18 November 2014

In order to create a new momentum

India should be more proactive in engaging Indonesia, which, as the largest nation in the Asean region, ought to form the core of its Look East policy, writes Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty

On October 20, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo was sworn in as Indonesia's seventh president. The presidential election on July 9 took place 16 years after Indonesia's transition to democracy following the overthrow of President Suharto's regime.Widodo came to power after having defeated his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, a former army general, former son-in-law of Suharto and the son of Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, a former minister.

Widodo had Jusuf Kalla, former vice-president of Indonesia, as his running mate in order to secure the necessary percentage of seats and votes in the legislative elections of April 2014. In the final tally, the Widodo-Kalla combination won 53.16 per cent of the votes while the Prabowo-Hatta Rajasa combination won 46.48 per cent of the votes. Choosing Kalla was crucial for the electoral triumph because Kalla is a former chairman of the Golkar party that came second in the legislative election. The tie-up with Kalla split the Golkar votes. Subianto's controversial views on Indonesian nationalism and his association with the human rights violations of the Suharto regime also helped swing votes away from the former general. Widodo also survived the legal challenge thrown by his opponent in the constitutional court that ruled against any electoral malpractice and upheld Widodo's electoral victory.

Widodo's election marks a clear break from the older leadership that has often been associated with political families and the military leadership. Jokowi, as Widodo is popularly known, is a self-made businessman and does not belong to the traditional ruling elite of Indonesia. The former furniture businessman rose from humble origins to become the governor of Jakarta. He is a new symbol for the common people in a region dominated by political dynasties. From democracies to authoritarian states, several of the region's nations are run by children of political dynasties. 


18 November 2014

Other developing nations have challenged India's leadership role in climate negotiations, where India and China were ostensibly negotiating together. But the fact remains that China has already achieved industrial prowess far in excess of India

The recent announcement by President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping that US-China will target to cut their nations’ carbon emissions is not only fantastic news for the world; it also highlights how India might get left out in the cold when it comes to climate negotiations.

Recently, when the world’s two largest economies and largest polluting countries shook hands after signing a deal that promised that both of them would curb carbon emissions significantly over the next decade and a half, the entire world noticed. It was, until humanity managed to land a space probe on a comet whizzing through space, the leading news story of the day.

As others have pointed out, there was nothing spectacular about China’s promise; it has been facing incredible public pressure to combat pollution, almost all of it generated from industrialisation, the country had committed to cut emissions for quite some time now. The Chinese have publicly stated that they would move away from a coal-based power strategy to one that involves cleaner fuels; and that the carbon emissions would peak by 2030. The Chinese, for example, have already set ambitious fuel-economy targets for road vehicles by the end of the decade.

Yet, despite the will of the Chinese leadership to impose these lofty goals, it remains to be seen whether the country can sustain the kind of growth if it cuts back on emissions. The world is still far from finding a sustainable power solution that can replace coal. While China, with its incredible demand, can drive a solution such as thorium-based power, feasibility could be an issue. But with over 15 years to go to meet the targets and technology’s incredible pace today, a solution could well be found.

End of strategic autonomy

Written by David Brewster
November 18, 2014 

Many Indian decision-makers argue that defence cooperation with other countries endangers India’s sovereignty. (Source: PTI)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attendance at the Asean and G-20 summits caps a busy few months of travel that have included bilateral summits with Japan, the US and now Australia. Modi is the face of a newly confident India that is not afraid of doing deals — sometimes tough deals — with new partners across the economic, political and military spectrum.

Since the end of the Cold War, we have seen big changes in the way India looks at the world. For one thing, India realised that its quest for economic autarchy had been a mistake. In the decades after Independence, India discouraged foreign trade and investment in an attempt to become self-reliant. But policies that sounded desirable only led to economic stagnation and caused India to be less powerful, not more. In contrast, many countries in East Asia connected themselves deeply into the global system, which helped them develop their economies and strengthen their national power.

It is now broadly accepted that the path to a strong India lies through globalisation and economic interconnectedness. Modi was elected on a platform of strengthening India’s economy through more trade and more foreign investment. But even though economic autarchy has been thrown into the dustbin of history, many Indian decision-makers still cling fast to old ideas of strategic autonomy as an excuse to keep other countries at arm’s length. They argue that defence cooperation with other countries somehow endangers India’s sovereignty and that India should try to act alone on the international stage. To them, sovereignty is a sacred object that must be kept in a box.

This view of the world contrasts with the way most countries now promote strategic interconnectedness to enhance their power and influence, and indeed their sovereignty. Of course, the United States came to this understanding some 75 years ago and it is now skilled at using interconnectedness to enhance its influence.

But many other nations, large and small, now use strategic interconnectedness to leverage their power and punch above their weight. This reflects a world in which few countries — even the US — can achieve much by themselves in the international arena. The new norm is of ad hoc coalitions of states that come together to address a particular problem or achieve a specific objective. And in these coalitions, the countries that will wield the greatest influence are those that have the fewest inhibitions in working with others.

