Morning Report: February 6, 2007

A Syrian activist has some words for ABC, an Iraqi politician comes under scrutiny, an Israeli general settles in to a new job, and more.

Syrian heretic vs. American appeaser. Amarji blasts Diane Sawyer:
Imagine this: you are a well-known TV correspondent and you now have a rare occasion to interview one of the main troublemakers in one of the world’s most turbulent and troubled regions, so, what would you do? What would you ask him about?

Well, I don’t know about you, but Diane Sawyer of ABC News (Video, Text) thought it will be a rather wonderful and congenial idea to give this man a platform from which to attack her country’s democratically elected administration, while ignoring the man’s and his regime’s record in oppressing his own population, dabbling in neighboring countries, and exporting chaos and terror, that is, in being one of the region’s the main domino players for decades.

So, there were no questions about the Hariri Investigation, or the situation in Lebanon, or connection to Iran, the sham referendum that brought him to power, the shame referendum that is designed to keep him in power, and about the fact that many insurgency leaders in Iraq are roaming around free in Damascus and talking to foreign journalists and operating their insurgency TV from Syria, not to mention the continuing crackdown against democracy and human rights advocated in the country. After all who cares about these issues, right? Because what inquiring minds really want to know is what’s on this fucking murderous moron’s iPod. ...

Amarji goes on to make this excellent point: 'Sure his regime’s survival was at stake. But, you know what?, he is a fucking maniacal dictator, his fears in this regard, albeit natural, are not legitimate. People often confuse the natural and legitimate in this case. The Assads’ reactions are often natural, but always illegitimate.' Go read the whole post. (Amarji)

Afghanistan: NATO warns fighters. Washington Times: 'NATO-led troops dropped leaflets on a southern Afghan town overrun by militants, warning the fighters to leave after their leader was killed in a targeted air strike, officials said yesterday. The leaflets dropped over Musa Qala late Sunday ordered the Taliban to leave the town, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary. An estimated 200 fighters swarmed Musa Qala last week, destroying the town center and temporarily taking local elders hostage. The town was subject to an October peace deal between village elders and the Helmand provincial government that prevented NATO, Afghan and Taliban fighters from coming within three miles of the town center.' (Washington Times)

Saving lives in Anbar. CENTCOM:
When Sgt. Nathaniel Tatum heard a loud “Boom” while on a security patrol through the windswept streets of this Euphrates River city, he didn’t think about how to react to the improvised explosive device (IED) blast – he simply “let the training take over.”

After two Marines were wounded in an IED blast, Jan. 18, 2007, Tatum and fellow Marines along with the squad corpsman, who the Marines call “Doc”, provided immediate medical attention to the injured Marines who would have been in “bad shape” without immediate attention, according to HM1(FMF/CAC) Patrick W. Horgan, independent duty corpsman with the Hawaii-based 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

While providing life-saving medical attention is business-as-usual for U.S. Navy corpsmen, the medical experience for the average U.S. Marine is often limited to the basic first-aid courses received in recruit training. However, Tatum and a group of approximately 100 Marines from the Battalion attended a Combat Lifesaver Course (CLC) while training in California, June, 2006.

In the CLC, corpsmen teach the Marines how to handle a casualty until a corpsman or medical officer is able to tend to the wounded. Throughout the course, Marines were taught how to apply a tourniquet, treat various wounds, administer an IV, recognize and treat shock, control blood loss and the anatomy of ballistic injuries.

“This [Combat Lifesaver Course] is probably some of the most important training a Marine can receive before deploying to a combat zone,” said HM3 Philip Oppliger, corpsman with Echo Company 2nd Battalion. “Ideally a corpsman is always going to be there when someone goes down, but that’s not always possible.” ...

One corpsman - or Navy medic - is assigned to each squat of 10 to 14 Marines; but in combat situations that's sometimes not enough. Read the full article at the link for details. (CENTCOM)

Enemy weapons seized in Iraq. MNF-Iraq: 'YUSUFIYAH — Iraqi Army and Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers uncovered more than 1,100 81mm high-explosive mortar rounds at a cache near the main highway, Route Tampa, leading into the Iraqi capital Saturday. Troops from 3rd Battalion, 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division and Troop B, 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment “Wolverines,” 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), made the discovery during Operation Wolverine Alesia near Yusufiyah, Iraq, just 10 miles southwest of the capital. Acting on a tip from a local resident, the troops conducted an intentional search of the area which resulted in the largest cache find in 2nd “Commando” Brigade’s history. In all, 1,129 mortar rounds were uncovered. ...' (MNFI)

Provincial Reconstruction Teams at work in Iraq. MNF-Iraq:
AN NASIRIYAH — In Iraq, Coalition Forces strive daily with Iraqis to establish a self-sustaining Iraq. Provincial Reconstruction Teams aiding in infrastructure projects here play an important role in the realization of this vision.

