Archive for January 7th, 2007

Israel Denies It Has Nuclear Strike Plans

(AP) A British newspaper reported Sunday that Israeli pilots are training to possibly strike as many as three targets in Iran with low-yield nuclear weapons, aiming to halt Tehran’s controversial uranium enrichment program.

Israeli officials swiftly denied the report, which comes amid growing global concerns over an Iranian project that Washington and other governments believe is secretly intended to build atomic weapons.

Israel has never confirmed it has nuclear bombs itself, although analysts widely believe the Jewish state possesses a significant stockpile and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates referred to the Israeli atomic arsenal during his recent confirmation hearing.

Citing multiple unidentified Israeli military sources, The Sunday Times said plans had been drawn up in Israel for a potential attack using “bunker-buster” nuclear weapons against atomic facilities at three sites south of the Iranian capital.

The U.S. and its allies suspect Tehran of trying to produce atomic weapons there — and the issue has taken on redoubled urgency because of Iranian leaders’ statements calling for the destruction of Israel as well as their recent hosting of a conference at which the Holocaust was questioned.

Though Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has not explicitly ruled out a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program, he says the issue should be dealt with diplomatically — and stresses that an Iranian nuclear bomb would be a problem for the entire world, not just Israel.

Some view Israeli officials’ occasional implied threats as a means of pressuring the world community to take action itself, building on the recent U.N. Security Council decision to impose some economic sanctions on Tehran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

Iran claims its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes, including generating electricity, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has condemned the U.N. move as invalid and illegal.

The Sunday Times said Israeli military officials believed Iran could produce enough enriched uranium to build nuclear weapons within two years.

It said Israeli pilots had made flights to the British colony of Gibraltar while training for the 2,000-mile round trip that would be required to reach the Iranian targets.

Israeli pilots conducted a similar raid on Iraq in 1981, destroying a nuclear facility being built by Saddam Hussein’s regime.

But Iran’s program may be far more difficult to cripple as it is believed to be distributed over many sites and in part deep underground.

Olmert’s office and the Israeli military declined to comment on report by The Sunday Times.

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev denied the report, saying Israel was supporting diplomatic efforts. “If diplomacy succeeds, the problem can be solved peaceably,” he said.

Some analysts viewed the report as another element of a delicate diplomatic dance.

“I refuse to believe that anyone here would consider using nuclear weapons against Iran,” Reuven Pedatzur, a prominent Israeli defense analyst and columnist for the newspaper Haaretz, told The Associated Press in Jerusalem. “It is possible that this was a leak done on purpose, as deterrence, to say: ‘Someone better hold us back, before we do something crazy.”‘

Ephraim Kam, a former senior Israeli intelligence official who is now at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies, also suggested the report should not be taken literally.

“No reliable source would ever speak about this, certainly not to The Sunday Times,” he said.


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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said newly empowered Democrats will not give President Bush a blank check to wage war in Iraq, hinting they could deny funding if he seeks additional troops…

…”The American people and the Congress support those troops. We will not abandon them. But if the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it and this is new for him because up until now the Republican Congress has given him a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no conditions,” said Pelosi, D-Calif.

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The front page of Britain’s The Independent on Sunday features a photo of a US soldier guarding a burning oilfield in Southern Iraq, which was taken on March 23, 2003, three days after the invasion of Iraq officially began. “The spoils of war” reads a large headline banner in grey type, with three letters highlighted in black boldface – taken from the word “spoils” – to spell out “oil.”
Four articles based on a draft of an Iraqi law – crafted with help from the US government – which was leaked to the paper, detail “How the West will make a killing on Iraqi oil riches.”
“Iraq’s massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days,” Danny Fortson, Andrew Murray-Watson and Tim Webb report in the cover story.

According to the paper, the law “would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972.”

“Supporters say the provision allowing oil companies to take up to 75 per cent of the profits will last until they have recouped initial drilling costs,” the article continues. “After that, they would collect about 20 per cent of all profits, according to industry sources in Iraq. But that is twice the industry average for such deals.”

‘Blood and oil’

A second article begins with the question, “So was this what the Iraq war was fought for, after all?”