More youth in India than rest of the world: UN report

Rukmini S.
November 18, 2014

The HinduThe emergence of a large youth population of unprecedented size can have a profound effect on any country, a UN report says. File Photo: S. James

“Employers, education providers, and youth live in parallel universes”

India has a larger proportion of youth population than the rest of the world, according to the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) State of the World’s Population Report, released on Tuesday said.

“Today’s record 1.8 billion young people present an enormous opportunity to transform the future,” UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehim, said in a statement. “Young people are the innovators, creators, builders and leaders of the future. But they can transform the future only if they have skills, health, decision-making, and real choices in life,” he added.

“The emergence of a large youth population of unprecedented size can have a profound effect on any country. Whether that effect is positive or negative depends largely on how well governments respond to young people’s needs and enable them to engage fully and meaningfully in civic and economic affairs,” the report says.

Whether in politics, economics or the military, India must be ready to meet China's challenges

11 November 2014

China President Xi Jinping's recent Sri Lanka visit is a cause for concern

The docking of a Chinese submarine at the Colombo port twice in recent weeks highlights the challenges we face in handling China, as well as our neighbours. 

Both challenges are interlinked. China is active in our neighbourhood, politically, economically and militarily. Notwithstanding the argument that China too has the right to establish close ties with countries that are also its neighbours, and that India cannot object to this as encroachment on its sensitive periphery, our concerns about China intruding into our neighbourhood are legitimate for several salient reasons. 

Our border with China is not only unsettled, it remains the source of periodic tensions. That we have in recent years avoided an actual military clash despite competing claims and patrolling may be a diplomatic accomplishment, but it is no guarantee that a crisis can be permanently avoided in an inherently fraught situation. 

China has strengthened its military infrastructure in Tibet enormously. This gives it the means to sustain pressure on India on the border and induce us to more cautious in challenging its moves on our northern periphery, under cover of which it continues to deepen its engagement with Pakistan and Nepal in particular, while also subtly propping its overtures to Bhutan. 

China is keeping territorial issues with India aggressively alive, with the PLA and the Chinese foreign office objecting most recently to our decision to establish additional posts on our northern border and build an east-west highway across it, even though China itself continues to incessantly improve the military infrastructure on its side.

It has also cautioned India to ensure that its off-shore oil exploration agreements with Vietnam do not include territory China disputes, unmindful of its past projects in POK as well as ambitious new ones which fall squarely within the territory that Pakistan claims is “disputed”. 

These objections have come after President Xi Jinping’s visit to India, and the expectations raised that China may be less assertive on border issues with India in the interest of expanding economic ties between the two countries. 

China’s strategic investment in Pakistan has been almost unprecedented, with no country giving nuclear weapon and missile technologies to another to the extent that China has given to Pakistan. China is now an active political player in Nepal, seeking parity with India there. 

China has long tried to tempt Bhutan into a territorial bargain that would involve exchange of its claims in the north with concessions in the Chumbi valley that would outflank India’s defences there. 

The grand design is to gain a strong strategic hand vis-a-vis India across our land frontiers, even as it begins to establish its strategic presence in the Indian Ocean aimed at eroding our dominant position there. 


‘20th hijacker’ from 9/11 seeks role in civil terror cases

Nov 18, 2014

Offers details about inner workings of Al Qaeda, but most view deal as suspicious

The man who became known as the “20th hijacker” from the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks wants to testify in lawsuits filed by victims of terrorism. The imprisoned Zacarias Moussaoui rece-ntly wrote to federal courts in New York and Oklahoma, claiming he can offer inside information about the inner workings of Al Qaeda to boost legal claims that the government of Saudi Arabia and financial institutions supported terrorism.

Some lawyers have taken him seriously enough to interview him at the Supermax federal prison in Colorado, where he is serving a life sentence. But other observers are sceptical, saying it could be a desperate grab for leniency or relevancy. “Even if he somehow got to the point where he could testify, there would be a credibility issue,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. “Would his testimony be valuable? That’s doubtful.”

The offers are also clouded by his record of changing his account of his involvement in the Sept. 11 plot and his erratic behaviour in court. In court papers filed in Manhattan in September, lawyers for Saudi Arabia said flatly: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had no role in the attacks of September 11, 2001.” They also noted that the United States “has said often and vigorously that Saudi Arabia is an important ally in the fight against terrorism.”

Moussaoui’s attempts to cooperate in the civil cases stand in contrast to the defiant attitudes of other Al Qaeda defendants who have endured after years of confinement without volunteering information except for claims they were tortured.

Moussaoui (46), a French citizen of Moroccan descent who refers to himself in writing as “Slave of Allah,” was arrested on immigration charges in August 2001 after employees of a Minnesota flight school became alarmed that he wanted to learn to fly a Boeing 747 even though he had no pilot’s licence.

He was in custody on Sept. 11 and pleaded guilty in April 2005 to conspiring with the hijackers to kill Americans.

The plea initially seemed to subdue the mercurial Moussaoui, who during a three-year legal fight repeatedly insulted the judge and tried to fire his lawyers. But his combustible side re-emerged at his death penalty proceedings, when he surprised everyone by testifying that he had planned to pilot a plane into the White House on Sept. 11.