These teams help empower local and regional Iraqi government and community leaders with the responsibilities and decision-making for construction projects supporting their needs.

“The mission of the PRTs is to work in collaboration with the provincial government in each province to identify the critical needs of the province in terms of infrastructure reconstruction, and to assist the government to meet these needs by providing coalition funding (where appropriate) and expertise and advice,” said Richard Riley, a deputy team leader in Dhi Qar. “In addition, the PRTs deliver training and other programs to assist the provincial government to build up its own capacity and ability to fulfill its responsibilities to deliver services to the people of the province.”

The first objective of the PRTs is to establish a professional, effective and cordial relationship with the government, and then develop the trust and cooperation of those leaders to achieve mutual goals, Riley continued.

“The second objective is to work on a regular basis with the government to identify the critical needs of the population, to see where and how the coalition can best assist the government,” Riley said. “It will also revitalize Dhi Qar’s economy with the goal of alleviating the unemployment situation in the province and bring greater economic opportunities and a higher standard of living to the people.”

These teams establish and maintain ongoing communications through face-to-face meetings, phone calls and e-mails with the provincial government, as well as other non-governmental organizations and donor agencies active in the province. ...

Read the rest here. (MNFI)

Member of Iraqi parliament suspected of terrorist ties. Andrew Cochran at Counterterrorism Blog: 'Today we learn that a sitting member of the Iraqi Parliament, Jamal Jafaar Mohammed, might be a convicted and still-active terrorist. Mohammed was sentenced to death in Kuwait in 1984 for the bombings of the U.S. and French embassies there in 1983, in which 5 died and 86 were wounded. News reports also cite the U.S. military's assertions that Mohammed currently assists Iranian special forces in Iraq as "a conduit for weapons and political influence." Yet Mohammed now sits in Iraq's Parliament as a member of Prime Minister al-Maliki's ruling coalition. CNN reports that the U.S. Embassy there claims they are pursuing the case with the al-Maliki government. ...' (CTB)

Iran: "We need something besides confusion." ThreatsWatch posts a roundup of views on Iran, and goes on to cite Eli Lake's article on dissenting voices within the National Intelligence Estimate: 'The dissenters disagree with the majority opinion that Baathists and Sunni nationalists compose the majority of the Sunni insurgency, and instead “argue that the Baathist wing of the umbrella Sunni terrorist group has ceded authority to Abu Ayoub al-Masri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.” The Baathist wing they speak of includes fully six al-Anbar tribes now operating under al-Masri via the The Mujahideen Shura Council which, according to one quoted intelligence official, “is now for all intents and purposes an arm of Al Qaeda.”' Meanwhile, more ambiguous giving out from Gates and Pace:
The United States has no plans to go to war with Iran, but it won’t tolerate Iranian activities that are endangering U.S. troops in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters today during a Pentagon news conference.

“The president has made clear, the secretary of state has made clear, I’ve made clear … we are not planning for a war with Iran,” Gates said in response to a reporter’s question.

Rather, he said, the United States is working “to counter what the Iranians are doing to our soldiers,” most significantly their activities related to explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs, that are killing U.S. troops. EFPs are far more lethal than more traditional improvised explosive devices, Gates said, noting they are capable of taking out an M1-A2 Abrams tank.

“And so our effort is aimed at uprooting the networks that are providing these EFPS,” as well as IEDs, to al Qaeda and other groups, Gates said.