“Now, unnoticed by most amid the furore over civil war in Iraq and the hanging of Saddam Hussein, the new oil law has quietly been going through several drafts, and is now on the point of being presented to the cabinet and then the parliament in Baghdad,” the article continues.

Further along, the article claims that the early draft had been “circulated to oil companies in July,” but that it’s “understood there have been no significant changes made in the final draft.”

The “revelation” of the 30-year contracts “will raise Iraqi fears that oil companies will be able to exploit its weak state by securing favourable terms that cannot be changed in future,” the paper surmises.

‘What they said’

The lengthy second article also contains comments by US and UK officials made before and after the invasion, declaring that the war wasn’t about oil and promising that Iraq’s oil revenues belonged to its people and would only be used for reconstruction purposes.

The paper notes how former Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a press briefing held on July 10, 2003 in South Africa, responded to a reporter who asked him to respond to critics who believed Bush “went into Iraq for oil” and that the administration was “trying to secure the west coast of Africa, Liberia, for that same situation, oil.”

Powell responded: “We have not taken one drop of Iraqi oil for U.S. purposes, or for coalition purposes. Quite the contrary. We put in place a management system to make sure that Iraqi oil is brought out of the ground and put onto the market in order to generate revenue for the Iraqi people. And we have put in place an auditing system and people who can oversee what we are doing. And the United States government is spending a great deal of money to support our forces over there. It cost a great deal of money to prosecute this war. But the oil of the Iraqi people belongs to the Iraqi people; it is their wealth, it will be used for their benefit. So we did not do it for oil.”

A quote Prime Minister Tony Blair made to Parliament two days before the invasion is also highlighted: “Oil revenues, which people falsely claim that we want to seize, should be put in a trust fund for the Iraqi people.”

The article adds that “Vice-President Dick Cheney noted in 1999, when he was still running Halliburton, an oil services company, the Middle East is the key to preventing the world running out of oil,” and that as late as June 14, 2006, President Bush, after returning from Baghdad said that he had “reminded the government that that oil belongs to the Iraqi people, and the government has the responsibility to be good stewards of that valuable asset and valuable resource.”

Thirsting oil giants

A third article in the paper’s business section reports how the law “will radically redraw the Iraqi oil industry and throw open the doors to the third-largest oil reserves in the world;” “allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil companies in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972;” and “would also be a shot in the arm for the global petroleum industry.”

“For more than three decades, foreign oil companies wanting into Iraq have been like children pressed against the sweet shop window – desperately seeking to feast on the goodies but having no way of getting through the door,” Danny Fortson writes. “That could soon change.”

While Exxon, BP and Shell won’t “jump into the country until the security situation stabilises,” Fortson reports that the industry is “jockeying to stake their claims now for exploitation later.”

“It’s a mad rush to get something there,” Global Policy Forum executive director James Paul tells the paper. “The companies are saying, ‘Before any troops are withdrawn, we have to have these contracts.'”

According to Fortson, the foreign oil companies are “desperate to get a foot in the door” because “they are struggling to keep production increasing in line with demand” which has “been driven in large part by the growth of the Chinese economy;” lower production due to “the tide of oil nationalism in places such as Venezuela, where the stranglehold applied by President Hugo Chavez on the industry…has shifted more pressure on to the rest of the industry; plus “the cost-per-barrel of extracting oil in Iraq is among the lowest in the world because the reserves are relatively close to the surface.”

‘The oil rush’

The leading article in Sunday’s IoS uses a quote by former Illinois Republican lawmaker Everett Dirksen – who was born in 1896 and served for thirty-three years as a Congressman and the Senate Minority Leader until his death in 1969 – to explain “the oil rush” by the West: “The oil can is mightier than the sword.”
“Nowhere does this seem more true than in contemporary Iraq where, despite widespread despair about the war’s costs in terms of blood and treasure, US corporations look set to be some of the conflict’s few winners,” the article states.

Further excerpts from the leading article:

Of course, the Iraqi oil industry, starved through years of sanctions and now under constant insurgent attack, badly needs Western investment. Only a small proportion of Iraq’s known oil fields have been developed, and production still languishes below pre-invasion levels. The neo-conservative dream – indulged in by Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney prior to the conflict – that the invasion and reconstruction would be self-financed through a twist of the oil taps, dissipated long ago.

