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Since October 13th the United States has carried out 12 unmanned air strikes.

October 15th: The United States today launched a pair of unmanned air strikes against villages in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. The first strike hit a compound in the village of Marchi Khel, killing five 'militants'. The second attack on a vehicle in the village of Aziz Khel killed an additional four 'militants'. No senior Taliban or al Qaida operatives were reported killed in the attacks.

October 18th: Six missiles were fired at a compound and vehicle in Sunzalai village, Datta Khel, North Waziristan. Six 'militants' were reported killed in the attack, with an additional five injured. Interestingly, four Predators appeared to circle over the scene after the attack.

October 27th: The United States launched its first strike in nine days with two attacks on targets in North Waziristan. The first attack struck a compound in the village of Spin Wam, Mir Ali. The target was a house belonging to a militant identified as Nasimullah Khan. According to the Associated Press foreign fighters were reported to be staying at the house. Two 'militants' were reported killed in the attack.

The second strike hit a vehicle in the village of Degan, Datta Khel. Two Arab al Qaida members and two 'Westerners' were reported killed in the attack.

In both instances, the exact targets of the strikes remain unclear, and no senior operatives were thought to be amongst the victims.

October 28th: The US launched their third attack in two days against a compound in the village of Ismail Khan, Datta Khel. Seven 'militants' were reported killed and were wounded.

November 1st: Two missiles were fired at a compound in the village of Haider Khan, Mir Ali, North Waziristan. According to Pakistani security sources the compound belonged to a local tribesman and was believed to be sheltering local 'militants'. Six 'militants' were reported killed; however none were thought to be senior operatives.

November 3rd: Thirteen 'militants' were killed in three separate airstrikes within North Waziristan. In the first strike four 'militants' were reported killed after two missiles were fired at a vehicle in Qutub Khel, a suburb of Miramshah. The vehicle was reportedly laden with arms and ammunition.

In the second strike another vehicle was targeted in the village of Kaiso Khel, Datta Khel. Five 'militants' were reported killed in this strike.

Yet another vehicle was attacked in a strike in the Mir Ali area. Four 'militants' were reported killed in this attack. Yet despite the intensity of today's airstrikes, no senior al Qaida or Taliban operatives were believed to be amongst the dead.
November 7th: Two airstrikes today in North Waziristan killed 14 'militants', including five 'foreigners'.

In the first attack missiles were fired on a compound and vehicle in the village of Ghulam Khan, Miramshah. Nine 'militants' were killed in this strike.

The second airstrike of the day targeted a vehicle in the village of Maizer, Datta Khel. Five 'foreigners' – a term used to describe Arab or Central Asian al Qaida operatives – were reported killed. However in both instances no senior operatives were believed to be amongst the casualties.

In comparison with last month's Drone Wars, the United States appears to have dramatically scaled back its unmanned campaign. Nevertheless, the Long War Journal reports that the US has conducted 97 airstrikes to date in 2010. Should the attacks continue with the same intensity throughout the rest of November/early December then the United States is likely to double its tally of unmanned strikes in comparison with 2009.

North Waziristan remains the overwhelming focus for the majority of airstrikes. However on the 8th November the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (TTP) claimed that six Taliban groups in South Waziristan had now joined the larger organization. The groups have all reportedly expressed their confidence in the leadership of the TTP's Hakeemullah Mehsud. As a result of increased TTP activities in South Waziristan, it will be interesting to monitor how many airstrikes are undertaken here throughout the rest of 2010.

 

Since the 29th June the United States has carried out four unmanned airstrikes:

July 10th: The United States' first unmanned airstrike in two weeks was against a compound in the village of Sheerani Mada Khel near Miramshah, North Waziristan. Pakistani officials reported that between 10 and 14 'militants' were killed in the strike. However at this time none were believed to be senior al Qaeda or Taliban figures.

July 24th: Several missiles were fired during an unmanned strike against a hideout used by the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in the Angora Adda area of South Waziristan. The strike killed 16 Taliban 'militants,' however none were deemed senior operatives.

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Often unreported by the Western media, strikes against suspected terrorist sites in Pakistan from unmanned aerial vehicles are a regular occurrence. But this is not a cost-free option, as the suicide bombing that killed 7 CIA operatives showed - and that incident can be linked directly back to networks hit repeatedly in Pakistan.

