Morning Report: April 25, 2006

Analysis of Dahab bombing. Internet Haganah reports: 'The attack would appear to be part of an ongoing campaign against Egypt by the forces of the global jihad.' The site quotes a news source as saying that at least two suicide bombers were involved in the attacks, which killed at least 23 people in the Egyptian resort town of Dahab. It was the third attack on tourist resorts in the Sinai in the last 18 months, according to Egypt's Interior Ministry. Debka has this: 'Egypt now says two suicide bombers and a time bomb caused the three explosions that killed 22-30 people, injured 150, at two cafes and a supermarket of the Red Sea resort of Dahab in eastern Sinai Monday night, April 24. The casualties appear to be European tourists on their Easter break and Egyptians. There are no immediate reports of Israeli casualties. Few remained in Sinai after the Passover holiday ended last week. Overnight, Israel dismantled the situation room and recalled the ambulances set up at the Taba crossing. Cairo responding to Israel’s offer said no medical assistance was needed. The blasts occurred a day after Osama bin Laden released a new audiotape threatening the "Crusader Zionists." DEBKAfile notes that Israeli travelers had been assured by Egypt's government and their own that the Sinai was to be considered safe: 'Ten days earlier, Jordanian intelligence warned the Palestinian leader Abu Mazen that al Qaeda was holding a 10-man cell ready in N. Sinai or Gaza for a large-scale attack in Gaza. The cell was said to be under the orders of Abu Musab al Zarqawi in Iraq. The Egyptian authorities are now trying to find out if this is the same cell or that the Egyptian leader was fed a red herring. A year ago, 88 people, many of them tourists, were killed in a triple blast at Sharm el-Sheikh 100km south of Dahab. Two years ago, many Israelis died in multiple al Qaeda attacks in Sinai. This year, Israelis joined the stream of foreign tourists to Sinai after an Egyptian assurances that thousands of its security forces had finally cleared out the Qaeda strongholds in the central Sinai Hilal mountain range. A special operation had been conducted among their Bedouin collaborators. Peninsula resorts must now be considered safe. For the first time in three years, Jerusalem did not post a fresh warning to Israeli travelers to stay clear of their favorite Sinai haunts for the Passover holiday.' Freedom for Egyptians has more: 'Dr. Said Essa said he was headed to the scene of the blasts and that his casualty figures were for victims at the el-Khaleeg Hotel only. He said there were casualties from the other explosions but he had no details. Al-Jazeera television said one of the blasts hit a restaurant, and authorities said more than 20 ambulances and police cars were rushing to the el-Masbat section of the city.' Gateway Pundit has a roundup. Sandmonkey reports that the death toll has risen to 24, and carries eyewitness accounts; interestingly, he cites a news report that appears to contradict Debka's claim: 'Israel's ambassador in Cairo, Shalom Cohen, said the Israeli government had warned repeatedly against visiting the Sinai. "Unfortunately, the warnings came true," he told Israel's Channel 10 TV.' BREAKING: Police detain 10. (various)

