seen democratic consent for its membership “worn wafer thin”.

Mr Cameron is committed to renegotiating the terms of Britain’s membership then putting the results to the country in a straight in/out referendum by the end of 2017.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he has for the first time set out his key priorities for change in a seven-point plan. They are:

:: Powers flowing away from Brussels, not always to it

:: National parliaments able to work together to block unwanted European legislation

:: Businesses liberated from red tape and benefiting from the strength of the EU’s own market to open up greater free trade with North America and Asia

:: UK police forces and justice systems able to protect British citizens, unencumbered by unnecessary interference from the European institutions, including the European Court of Human Rights

:: Free movement to take up work, not free benefits

:: Support for the continued enlargement of the EU to new members but with new mechanisms in place to prevent vast migrations across the continent

:: Ensuring Britain is no longer subject to the concept of “ever closer union”, enshrined in the treaty, to which every EU country currently has to sign up

Mr Cameron set out his proposals as a ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror suggested the UK Independence Party is set to top the vote in May’s elections to the European Parliament with the Tories trailing third behind Labour.

In his article, the Prime Minister said he “completely understands and shares people’s concerns” about the European Union, which is why he is seeking to reset the relationship.

“Our businesses value the single market. But they find the degree of European interference in our everyday life excessive. People are worried that Britain is being sucked into a United States of Europe; that may be what some others want, but it is not for us,” he said.

“They see decisions being taken far away, rather than by their elected representatives in Parliament. And they worry that European rules have allowed people to claim benefits without ever working here. As a result, democratic consent for Britain’s membership has worn wafer thin.”

Mr Cameron said he was putting forward “an ambitious agenda for a new European Union” which would transform Britain’s relationship with the 28-nation bloc.

“Delivering it will take time and patience, as well as strong relationships with our key allies and goodwill – not shouting from the sidelines,” he said.

“It will require a negotiation with our European partners. Some changes will best be achieved by alterations to the European treaties – others can be achieved by different means.”

However he insisted that it was ultimately achievable and dismissed the “many defeatists” who said it could not be done.

“They include Ukip, who offer no serious plan and simply can’t deliver on anything they promise; and Labour and the Liberal Democrats who won’t stand up for Britain and refuse to give people a choice in a referendum. Neither course is in our national interest,” he said.

 

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IS-UK:140316:(16-03-14):UK and Israel sign ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ on digital governance

The Drum 16-Mar-14

 

The UK and Israel have committed to a digital governance pact which will see the two countries cooperate and share data around open source and standards to help develop digital public services.

The ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) will see the countries share information and experiences around open markets, open standards and open source.

They will also collaborate to ensure each country has the capability and ability to develop digital public services.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said Israel matches the UK in its approach to digital innovation.

“When I visited last year, I saw how Israel has a forward-thinking approach to digital innovation, just like the UK.

“This government’s long-term plan is all about creating modern, digital public services that are so good people prefer to use them. So, we will look to find new ways of working with Israel’s impressive array of digital businesses and draw on its culture of entrepreneurship. There’s a great deal we can learn from one another,” he said.

The UK government’s chief technology officer Liam Maxwell, who signed the agreement, said the use of open markets and open standards is a “key approach” the UK is taking to build a digital government “based on user needs”.

Meanwhile, Harel Locker, director-general of the Israeli Prime Minister’s office, said: “The British experience in the field of digital services is important and extensive, and this agreement will allow Israel to benefit from that experience. On our part, we offer the British and the D8 countries Israeli innovation and creativity, including in cyber security.”

The MoU will also include the countries exploring other ways to work together internationally.

 

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RUK-RU:140316:(16-03-14):Ukraine: Russia Continues To Build Up Troops In Crimea

Stratfor 16-Mar-14

 

Russia is continuing to build up its forces in Crimea, which now number 22,000, acting Ukrainian Defense Minister Igor Tenyukh told Interfax news agency March 16, Reuters reported. This number exceeds the limit of 12,500 servicemen set by Russia’s agreement with Ukraine regarding the basing of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in Crimea in 2014.

 

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RUK-RU:140316:(16-03-14):Ukraine: Kiev, Moscow Agree To Truce In Crimea Until March 21

Stratfor 16-Mar-14

 

The Ukrainian and Russian defense ministries have agreed to a truce in Crimea until March 21, acting Ukrainian Defense Minister Igor Tenyukh said March 16, Reuters reported. Under the truce, no action will be taken against Ukrainian military facilities in the region as Kiev moves to replenish the facilities’ forces.