Many of the strikes are chronicled by our friends at The Long War Journal. Their analysis shows that casualty levels have risen drastically over the last 3 years: 73 Taliban/ Al Qaeda in 2007; 286 Taliban/Al Qaeda and 31 civilians in 2008; 404 Taliban/ Al Qaeda and 43 civilians up to the end of September. Almost all of these took place in the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan.

The purpose of these strikes (many of which are unacknowledged or revealed in Pakistan when "civilians" are killed) is to disrupt Al Qaeda networks and Taliban operations in Afghanistan, plus Pakistani Taliban leaders who threaten that state. It should also be noted that more than 70% of US and NATO supplies pass through Pakistan's north-west provinces.

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By Adam Dempsey, Research Associate, U K Defence Forum

On the 13th January the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information request asking the US government to disclose the legal basis for the use of predator drones to conduct 'targeted killings.' From the very outset of the war on terror US administrations have used unmanned drones to target and kill terrorists. More recently, use of unmanned drones has expanded within Pakistan. As a result of the expansion of drone activities the ACLU argues that the American public has a right to know whether the programme is compliant with international law. The ACLU is also keen to establish whether the programme seeks to minimise the number of civilian casualties.

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Reviewed by Roger Green

Yemen is an obscure and impoverished country that has for a long time been an enigma to Western countries. Victoria Clark was born in Aden, the daughter of the BBC's South Arabia correspondent, and this accident of birth gave her the motivation to write this eponymous book.  Over the years she has made several visits to the country and has met most of the influential leaders as well as many ordinary people.  She paints a graphic pen picture of the cultural and social heritage of the country.

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Since the 1st February the United States have carried out three airstrikes. The targets were:

2nd February – Five unmanned US strike aircraft are reported to have fired 18 missiles at a camp and vehicles in the village of Datta Khel, North Waziristan. According to the Long War Journal this is the largest recorded US airstrike in Pakistan. This also indicates that top al Qaida, Taliban or Haqqani leaders may have been targeted. Seventeen terrorists were reported killed in the attack. However none of the reported casualties have been al Qaida or Taliban leaders.

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Since the 17th February the United States have carried out eight airstrikes. The targets were:

February 17th - A Predator attack that targeting a Taliban compound in the village of Tapi near Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan. The strike killed Sheikh Mansoor, a key al Qaida military leader based in North Waziristan. Pakistani news sources reported that the airstrike left a number of other important militants dead

February 18th – An unmanned US Predator fired two missiles at a compound and a vehicle in Danda Darpa Khel just outside of Miramshah, North Waziristan. Four Haqqani Network fighters were initially reported killed, including Mohammed Haqqani, one of twelve sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani.

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Since the 19th March the United States have carried out five unmanned airstrikes. The targets were:

March 21st: Unmanned Predators and Reapers struck a compound in the village of Inzar, North Waziristan. The targeted compound belonged to a relative of a militant commander. Initial reports indicated that four terrorists were killed. However none of these were reported to be senior al Qaida or Taliban leaders. The Taliban responded to the attacks by killing four "U.S. spies." A note found attached to the bodies stated that:

"Spies are spies, and they will come to the same fate as these men. Do not spy for America."

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Since the 12th April the United States has carried out seven unmanned airstrikes. The targets were:

April 14th: Unmanned predators or reapers fired two Hellfire missiles at a car in the village of Ambor Shagha, Miramshah, North Waziristan. According to Pakistani intelligence sources four militants were killed in the strike and an additional three were wounded. No senior al Qaeda or Taliban figures have been reported killed in the strike.

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26th March: The Cheonan, a Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) corvette sailing close to the disputed inter-Korean maritime border, sank after an explosion split the vessel in two. Fifty-eight sailors manage to escape but another forty-six were killed.

27th March: As the ROKN continued its search for survivors, South Korea's president, Lee Myung-bak, calls emergency security meetings and orders an investigation into the sinking. With speculation mounting of a possible North Korean torpedo attack, South Korea's Defence Minister indicated to Parliament that the authorities would undertake a full investigation. It was also emphasised that it was still too early to connect the sinking of the ship to North Korea.

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Since the 11th May the United States has carried out three unmanned airstrikes:

15th May: US Predators fired missiles at a Taliban compound and "two truckloads of militants" in the first recorded airstrike with Pakistan's Khyber tribal agency. Between 5 and 15 Taliban fighters were killed in the attack, but none were reported to be senior figures. The location of the attack also remains unclear.