Missouri governor declares state of emergency ahead of grand jury decision

Nov 18, 2014

Demonstrators march through the streets during a protest over the shooting death of Michael Brown in Clayton, Missouri. (Reuters Photo)

Missouri's governor declared a state of emergency on Monday and authorized the state's National Guard to support police in case of violence after a grand jury decides whether to indict a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager.

"As part of our ongoing efforts to plan and be prepared for any contingency, it is necessary to have these resources in place in advance of any announcement of the grand jury's decision," Governor Jay Nixon said in a statement. The order also puts the St. Louis County Police Department, rather than police in Ferguson, Missouri, in charge of policing protests.

Residents of Ferguson, which saw weeks of sometimes violent protests following the Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, are braced for the possibility of more unrest, particularly if the grand jury decides not to criminally charge Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

The past two days have seen protests around the area in anticipation of the grand jury's report. Several dozen demonstrators took to the streets on Monday in Clayton, Missouri, where a grand jury is meeting.

"We want an indictment. The cops don't like it," the protesters chanted as they marched in freezing temperatures.

"Something about the way Mike Brown was killed started a fire in me that I can't ignore," said one of the demonstration's organizers, Dhorbua Shakur, 24.

He said he had little sympathy for area residents who are tired of the demonstrations, which left some businesses in Ferguson burned out.

"They can turn this off and on with a TV screen. But this is my reality. This is my life," Shakur said.

Decision expected this month

IS 'executes nearly 1,500 people in Syria in 5 months'

 Nov 17, 2014

This still image taken from an undated video published on the Internet by the Islamic State group militants and made available on Sunday, November 16, 2014, purports to show extremists marching Syrian soldiers before beheading them. (AP photo)

BEIRUT: The jihadist Islamic State group (IS) has executed nearly 1,500 people in Syria in the five months since it declared the establishment of a "caliphate", a monitoring group said on Monday. 

"The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented the execution of 1,429 people since the IS announced its 'caliphate' in June," the group's director, Rami Abdel Rahman, said. 

The majority of IS's victims in Syria have been civilians, he said. 

"Of the total number of people beheaded or shot dead in mass killings by IS, 879 have been civilians, some 700 of them members of the Shaitat tribe." 

The Sunni Muslim Shaitat tribe, from the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, rose up against the jihadist group in mid-2014. 

Another 63 of the dead were members of other rebel groups or the rival jihadist Al-Nusra Front, which has fought IS in the north and east, Abdel Rahman said. 

"Another 483 were regime soldiers, while four others were IS members" accused of corruption or other alleged offences, Abdel Rahman said. 

IS has executed large numbers of troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in recent months, after capturing government positions in central and northern Syria. 

Many have been beheaded and their bodies put on display in public squares, "in order to strike terror into civilians and into any group that might decide to fight it", Abdel Rahman said. 

Pakistan test-fires nuclear capable ballistic missile

Nov 17, 2014

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan successfully test-fired a nuclear capable ballistic missile with a range of 900 kilometers, days after testing a similar missile capable of hitting targets as far as 1,500 kilometers, bringing many Indian cities under its range. 

The launch of Shaheen 1A or Hatf IV ballistic missile was aimed at re-validating various design and technical parameters of the weapon system. 

The military said that the impact point of the launch was in the Arabian Sea in the south. 

Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah, Director General Strategic Plans Division, Lt Gen Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Commander Army Strategic Forces Command and senior officers from the strategic forces, scientists and engineers of strategic organiszations witnessed the launch. 

Last week Pakistan successfully test fired Shaheen-II, also called Hatf VI, capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads to targets as far as 1,500 kilometers. 

Admiral Zakaullah said Shaheen-1A with its highly accurate and indigenously developed guidance system is amongst the most accurate Missile System. 

The admiral reiterated Pakistan's desire for peaceful co-existence in the region. 

President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appreciated the successful test launch.

Pakistani Army Claims to Have Killed More Than 1,200 Militants in Five Month-Long Offensive

November 16, 2014

Pakistani Army-1,200 Militants Killed During Five-Month Offensive

MIR ALI Pakistan (Reuters) - The Pakistani army has killed 1,200 suspected militants in an anti-Taliban offensive during the past five months, seriously reducing the group’s ability to carry out attacks, senior officers said on Sunday during a rare trip to the conflict zone.

The ongoing operation has targeted the militant stronghold in North Waziristan, a mountainous region that borders Afghanistan and has acted as a staging post for deadly attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The offensive was launched as Western forces began withdrawing from Afghanistan.

In the centre of Mir Ali, the second largest town in the region, there was hardly a building untouched by the fighting.

Major General Zafarullah Khan, the officer in charge of North Waziristan, said that a widely-predicted wave of violence in response to the operation had failed to materialise.

"The action which was expected has not come," he said on Saturday, picking his way through shattered buildings as he pointed out places he said were used for torturing prisoners or producing propaganda videos. "Significant successes have been made."

The military had killed nearly 1,200 militants since the operation began, he said, but refused to show their pictures out of respect for the dead. Another 230 had been arrested, and around 132 tons of explosive recovered so far, he said.

