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Islamic State ‘poses significant and lethal threat’ to the U.S.

On the morning of President Obama’s final State of the Union (SOTUS) Address, January 12, 2016, the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) held the latest in a series of hearing on Combating ISIS. Testimony was heard from a panel of witnesses who are former Obama Administration Intelligence and Diplomatic officials: Former Deputy and Acting Director Michael Morrell, former Defense Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Dr. Michael Vickers and former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford.

Morell’s bottom line: “ISIS poses a significant strategic and lethal threat to the United States of America.”

Morell presented the case that the U.S. could be subject to multiple direct attacks organized and planned from the Caliphate of the Islamic State in Raqaa Syria. He distinguished between direct and indicate attacks such as lone wolf attacks, the latter causing few fatalities as distinct of large mass casualties as in the November 13th Paris massacres that killed over 130. He noted that the San Bernardino attack produced the largest fatalities second only to 9/11. He suggested that simply taking out the leadership of ISIS would not remove the safe haven of the self-declared caliphate that had attracted more than 30,000 foreign fighters and homesteaders from 100 countries He considers ISIS a source of instability in the Middle East threatening allies Israeli and the Gulf Sunni states, the latter he deemed a bulwark against the hegemonic objectives of Iran.

He consider ISIS as fulfilling all of the basic functions of a state with its own executive, Sharia law courts, a virtual army, providing social services to its inhabitants and taxing them. He indicated that ISIS collected tens of millions monthly in taxes outpacing oil sales revenues. Morell indicated that ISIS has outpaced expansion of Al Qaeda from whence it sprang in Iraq. It has attracted the allegiances of extremist Islamist groups in 20 countries. He pointed out the directed attack in Paris that took the lives of 130 innocent civilians and the comments from UK domestic intelligence that they expected multiple direct attacks producing fatalities in excess of the 2005 London bus and underground attacks.

He cautioned to listen to ISIS when it says that it will conduct direct attacks in the U.S. In the near term he predicted that ISIS in Libya may unleash a similar blitzkrieg like the one in Iraq that could result in seizure of vast swaths of that North African country providing another safe haven attracting foreign fighters from Europe. Simply elimination of the leadership of the Islamic state is not enough. A complex military operation would have to be launched to destroy the safe haven of the Caliphate. Ultimately it would require a comprehensive political settlement in Syria dealing with the regime of President Assad and empowering of the disenfranchised Sunni majority.

The contrast between these comments by Morell before the House Armed Service on Combating ISIS with that of President Obama was stark.CNN noted that Obama “underplayed the threat from radical Islamist groups such as ISIS. He mocked the contention that fighters on “on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages” represented an existential threat to America.”

Meanwhile Iran announced that the release today of the 10 U.S. sailors seized along with their patrol boats in the Persian Gulf and taken to Iran’s Farsi Island was “speculation”.  So much for the representations by Foreign Minister Zarif to Secretary Kerry that they would be released within a few hours.

WATCH this C-Span video clip of Morell’s testimony at yesterday’s House Armed Forces Committee hearing on Combating ISIS:

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EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Is the U.S. State Department Taking Reports of North Korea-Iranian Nuclear Cooperation Seriously?

At today’s State Department Daily Press Briefing, spokesperson Jeff Rathke was asked by Matt Lee, AP White House correspondent about reports by the Paris-based Iranian dissident group, the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI) about alleged North Korean meetings in Iran alleging discussions over nuclear program cooperation an ICBM developments.  Reuters reported the NCRI group allegation that:

Citing information from sources inside Iran, including within Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Paris-based NCRI said a seven-person North Korean Defense Ministry team was in Iran during the last week of April. This was the third time in 2015 that North Koreans had been to Iran and a nine-person delegation was due to return in June, it said.

“The delegates included nuclear experts, nuclear warhead experts and experts in various elements of ballistic missiles including guidance systems,” the NCRI said.

In response to AP’s Lee question Rathke said, “We are taking these allegations very seriously” citing various UN Security Council Resolutions sanctioning the proliferation behavior of the DPRK. That led Lee and other correspondents to inquire whether this would impact the current P5+1 negotiations in Vienna seeking to conclude a comprehensive Joint Plan of Action by June 30th.  We posted  yesterday that France’s Foreign Minister demanding that Iran agree to  UN IAEA inspectors be  given  full access to military facilities for verification of prior developments.