21st May: Unmanned aircraft fired four missiles at a Taliban compound in the village of Mohammed Khel, North Waziristan. Reports suggest that between 6 and 10 'terrorists' were killed in the attack. Initially it remained unclear if the casualties were al Qaida, Taliban or other Jihadists operating in the area. No senior figures were reported killed at the time. However on the 31st May As Sahab, al Qaida's propaganda arm, released statement confirming that its chief finance official Mustafa Abu Yazid was killed in the strike. Yazid is considered one of al Qaida's most senior figures. He served as al Qaida's leader in Afghanistan and was identified by the 9/11 Commission as its "chief financial manager." This would have made him responsible for the distribution of funds from al Qaida's treasury.

Read more...  

Since the 28th May the United States has carried out seven unmanned airstrikes:

June 10th: U.S. unmanned aircraft targeted a 'sprawling compound' in the village of Norak, North Waziristan, killing three suspected terrorists. Whilst the compound was known to be used by the Taliban no senior figures were reported killed. However on June 17th the Long War Journal reported that two al Qaeda commanders and a Turkish fighter were killed in this attack. The al Qaida casualties were confirmed as Sheikh Inshanullah, an 'Arab al Qaeda commander' and Ibrahim, commander of the Fursan-i-Mohammed Group. All three deaths were confirmed in a statement from Taifatul Mansura Group, a Turkish jihadist organisation operating along the Af-Pak border.

June 11th: Unmanned aircraft attacked two villages in North Waziristan. The airstrike targeted targeted Taliban safe houses in the villages of Bahader Khel and Khaddi, killing eleven and four terrorists respectively. Three 'foreigners' were reported killed in Bahader Khel, and two in Khaddi. The term 'foreigner' is used by Pakistani security forces to describe Arab or Central Asian al Qaida operatives.  No senior al Qaeda or Taliban figures were reported killed at this time.

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By Lauren Williamson, Great North News Services reporter

(Watch a minute and a half video that includes photographs of Saturday's protest. It can be viewed via this ">Youtube link.)

This weekend protesters in London took to the streets as part of a continued display of solidarity with the Egyptian popular uprising against President Hosni Mubarak, whose rule has lasted nearly thirty years.  Though the number
of demonstrators on Saturday was only around a hundred, far fewer than in llast weekend's London demonstrations, the emotional and political fury were still intense.

"We won't give up, we won't give in, until we see our people win," chanted the emphatic crowd.

Parents with children, young students, British nationals and other foreigners joined the Egyptian diaspora as they called on London-based Egyptian representatives and the UK government to support the populist movement.  Though some sections within the protesting group talked of different paths toward Egyptian political change, everyone seemed to share the same goal of achieving a sweeping transformation.

Saturday's protest at the Egyptian Embassy on 26 South Street was closely monitored by dozens of police on foot, on bikes, and in surveillance vans, with additional forces on standby in Hyde Park. Though the noon demonstrations started off slowly, within a few hours more people joined the group. Some women bought roses to commemorate the lives lost in the clashes between security forces and protesters in Egypt. The UN estimates around 300 people have been killed and an equal or greater number injured.

"We support the [Egyptian] people because we know now what Mubarak did in supporting Saddam Hussein," said a Kurdish protester as he expressed outrage over the atrocities Hussein committed against his fellow Kurds. The man
proudly displayed a large poster with a caricature of Mubarak oozing into the sewers with rats crawling nearby.

Though the protest's organisers refused to speak to us, other members of the crowd expressed their opinions freely, requesting to remain anonymous.

"Some protest because they want Islamic law. They think that kind of system would bring peace," one Egyptian said. "But we don't want that. The people who started all this, here, we don't support the Muslim Brotherhood."

This demonstrator's statement encapsulates a pressing concern of Western governments.  There is a worry over the Muslim Brotherhood's conservative policies, which conflict with liberal democratic values.  There is further
anxiety that if the Muslim Brotherhood were to take power, Egypt's peace with Israel might be compromised.

Just thirty miles north of London, on the same day as the Embassy protests, thousands of English Defence League supporters filled the streets of Luton. Their message targeted UK lawmakers, imploring them to help stop the spread
of Sharia law and Islamic extremism within the UK, as reported by Sky News. Interestingly, the day prior in London, on 5 February, the Egyptian embassy protesters were unexpectedly joined by an extremist Muslim anti-war group
whose members made threatening statements against the UK, according to Demotix.

