Morning Report: 2008-10-05

Bearish on Russia?

Debka: Russian live-fire missile exercise near Alaska. Debka:
Not since 1984, just before the fall of the Soviet Union, has Russia ventured to launch dozens of nuclear bombers for an exercise in which Tu-95 Bear bombers will fire live cruise missiles. Exercise Stability 2008 will take place Oct.-6-12 over sub-Arctic Russia uncomfortably close to the US state of Alaska, and Belarus.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the exercise is part of a month-long war game described by Russian air force spokesman Col. Vladimir Drik as “practicing the strategic deployment of the armed forces including the nuclear triad.”

As part of the exercise, our sources reported exclusively on Oct. 1, that Russian ships armed with nuclear missiles will dock at Syrian ports Oct. 8, on the eve of Yom Kippur, before continuing to the Caribbean for joint maneuvers with Venezuela.

More than 60,000 troops and 1.500 tanks and APCs, as well as land-based and submarine-launched nuclear missiles, were tested in the first phase of the war games.

(“Nuclear triad” refers to three tiers of a national nuclear arsenal, usually strategic bombers armed with bombs or missiles, land-based missiles and ballistic missile submarines. These weapons must have a first- or second-strike capability.)

Col. Drik stressed that the Tu-95 and Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers will “carry their maximum combat payload and fire all the cruise missiles on board.” Also taking part in the air force exercise are Tu-22M3 Backfire strategic bombers, air superiority fighters, interceptors and aerial tankers.

The locations of the war games were deliberately chosen to underline three messages from Moscow to Washington:

1. Russian leaders are willing to brandish their nuclear strength in America’s face - to the north (Arctic) and south (Caribbean) – to challenge America’s position as the world’s No. 1 superpower.

2. Russia is powerful and rich enough to rise above the shockwaves rocking the world’s financial markets while carrying on developing its military muscle and expanding its spheres of influence.

3. By docking at the Syrian port of Tartus, the Peter the Great nuclear missile cruiser is Moscow’s marker on the Mediterranean to betoken the end of US Sixth Fleet’s sway. Last week, the Russian Navy united its Black Sea and Mediterranean fleet commands.

The Telegraph:
Over 60,000 troops and 1,500 tanks and armoured personnel carriers have taken part in the first fortnight of exercises. Land-based and submarine launched nuclear missiles have also been tested. Once the bombers have fired their cruise missiles next week, Russia will have carried out its first near-simultaneous test launches of all elements of its nuclear triad since the Cold War.

The has worried military observers critical of the Kremlin, who say the scope and character of the exercises does not gel with official explanations that they are designed to train the country's armed forces in counter-terrorism and military defence.

Pavel Felgenhauer, a respected military analyst, says the geographical reach of the exercises suggests that they are intended to simulate a nuclear war with the United States.

"Russia is preparing for the eventuality of a nuclear war," he said. "These are the most elaborate war games for 20 years and is clear evidence that we are returning to the Cold War."

Stratfor: 'Russia’s armed forces on Sept. 22 began conducting the “Stability-2008” strategic command staff exercises, Itar-Tass reported, citing the Russian Defense Ministry press service. The exercises are taking place under the command of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and will last until Oct. 21. Serdyukov said the exercises will be conducted in various areas of Russia and Belarus, with the cooperation of the Belarusian Defense Ministry.' More in Commentary section, below.

Helga and the cowboy. Bill Whittle has a terrific piece on an interview with an anti-islamist activist in Europe. He turns the America up to eleven, and then they get serious and learn why the hat - and the mask - cannot be taken off. I'm not going to try to explain - just read it.

Commentary. A post at the Small Wars Journal blog cites an article by Murray Feshbach in the Washington Post, which avers:
Predictions that Russia will again become powerful, rich and influential ignore some simply devastating problems at home that block any march to power. Sure, Russia's army could take tiny Georgia. But Putin's military is still in tatters, armed with rusting weaponry and staffed with indifferent recruits. Meanwhile, a declining population is robbing the military of a new generation of soldiers. Russia's economy is almost totally dependent on the price of oil. And, worst of all, it's facing a public health crisis that verges on the catastrophic.

The Telegraph article quoted above seems to back up this assessment of Russia's military strength: 'Not everyone is convinced as the Kremlin appears to be that Russia will soon be as militarily competitive as it was in the Cold War. Despite some improvements, the armed forces – and especially the air force and navy – are still in woeful condition and would be incapable of challenging a medium-sized European country in a conventional war, analysts say.'


Morning Report: 2008-10-03

Morning Report is going to skip the Palin/Biden debate. In other news ...

Debka: US warning to Syria on Lebanon. Debka:
Washington accompanied this warning to Damascus, DEBKAfile has learned, with its first explicit threat of military intervention to aid Lebanon should Syria go through with its planned incursion of the North.