Large amounts of weapons, ammunition and many vehicles had also been seized, he said, showing off a U.S.-made Hummer jeep whose windscreen had been shattered by bullets.

Many of the areas the military moved into had been booby trapped, Khan said, and soldiers were going house to house to defuse bombs.

"They have planted (them) in houses, they have planted (them) in the streets, they’ve planted (them) even in the trees," he said.

The militants generally rely on bombs and ambushes to engage the military rather than risking an open battle. On Sunday, officials said four soldiers were killed and at least eight were missing after an attack on their check post in North Waziristan’s Datta Khel region.

Khan would not be drawn on how long the operation might take. Most of the civilian population of North Waziristan - estimated are around a million people - were ordered to leave before the operation began.

Many now face a harsh winter away from their homes and businesses, reliant onfood aid and cramped quarters with relatives. When they return, many will find their homes destroyed in the fighting.

Grappling with ‘China Policy’ at home, Taiwan keen on FTA with India, other nations

Nov 17, 2014

Taiwan is keen on fast-tracking trade pacts with India and other nations, particularly those in the Asia-Pacific region.

TAIPEI: Struggling to forge a domestic consensus on its outreach to Beijing for strengthening economic ties and days after China and South Korea signed on the outlines of a free trade agreement (FTA), Taiwan is keen on fast-tracking such trade pacts with India and other nations, particularly those in the Asia-Pacific region. 

"We have been trying for an FTA with India since 2009. It will be beneficial for both. We are waiting for a response from the new Indian government," said Michael Tseng, deputy chief negotiator in Taiwan's ministry of economic affairs. 

He said a Taiwanese team will soon visit India to explore market for automobiles, shipbuilding and textiles among other things. "Our team will visit Gujarat and some other places later this month to see prospects for original brand manufacture (OBM) facilities as also setting up techno parks," he said. 

India has so far been cautious in response to Taipei's overtures lest it ruffles feathers in Beijing. 

"We hope the new government in India will be more assertive in promoting economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. India should take advantage of the situation through engagement," said Vanessa Shih, Taiwan's vice minister for foreign affairs, when asked about the shadow of Sino-Indian diplomacy on New Delhi's ties with Taiwan. 

Taiwan's fresh initiative to increase its export footprint- Free Economic Pilot Zones (FEPZ)- currently faces scrutiny in Parliament which is also debating the contentious 'Supervisory Act' put in place after the students' unrest earlier this year. The 'Supervisory Act', is aimed at setting up institutional checks and balances for transparency while dealing with China. 

In March, thousands of students had protested for weeks in Taipei to stall ratification of a services pact between Taiwan and Beijing. Taiwan had also signed Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China in 2010, seen as 'pro-Beijing tilt' of the government. 

"The clash of political and economic forces in Taiwan is a serious problem. Resolution has to be found here. There is very little that Beijing can do. Half of the population is living in the past," said Dr Yun-Peng Chu of National Policy Foundation, a think tank. 

Taiwan hopes the FEPZ Act will be a springboard for it to eventually join the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Beijing-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). 

Fareed Zakaria: China’s growing clout

By Fareed Zakaria Opinion
November 13

Chinese President Xi Jinping speak to reporters during a press conference at the Great Hall of the People (GHOP) in Beijing, China, 12 November 2014. (How Hwee Young/EPA)

As Moscow continues to send its forces into Ukraine, it seems clear that Vladimir Putin’s Russia presents the United States and the West with a frontal challenge. But in the longer run, it is not Russia’s overt military assault but China’s patient and steady non-military moves that pose the larger challenge. Russia is a great power in decline. Its economy amounts to just 3.4 percent of global gross domestic product. China’s is nearly 16 percent and rising, now almost four times the size of Japan’s and five times that of Germany, according to the World Bank

Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping deserve the accolades they are receiving for their historic agreement on climate change, which suggests that the United States and China are moving toward a new, productive relationship. Except that, even while negotiating this accord, Xi’s government has been laying down plans for a very different foreign policy — one that seeks to replace the American-built post-1945 international system with its own. There is clearly a debate going on in Beijing, but if China continues down this path, it would constitute the most significant and dangerous shift in international politics in 25 years. 

Fareed Zakaria writes a foreign affairs column for The Post. He is also the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and a contributing editor for The Atlantic.

It has been widely reported that Xi has presided over a rise in nationalist rhetoric in recent years, much of it anti-American. This is true, but that rhetoric had never gone away. Even in the far more placid Hu Jintao years, one saw the rise of books like “The China Dream: Great Power Thinking and Strategic Posture in the Post-American Era,” which explicitly called on Beijing to seek global primacy — replacing the United States — and provide the world with wiser and more benevolent leadership. 

The Absolute Weapon and the Ultimate High Ground: Why Nuclear Deterrence and Space Deterrence Are Strikingly Similar - Yet Profoundly Different

By Karl Mueller for Stimson Center
14 November 2014

Do nuclear and space deterrence have more in common with each other than other versions of the theory? Karl Mueller doesn’t think so. The contrasts between these two particular forms of deterrence are far more pronounced and instructive than their similarities.