In a country where unemployment has hit 70 per cent, a policy that will quicken the pace of economic reconstruction should be universally welcomed. At face value, the measure is not being imposed by the fiat of a US general: it will be voted on in the Iraqi parliament and, if passed, enacted by a democratically elected government. And objections that foreign companies will steal Iraq’s birthright seem faintly anachronistic in the global economy: specialist engineering is an international industry these days, and Iraq’s command economy, isolated from the rest of the world, urgently requires liberalisation.

But it doesn’t demand the fevered imaginings of a conspiracy theorist to think that this law, struck while the beleaguered Iraqi government is facing opposition from all quarters, protects the interests of oil wealth (which is so well represented in the White House) more than it does the Iraqi people.

Production sharing agreements don’t apply in most other major Middle Eastern oil producers because they are widely thought to grant greater control to companies than governments. With economies so heavily dependent on oil, it’s hard to see how countries can truly be self-governing if they sign away influence over their almost exclusive source of wealth.

Legitimate questions must be asked. How did this decision come to be made?

How much pressure was President Nouri al-Maliki placed under to bend to the American corporate interests? Conservative US thinktanks such as the Heritage Foundation have been plotting the wholesale privatisation of the Iraqi oil industry for years. Since 2003, the supposed reconstruction of Iraq by US companies has left a bitter taste with most Iraqis who see a symbiotic relationship between the US military and big business that would make a British district commissioner in imperial Africa blush.

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Critics Say ‘Surge’ Is More of The Same

President Bush is putting the final touches on his new Iraq policy amid growing skepticism inside and outside the administration that the emerging package of extra troops, economic assistance and political benchmarks for the Baghdad government will make any more than a marginal difference in stabilizing the country.

Washington’s debate over Iraq will intensify this week as Bush lays out his plans, probably on Wednesday or Thursday, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other administration officials face tough questions from Democrats in congressional hearings.

Although officials said the president has yet to settle on an exact figure of new troops, senior military leaders and commanders are deeply worried that a “surge” of as many as five brigades, or 20,000 troops, in Iraq and Kuwait would tax U.S. ground forces already stretched to the breaking point — and may still prove inadequate to quell sectarian violence and the Sunni insurgency.

Some senior U.S. officials think it could even backfire.

“There is a lot of concern that this won’t work,” said one military official not authorized to speak publicly about the debate at the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, the political and economic ideas under consideration all appear to be variations on initiatives that U.S. and Iraqi authorities have proved unable to implement successfully since the 2003 invasion or have tried and found wanting, according to former U.S. officials and experts on reconstructing war-torn countries.

Many officials at the State and Defense departments also doubt that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is capable of making the necessary reforms, given its track record of promising but not delivering since taking power in May and despite Maliki’s assurances in a speech yesterday that he would hold Iraqis accountable for implementing a new Baghdad security plan.

A sense that the White House is preparing more of the same is generating deep skepticism among Democrats in Congress, many of whom have signaled strongly in recent days that they would resist sending additional troops to Iraq.

And although Republicans say they are open to what Bush proposes this week, they are also asking much more pointed questions about the premises of the White House Iraq policy.

Administration officials are pushing lawmakers and the public to withhold judgment until they see all the elements of the new Iraq policy. Bush consulted with advisers yesterday, and White House speechwriters were working on this week’s address. There are signs that there could be some surprises as the administration’s debate moves from the staff level to the final deliberations of the president and his closest advisers.

Responding to skepticism about Maliki within some parts of the administration, the White House may make a deeper involvement in Iraq contingent on Maliki cracking down on militias and death squads while also undertaking bold political initiatives and developing a wider economic plan, U.S. officials say. The addition of new U.S. troops, for example, may be phased over several months and conditioned on Iraq following through on promised political reforms, the officials said.

One senior White House official said yesterday that the president considers the skepticism of lawmakers and the public “warranted” and that Bush will not “commit resources to a strategy that is not working.” But the official said Bush was heartened by recent promises and plans from Maliki, citing the prime minister’s speech in Baghdad yesterday in which he pledged a crackdown on sectarian militias, with U.S. assistance.