The warning, according to our sources, was delivered on Sept. 28 by secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to the Syrian foreign minister Walid Mualem whom she invited for an urgent meeting in New York. The day after they met, Mualem was handed a second warning by undersecretary of state David Welch, who specified precisely which Syrian movements the US government would deem crossing the Lebanese border.
The harsh words from the top two American diplomats left the Syrian minister with little option but to promise there would be no Syrian incursion. However, in a number of subsequent interviews, Mualem claimed his talks with the two American officials focused on Washington’s support for the indirect talks between Jerusalem and Damascus, a tale made of whole cloth.

In the week since Washington warned Damascus off, nothing has changed in the Syrian military deployment on the Lebanese, our military sources confirm.

Debka previously reported that 'Damascus is pressing forward with its plan to occupy Greater Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city and port, DEBKAfile's military sources report. To this end, 10,000 Syrian commando troops have massed at Abboudieh on the Lebanese border ready to follow an advance force which occupied seven villages around the northern city earlier [in September] ...'.

Coalition forces nab 18 AQI suspects. MNF-Iraq: 'BAGHDAD – Coalition forces captured one wanted man and detained 17 additional suspects during operations to degrade the al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorist network throughout the country Thursday and Friday. Operations in Kirkuk Thursday netted four suspects believed to be associated with a regional AQI “emir.” An operation in the vicinity of Bayji, about 160 km south of Mosul, resulted in the capture of one wanted man assessed to be a local military “emir” for a terrorist organization associated with AQI. Two additional suspected terrorists were also detained during the operation. ...'

The dark hole of Gohardasht. Shir-o Khorshid Forever:
In the Name of Prosperity of Iran

It has been a long time since Mr. Mansour Radpour was taken to Section 1 of the Gohardasht Prison (Room 2), this section is also known as the “dark hole” where the prison is not allowed any time of outside contact including phone privileges or visitation.

I was also held in Section 1 of the Prison close to two months and know very well the types of torture Mr. Radpour is being subjected to. The guards in this section only “speak” to prisoners with their plastic and electrical baton’s. The prison is under 24 hour surveillance through a red camera in his cell. Also the prisoners are held with handcuffs at all times and sometimes their feet are cuffed as well.

In the Common ward of this section there are about 15-20 people who suffer from mental illnesses as well as infectious illnesses. These are prisoners who cannot be controlled and most prisoners prefer solitary cells to being in the same common ward as them.

Isn’t it time for the Iranian people and the human rights activists to force the officials of Gohardasht (Rajai Shahr) Prison to close the doors of this “dark hole” forever? The dark hole which is used to break down political prisoners and make them give up? ...

Long Live Iran Always
Behrouz Javid Tehrani
The last remaining political prisoner from July 1999 pro-democracy student demonstrations
Gohardasht (Rajai Shahr) Prison

Published by Human Rights and Democracy Activists in Iran

Translated by: Sayeh Hassan

Go to the link for full details.

A visit to the Rebbe. Van at Kesher Talk pays a Rosh haShanah visit to the last Lubavitcher Rebbe:
To think: who, truly, do I care about and want to mention in a written prayer, in this mystical time and place?

I wrote my letter, wishing for health and happiness, writing names in Hebrew and using mothers' names when I knew them. My son led the list, along with my brother, my late mother (Shirli bat Chava, which sounded close enough to Shirley daughter of Eva), and others who had suggested the visit, and those who I simply wished all good things for.

Afterward, the group from Stamford changed into plastic shoes and walked on a fenced-in path under grey skies to the building that had the tomb of the Rebbe and his father-in-law. Separate entrances for men and women separated people, although there was nothing like a mehitzah. I read Psalms 50, corresponding to my age, and then very quietly read my letter. People stood around a square pit, or tank, about 15 feet on each side, into which they placed their letters. I saw thousands of pieces of paper, mostly in Hebrew, nestled together in front of the headstones.

Go read it all.

Commentary. I never take Debka's reporting too seriously, but I'm encouraged by the claim that Washington is taking a strong stand on Lebanon.


Morning Report: 2008-10-02

The new Bush Doctrine.

Rice meets Syrian FM. The Standard: 'Two days after George W. Bush criticized Syria as a state sponsor of terror in a speech at the United Nations, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem in New York. The meeting was first reported in the Syrian state press which noted that it took place at Rice's request. Mouallen told Al Hayat that the meeting represented a softening of the US position on Syria. It's a fair reading. ...' Continue reading at the link. Key quote: "The new Bush Doctrine: You are either with us or against us. Or both. Whatever." More at Commentary section below.

Debka: Russian nuclear missile cruiser to dock at Syrian port on Erev Yom Kippur. Debka:
Russian Navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo disclosed Wednesday, Oct. 1, that a four-ship squadron led by the Peter the Great nuclear missile cruiser will call in at the Libyan port of Tripoli and “other Middle East ports” before heading out to the Caribbean for joint maneuvers with Venezuela.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that one of those ports is Tartus, Syria, where preparations are afoot to receive the visiting Russian flotilla.