The extent of the fear from all sides, built upon vastly contrasting rhetoric, is dangerous. It contributes to misunderstandings of the evolving process in Egypt and may fuel further grievances of disenfranchised groups.
Many in the West equate the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaeda when, in fact, they are two separate organisations with very different doctrines. The connections, however, do exist. It is well known that a Muslim Brotherhood
leader, Sayyid Qtub, served as an inspirational mentor for Osama bin Laden. But the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has urgently tried to distance itself from violent jihad and gain political legitimacy to support their conservative religious policies.

Of course, political legitimacy in Egypt, which outlaws openly religious political factions, is nearly impossible to gain. Because group members have had to run for political positions as independents and operate
clandestinely, the exact number of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and sympathisers is unknown. Prominent anthropologist Scot Atran, in an article for *The International Herald Tribune*, says it may be around 20-30 percent.
This, Atran argues, should not spark such panic of a Muslim Brotherhood usurpation in Egypt.

But the Muslim Brotherhood's ideals have gained traction among the Egyptian people, as evidenced by the group's parliamentary election gains in 2005, which deeply disturbed Mubarak and the National Democratic Party.  Could it
be that the oppression of this group has actually gained them sympathisers?

In stark contrast to Atran's views, authors in *The Jerusalem Post* have been overwhelmingly alarmist about the situation; an anti-Zionist group is, to Israel, a decisive threat. The US has also indicated that it would not support extremist groups. But Atran's point is that by and large the demonstrations have been organised and sustained by a more educated and secular stratum.

Saturday's London protest provides some proof of this. The weekend demonstrations, which included protests on Downing Street on Sunday, were organised via Facebook groups, just like the initial demonstrations in Egypt
before the government shut down the internet. Many Facebook attendees have changed their profile pictures to Egyptian flags, a show of loyalty to their countrymen in this time of upheaval.  Generally  the
digital majority's chosen representation is the Egyptian flag, not the crescent and star of Islam.

"Like standing in no man's land, many Egyptians are confused, caught between feeling immense pride and great shame," wrote one London-based Egyptian, poignantly describing the ambivalence he and many of his countrymen feel at this point.

The author said it is pride for the scenes of bravery, the people's struggle for a freer life, the unity seen between Christians and Muslims.  It is shame for the eruptions of violence, the government's manipulation, and those that believe the propaganda, he argued. The author chided the notion that the protestors have caused the chaos in Egypt, an idea promoted on state-run media outlets. He equates it to blaming a rape victim for screaming for help.

There are endless accounts and opinions circulating on the web via social media platforms from Facebook to Twitter, Youtube to independent blogs. Some want Mubarak gone immediately. Others want the current administration to
maintain control of security and allow protesters to pursue their demonstrations, gaining support for a future election.

It is perhaps all too obvious that true democracy takes time to cultivate. A transitional period for Egypt seems only appropriate. But if during the transition any emerging political group, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, receives undue global condemnation, these criticisms may escalate the faction's domestic support. This political revolution is under intense international scrutiny and equally intense media coverage. At this critical juncture, decision makers in the West and the Arab world must not underestimate the potential of deeply rooted national loyalties.

---

Lauren Williamson is a London-based freelance journalist with a passion for security and development issues. She holds a Master's degree in International Studies and Diplomacy from the University of London.

 

Abridged by Adam Dempsey , Research Associate, U K Defence Forum, from an article, originally published by the New York Times on January 16th 2011, written by William Yong

Iran has embarked on a sweeping program of cuts in its costly and inefficient system of subsidies on fuel and other essential goods that has put a strain on state finances and held back economic progress for years. The government's success in overcoming political obstacles to make the cuts and its willingness to risk social upheaval suggest that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have consolidated power after the internal fractures that followed his bitterly disputed re-election in 2009.

Analysts also believe that the successful implementation of the cuts could influence Iran's position at nuclear talks in Istanbul this month. "The initial success of the subsidy reform will increase the regime's confidence generally," said Cliff Kupchan, a former State Department official who is now a director at the Washington-based Eurasia Group. "This could make them more assertive in the talks. But more importantly, a confident and unified regime is better positioned to reach consensus on some initial agreement."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said recently that international sanctions had slowed Iran's nuclear program, and the restrictions do seem to have disrupted sectors of the economy, particularly banking and export-related industries. But the sanctions do not seem to be the driving force behind the subsidy cuts.

Iran's foreign exchange revenues also sank in recent years as oil prices fell from prerecession highs, creating greater budget pressures. But Tehran has long sought to cut the subsidies — even under the reformist administration of President Mohammad Khatami — and particularly for oil.

