Morning Report: December 24, 2006

Over the edge. The action in New York may not look like much, but it was enough to yank somebody's chain pretty good. Plus: light on a suspected mole, and a bad day for the Taliban.

UN votes in favor of Iran sanctions. Stratfor (subscription): '1705 GMT - The United Nations on Dec. 23 voted to sanction Iran for its refusal to halt nuclear fuel enrichment activities. The full text of the sanctions has not yet been released.' According to Debka, Mr. Ahmadinejad is not pleased: 'Ahmadinejad says “issuers” of UN sanctions resolution against Iran “will soon regret their useless act”. He called the sanctions resolution the Security Council carried unanimously Saturday, Dec. 23, against Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment “trash paper”. Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator said Iran will begin installing 3,000 centrifuges at a uranium enrichment plan at Natanz from Sunday and drive it with full speed. Shortly before the vote, the US and Russian presidents conferred by telephone to overcome last-minute snags.' Debka's analysts are unimpressed:
The price of a unanimous vote was an emasculated sanctions motion which leaves US and Israel minus a policy or defense for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The final version contains little that should inconvenience Tehran, and no word on the clandestine military nuclear activities systematically concealed from UN inspectors.

While banning imports and exports of dangerous materials and technology relating to nuclear enrichment, reprocessing, ballistic missile programs and heavy water reactors - such as the one in Arak - the resolution omits to block the far larger reactor the Russians are building at Bushehr, even though it will be able to produce plutonium for making a weapon. Moscow has also got away with forcing Western members to drop the proposed travel ban and financial freeze against 11 individuals and 12 organizations from Iran which associated with nuclear programs, to prevent them from buying dangerous materials.

Victor Comras at Counterterrorism Blog thinks it's not enough, but better than nothing:
Sanctions can be very useful tools when carefully crafted, used wisely, and in conjunction with other measures and policies designed to achieve clear objectives. I believe that substantive economic and trade sanctions could be used effectively to dissuade Iran from continuing to pursue its nuclear weapons program. Iran’s economy is very fragile, and the current economic situation has already created growing internal opposition to the policies of Iran’s erratic President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But the measures so far adopted are not designed to disrupt or distress Iran’s economy or normal trade and business activities. Nor do they penalize Iran’s leaders. Rather, they are directed only at hampering (they certainly won’t stop) Iran’s access to nuclear material and technology. They are unlikely to foster increased domestic pressure on the Ahmadinejad government to change course.

The sanctions are very narrowly targeted. They direct all countries to freeze the assets of 10 Iranian entities and 12 individuals associated with Iran’s centrifuge programs, its heavy water reactor at Arak and its pilot uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. The 12 individuals include a vice president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization and officials associated with the Arak and Natanz plants. The measures also impose a limited ban on materials and technology that could contribute to “enrichment-related, reprocessing or heavy water related activities, or to the development of nuclear weapons delivery systems.” One should note, however, that these same items supposedly have already long been restricted under various international agreements such as the Nuclear Supplier Group, the Wassenaar agreement and the NPT itself.

Full post at the link. More analysis as it becomes available. (various)

Key Taliban figure killed. Washington Times: 'A U.S. air strike near the Pakistan border killed the Taliban's southern military commander, an associate of Osama bin Laden and heir to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, U.S. and Afghan officials said yesterday. Akhtar Mohammed Osmani's vehicle was hit by a U.S. air strike Tuesday as he traveled in a deserted area in the southern province of Helmand, the spokesman said. Two of his associates also were killed. U.S. and Afghan officials said the strike was a major victory. Ahmed Rashid, a leading author on the Taliban, said Osmani's death could disrupt planning for a Taliban offensive early next year, designed to extend the recent surge of violence across Afghanistan. Osmani played an instrumental role in some of the Taliban's most notorious excesses -- including the demolition of the ancient Buddha statues in Bamiyan and the trial of Christian aid workers in 2001, Mr. Rashid said. He also was one of three top associates of Mullah Omar, and among the first supporters of bin Laden within the militant Islamic militia's top ranks, Mr. Rashid said.' BBC: 'Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani's vehicle was reportedly hit in an air strike in Helmand province in south Afghanistan. The US said Mullah Osmani was the chief Taleban military commander in southern Afghanistan - scene of heavy clashes between the Taleban and US-led forces. A Taleban spokesman is said to have dismissed reports of his death. But Afghanistan's interior ministry confirmed the killing, calling it "a big achievement."' (Washington Times, BBC)

British spy debacle: An end to denial? As reported at DiL earlier, a highly-placed British corporal named Daniel James has been accused of spying for "the enemy", believed to be a reference to Iran. Michael Ledeen writes at his new weblog (care to guess what it's called?):
Con Coughlin is one of the best British journalists on the military/intelligence/national security beat, and he is privy to the thinking of top policy people and field commanders. In today’s “Telegraph” he picks up on a theme I raised yesterday: that both Washington and London are grudgingly coming to accept the fact that Iran is waging war against us in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Coughlin carefully spells out the implications of the accusation against a top British military aide in Afghanistan. Corporal Daniel James–the personal interpreter for the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan–is charged with giving the Iranians information that “prejudic(es) the safety of the (British) state.” No matter how this case is ultimately resolved, Coughlin writes, the fact that Iran is interested in recruiting such people confirms the mullahs’ desire to ensure the failure of our mission.

Ledeen differs from Coughlin only in the assessment of where the culture of denial is rooted: 'Coughlin explains it in a purely military context. He says that NATO troops have enough to do, fighting Taliban units in southern Afghanistan, and are just not prepared to extend their field of operations to the north and west. But, as he says, that would necessarily change if, as appears to be case, our leaders can no longer ignore the evidence. I think the self-blinding of the West took place at a higher, and more political, level. I blame the intelligence community and the diplomats.' Read the full article at the link. Richard at Hyscience has some thoughts. (Michael Ledeen, Hyscience)

Commentary. Regardless of the immediate, direct impact of UN sanctions against the IRI, this is a big victory for a couple of reasons. One, nobody will be able to say that "America is isolating itself in the world" when the US has successfully negotiated a unanimous vote by the UNSC against Iran. Two, and perhaps more important, this will help to push Tehran's psychotic thug-in-chief over the edge - as we've already seen.

Ahmadinejad was dealt a setback in the recent elections and he's not in a good mood. Those elections, BTW, showed support for Ahmadinejad's rivals, the "moderate conservatives"; and as SKF puts it, 'If Rafsanjani is a Moderate Conservative I don't know what to call the rest of them.' But as even the BBC has to admit, 'Ahmadinejad's supporters were said to be in a minority' for Tehran's city council, and 'supporters have also failed to main significant gains on the Assembly of Experts, which can dismiss the supreme leader.'

It's going to be getting harder for AJ to keep calling Bush the "world's most hated" leader.