This article was originally published by the Stimson Center on 27 September 2013 as part of an essay collection entitled "Anti-satellite Weapons, Deterrence and Sino-American Space Relations".

In his introductory essay to this volume, Michael Krepon surveys and compares nuclear deterrence to the related and still rather nascent policy arena of space deterrence. This chapter takes another look at space deterrence, approaching the comparison from a slightly different direction by focusing on theory and strategic principles while giving short shrift to the history of the policy-making in question that his chapter presents in detail.

The connections between space power and deterrence have been a matter of increasing interest in recent years as the United States has become more and more dependent on space systems to perform essential military functions, and as the rise of China has demonstrated that deterrence is central to national security policy in all ages, rather than being something that mostly mattered during the Cold War. As we think about these connections, it is natural to turn to nuclear deterrence in a search for useful analogies. The study of nuclear deterrence, embracing both theoretical and practical dimensions, has achieved the often elusive objective for a highly theoretical discipline of actually having been useful to policymakers.

Nuclear power is different from conventional power in important respects, and space power is different from terrestrial power. Does understanding nuclear deterrence, in particular, give us useful insights into deterrence in space? Or do nuclear and space deterrence have more in common with each other than they do with other varieties of deterrence? It would be nice if the answer were “yes” because decades of thinking very hard about nuclear deterrence has resulted in a well-developed body of theory about it,(2) although much of it has not been tested due to the absence of nuclear wars and the infrequency of deep nuclear crises. Even though we have seen no nuclear weapons fired in anger since 1945, deterrence is not mere guesswork: The absence of explosions does not indicate the absence of deterrence; it indicates the absence of deterrence failures.

Fearing Infiltration by Western Intelligence, ISIS Now Requires Jihadi Wannabes to Submit to a Background Check

Mohammed Al-Shafey
November 17, 2014

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—If any group could be said to have powerful enemies these days, it is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), making a certain amount of paranoia on the part of the organization and its leaders understandable. It is therefore not surprising that it has just made it harder for jihadist hopefuls to join the group in an effort to weed out spies.

The extremist organization has issued new instructions to Western recruits seeking to join the terrorist group, including the need to obtain a glowing reference from at least one sheikh known to ISIS leadership, according to Islamist leaders in London. The British Islamists informed Asharq Al-Awsat that ISIS recruits will now need this “recommendation” to be allowed into the fold.

The new instructions include detailed advice on what ISIS recruits should wear and carry with them when travelling to Syria and Iraq as well as pointers on how best to avoid detection. The recruits are told to avoid bringing religious books, but should not forget to bring their own cigarettes with them.

“Your clothes should not identify your religion and you should remain silent and not talk too much. The only thing people should know about you is that you are a normal traveler . . . and you should not give any detailed information about yourself,” went the advice.

The latest directives follow ISIS fears that Western intelligence organizations are seeking to infiltrate the group. This is the first time that ISIS has explicitly called for new recruits to provide proof of identity and the new rules mean that ISIS recruits will need at least one affiliated sheikh or recruiter to vouch for them. The instructions add that it would be even better if potential recruits have more than one “recommendation,” the Islamist sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The British government has significantly ramped up its counterterrorism efforts over the past year but is still failing to stop home-grown jihadists from travelling to the battlefield—around 500 Brits are believed to have traveled to Syria to join extremist groups.

A 26-Year-Old Woman Is ISIS’s Last American Hostage

A 26-Year-Old Woman Is ISIS’s Last American Hostage
The extremists didn’t show her off in their latest snuff film. And her family doesn’t want her name released. But what is known about ISIS’s remaining U.S. captive is heartbreaking.

With ISIS’s brutal murder of Peter Kassig, a 26-year-old American aid worker who dedicated his life to the plight of Syrian refugees, the militant group has one more U.S. citizen remaining in its clutches, according to current and former U.S. officials, as well as individuals involved in efforts to free the Americans.

The hostage is the only American woman held by the militant group. She is the same age as Kassig, and like him was kidnapped while trying to help people whose lives have been upended by the long Syrian civil war. She was particularly moved to help children who have been orphaned and separated from their families. The woman was taken in August 2013, along with a group of other aid workers who have reportedly been released.

U.S. officials and the woman’s family have requested that her name not be made public, fearing that further attention will put her in greater jeopardy. No news organization has published her name. But the general circumstances of her capture and captivity have been known and widely reported for more than a year now.

U.S. and Iraqi Governments Struggling to Undo ISIS’ Success in Co-opting or Conquering the Majority of the Sunni Tribes

Ben Hubbard
November 16, 2014

Iraq and U.S. Find Some Potential Sunni Allies Have Already Been Lost

BAGHDAD — When the militants of the Islamic State entered the Sunni Arab area of Al Alam, they gave its tribal leaders a message of reconciliation: We are here to defend you and all the Sunnis, they said, so join us.

But after a group of angry residents sneaked out one night, burned the jihadists’ black banners and raised Iraqi flags, the response was swift.

“They started blowing up the houses of tribal leaders and those who were in the security forces,” Laith al-Jubouri, a local official, said. Since then, the jihadists have demolished dozens of homes and kidnapped more than 100 residents, he said. The captives’ fates remain unknown.

