For the First Time, the TSA Meets Resistance

For the First Time, the TSA Meets Resistance – Jeffrey Goldberg – National – The Atlantic:

One officer said to a colleague who was obviously going to be assigned to me, “Get new gloves, man, you’re going to need them where you’re going.” The agent snapped on his blue gloves, and patiently explained exactly where he was going to touch me. I felt like a sophomore at Oberlin. “I’m going to run my hands up your thighs, and then feel your buttocks, then I’m going to reach under you until I meet —” “Resistance?” I interrupted. “Yes, resistance. Do you want to go into a private room?” he asked. “Are you asking me into a private room?” I said. He looked confused. I said, “No, here is fine.” He felt me up good, but not great. It was not in any way the best pat-down I’ve ever received. The most thorough search I’ve ever experienced was in the Bekaa Valley, by Hezbollah security officers. That took quite awhile, and the Resistance really manhandled my Resistance. There was no cavity search, of course — no magazine story, even one about Hezbollah terrorism — is worth that. But it was the fairly full Monty. I draw three lessons from this week’s experience: The pat-down, while more effective than previous pat-downs, will not stop dedicated and clever terrorists from smuggling on board small weapons or explosives. When I served as a military policeman in an Israeli army prison, many of the prisoners “bangled” contraband up their asses. I know this not because I checked, but because eventually they told me this when I asked. The second lesson is that the effectiveness of pat-downs does not matter very much, because the obvious goal of the TSA is to make the pat-down embarrassing enough for the average passenger that the vast majority of people will choose high-tech humiliation over the low-tech ball check. The third lesson remains constant: By the time terrorist plotters make it to the airport, it is, generally speaking, too late to stop them. Plots must be broken up long before the plotters reach the target. If they are smart enough to make it to the airport without arrest, it is almost axiomatically true that they will be smart enough to figure out a way to bring weapons aboard a plane.

(via Instapaper)

Dore Gold on Iran’s nuclear umbrella for terrorists

David Goldman writing as Spengler in Asia Times:

This should be obvious, but it needs to be restated. Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations did so yesterday:

Dore Gold: Nuclear Iran Would Create Terrorist Umbrella

Former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold warns that a nuclear-armed Iran would shift “the entire balance in the war on terror” by providing terrorists with a nuclear umbrella.

Speaking at a briefing at the British House of Commons on Oct. 12, Dore — also a former adviser to Israeli prime ministers — said Iran’s nuclear program endangers “the security not just of Israel but of the entire Middle East, and I would say the world.”

Gold said that as of this past August, Iran had enough nuclear fuel to produce two atomic bombs, and a missile with the capability of striking Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“So if you take the fact that Iran is one of the largest supporters of international terrorism today, and you team that up with the nuclear capabilities that I’ve been describing, you have a security situation which the West has not yet seen,” Gold said.

“The whole point of George W. Bush’s decision to remove the Taliban after 9/11 was to send a very clear message: ‘You attack the American homeland and we will take down your regime.’

“But fast forward to 2012. Iran has operational nuclear weapons that can strike deep into Europe, and eventually towards the eastern seaboard of the U.S. Will the U.S., U.K., and NATO as a whole have the same freedom of maneuver to say to states that support terrorism, ‘We will take you down if you attack us?’

“Will the U.S. Congress authorize sending forces abroad against a state armed with nuclear weapons? In other words, the entire balance in the war on terror shifts, because the state that is the largest global sponsor of terrorism today now has nuclear capabilities . . .

“This nuclear umbrella of Iran will unfurl and will be able to provide protection, not just to Shiite Hezbollah, but to Sunni organizations such as al-Qaida and Hamas.”

Gold, now president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, raised the possibility that Israel could strike Iran’s nuclear facilities if the international community does not take action.

“I will say that Israel has been thinking about this problem for a very long time,” he said in remarks published on the Web site of The Henry Jackson Society, a London-based organization that promotes the foreign policies of former U.S. Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson.

“The Israeli air force has been training for action and all options are on the table. But I would say the official position is that there is hope, even at this late date, that the key players in the international community will take action.”

He added: “You might think that Iran’s behavior at present is brazen and risky. It looks much less brazen and risky if you recall how often Iran has already defied the West and got away with it.”