Watch this C-SPAN video clip on the exchanges between State Department Jeff Rathke and AP’s Lee and other reporters at today’s Press Briefing:

Satellite Image of the Sohae Launch Facility, North Korea

North Korean Sohae Missile Launch site, November 2012. Source: Space.com

The Reuters report gave indications of previous unverified reports about such cooperation between the DPRK and Iran:

The NCRI said the North Korean delegation was taken secretly to the Imam Khomenei complex, a site east of Tehran controlled by the Defense Ministry. It gave detailed accounts of locations and who the officials met.

It said the delegation dealt with the Center for Research and Design of New Aerospace Technology, a unit of nuclear weaponization research, and a planning center called the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, which is under U.S. sanctions.

Reuters could not independently verify the allegations.

“Tehran has shown no interest in giving up its drive to nuclear weapons. The weaponization program is continuing and they have not slowed down the process,” NCRI spokesman Shahin Gobadi said.

U.N. watchdog the IAEA, which for years has investigated alleged nuclear arms research by Tehran, declined to comment. North Korean officials were not available for comment.

Several Western officials said they were not aware of a North Korean delegation traveling to Iran recently.

A Western diplomat said there had been proven military cooperation between Iran and North Korea in the past.

North Korean and Iranian officials meet in the course of general diplomacy. On April 23, Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s ceremonial head of state and Iran’s president held a rare meeting on the sidelines of the Asian-African summit in Jakarta.

My colleague Ilana Freedman and this writer have reported on Iranian and DPRK on both nuclear and ICBM developments and nuclear tests in NER and Iconoclast posts.  In a March 2014, NER, article, “Has Iran Developed Nuclear Weapons in North Korea”, we cited Freedman reporting:

According to my sources, Iran began moving its bomb manufacturing operations from Iran to North Korea in December 2012. Two facilities near Nyongbyon in North Pyongan province, some 50 miles north of Pyongyang, have become a new center for Iran’s nuclear arms program.

Over the last year, Iran has been secretly supplying raw materials to the reactor at Nyongbyon for the production of plutonium. At a second facility, located about fifteen miles north and with a code name that translates to ‘Thunder God Mountain’, nuclear warheads are being assembled and integrated with MIRV platforms. MIRVs are offensive ballistic missile systems that can support multiple warheads, each of which can be aimed at an independent target, but are all launched by a single booster rocket. Approximately 250-300 Iranian scientists are now reported to be in North Korea, along with a small cadre of IRGC personnel to provide for their security.

According to the reports, the Iranian-North Korean collaboration has already produced the first batch of fourteen nuclear warheads. A dedicated fleet of Iranian cargo aircraft, a combination of 747′s and Antonov heavy-lifters, which has been ferrying personnel and materials back and forth between Iran and North Korea, is in place to bring the assembled warheads back to Iran.

In a June 2014, Iconoclast post, “Does Iran/ North Korean Nuclear & ICBM Development Preclude A P5+1 Agreement?” we cited a Wall Street Journal report by  Claudia Rosett, journalist in residence at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Iran Could Outsource Its Nuclear –Weapons Program to North Korea. Rosett commented:

The pieces have long been in place for nuclear collaboration between the two countries. North Korea and Iran are close allies, drawn together by decades of weapons deals and mutual hatred of America and its freedoms. Weapons-hungry Iran has oil; oil-hungry North Korea makes weapons. North Korea has been supplying increasingly sophisticated missiles and missile technology to Iran since the 1980s, when North Korea hosted visits by Hasan Rouhani (now Iran’s president) and Ali Khamenei (Iran’s supreme leader since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989).

Rosett in the WSJ oped lays out the case for what the NER article demonstrated was a plausible means of evading sanctions. The evidence for that we noted was North Korean/ Iranian cooperation with Assad’s Syria creating a plutonium reactor on the Euphrates at Al Kibar destroyed by Israel’s Air Force in September 2007. We drew attention to Iranian/ North Korean joint development of large rocket boosters sufficient to loft nuclear MIRV warheads and the likelihood that Iran might have that capability within a few years. In June 2014, The Algemeiner reported an Iranian official announcing that it possessed a 5,000 kilometer (approximately 3,125 miles) range missile that could hit the strategic base of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean:

“In the event of a mistake on the part of the United States, their bases in Bahrain and (Diego) Garcia will not be safe from Iranian missiles,” said an Iranian Revolutionary Guard adviser to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Majatba Dhualnuri.