The official said U.S. and Iraqi leaders have been refining a new Iraqi security plan, first discussed when Bush and Maliki met in Jordan in November, in which Iraqi forces would take the lead with Americans in support. “It is not just rhetoric,” the official said of Maliki. “He is actually putting forward specific plans and making different commitments than he has in the past.” Speaking on the condition of anonymity because the president has not settled on a final plan, the official said Bush expects “a different result” from that of previous security plans.

Others have doubts. “I don’t know that the Iraqi government has ever demonstrated ability to lead the country, and we shouldn’t be surprised,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, who was the first U.S. official in charge of postwar Baghdad. “You’ll never find, in my lifetime, one man that all the Iraqis will coalesce around.” Iraqis are too divided among sectarian, ethnic and tribal loyalties, he said, and their loyalties are regional, not national.

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WASHINGTON Nineteen news organizations are asking a federal judge to release audio recordings each day in the upcoming criminal trial of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.

The Supreme Court releases audio recordings of arguments in major cases, and lower federal courts have “started to follow the Supreme Court’s lead,” lawyers for the news organizations said in filings this week in U.S. District Court.Cheney is expected to testify for his former aide, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and other witnesses will include NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert.

“Most of the key witnesses are public figures who regularly appear in the media,” the organizations said in documents filed late Thursday with Judge Reggie Walton. “

Knowledge that their testimony might be released on audiotapes will not make them feel awkward or uncomfortable, and certainly no more so than testifying in front of a courtroom filled with reporters.

“The Libby trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 16. He is accused of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI about his conversations with journalists regarding outed CIA officer Valerie Plame.”

If there were ever a case where release of audio recordings is unlikely to have any impact on the proceedings – other than the beneficial one of more fully informing the public – it is this one,” lawyers for the news organizations stated.

The organizations are ABC, The Associated Press, Bloomberg News, CNN, CBS , Dow Jones, E.W. Scripps, the Hearst Corp., the Los Angeles Times, the McClatchey Co., NBC, National Public Radio, USA Today, the Washington Post, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Newspaper Association of America, the Radio-Television News Directors Association, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Society of Professional Journalists.


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Revealed: Israel plans nuclear strike on Iran

ISRAEL has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons.

Two Israeli air force squadrons are training to blow up an Iranian facility using low-yield nuclear “bunker-busters”, according to several Israeli military sources.

The attack would be the first with nuclear weapons since 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Israeli weapons would each have a force equivalent to one-fifteenth of the Hiroshima bomb.

Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open “tunnels” into the targets. “Mini-nukes” would then immediately be fired into a plant at Natanz, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout.

“As soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike and the Iranian nuclear project will be demolished,” said one of the sources.

The plans, disclosed to The Sunday Times last week, have been prompted in part by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad’s assessment that Iran is on the verge of producing enough enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons within two years.

Israeli military commanders believe conventional strikes may no longer be enough to annihilate increasingly well-defended enrichment facilities. Several have been built beneath at least 70ft of concrete and rock. However, the nuclear-tipped bunker-busters would be used only if a conventional attack was ruled out and if the United States declined to intervene, senior sources said.

Israeli and American officials have met several times to consider military action. Military analysts said the disclosure of the plans could be intended to put pressure on Tehran to halt enrichment, cajole America into action or soften up world opinion in advance of an Israeli attack.

Some analysts warned that Iranian retaliation for such a strike could range from disruption of oil supplies to the West to terrorist attacks against Jewish targets around the world.

Israel has identified three prime targets south of Tehran which are believed to be involved in Iran’s nuclear programme:

Natanz, where thousands of centrifuges are being installed for uranium enrichment

A uranium conversion facility near Isfahan where, according to a statement by an Iranian vice-president last week, 250 tons of gas for the enrichment process have been stored in tunnels

A heavy water reactor at Arak, which may in future produce enough plutonium for a bomb Israeli officials believe that destroying all three sites would delay Iran’s nuclear programme indefinitely and prevent them from having to live in fear of a “second Holocaust”.