[From Dore Gold on Iran’s nuclear umbrella for terrorists]

Nuclear-armed Iran changes world

Greg Sheridan, foreign editor for The Australian:

THERE is, I would guess, somewhere between a 30 and 40 per cent chance that the Bush administration will bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before the end of the year.

This is, naturally, a personal judgment. It is based on two weeks of intense conversations I have had with American national security figures.

Washington, all the capitals of Europe and Canberra are united in their determination to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran are obvious. Its leaders are theologically motivated and believe Israel should be wiped off the map. It is the chief global sponsor of terrorism through groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Middle East experts believe a nuclear-armed Iran would soon be followed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and perhaps others as well.

Nobody should underestimate what this means.

A senior US Defence Department official told me: “We know how nukes worked in a two-player situation (the US and Russia), or even on the Indian subcontinent. But we don’t know how it works in a multiplayer situation. All those countries with nascent nuclear programs: they’d all be very vulnerable to pre-emption.

“The risk of catastrophic misuse rises dramatically. I don’t think the international community has addressed it with sufficient urgency.”

The same official describes a nuclear-armed Iran as “a very immediate existential threat to Israel, because of the short distances involved and its inability to withstand even one nuclear strike”.

The argument against striking Iranian nuclear facilities is twofold. The first is that the US still has significant diplomatic and financial measures it can take to dissuade the Iranians. It should exhaust those first.

Second, the cost would be too great, both in terms of Iranian retaliation and in terms of the US’s standing in the Muslim world and more broadly.

One of the things the US can still do against Iran is revealed by Seymour Hersh in this week’s The New Yorker. Hersh alleges that the top secret intelligence committee heads of Congress have authorised $400million for covert operations in Iran. This program is designed to gather information about Iran’s nuclear facilities and support opposition, including violence, to Iran’s Government and military.

It is sensible to take what Hersh writes with a grain of salt, but he does have a track record of securing leaks from the CIA. In this case, two separate national security insiders have confirmed to me that the US has a substantial covert operations effort in Iran.

This is all background to the question: What are the chances that George W. Bush will strike Iran, and how do we calculate those chances?

For a start, the Bush administration clearly houses a range of divergent views on this question.

People who know Vice-President Dick Cheney well believe he wants to strike Iran, that he has made a sober judgment that time is running out.

Hersh reports, and others confirmed to me, that Defence Secretary Robert Gates is strongly opposed. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is also opposed.

Some analysts believe that in the first Bush administration Cheney won all such arguments, whereas in the second administration Rice is dominant. They take this to mean Bush won’t strike.

I don’t think it’s that simple. It is true that Bush has ceded an enormous amount of national security power to Rice. However, the Bush administration is better seen as having two personalities, the psychology of which rose out of Bush’s peculiar historical circumstances.

Bush understands that he is unpopular across the world and, as a result to some extent, so is the US. Therefore, on every issue where it’s possible, from Africa to North Korea, he presents a kindly, moderate, multilateral face. And that face is Rice.

However, Bush also knows that history will judge him on the outcome in Iraq. So he does absolutely everything he can to win in Iraq. And this means mostly following Cheney’s advice. Remember that for all of Rice’s undoubted sway, she opposed the troop surge in Iraq, as did Gates. The surge went ahead anyway, and was successful.

So at this moment, in the second half of 2008, does the Rice side of Bush or the Cheney side win the argument on Iran?

I think anyone who pronounces dogmatically on that question doesn’t know what they’re talking about. For a start, if the Iranians are caught doing something stupid, the calculations change dramatically.

Here are two more factors of central importance. Figures right across the Bush administration routinely describe a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat to Israel. Existential here means a serious threat to Israel’s existence. Another national security figure tells me that if Israel really does regard a nuclear Iran as as existential threat, it would have no alternative but to strike.

Instead it may be that Israel regards a nuclear Iran as an extremely serious threat, says this national security figure.

If that is the case, Israeli spokesmen use the term existential threat in order to make other people take the situation more seriously.

By using the term existential threat, the Bush administration at the very least is itself legitimising the Israeli strike option.