 

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IS-US:140316:(16-03-14):US Lawmakers Elevate Israel to ‘Strategic Partner,’ Approve Billions

DefenseNews 16-Mar-14

 

Israel’s supporters in Congress are pushing legislation to bolster aid, advanced arms, export licensing exemptions and augmented in-country stockpiles of US weapons.

The US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 mandates myriad measures for enhancing Washington’s legal commitment to ensure Israel’s so-called Qualitative Military Edge.

Passed March 5 by the US House of Representatives in an emphatic 410-1 vote, H.R. 938 elevates Israel from “major non-NATO ally” to a new designation as “major strategic partner.”

Majority support is projected for a similar bill in the US Senate.

Beyond the $3.1 billion in annual military aid, billions in multiyear funding for joint missile defense and other defense-related perquisites, the proposed law extends cooperation into energy, cyber and water sectors.

The House version authorizes annual funding for a US-based Joint Energy Research Center while the Senate version requires a presidential feasibility study on the establishment of a joint cyber security center.

Both bills fortify previous laws reflecting longstanding bipartisan and bicameral support for Israel, including the 2012 US-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, urging greater access to US satellite intelligence, aerial tankers, active phased array radar and specialized weaponry.

Both bills extend by another year existing acts governing more than $1 billion in prepositioned US stockpiles available for Israel’s emergency use. Under the new bills, Pentagon authority for replenishing prepositioned materiel extends through 2016.

They also urge the White House to “expeditiously conclude” a new 10-year agreement to assure US security assistance to Israel through 2027.

The legislation urges preferential Israeli access to insurance and financing by the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and Strategic Trade Authority for licensing exemptions on certain dual-use exports.

It also tightens congressional oversight of executive branch-administered Qualitative Military Edge measures, requiring biennial rather than quadrennial progress reports from the president or his designated representatives.

“Israel’s importance as a major strategic partner has been demonstrated time and again,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., co-chair of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus. “Israel remains the closest friend America has in the world. …Unfortunately, this administration has consistently failed to recognize that fact, often alienating allies like Israel while catering to our enemies.”

Codified by Congress in 1988, Israel’s status as “major non-NATO ally” confers preferential consideration of technology transfer requests, priority access to cut-rate excess defense articles, and inclusion in a spectrum of bilateral and NATO-led training exercises.

The new designation of “major strategic partner,” while highly symbolic, “has not been further defined in US law or by the executive branch,” noted Jim Zanotti, a Middle East specialist with the Congressional Research Service, in a November 2013 report.

But Lenny Ben-David, a former Israeli deputy ambassador to Washington with years of experience on Capitol Hill, said the new law would serve to define Israel’s upgraded status.

“The status of major strategic partner is defined by what’s in the bill, and there are a lot of content in both House and Senate versions,” said Ben-David, a former senior associate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby.

In a March 13 interview, Ben-David said pro-Israel activists had long sought recognition of Israel as a strategic ally of the US.

“This law will elevate the status of this partnership in all its aspects — military, energy, countercyber — in concrete ways that go beyond anything the US has concluded through treaties,” he said.

Even without the pending upgrade in US-Israel ties, US and Israeli officials point to an unprecedented surge in strategic cooperation.

Last week, a sizable contingent of US Marines equipped with MV-22 tilt-rotors and other gear were here for a joint Noble Shirley exercise with Israeli counterparts. This month, the Israel Navy will participate in Noble Dina, an extensive trilateral sea-based exercise with US and Greek navies.

The two countries also are exploring a deferred payment plan that will allow Israel’s near-term acquisition of its second squadron of F-35 fighters and V-22 tilt rotors.

Both countries are planning to extend cooperative missile defense programs beyond 2015.

In a March 10 address to the Institute for National Security Studies, Yair Ramati, director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, cited extraordinary support from Washington in procurement of additional Iron Dome intercepting batteries, near-term deployment of the joint David’s Sling system and preparation for low-rate initial production of the newest upper-tier Arrow-3 system.

 

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ME:140316:(16-03-14):Shifting Mideast Sands Reveal New Alliances

Middle East Forum 16-Mar-14

 

A number of events in recent weeks cast light on the current intersecting lines of conflict in the Middle East. They reflect a region in flux, in which new bonds are being formed, and old ones torn asunder.

But amid the confusion, a new topography is emerging.

This was the month in which a long-existent split in the Sunni Arab world turned into a gaping fissure. On March 5th, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates announced that they were withdrawing their ambassadors from the Emirate of Qatar.

This decision was clearly a response to Qatar’s continued support and sponsorship of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. This movement is regarded as a subversive threat by the three Gulf states. They are worried by the Brotherhood’s capacity for internal subversion.