Iran and Syria: a bleak outlook. Iran's economic rating has been downgraded by London's Fitch agency from BB- to B+: 'The agency said that while economic sanctions against Iran were still some way off, the risks were increasing, leaving the economy vulnerable, especially in case of an oil price fall as structural reforms in the country have also faltered. '"The downgrade reflects the escalating confrontation between Iran and the international community over Iran's nuclear programme," Richard Fox, Head of Middle East and Africa sovereign ratings at Fitch (UK) said in a statement.' Syria's economic picture isn't looking so good either, according to The Intelligence Summit: 'The consequences of the assassination in February of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq al-Hariri, continue to overshadow Syria’s political outlook. A report mandated by the UN Security Council has appeared to confirm widespread international suspicion that Syria was responsible for the killing. If Syria refuses to co-operate with the continuing investigation it will almost certainly face international sanctions. Co-operating, however, may be even more hazardous, particularly as the inquiry is likely to lead to charges being levelled against very senior figures within the regime. Economic policymaking will gain little attention within this environment, and economic growth will be weak, slowed by declining oil output. The buoyant outlook for oil prices over the coming year will ensure that the government finances remain comfortable and the trade and current accounts stay in surplus next year. The position will weaken in 2007, however, as falling production compounds the impact of lower oil prices. ... The increasingly threatening political environment that Syria faces has led us to adjust our forecast for economic growth downward since our previous report.' (This unattributed report appears to come from The Economist.) Reuters via Iran Focus reports: ' Iran will cancel the 960 million euro ($1.19 billion) "Olefins 11" contract signed last year with German industrial gases firm Linde and South Korea's Hyundai, Iran's Oil Ministry Web site reported on Monday. Under the Olefins 11 contract, the two companies were to build two ethane crackers in the Gulf port of Assaluyeh. Conservative parliamentarians had argued that Iranian firms could carry out the project more cheaply.' (various)

JINSA: Iran's bid for hegemony. Jonathan Howland at JINSA: 'W While the international community focuses on Iran’s nuclear ambitions officials f the Islamic Republic have been busy exercising their rapidly increasing influence - fuel d by more than a decade of a lucrative petroleum sales and accelerated by the removal f Iraq as a regional counterweight - in the Persian Gulf and on the international stag . Complicating matters is Iran’s control of the terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon a d increasing sway over the now ruling terrorist Hamas organization in the West Bank a d Gaza. The ability to frustrate Israeli-Palestinian peace making coupled with increasi g its political, economic and military influence, means that Iran is well on its way towa d dominating the wider region. ... Following the alarming mid-April announcement by Iranian President Ahmadinejad that Iran had mastered the enrichment process and entered the nuclear club, the Pentagon has announced a number of initiatives designed to defeat underground facilities like those increasingly in use around the world, including Iran. The Department of Defense has also been arming munitions with earth-penetrating warheads designed to burrow well beneath the surface of the earth before exploding, in order to collapse underground bunkers. On June 2, 2006, the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency will conduct an experiment, Divine Strake, at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Nevada Test Site. It will consist of the detonation of 700 tons (TNT equivalent to 593 tons) of the explosive ammonium nitrate-fuel oil (ANFO) on the ground above an existing tunnel at the site constructed for other research efforts. ANFO is commonly used in mining and blasting operations, and the amount of explosive being used in the experiment was selected to cause various levels of damage to the tunnel. The experiment supports DoD’s Tunnel Target Defeat Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration, which is intended to improve the military’s confidence in its ability to plan to defeat hardened and deeply buried targets.' Full article at the link. (JINSA)

In from the Cold: Weekend roundup. Spook 86:
First, there was the announcement that Russia is selling the advanced S-300P air defense system to its neighbor, Belarus. On the surface, that doesn't seem surprising. Among its former republics, Belarus has maintained the closest military ties to Moscow. Last October, Russian officials announced that the two nations would essentially merge their air defense networks, giving Moscow more defensive depth along its western borders. Under that arrangement, using common missile systems, radars and C2 networks certainly makes sense. The sale of the S-300 was hardly unexpected; there had been talk of such a deal for more than six months.

But there may be more to this transaction than meets the eye. According to some reports, Belarus plans to acquire at least a full brigade of S-300s (NATO designator: SA-20). That's more than sufficient to cover the country's airspace, considering that Russian batterys cover portions of Belorussian territory as well. Then, there's the cost factor. A single S-300 battery costs upwards of $300 million, and the Belarus economy is essentially stagnant. In other words, buying a full brigade would seemingly be beyond Minsk's financial reach, unless the Russians have arranged highly favorable terms (such as an arms-for-debt swap), or someone else is helping to finance the purchase.

And who might that someone be? ...

Morning Report knows the suspense is killing you. Read the rest at the link. (IFTC)

Cross-posted at Dreams Into Lightning - TypePad.