Finally, no one in the Bush administration or anywhere else doubts that the Iranians are pursuing nuclear weapons. A senior Bush administration official (not a hawk) tells me: “It’s my judgment that they (the Iranians) are trying to pursue that capability. People will argue whether that means weaponisation or one step before weaponisation, where they could easily move to weaponisation.”

A senior US Defence official tells me: “They are continuing their efforts to enrich uranium. When they produce fissile material, they will be about six to 12 months away (from building a weapon).”

What, then, of the US National Intelligence Estimate released last December that said Iran had ceased its weaponisation efforts? The same NIE report also concluded that Iran was continuing work on the technically more challenging efforts of enriching uranium and producing long-range missiles.

But the NIE report with its benign finding concerning weaponisation is now held in more or less open contempt throughout the Bush administration. A senior US Defence official tells me: “I’ve never seen an NIE where the director of central intelligence (CIA) has disowned it. The Defence Secretary has said they (the Iranians) are pursuing nuclear weapons, and the director of national intelligence says he’d write it differently now.”

The inherent unpredictability of these matters makes analysis difficult. A year ago, who would have thought that the US would now be doing better in Iraq, and considerably worse in Afghanistan?

A nuclear-armed Iran changes the world for all of us. It is the most important issue on the international agenda today.

I don’t know for sure whether the Bush administration will strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. Neither, I think, does anybody else. But on all the evidence I can access, I would put the chances about 30 to 40 per cent.

Middle East May 2008

Just as Israel was attempting to draw Syria into this “circle of peace,” Syrian client Hezbollah was sinking its claws deeper into the government of Lebanon. Earlier this month, Hezbollah set off the worst round of killing in Lebanon since the end of the civil war in 1990. Now Lebanon’s weak government has given the Hezbollah-controlled opposition enough cabinet seats to veto any policy it opposes.

More of the ongoing bad news in the Middle East. Now in contrast with the continuing progress in Iraq:

Meanwhile, the “failure” in Iraq makes steady, substantive progress. In remarks yesterday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Petraeus noted that much of the reduction in violence in Iraq is due to “recent operations” in Basra, Mosul and Sadr City. Those operations have succeeded in no small part from the increasingly positive performance of the Iraqi army. In Baghdad’s Sadr City this week, the Iraqi troops deployed through its neighborhoods without direct support from U.S. forces. Residents living in the grip of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militias openly welcomed the Iraqi troops, as long-closed businesses reopened.

Earlier this month, a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation moved into Mosul. This isn’t just another village but a city of some two million residents. Located in northern Iraq (close to Syria), it has long been a stronghold of al Qaeda in Iraq. Virtually the entire city has been brought under control by the coalition forces, and violent incidents are down dramatically the past month.

The significance of these countervailing trends should be apparent. In Iraq since the onset of the surge, U.S. policy has been clear and consistent. By contrast, U.S. policy toward Syria has been impossible to discern. Obviously the two examples are not alike. Iraq is a U.S. military operation, while the rest of the region falls under the portfolio of State’s diplomats. But absent the will to make Syria pay a price for its destructive mischief, a U.S. policy vacuum exists. It’s no surprise the Syrians are taking advantage of it.

More from the WSJ Editorial Board…


Hezbollah’s Media Relations

Don’t miss Michael Totten:

Michael Young has a terrific article in Reason magazine about the collateral damage (as he put it) in think tanks, academia, and the media after the assassination of Hezbollah Commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus. He zeroes in on leftist icons Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein for their full-throated support for the Syrian- and Iranian-backed terrorist […]

Between Jerusalem and Bondi Beach

Richard Fernandez on the Sheridan Israel trip:

Greg Sheridan has an interesting road story in the Australian where he describes his trip to Israel. Three of his observations struck an immediate chord with me. The smallness of Israel; the daily intermingling of Jewish and Islamic life — with the Islamic life protected; and the casual and universal possession of arms. The miniature size of Israel is almost laughable to those accustomed to the vast, often vacant Australian landscape.