The Israeli government has warned repeatedly that it will never allow nuclear weapons to be made in Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has declared that “Israel must be wiped off the map”.

Robert Gates, the new US defence secretary, has described military action against Iran as a “last resort”, leading Israeli officials to conclude that it will be left to them to strike.

Israeli pilots have flown to Gibraltar in recent weeks to train for the 2,000-mile round trip to the Iranian targets. Three possible routes have been mapped out, including one over Turkey.

Air force squadrons based at Hatzerim in the Negev desert and Tel Nof, south of Tel Aviv, have trained to use Israel’s tactical nuclear weapons on the mission. The preparations have been overseen by Major General Eliezer Shkedi, commander of the Israeli air force.

Sources close to the Pentagon said the United States was highly unlikely to give approval for tactical nuclear weapons to be used. One source said Israel would have to seek approval “after the event”, as it did when it crippled Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak with airstrikes in 1981.

Scientists have calculated that although contamination from the bunker-busters could be limited, tons of radioactive uranium compounds would be released.

The Israelis believe that Iran’s retaliation would be constrained by fear of a second strike if it were to launch its Shehab-3 ballistic missiles at Israel.

However, American experts warned of repercussions, including widespread protests that could destabilise parts of the Islamic world friendly to the West.

Colonel Sam Gardiner, a Pentagon adviser, said Iran could try to close the Strait of Hormuz, the route for 20% of the world’s oil.

Some sources in Washington said they doubted if Israel would have the nerve to attack Iran. However, Dr Ephraim Sneh, the deputy Israeli defence minister, said last month: “The time is approaching when Israel and the international community will have to decide whether to take military action against Iran.”


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‘Greenwashing’ Oil

A report says the world’s largest corporation funded studies that cast doubts on the link between fossil fuels and climate change.

Jan. 4, 2007 – For more than three decades, the tobacco industry carried on a campaign of disinformation intended to mislead Americans about the health risks of smoking—a strategy that has been dubbed “manufacturing uncertainty” in the minds of consumers. And ever since global warming emerged as an environmental threat, there has been a well-funded public campaign to cast doubt on the scientific consensus about the danger of global warming and its source in fossil-fuel combustion. A report this week by the Union of Concerned Scientists finds a parallel between the efforts to whitewash tobacco and “greenwash” oil—and points the finger of responsibility at the world’s largest corporation, ExxonMobil.

Under its former chairman and CEO, Lee Raymond, who retired in 2005 as one of the best-paid corporate executives in history, ExxonMobil was well known for its hostility to government regulations on emissions of carbon dioxide. But, according to the report, the op-eds and position papers were only the visible tip of Exxon’s effort to fund a small group of researchers and an overlapping network of think tanks that could be relied on to spread the message that global warming was nothing to worry about—or at least, nothing the government could or should do anything about. Their frequently repeated call for “sound science” on global warming echoes the tobacco industry’s endless demand for more research on whether cigarettes really, truly, unquestionably cause cancer.

Of course, cigarette companies weren’t concerned just about future sales, but the billions of dollars in compensation they eventually had to … umm … cough up. ExxonMobil’s motivation, presumably, is to protect a fantastically lucrative market: its 2005 profits of $36 billion made it the most profitable corporation in history. But that very wealth puts them in a position both to shape and eventually dominate the postcarbon energy world, if they choose to do so.
Ironically, as the report points out, the company and its shareholders will suffer if it gets left behind in the transition to less polluting forms of energy.

For its part, ExxonMobil—after promulgating, and then withdrawing 20 minutes later, a statement that called the report an “attempt to smear our name and confuse the discussion”—wants you to know that it now accepts some responsibility for global warming. Specifically, and in boldface, it admitted that “It is clear today that greenhouse gas emissions are one of the factors that contribute to climate change, and that the use of fossil fuels is a major source of these emissions.” That would seem, on the face of it, to contradict the assertions of some of its favored researchers in the ever-shrinking coterie of global-warming skeptics. The question, of course, is what specific policies ExxonMobil is willing to accept to curb those emissions. With a new Congress taking office, climate change is likely to be a much more salient issue this year than it has been for the last six—so ExxonMobil will have the chance to show if it means what it’s saying now.


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