In an April 15, 2015, Iconoclast post, “Obama Administration Knew of Illegal North Korea Missile Technology Transfers to Iran During Talks” we reported:

Bill Gertz has a blockbuster expose in today’s Washington Free Beacon of something we have been hammering away for years: the technology transfer of missile and nuclear technology between North Korea and the Iran, “North Korea Transfers Missile Goods to Iran During Nuclear Talks.”  The stunning disclosure was that U.S. intelligence has known about the illegal transfer in violation of UN arms sanctions, as apparently did the Obama Administration. You recall the statement that Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman made before a Senate hearing in early 2014. Sherman said, “that if Iran can’t get the bomb then its ballistic missiles would be irrelevant.”

Gertz went on to report:

Since September more than two shipments of missile parts have been monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies as they transited from North Korea to Iran, said officials familiar with intelligence reports who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Details of the arms shipments were included in President Obama’s daily intelligence briefings and officials suggested information about the transfers was kept secret from the United Nations, which is in charge of monitoring sanctions violations.

While the CIA declined to comment on these allegations claiming classified information, others, Gertz queried said that “such transfers were covered by the Missile Technology Control Regime, a voluntary agreement among 34 nations that limits transfers of missiles and components of systems with ranges of greater than 186 miles.”

One official said the transfers between North Korea and Iran included large diameter engines, which could be used for a future Iranian long-range missile system.

The compilation of these reports and today’s exchange at the State Department Press Briefing clearly raises the ante as to why in one reporter’s query, ‘our negotiators” haven’t simply asked  Foreign Minister Zarif in Vienna  is there such cooperation going on, backed up by the intelligence reports cited by Gertz and others?  Our suspicion is that French Foreign Minister Fabius has better feed on Iranian nuclear and ICBM developments than our CIA.  Or more likely is the Obama West Wing suggesting not to believe those lying reports in the President’s  Daily Intelligence Briefing? After all, President Obama, Secretary Kerry and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman want nothing to stand in the way of an agreement with Iran, even it means evading the truth. Stay tuned for developments.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is from the official site of the President of The Islamic Republic of Iran.

Radical Islamist or Violent Extremism: “What difference does it make?”

Earlier today, we posted on the purported contrast in responses at yesterday’s White House joint news conference by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama  to a question raised by BBC correspondent, Nick Robinson about “the threat posed by fighters coming back from Syria”.  See: UK PM Cameron versus President Obama on Radical Islamic Terror Threat.

We learned early on after 9/11 to let public figures, whether media or political figures define themselves by their actions, not their nuanced words. The same is true for demonstrable Islamic terrorist actions seeking to impose self-censorship by deadly actions. The latest examples were the massacres in Paris at the Charlie Hebdoeditorial offices and the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket. Then there was the stunning slaughter of thousands in Baga, Nigeria by Boko Haram. Jews in France, Belgium, and the UK  have been the subject of Islamic terror attacks by Al Qaeda and Islamic State sympathizers and vets resulting in tens of deaths over the past decade. They no longer feel secure and contend they have no future in countries that cannot protect them. Despite the great play by the media following yesterday’s Joint White House Press Conference where PM Cameron used the “Radical Islamic expression while President Obama painfully avoided it. He choosing instead the opaque expression “violent extremism” full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. The reality is there is no difference between Cameron and Obama. They both ultimately avoid the “M” word for fear of arousing more unsettling Islamic terrorist actions begetting another round of public self-censorship. Have they evaded their responsibilities to define the doctrinal Islamist threat? Our Iconoclast post prompted Canadian Lawyer, Bill Narvey to write the following response.

Too much is being made of the descriptive differences employed by President Obama and PM Cameron in their speaking of the terrorists that attacked Charlie Hebdoand the kosher market.

What they are saying is really not that much different.

Obama refuses to use the words Muslim, Islamist, Jihadist, Muslim fundamentalist and the like to describe the terrorists.  Whereas Cameron does use those words, but then says these terrorists are not real Muslims or that they are perverting the teachings of the peaceful or great religion of Islam.

Obama has made that same point before a number of times.  For instance, several months ago he made a big thing about denying that Islam had anything to do with ISIS/ISIL.  He too, since his Cairo apology tour has been speaking of the peaceful or great religion of Islam.