In the Islamic State’s rapid consolidation of the Sunni parts of Iraq and Syria, the jihadists have used a double-pronged strategy to gain the obedience of Sunni tribes. While using their abundant cash and arms to entice tribal leaders to join their self-declared caliphate, the jihadists have also eliminated potential foes, hunting down soldiers, police officers, government officials and anyone who once cooperated with the United States as it battled Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Now, as the United States and the Iraqi government urgently seek to enlist the Sunni tribes to fight the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, they are struggling to undo the militants’ success in co-opting or conquering the majority of them.

Officials admit little success in wooing new Sunni allies, beyond their fitful efforts to arm and supply the tribes who were already fighting the Islamic State — and mostly losing. So far, distrust of the Baghdad government’s intentions and its ability to protect the tribes has won out.

“There is an opportunity for the government to work with the tribes, but the facts on the ground are that ISIS has infiltrated these communities and depleted their ability to go against it,” said Ahmed Ali, an Iraq analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. “Time is not on the Iraqi government’s side.”

Much of the Islamic State’s success at holding Sunni areas comes from its deft manipulation of tribal dynamics. Portraying itself as a defender of Sunnis who for years have been abused by Iraq’s Shiite-majority government, the Islamic State has offered cash and arms to tribal leaders and fighters, often allowing them local autonomy as long as they remain loyal.

At the same time, as it has expanded into new towns, the Islamic State has immediately identified potential government supporters for death. Residents of areas overrun by the Islamic State say its fighters often carry names of soldiers and police officers. If those people have already fled, the jihadists blow up their homes to make sure they do not return. At checkpoints, its men sometimes run names through computerized databases, dragging off those who have worked for the government.

“They come in with a list of names and are more organized than state intelligence,” said Sheikh Naim al-Gaood, a leader of the Albu Nimr tribe.

The most brutal treatment is often of tribes who cooperated with the United States against Al Qaeda in Iraq in past years, mostly through the so-called Sunni Awakening movement supported by the Americans.

US Intelligence Working to Verify Video Showing Execution by ISIS of American Peter Kassig

November 16, 2014

U.S. government working to confirm authenticity of Kassig murder claim-NSC

The U.S. government is working to confirm the authenticity of a claim by Islamic State militants that they have murdered American Peter Kassig, President Barack Obama’s National Security Council (NSC) said on Sunday.

"The intelligence community is working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity," the NSC said, referring to a video posted on a jihadist website.

"If confirmed, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American aid worker and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends, ” NSC spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement.

Russia’s Claim That Ukrainian Fighter Shot Down Flight MH17 With Satellite Imagery Called a ‘Crude Fake’

Vitaly Shevchenko
November 16, 2014
Web users debunk Russian TV’s MH17 claim

Russian state TV has broadcast what it claimed to be a photo of the moment Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet. But many commentators dismissed the image as a “crude fake”.

Late on 14 November, Russia’s state-controlled Channel One TV broadcast what appeared to be a satellite photo of a passenger plane and a jet fighter in the skies above Donetsk, a separatist stronghold in Ukraine. It was, the report said, the moment the Ukrainian jet fired a missile at MH17.

This theory has long been promoted by pro-Kremlin media, and it came to the fore again as President Vladimir Putin was preparing to meet world leaders at the G20 summit in Australia. He is widely expected to face some tough questions over Russia’s alleged role in the Ukraine crisis and the downing of MH17.

Channel One said the “sensational photograph” came from a certain George Bilt, who claimed to be a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate with more than two decades of experience in the aviation industry. He emailed it to Ivan Andriyevsky, the first vice-president of the Russian Union of Engineers, the report went on.

"We can assume that the photograph was taken by an American or British satellite," Andriyevskiy told Channel One, "we have studied the photograph in detail and found nothing suggesting that it is fake."

The presenter, well-known pro-Kremlin commentator Mikhail Leontyev, agreed. “To fake something like this, you’d have to be an even bigger professional than to have access to this kind of information,” he said.

The ISIS-Al Qaeda Peace Talks in Syria

Jennifer Cafarella
November 16, 2014

Peace-talks between the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is said to have told CBS’s 60 Minutes that he has observed tactical cooperation between the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra (JN). The two global, Salafi jihadist groups are engaged in an ideological struggle, or fitnah. They are competing for the leadership of the fight in Syria and recognition by the al-Qaeda movement, which has been conducting mediation attempts between the two since 2013 and in 2014 recognized JN as its official affiliate in Syria. Director Clapper’s statements challenge recent public reports of their negotiations, which suggest that more fundamental mediation may be underway, indicating the possibility of heightened cooperation in coming months. The interview has not aired, and his statements may be more nuanced than the advanced press publicizing the show.