Peter the Great , one of the most advanced naval vessels afloat, may in fact anchor at the new facility the Russians are building at Syria’s second major port, Latakia, for its first visit to Syria; the rest of the squadron, the Admiral Chabanenko submarine, a reconnaissance vessel and a fourth ship, will dock at Tartus.

Peter the Great is designed to sink large surface vessels such as aircraft carriers. The ship’s Granit (Nato designated SS-N-19 Shipwreck) anti-ship cruise missiles (20 missile launchers) can destroy vessels up to 500 km distant in ripple-fire mode.

An S-300F defense missile complex is installed on Peter the Great , with 12 launchers and 96 vertical launch air defense missiles.

The Navy spokesman in Moscow said the Russian warships will perform maneuvers in the Mediterranean, without adding details. They will pass through the Strait of Gibraltar Sunday, Oct. 5, visit Tripoli next and on Oct, 8 or 9, put in at a Syrian port.

More at the link.

Pirates who seized Iranian ship show radiation poisoning signs. The Long War Journal, in an article referenced by Fox, notes:
A tense standoff is underway in northeastern Somalia between pirates, Somali authorities, and Iran over a suspicious merchant vessel and its mysterious cargo. Hijacked late last month in the Gulf of Aden, the MV Iran Deyanat remains moored offshore in Somali waters and inaccessible for inspection. Its declared cargo consists of minerals and industrial products, however, Somali and regional officials directly involved in the negotiations over the ship and who spoke to The Long War Journal are convinced that it was heading to Eritrea to deliver small arms and chemical weapons to Somalia's Islamist insurgents.

Fox has this:
As Somali pirates brazenly maintain their standoff with American warships off the coast of Africa, the cargo aboard one Iranian ship they commandeered is raising concerns that it may contain materials that can be used for chemical or biological weapons.

Some local officials suspect that instead of finding riches, the pirates encountered deadly chemical agents aboard the Iranian vessel.

Notice that there's no mention of nuclear material here. A little farther down, though, the article says:
Chemical experts say the reports sound inconsistent with chemical poisoning, but may reflect the effects of exposure to radiation.

"It's baffling," said Jonathan Tucker, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. "I'm not aware of any chemical agent that produces loss of hair within a few days. That's more suggestive of high levels of radioactive waste."

The Bald-Headed Geek comments: 'If so, that means that the Iranians are apparently in the business of exporting things that could clearly be used in terrorist attacks (likely against us or our allies). If so, the Iranians have gone way over the line from just being a hostile adversary. They are now bordering on something much more ominous and dangerous, not only for us but for the world at large.'

McCain in the Blade. Via Log Cabin Republicans, the Washington Blade has a Q&A session with Senator John McCain on lesbian and gay issues.

Iraqis clean up Jewish cemetery in Basra. Gateway Pundit:
Iraqi-American and friend Haider Ajina sends this wonderful news from Azzaman news service in Iraq:

Cleaning up of Jewish cemetery in Basra
By Abed Battat
Azzaman, September 28, 2008

Municipal authorities in the southern city of Basra have mounted a campaign to clean up the Jewish cemetery there. The cemetery is seen as one of Basra’s ‘cultural landmarks’ and the authorities want to keep it clean and tidy, said Ahmad al-Yasseri who heads the cleaning-up campaign.

There are no Jews left in the city which used to house a sizeable Jewish community of tens of thousands before the creation of Israel in 1948. They were the finest goldsmiths and the most adventurous traders of Basra, known as the Venice of the Middle East. The lived in one of the city’s smartest (English use means nicest) quarters with spacious villas adorned with palm trees and oranges.

Yasseri said in the tumultuous post-Saddam period, 62 houses were built on the cemetery grounds illegally. “This cemetery is one of the cultural landmarks of Basra and we are determined to remove the illegal dwellings,” he said.

Read the rest at the link.

Commentary. Tony Bey breaks out his decoder ring and deciphers Mouallem's cheery talk of "security cooperation":
Decoder, please. The key term here is "security cooperation." Once you understand what this means, the statement's sinister implications become clear. To understand the reference points, whenever you hear that term, "cooperation," uttered by a Syrian official, always think along the lines of the "Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation and Coordination" that the Syrian regime forced upon a vassal Lebanon under the boot of Syrian military occupation in 1991. That Treaty essentially codified the complete Syrian domination and dictating of Lebanese affairs. That's Assad's view of "normal" relations with Lebanon. As he put it earlier in the year, and again to recent visitors, the normal state of these relations, in Assad's mind, is "how they were a few years ago" -- i.e., when Syria military occupied Lebanon.