Both Cameron and Obama also are quick to emphasize the point that the extremists or Muslim terrorists, whichever description your tongue can tolerate, are relatively few and that the vast majority of Muslims are good, decent and law abiding people.

They think that saying these things will be appreciated by the Jihadists and thus not piss them off more than they already are.  That the so called vast majority of the Muslim world will thank them for saying such nice things about them and Muslim relations with non-Muslim Westerners are enhanced by saying such nice things like the vast majority of the Muslim world are really good guys.

Even conservative commentators, such as those on Fox News are quick to qualify whatever criticisms or reporting they are doing on Jihadists, with those disclaimers.  While they pat themselves on the back for not shying away from calling Muslim terrorists, Muslim, Jihadist, Muslim fundamentalists and Islamists. unlike their media competition.  They exhibit by their own disclaimers that they too suffer to some extent from political correctness.  Perhaps it is also even fear they feel, but won’t admit.  If not for themselves, then for the many thousands of Fox employees who might be the target of some Muslim enraged by a Fox reporter who dares to speak bluntly about Muslim terrorism and Islamic scripture Jihadists liberally quote to justify their Jihadism.

The age old wise caution by Sun Tzu, “know your enemy” is obviously very relevant to devising a winning strategy against your enemy.  Both Obama and Cameron fail in that regard as aforesaid.

Strategies and tactics to defeat an enemy however are not just about whether you dare to call your enemy by name, describe your enemy’s nature and know what moves them to be your enemy.

If you know who it is who wants to kill you and you know that they will not stop until they succeed, what you call these people and understanding what moves them becomes far less important than just focusing on devising strategies and tactics to kill them first.  After the enemy is dead one can spend more time navel gazing on what made them your enemy.

Both Obama and Cameron, like Cameron’s fellow EU leaders are failing miserably in this regard.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

WATCH: U.S. Marines Chant, ‘There’s No God Like Jehovah!’

Oh boy, this here video is surely going to send the head chucklehead of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Mikey Weinstein, into a apoplectic state of frothing hysteria. And you can imagine that the leadership of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation is running about gnashing their teeth and tearing at their clothes. This video taken at Camp Pendleton shows U.S. Marines at a Christian worship service singing the upbeat Christian song, “Days of Elijah.” And as you will see, they are very enthusiastic about the song.

As reported by The Blaze, “A description of the video, which was first posted to Facebook Sunday by a woman named Merrie Pardee Baldwin, reads, “Participatory worship. I love how excited the men get to sing this song & the camaraderie.” Baldwin posted the video again Monday on the Facebook page for the Caruso Memorial Chapel at Camp Pendleton, giving a little more information about the clip’s origins. “This is one of my favorite things about coming each month for the Faith Warrior service,” she wrote. “I love to see the camaraderie & how participatory worship is. They bless me MUCH more than they know.”

And this blessed me as well. You see, I truly don’t worry about America. What I am concerned about are the sheep who lead these lions.

Enjoy the video and please pray these young Marines — who volunteered to serve — have the freedom of religion and the free exercise thereof, especially since they stand as the sentinels protecting that right for us all.

Be careful, you progressive socialists, about complaining about this. I’m sure y’all supported repealing “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

EDITORS NOTE: This video originally appeared on AllenBWest.com.

Obama Threatens to Veto the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act

Like many Americans and Israelis I watched expectantly President Obama’s State of the Union Address (SOTUS)  before a joint session of Congress crammed into the House Chamber. I was looking for a reaction from the Congressional audience on the issue of the P5+1 agreement implemented on January 20th. Iran’s President Rouhani had basically told  the P5+1  in a CNN  interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that the Islamic regime was not going to dismantle their nuclear program. Instead they were going to plough ahead with research and development on advanced centrifuges and would not swap the Arak heavy water plant that would produce plutonium for a bomb.

In  light of these jarring comments made in Davos, Switzerland  by President Rouhani  at the World Economic  Forum, you would have prudently thought that the President would have changed his mind about  vetoing  the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act (NWFIA), S. 1881. Obama made it clear that he was proceeding with the P5+1 deal as a diplomatic way of  avoiding  military action to disable the Islamic Regime’s  nuclear weapons capability.  A capability that according to Israeli PM Netanyahu  speaking at the Annual Conference of the Institute for National Security studies at Tel Aviv University  (INSS) was  “six weeks away from achievement when the P5+1 deal was signed” on November 24, 2013 in Geneva.