The logic is compelling: artificially low prices encourage greater consumption, leaving less oil to export for cash. And the higher oil prices rise, the greater the "opportunity costs" in lost exports. But the timing, whether for political or economic reasons, was never right to cut the subsidies.

Read more...  

The Wall Street Journal has recently reported on new evidence of Iran's effort to avoid UN imposed sanctions by acquiring high-grade metals from China, suitable for the production of ballistic missiles. In its article titled, "Fresh Clues of Iranian Nuclear Intrigue," The Wall Street Journal indicates that Iranian companies such as ABAN Commercial and Industrial Ltd. has been using intermediary firms to attain specialized copper, aluminum and titanium from China.

Read more...  

Recent American and South Korean intelligence reports speculate that North Korea may be preparing for its first nuclear tests since 2009. Satellite images show that North Korea has dug an 800 metre tunnel at its test site at Punggye-ri. Experts believe that the tunnel will be ready for a nuclear test when it reaches 1 kilometre, which South Korea believes may occur in early April.

Adam Dempsey, Research Associate for the UK Defence Forum, has recently undertaken a study of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme. His report outlines the development of Pyongyang's programme and ballistic missile capabilities.

In keeping with many aspects of North Korean life, Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme is shrouded in secrecy and subject to speculation. Official estimates of North Korea's programme are varied and remain primarily reliant on open-source intelligence. To complicate matters, Pyongyang's nuclear missile development may have benefitted from illegal exchanges involving the A.Q. Khan network.

Adam's full report is available here.

 

By Yusuf Yerkel,

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed the fourth round of sanctions on Iran on June 9, 2010. Since then there has been no indication that Iran has become more cooperative and willing to open up its nuclear facility. In fact, economic sanctions against Iran have not prevented the pursuit  of uranium enrichment activities at all. Nowadays the propaganda of waging war against Iran as a resolution has been speculated around various administrations, in particular in the US and Israel. Whether such speculations will materialize remains to be seen. However "appealing" waging war against Iran is for some neo-cons, Turkey's paradigm stands as a potential conciliatory approach for conflict resolution not only in the case of Iran but also in other regional crisis.

The security culture of 'zero problems' with its neighbours is the primary reference point within which Turkey's stance on Iran should be analyzed. Rather than implementing hard power policy, the soft power approach has become the fundamental instrument in resolving regional problems. As the Turkish foreign minster Davutoglu pronounced, Turkey has adopted a new language in regional and international politics that prioritises civil-economic power.

Turkey's new security culture puts more emphasis on economic integration, cultural and political dialogue and room for diplomacy in conflict resolutions. According to Turkey, pursuing merely political engagement among regional actors would render the relationship very fragile in the light of crisis, whereas deepening ties by various non-political mechanisms offers the opportunity to overcome crises. In fact, Turkish President Abdullah Gul in his recent speech at Chatham House raised this point by arguing that boosting economic cooperation, which will in turn translate into prosperity, has the potential to prevent political problems from arising in zones of conflict in various regions.

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By Caroline Dynes

Why are the US and the People's Republic of China (PRC) so interested in Taiwan? It's a small seemingly inconsequential island that does very little to upset the international arena. Both have their different reasons for having their interests piqued by the island formerly known as Formosa.

From a Chinese perspective Taiwan represents the last vestige of defiance to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and a contradiction of its triumph in the civil war, on top of which it is a symbol of past foreign dominance as it was taken from China by Japan in one of the Unequal Treaties. This failure is dubbed the 'Century of Humiliation', and regaining Taiwan is seen as the last stumbling block to making China great once more, becoming the greatest nation on earth, a status it had held for thousands of years. America's interference in the East Asia region is ostensibly why the Republic of China (ROC) based on Taiwan is able to survive with such a direct threat to their legitimacy so close, across only 90 miles of water.

The US had long had a relatively affable relationship with the Nationalist government in China, and at the end of World War II left them to fight their own battles. It looked likely that the communists would follow the Kuomintang (KMT) across the Taiwan Strait and settle the civil war once and for all. Indeed, shelling of islands like Quemoy was a feature for many years. However, the Korean War broke out in 1950 and it suddenly became imperative to the Americans to find allies in Asia to stand against the tide of communism sweeping the world. Taiwan became strategically important in containing the socialist threat to capitalist ideology. Taiwan became the spokesman for all of China, despite only being in charge of c.20 million of the potential billion Chinese, some of whom identified themselves as ethnically Taiwanese. However, the KMT's international representation of all China was for a limited time, as the PRC found its feet. The importance of America finding substantial allies against the 'Evil Empire', the USSR, took priority.