 But the issue at hand should not be whether more than tactical cooperation has already been observed, but rather, whether conditions are being set that will favor operational cooperation between ISIS and JN in the medium term. The mediation effort may not quickly result in Baghdadi and his inner circle reconciling with JN leader Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, but the groups are eventually likely to cooperate at the operational and strategic level, as they share mutual goals. In the short term, this may include joint action against the Assad regime, which could relieve pressure on ISIS from the regime in Deir ez-Zour and embolden JN to initiate offensive operations against the regime on battlefronts that have stalled. Furthermore, ISIS is under stress in Iraq, and may pursue the acquisition of manpower and other support from JN in Syria in order to reinforce and retake the offensive.

The publicly released information tells the story of hitherto unsuccessful attempts at cooperation at operational and strategic levels. According to a high-level Syrian opposition official and rebel commander cited by the AP, seven high-ranking members of JN and ISIS conducted a meeting in the town of Atareb, West of Aleppo city, on November 2 from midnight until 4:00 a.m. A “commander of brigades affiliated with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army”corroborated the report, adding that it was organized by a third party. According to the opposition official, the meeting included an IS representative, two emissaries from JN, and attendees from the Khorasan Group, who likely served as both the mediating force and organizing party. The AP also reported that Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa were present, however mistakenly characterized Jund al-Aqsa as a group that has pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Involvement of the Khorasan Group in ongoing attempts to mediate the fitna has also been reported by the Daily Beast, and, if true, likely indicates the veracity of reports of ongoing JN and ISIS negotiations. A number of Khorasan members initially entered Syria in the summer of 2013 as part of AQ’s “Victory Committee," led by Khorasan member Sanafi al Nasr, that had been deployed by Zawahiri to mediate the growing schism between JN and ISIS. The involvement of these figures in current negotiations is therefore not a departure from past activities in Syria, and is likely a secondary line of effort complimenting the ongoing attempt to develop an attack against the West.

The future of war: Cyber is expanding the Clausewitzian spectrum of conflict

NOVEMBER 13, 2014 - 10:21 AM 

The Pentagon's principal cyber advisor, Assistant Secretary of DefenseEric Rosenbach, said about cyber operations last month, "The place where I think it will be most helpful to senior policymakers is what I call in 'the space between'. What is the space between? ... You have diplomacy, economic sanctions...and then you have military action. In between there's this space, right? In cyber, there are a lot of things that you can do in that space between that can help us accomplish the national interest."

This is a fascinating statement for those interested in the nature and future of war. It reflects the growing chorus of policy-makers and strategists not just in the U.S. but worldwide considering cyberspace as a new slice in the Clausewitzian spectrum of war being "merely the continuation of politics by other means." That's also why cyberspace constitutes a new strategic and currently destabilizing effect on international security.

Importantly, cyberspace enables a new sphere for great powers to carry out conflicts directly among each other (and any other power for that matter). Previously, their behavior was frozen at a certain level due to the strategic nuclear stalemate. There was a clear limit to how far great powers could go and they took great care to remain below the threshold of an armed attack and use of force. Instead, conflicts either remained below that threshold or were carried out indirectly through proxies in faraway lands.

U.S. military chief says battle with IS starting to turn

Nov 15, 2014 

1 OF 4. Iraq's Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi (L) meets with U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the defence ministry in Baghdad November 15, 2014.

(Reuters) - The United States' top military officer told American troops on a surprise visit to Baghdad on Saturday that the momentum in the battle with Islamic State was "starting to turn", but predicted a drawn-out campaign lasting several years.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was visiting Iraq for the first time since President Barack Obama responded to Islamic State advances this summer by ordering troops back into a country they left in 2011.

Hours earlier, an Iraqi army colonel said security forces appeared close to retaking the country's biggest refinery at Baiji, which has been under siege for months by Islamic State militants.

Obama last week authorized roughly doubling the number of American ground forces as the military expands the reach of its advisers after slowing the militants' advances with U.S. airstrikes.

Dempsey told the troops the U.S. military had helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces "pull Iraq back from the precipice".

Could Oman be the Next Crisis?

In 1970, with British help and support, Qaboos bin Sa‘id overthrew his father and took the reins of powers in the Sultanate of Oman. Sultan Qaboos was an enlightened monarch, and firmly guided the xenophobic and isolationist state back into the modern world. Oman has since been a model of neutrality and tolerance, often acting as a bridge between regional adversaries (it is no coincidence that Oman served as the initial go-between for U.S.-Iran talks). Nevertheless, when push came to shove, Oman has done what is needed to combat terrorism. U.S. aircraft based in Oman launched some of the initial airstrikes against the Taliban during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Oman is also strategically important. For all Western policymakers fret about Iranian activities in the Strait of Hormuz, they often forget that Oman occupies one side of the important waterway. Should Iran gain a toehold on both sides of the Strait, the calculus of Persian Gulf security would change.

Alas, the status quo cannot last forever. Sultan Qaboos is aging. A “confirmed bachelor,” Qaboos has produced no offspring. Succession looms. And, perhaps never closer than now. ForeignPolicy.com today has an interesting piece speculating that Qaboos, who will turn 74 next week, may be on his deathbed. The Sultan has in recent weeks sought to dispel the rumors that he suffers from terminal colon cancer, but his frail appearance and his subsequent cancellation of his forthcoming national day appearance have added fuel to the fire.