President Obama fired a bow shot directed at NWFIA sponsors Sens. Kirk and Menendez, and 57 other co-sponsors of S. 1881, as well as the Resolution introduced in by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor  (R-VA)  and Minority Leader Steny  Hoyer (D-Md.) supporting its passage.

Obama said:

Let me be clear if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it.

For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.

If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon.  But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.

It is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of that program back – for the very first time in a decade. As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. It is not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb.

If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.

Watch this C-SPAN video clip of the nuclear Iran segment of his SOTUS:

The immediate reaction was clearly stony silence from the Republican members of both chambers in the audience.

According to a  Jerusalem Postarticle on the President’s veto threat, NWFIA co-sponsor Sen. Kirk said:

“The American people – Democrats and Republicans alike – overwhelmingly want Iran held accountable during any negotiations. While the president promises to veto any new Iran sanctions legislation, the Iranians have already vetoed any dismantlement of their nuclear infrastructure,” Kirk added, calling his bill an “insurance policy” for Congress.

The Hill  Global Affairs blog reported the dissembling  the morning after  the President’s SOTUS remarks on a nuclear Iran by some Democratic co-sponsors of NWFIA in the wake of the President’s public veto threat.  Note these Senators’ comments:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said on MSNBC Tuesday night that he didn’t endorse the bill so that it could be voted on during negotiations with Iran. “Give peace a chance,” he said.

“I did not sign it with the intention that it would ever be voted upon or used upon while we were negotiating,” Manchin said. “I signed it because I wanted to make sure the president had a hammer, if he needed it and showed them how determined we were to do it and use it, if we had to.”

[…]

“Now is not the time for a vote on the Iran sanctions bill,” Coons said Wednesday at a Politico event, according to The Huffington Post.

The senator clarified that he still supports the bill but warned advancing it now could damage ongoing negotiations toward a final agreement with Iran.

[…]

“I’m not frustrated,” Menendez told The Huffington Post on Tuesday after Obama’s address. “The president has every right to do what he wants.”

The Hill Global Affairs blog noted the Senate reaction  to NWFIA :

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-highest ranking Democrat, Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the fourth-highest ranking Democrat, and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have said they are against the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has also suggested he’s leaning toward not allowing a vote on it.

On Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the Senate should move the sanctions bill forward to the floor, predicting it would have a veto-proof majority.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported on Monday that lawmakers in both the House and Senate are considering a nonbinding resolution that expresses concern about Iran’s nuclear program.

Backing what Sen. Kirk said in his response to the President was further evidence from former  UN nuclear weapons inspector David Albright at the Washington, DC Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).  Both he and the sanctions analysis team from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies held a well attended briefing for Capitol Hill Staffers on Monday, January 27th.  Albright was quoted in the Los Angeles Times citing an ISIS  report on the technical aspects of the accord implemented on January 20th that allows Iran to continue research over the next six months on several types of advanced centrifuges already at Natanz:

[The accord]  is not expected to seriously affect Iran’s centrifuge research and development program. Albright said he hopes to persuade the six powers to push for much stricter limits on centrifuge research and development when they negotiate the final agreement. The issue has to be addressed much more aggressively.

Cliff May of FDD, co-sponsor of the Capitol Hill event with Albright  of  ISIS,  observed in an NRO Corner article:

If Iran’s rulers faithfully comply with every commitment they have so far made, at the end of this six-month period, they will be about three months — instead of two months — away from breakout capacity.

Yesterday, at the annual conference of the  Institute for National Security studies (INSS)  at Tel Aviv University, there was a dialog between former CIA Director Gen. David Petreaus and Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin,  former  IDF military intelligence chief.  The contrast between their positions on the Iran nuclear threat was most telling:

General (ret.) David Petraeus: The United States is war weary and suffers from a “Vietnam syndrome.” However, it still has major strategic capabilities, and President Obama will not hesitate to use force against Iran, if necessary.

Major General (ret.) Amos Yadlin: What keeps me awake at night is the Iranian issue. The Iranian nuclear program aspires to attain a nuclear capability. The only viable leverage – sanctions and a credible military threat – are weakening, and this is most worrisome. Also troubling: the status quo on the Palestinian issue is not favorable, and the relations with the United States are not on the same level as before – these must be restored.

If you are a gambler, which of the two former military leaders, would you bet on to make a decision in the sovereign national interests of Israel regarding a nuclear Iran?  I know who I would.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.