For an Australian it is almost impossible to imagine the smallness of the distances involved. Gilot was routinely fired on by snipers in Bethlehem several years ago, and so, well before the security fence was put up, Gilot had its own system of walls and shields, especially for children’s playgrounds. For Gilot to be fired on from Bethlehem is like Sydney’s Surry Hills being fired on from Redfern, or Richmond being fired on from the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The distance from Redfern to Surry Hills is so short you’d walk between them to buy a sandwich. Sheridan was also struck by the sight of Bedouins encamped in Israel. Bedouins! Some of them probably serve in the IDF, too, along with other Israeli Muslims. One of the more interesting sounds of early morning Jerusalem is the sound of the call to prayer from the Al-Aqsa mosque that floats over the capital of Israel. Finally, Sheridan describes the omnipresence of firearms. “On the day I visit, a group of American Jewish teenagers are there as part of a program to acquaint diaspora Jewish youth with their cultural heritage. They are the normal loud-mouthed, good natured, overbearing American kids. The only odd thing about them is that they are accompanied by two security guards, in this case Israeli girls who look barely older than the teenagers they are guarding and carry rifles as tall as themselves.”

<more from Richard Fernandez>

And I wanted to highlight more of Greg’s insights — starting with an explanation for the horribly one-side media coverage of Israel:

Alongside the territories is a much under-reported but fascinating and unique country. It’s called Israel.

The world media makes a mistake by using the same reporters to cover the Palestinian territories as well as Israel. They can’t do both, and most don’t try to.

They cover the territories and they only cover Israel as a brooding and malign presence in the territories.

Naturally the reporting is one-sided. But it is worse than that. It omits from the equation Israel and the Israelis, and all the countless enthralling and diverse aspects of Israeli politics and society.

It is ever the fate of stable, democratic countries, even those involved in a conflict, to be under-reported. Israel was more reported a few years ago, when terrorists were murdering 1500 of its citizens a year. Now, with the security barrier, wrongly labelled a wall when it is mostly a fence, terrorist infiltration is much more difficult and perhaps a dozen or so Israelis are killed a year by terrorists.


And the settlements:

…But I also sought out the controversial images of Israel, in particular those of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. A word on definitions. After the 1967 war, when Israel was attacked by a coalition of its Arab neighbours, Israel took territory in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Some of this, Israelis argue, is necessary for security.

It has since left Gaza. Israel is constantly urged to go back to its 1967 borders, but the two places where it has done that, in southern Lebanon and Gaza, the result has been disastrous. It was subject to thousands of rocket attacks from southern Lebanon until it went to war with Hezbollah and now every day Qassam rockets are fired from Gaza at nearby Israeli civilian towns, especially Sderot.

The final borders between Israel and a putative Palestinian state have yet to be worked out. Every inch of territory with a Jewish inhabitant beyond the 1967 borders is commonly referred to as a Jewish settlement. I spent days driving up and down the West Bank and visited as many Jewish settlements as I could. These included suburbs of Jerusalem such as Gilot and Har Homa, big settlements just outside Jerusalem such as Gush Etzion and Ma’ale Adumin, and the biggest, distant settlement, the town of Ariel.

Although I think Israel will be prepared to give up numerous settlements in the West Bank, I don’t think any of those named above will be given up under any circumstances. The stereotype of the Jewish settler, as columnist and author Hillel Halkin has written, is of “a belligerently bearded Jew with a knit skullcap on his head, a Bible in one hand and a rifle in the other”. It’s a stereotype I didn’t meet at all in any of these settlements, and not for want of trying, although of course I met only a fraction of the nearly 400,000 Jews who live beyond the 1967 lines.

There are certainly ideologically militant and intolerant settlers, but they are a minority. While committed to Israel like virtually all its citizens, the settlers I met lived where they did for a variety of reasons, mainly the lower cost of housing, the communal lifestyle and educational opportunities, and sometimes because of a desire to be connected to biblical lands.

The status of the different communities routinely lumped into the single category of settlements varies enormously. Israel officially annexed some parts of East Jerusalem straight after 1967. Although there may one day be a compromise on Jerusalem, no Israeli government will give up central suburbs such as Har Homa and Gilot.

And the future:

…Of course the settlements and their future are endlessly debated in Israel, as is everything else. I left Israel profoundly optimistic about the morale of the society and the resolve of the people, but profoundly pessimistic about the peace process. If there were peace, any compromise on borders might be possible. But too many Arab leaders, and too many Palestinian leaders, are playing for the very long term and still believe that in time they will wipe Israel off the map.