Qatar, by contrast, affords generous subsidies to its tiny citizen body, and has little to fear from potential internal unrest. It continues to support the Brotherhood and to domicile key leaders of the Egyptian branch of the movement. The latter is now engaged in an insurgency against the Egyptian authorities.

Saudi patience was at an end. The removal of the ambassadors reflects this.

On March 7th, Saudi Arabia made the additional move of declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. A Saudi researcher and former general, Dr. Anwar Eshki, was quoted on the Now Lebanon website as asserting that the decision was made with particular focus on the Egyptian Brotherhood, which is involved in “terrorist” activity.

In the same week, an Egyptian court banned all activities by the Hamas organization in Egypt, and referred to the movement as a “terrorist organization.”

The proximity of these announcements reflects the very close emergent alliance between Saudi Arabia and the de facto Sisi regime in Egypt, which is likely to become de jure following presidential elections later this year.

This alliance is the core component of an emergent dispensation in the Sunni Arab world which also includes UAE, Bahrain and Jordan, as well as the fragile West Bank Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas.

This alliance is set to emerge as the strongest element among the Sunni Arabs.

It is opposed both to the Iran-led, mainly Shia “resistance” bloc, and to what is left of the Qatar/Muslim Brotherhood alliance that just a short year ago was proclaiming itself the wave of the future in the Middle East.

The Hamas authority in Gaza has no buy into the new Saudi-Sisi bloc. Formerly aligned with Iran, it put its bets on the Qatar/Muslim Brotherhood axis.

But this putative bloc was fatally damaged by the Sisi coup in Egypt of July 3rd, 2013, and by the departure of the Muslim Brotherhood-related Nahda party in Tunisia.

Hamas appears to be trying to find its way back to the Iranians. Gaza’s “foreign minister” Mahmoud al Zahar and Iran’s parliament spokesman Ali Larijani both made statements this week suggesting that relations had returned to normal between Teheran and Hamas.

It is not clear what this actually means. But Iranian funding to Hamas in Gaza was slashed following the latter’s failure to offer support to the Iranian client regime in Damascus. It is unlikely that Iran has either forgotten or forgiven. Al-Zahar, in any case, is among those Hamas officials most closely supportive of Iran and his statements should not be taken as representing the movement as a whole.

This means that Hamas is probably stuck between Qatar and the Iranians, with the support of the former no longer worth what it once was, and the support of the latter available only in a truncated and reduced form.

The week’s events in Gaza, meanwhile, showcased the continued vigor of the Iran-led camp.

The most staunch supporter of Iran among the Palestinians, and now apparently the main beneficiary of Teheran’s largesse, is the Islamic Jihad movement. This is a purely paramilitary and terrorist group, with no pretensions to mass political leadership. As such, it is a less complicated prospect from Teheran’s point of view than Hamas.

The recent apprehending of the Klos-C arms ship by Israel, as it brought a consignment of weapons evidently intended for Islamic Jihad in Gaza, was the latest indication of Teheran’s willingness to offer practical backing to those it favors.

Islamic Jihad’s furious response to the Israeli apprehending of the craft, and to the killing in recent days of a number of its operatives by Israel, was certainly done with Iran’s blessing and probably at its instruction (along with tacit permission from the Hamas authorities in Gaza).

The interrupted route of the weapons intended for Gaza (from Syria to Iran, to Iraq, to Sudan and then to the Strip) and the subsequent rocket fire should remind us that the Iran-led Shia bloc remains a potent gathering, capable of coordinated, region-wide action.

So three power blocs currently dominate the Middle East — the Iran-led Shia group, a rival emergent Cairo-Riyadh axis leading a group of smaller Sunni states, and a smaller, much weaker Qatar-Muslim Brotherhood alliance. Their competition is set to dominate regional affairs in the period opening up.

Israel, of course, will be a charter member of none of these groups. But Jerusalem is a de facto ally of the Saudi-Egypt camp.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia, along with Israel, were in recent decades the main allies of the U.S. in the area. The former two countries are now in search of new friends, and have found each other. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have tried to lobby on Sisi’s behalf in Washington in recent weeks, though as yet with limited success.

The shifting sands of the Mid-Eastern strategic map are all the result of the perceived withdrawal of the U.S. from its role as a regional patron. This process is still underway and it’s too soon to draw any final conclusions regarding its results. But the current drawing together of Saudi Arabia and Sisi’s Egypt is surely among the most significant responses to it. It is likely to form the basis for the Sunni Arabs’ attempts to contain Iranian ambitions in the period ahead.

 

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