CENTCOM adds that 'The secretary emphasized that deploying a second aircraft carrier, the USS John C. Stennis, to the Persian Gulf isn’t a direct response to Iran. Rather, he said, it’s designed to send a message to friends and potential adversaries alike.' (ThreatsWatch, CENTCOM)

Shell shock. Vital Perspective: 'Royal Dutch Shell is not on our side in the War for the Free World. Last week, Shell announced that it has entered, with a Spanish oil company, Repsol, into a preliminary understanding to help the Iranian regime develop part of its vast South Pars natural gas reserve. This means a $10 billion investment in Iran. It also means a slap in the face to all of us who are working to undermine the genocidal regime in Tehran. If Shell decides to go forward with the deal the Mullas will get a shot in the arm that will only embolden them. Sadly, this comes at a time that the Iranian energy sector seems to be on the verge of collapse. Iran's oil minister Kazem Vaziri-Mamaneh has confirmed recently that the state's oil industry is suffering from an acute lack of investment. Shell's decision can overturn all that. Shell is a test case of our resolve and it should realize that investing in Iran will carry severe consequences. Frank Gaffney offers solutions: "The real power to punish Royal Dutch Shell for being against us in this War for the Free World should lie with American investors and consumers. The Roosevelt Anti-Terror Multi-Cap Fund (RATF) is the first mutual fund in the nation to be certified by the Conflict Securities Advisory Group as "terror-free." It holds in portfolio neither Shell nor any other publicly traded companies doing business in Iran, Sudan, Syria or North Korea. Nationwide Financial, E-Trade, Ameritrade and Schwab have begun offering RATF as an option on their investment platforms.' (Vital Perspective)

Debka on new army chief's challenges. Debka:
The incoming chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, won a full four-year term when the cabinet unanimously endorsed him Sunday, Feb 4, instead of the standard 3 years and an optional fourth. He takes the reins from the hands of Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz on Feb. 14. Ashkenazi faces some hard choices before he can settle into the job. The flames of a Palestinian civil war engulfing the Gaza Strip pose a multiple threat to Israel which his bosses, the politicians, persist in brushing aside.

At the cabinet meeting Sunday, vice prime minister Shimon Peres stressed that Israel must not interfere in the Fatah-Hamas factional fight, tossing out typical sound bites: “Leave Gaza to the Gazans.” “We did not pull out in order to return.” “Our interference would be harmful.”

Defense minister Amir Peretz seconded these sentiments.

Neither admits that Israel is already deeply involved in the Gaza war. The new chief of staff will be called upon to judge the situation in the light of national security. If he emulates his predecessor, who slavishly obeyed Ariel Sharon, he will be dismissed as the second political appointee in a row to fill the post of top Israeli soldier.The consequences of Halutz’s meekness were plain to see in the Lebanon War last summer and the breakdown of life, law and order in the Gaza Strip, where Israel’s unilateral pullback left the territory without a Palestinian authority capable of taking charge.

But if the new chief of staff stands up to the policy-makers and keeps the country clear of fresh security blunders, he will go down as a worthy heir of the fine professional tradition of Israel’s past generals.

Ashkenazi faces his first test in the Gaza Strip.

Israel not only supplies the Fatah side led by Muhammad Dahlan with weapons and money to fight Hamas, but also intelligence and logistical backing, thereby sending two messages:

1. If Dahlan cannot finish Hamas, the IDF will go in and do it for him.

2. Even if Fatah under his generalship carries the day, the IDF will have to return to the Gaza Strip to destroy the thousands of missiles Hamas and Jihad Islami have stockpiled for attacking Israel. It is understood that Dahlan cannot complete this part of the campaign himself because this would compromise his bid to succeed Mahmoud Abbas as chairman of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian and Arab streets would not forgive him for the sin of destroying Muslim weapons aimed at the Jewish State.

DEBKAfile’s military sources disclose that IDF preparations to retake sections of the Gaza Strip are in place. In stark contrast to the July-Aug 2006 Lebanon War, which left northern Israel prey to Katyusha attack, the defense ministry and military authorities are planning to evacuate the 100,000 civilians living in Sderot and the towns and villages within missile range of Gaza to get them out of harm’s way of retaliation.

Full post at the link. The article concludes that Ashkenazi will be under scrutiny for both is battlefield performance and his ability to juggle the demands of a divided Israeli leadership. (Debka)

Commentary. Nobody can predict where the next rounds are going to go downrange. Will it be Israel/Hezbollah, round 2? Or Israel versus Iran? Washington seems unwilling to confront the Iranian threat ... is that because they believe Israel will strike first? No matter what happens, it's a safe bet Syria won't sit on the sidelines for long.