In theory, when Qaboos dies, a new leader is supposed to be chosen by consensus among the leading factions of the royal elite. But if there is no consensus, then a letter that Qaboos will leave should help determine that successor. The problem is that surrounding countries have everything to gain and nothing to lose by disputing the authenticity of such a letter or by putting forward fraudulent copies favoring their own proxy. While it’s doubtful that Oman will make as radical a political shift as it did as a result of the last succession, the failure of the White House to adopt a proactive strategy toward the region does put its future in doubt. While Washington shouldn’t necessarily muck about in Omani royal politics, it is a vital interest to protect the integrity of the process and prevent Iran from doing so.

Israel’s Top Secret Agent In Lebanon Comes Out of the Shadows After 30 Years

Joseph Fitsanakis
November 17, 2014
Mossad’s top agent in Lebanon speaks publicly for first time

A spy for Israel, who is described as one of the Jewish state’s most valuable intelligence assets in the Middle East, has broken his 30-year silence and has accused his Israeli handlers of having “thrown him to the dogs”. Amin al-Hajj was born in 1955 into one of the Lebanese Shia community’s wealthiest and most powerful clans. In the early 1970s, al-Hajj entered the inner circle of former Lebanese President Camille Chamoun, an outspoken leader of the country’s Christian community, who subsequently played an instrumental role in Lebanon’s civil war. 

Al-Hajj shared Chamoun’s detestation of Lebanon’s Palestinian community, which he held as responsible for sparking the civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990 and destroyed the country. He helped direct and train Chamoun’s bodyguards and regularly represented the Christian politician in secret meetings with officials from Israel. The latter supported Chamoun’s pro-Phalangist Tigers Militia during the civil war. It was during those meetings that the Israelis sensed al-Hajj’s hatred for the Palestinians and gradually recruited him as an asset. He went on to serve the Mossad as one of its most effective agents in the Middle East. 

Soon after his recruitment, al-Hajj assumed the operational codename RUMMENIGGE, after German soccer superstar Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who was at the peak of his career in the late 1970s. Al-Hajj’s Israeli handlers claim that he consistently refused to accept money from the Israeli government, saying he wanted to help Israel because he “thought it would be the only force that could fight the Palestinians” in Lebanon.

Eventually, RUMMENIGGE built an entire network of agents in Lebanon, Cyprus and elsewhere, which numbered over a dozen and included at least two senior officials in Palestinian group Fatah, who provided him with information in exchange for financial compensation. In 1987, however, the PLO began to suspect that al-Hajj was collaborating with Israel and tried to kill him. 

He managed to escape with his wife to Israel, where he remains today. He is currently facing no fewer than nine separate death sentences in Lebanon. However, soon after he received protection in Israel, al-Hajj’s relations with the Israeli intelligence community turned sour. He was accused of trying to forge his Lebanese passport. Soon afterwards, a ship belonging to his import-export company was found by Israeli authorities to be carrying nearly 4 tons of hashish. Last week, Al-Hajj spoke to veteran Israeli intelligence correspondent Ronen Bergman, saying that the Israeli intelligence community had “thrown [him] to the dogs”. He complained that, after the Israelis had “extracted all they could” from him, they had “tossed [him] aside like some kind of rug”. 

He said he was living in Israeli without permit, without rights and without any form of medical insurance. Bergman sought clarification about al-Hajj’s case from the Israeli government, but was simply told that the former spy’s current state of living was “due to the actions of the individual in question” and “the fact that he had cut ties with Administration officials”.

Time Running Out On Chances for a U.S.-Iranian Nuclear Deal

David E. Sanger, Steven Erlanger and Jodi Rudoren
November 17, 2014

WASHINGTON — When President Obama wrote last month to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urging him to overcome a decade of mistrust and negotiate a deal limiting Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, it was perhaps the president’s last effort to reach a reconciliation with Iran that could remake the Middle East.

Today, Mr. Obama needs a foreign policy accomplishment more than ever, and he sees time running out on his hope of changing the calculus in a Middle East where Americans are, against his instincts, back on the ground. But the forces arrayed against a deal are formidable — not just Mr. Khamenei and the country’s hard-liners, but newly empowered Republicans, some of his fellow Democrats, and many of the United States’ closest allies.

As negotiators head back to Vienna this week for what they hope will be the final round of talks, Mr. Obama’s top national security advisers put the chance of reaching an agreement this month at 40 to 50 percent. “In the end this is a political decision for the Iranians,” Mr. Obama told a small group of recent visitors to the White House, a statement that could be true for him as well.
Yet even if a deal is struck it will be the beginning of an argument, rather than the end of one. For many of the president’s adversaries, the details of whatever deal he emerges with — how much warning the West would have if Iran raced for a bomb, for example — are almost beside the point.

“In every nation involved, this negotiation is a proxy for something bigger,” argues Robert Litwak, a Wilson Center scholar and author of “Iran’s Nuclear Chess: Calculating America’s Moves.”

“Here it is a test of Obama’s strength and strategy,” he said. “In Tehran it is a proxy for a fundamental choice: whether Iran is going to continue to view itself as a revolutionary state, or whether it’s going to be a normal country,” which so many of its young people yearn for it to become.