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By Lauren Williamson

Iranian nuclear negotiations have been underway again in Geneva between Iranian officials and diplomats from the P5+1 countries. Yet according to Reuters, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn't plan to discuss his country's specific nuclear programme and will be opting instead to chat about nuclear issues generally or other global problems. As Ahmadinejad sees it, the heavy-weight weapons-wielders of the world are about to scold him – again – arguing his country should not play with guns.

It is unlikely that this round of talks will yield a less defiant Iran, as Tehran has been doggedly determined in its nuclear pursuit. This is especially true in light of Sunday's revelation by the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran who claims Iran is now fully capable of producing nuclear fuel. It can now successfully make yellow cake, or uranium powder which, when refined, can become fissile nuclear bomb material.

Currently, Iran is returning to the negotiating table after a 14-month break. But the history of the issue has deep roots. The Institute for Science and International Security says Iran outlined nuclear ambitions in the 1950s, later signing the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – which does allow for the pursuit of peaceful nuclear energy programmes. From the 1980s through the 2000s Iran conducted undeclared nuclear-related activity, violating conditions of the NPT. Instead of pursuing its peaceful programme transparently, as it had agreed, Iran has been shirking it obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And its non-compliance has resulted in brutal economic sanctions from the international community since 2006.

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By Ben West

On the morning of Nov. 29, two Iranian scientists involved in Iran's nuclear development program were attacked. One was killed, and the other was injured. According to Iranian media, the deceased, Dr. Majid Shahriari, was heading the team responsible for developing the technology to design a nuclear reactor core, and Time magazine referred to him as the highest-ranking non-appointed individual working on the project.

Official reports indicate that Shahriari was killed when assailants on motorcycles attached a "sticky bomb" to his vehicle and detonated it seconds later. However, the Time magazine report says that an explosive device concealed inside the car detonated and killed him. Shahriari's driver and wife, both of whom were in the car at the time, were injured.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of town, Dr. Fereidoon Abassi was injured in a sticky-bomb attack reportedly identical to the one officials said killed Shahriari. His wife was accompanying him and was also injured (some reports indicate that a driver was also in the car at the time of the attack). Abassi and his wife are said to be in stable condition. Abassi is perhaps even more closely linked to Iran's nuclear program than Shahriari was, since he was a member of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and was named in a 2007 U.N. resolution that sanctioned high-ranking members of Iran's defense and military agencies believed to be trying to obtain nuclear weapons.

Monday's incidents occurred at a time of uncertainty over how global powers and Iran's neighbors will handle an Iran apparently pursuing nuclear weapons despite its claims of developing only a civilian nuclear program and asserting itself as a regional power in the Middle East. Through economic sanctions that went into effect last year, the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany (known as the "P-5+1") have been pressuring Iran to enter negotiations over its nuclear program and outsource the most sensitive aspects the program, such as higher levels of uranium enrichment.

The Nov. 29 attacks came about a week before Saeed Jalili, Iran's national security chief, will be leading a delegation to meet with the P-5+1 from Dec. 6-7 in Vienna, the first such meeting in more than a year. The attacks also came within hours of the WikiLeaks release of classified U.S. State Department cables, which are filled with international concerns about Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Because of the international scrutiny and sanctions on just about any hardware required to develop a nuclear program, Iran has focused on developing domestic technologies that can fill the gaps. This has required a national initiative coordinated by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to build the country's nuclear program from scratch, an endeavor that requires thousands of experts from various fields of the physical sciences as well as the requisite technologies.

And it was the leader of the AEOI, Ali Akhbar Salehi, who told media Nov. 29 that Shahriari was "in charge of one of the great projects" at the agency. Salehi also issued a warning to Iran's enemies "not to play with fire." Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad elaborated on the warning, accusing "Zionist" and "Western regimes" of being behind the coordinated attacks against Shahriari and Abassi. The desire of the U.N. Security Council (along with Israel and Germany) to stop Iran's nuclear program and the apparent involvement of the targeted scientists in that program has led many Iranian officials to quickly blame the United States, United Kingdom and Israel for the attacks, since those countries have been the loudest in condemning Iran for its nuclear ambitions.

It seems that certain domestic rivals of the Iranian regime would also benefit from these attacks. Any one of numerous Iranian militant groups throughout the country may have been involved in one way or another, perhaps with the assistance of a foreign power. A look at the tactics used in the attacks could shed some light on the perpetrators.

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