Apart from the overwhelming experience of visiting the Yad Vashem museum recalling the Holocaust, the most powerful image I saw in Israel was in a small office in the Knesset (parliament) building in Jerusalem. I had gone to see Ephraim Sneh, a white-haired veteran Labour Party politician and soldier, a former cabinet minister and a former general.

He points to a picture on the back wall of his office. It is of two Israeli F-15 fighters flying over Auschwitz. “When we didn’t have F-15s, we had Auschwitz,” he says.

His grandparents, he tells me, were killed by the Polish farmers they had paid to shelter them. You learn the lessons of trusting other people with your security.

Israel will certainly make compromises. But it will not commit suicide.

Highly recommended…

Snatched: Israeli commandos “nuclear raid”

The Times UK reports on the Syrian/North Korea nuclear program are getting more detailed:

ISRAELI commandos from the elite Sayeret Matkal unit “almost certainly dressed in Syrian uniforms” made their way stealthily towards a secret military compound near Dayr az-Zawr in northern Syria. They were looking for proof that Syria and North Korea were collaborating on a nuclear programme.

Israel had been surveying the site for months, according to Washington and Israeli sources. President George W Bush was told during the summer that Israeli intelligence suggested North Korean personnel and nuclear-related material were at the Syrian site.

Israel was determined not to take any chances with its neighbour. Following the example set by its raid on an Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak 1981, it drew up plans to bomb the Syrian compound.

But Washington was not satisfied. It demanded clear evidence of nuclear-related activities before giving the operation its blessing. The task of the commandos was to provide it.

Today the site near Dayr az-Zawr lies in ruins after it was pounded by Israeli F15Is on September 6. Before the Israelis issued the order to strike, the commandos had secretly seized samples of nuclear material and taken them back into Israel for examination by scientists, the sources say. A laboratory confirmed that the unspecified material was North Korean in origin. America approved an attack.

News of the secret ground raid is the latest piece of the jigsaw to emerge about the mysterious Israeli airstrike. Israel has imposed a news blackout, but has not disguised its satisfaction with the mission. The incident also reveals the extent of the cooperation between America and Israel over nuclear-related security issues in the Middle East. The attack on what Israeli defence sources now call the “North Korean project” appears to be part of a wider, secret war against the nonconventional weapons ambitions of Syria and North Korea which, along with Iran, appears to have been forging a new “axis of evil”.

The operation was personally directed by Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, who is said to have been largely preoccupied with it since taking up his post on June 18.

It was the ideal mission for Barak, Israel’s most decorated soldier and legendary former commander of the Sayeret Matkal, which shares the motto “Who Dares Wins” with Britain’s SAS and specialises in intelligence-gathering deep behind enemy lines.

President Bush refused to comment on the air attack last week, but warned North Korea that “the exportation of information and/or materials” could jeopard-ise plans to give North Korea food aid, fuel and diplomatic recognition in exchange for ending its nuclear programmes.

Diplomats in North Korea and China said they believed a number of North Koreans were killed in the raid, noting that ballistic missile technicians and military scientists had been working for some time with the Syrians.

A senior Syrian official, Sayeed Elias Daoud, director of the Syrian Arab Ba’ath party, flew to North Korea via Beijing last Thursday, reinforcing the belief among foreign diplomats that the two nations are coordinating their response to the Israeli strike.

The growing assumption that North Korea suffered direct casualties in the raid appears to be based largely on the regime’s unusually strident propaganda on an issue far from home. But there were also indications of conversations between Chinese and North Korean officials and intelligence reports reaching Asian governments that supported the same conclusion, diplomats said.

Jane’s Defence Weekly reported last week that dozens of Iranian engineers and Syrians were killed in July attempting to load a chemical warhead containing mustard gas onto a Scud missile. The Scuds and warheads are of North Korean design and possibly manufacture, and there are recent reports that North Koreans were helping the Syrians to attach airburst chemical weapons to warheads.

…The unusual silence about the airstrikes amazed Israelis, who are used to talkative politicians. But it did not surprise the defence community. “Most Israeli special operations remain unknown,” said a defence source.