Archive for November, 2012

Freed Russian scientist convicted for spying maintains innocence

November 27, 2012

Valentin Danilov
A Russian scientist who was pardoned last week, after spending nearly a decade behind bars for allegedly spying for China, has dismissed the charges against him as “pure fantasy”. Physicist Valentin Danilov was arrested by the FSB, the Russian Federal Security Service, in February of 2001 and charged with conducting espionage in the service of the Chinese space program. At the time of his arrest, Danilov headed the Thermo-Physics Center at Russia’s Krasnoyarsk State Technical University (KSTU), located in Siberia’s third largest city. For several years leading up to his arrest, he conducted research on the impact of solar activity on the condition and performance of space satellites. During his lengthy trial, Danilov admitted selling to the Chinese information on satellite technology belonging to the Russian government. But his defense team argued that the information in question had already been declassified and available in public sources since the early 1990s. Eventually, in November of 2004, a Russian Federal court found Danilov guilty of treason and sentenced him to 14 years in prison. He was supposed to be released in 2017. Earlier this month, however, a court in Krasnoyarsk found that, since Danilov had served most of his prison sentence in good behavior, and since his health was weak, he would be released early. In his first public interview since his release, Danilov, 66, has said he intends to take his case against the Russian government to the European Court of Human Rights. Speaking to reporters as soon as he emerged from prison, the Russian scientist said: “I would truly appreciate it if someone finally told me what state secret I sold”. He went on to comment directly on Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Everybody would be the same as him in his place, because it is the court that makes the czar”, he said, employing a traditional Russian proverb. Danilov went on: “The problem is not one of law but of how the judging is done […]. We have three branches of power: the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. There is a fight between the legislative and executive with the court in between. They should pull in different directions so that the court works well, but if they all pull in only one direction, then what?”. Asked by reporters whether he viewed himself as a political prisoner, he replied: “Absolutely. No money can compensate for 10 years of one’s life”. Danilov’s pardon was enthusiastically welcomed by some Russian scientists and human rights campaigners, who have argued for years that he should never have been convicted. Some activists went so far as to accuse the Kremlin of pressuring the court to convict Danilov for political reasons, namely to reinforce Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “attempts to intimidate academics with ties to other countries”. Danilov told reporters that he planned to return to scientific research, but that he would consciously avoid satellite and space, the areas he was working on when he was accused of spying by the Russian authorities

Advertisements

Intelligence News YOU may have missed (CIA edition)

November 27, 2012

CIA headquarters
►►Who is leading the CIA for now? Acting CIA Director Michael J. Morell, who has worked for the CIA for 32 years, served a stint as acting director last year and his will be one of several names considered by US President Barack Obama for the permanent job. Starting as an analyst tracking international energy issues, Morell worked for 14 years as an analyst and manager on East Asia, rising to director of the Directorate of Intelligence’s Office of Asian Pacific and Latin American Analysis in 1999. In May 2010, Morell succeeded Stephen Kappes, who had resigned suddenly and without explanation, as deputy director of the CIA, serving under Directors Leon Panetta (February 2009-June 2011) and David Petraeus (September 2011-November 2012).
►►No perfect choice to fill Petraeus vacancy at CIA. President Barack Obama needs a quick, no-drama solution to a sensational personnel problem. But the vacancy left at the top of the Central Intelligence Agency by David Petraeus’s abrupt departure amid a headline-grabbing sex scandal calls for a particularly complex skill set. It requires a charismatic chief to oversee the large, notoriously tough-to-manage intelligence apparatus. It needs a leader who has a strong relationship with the president. And most of all, it calls for a politically savvy operator who understands how to interact with Congress —and can assuage some of the current anger on Capitol Hill that lawmakers were kept in the dark about the probe.
►►CIA climate-change unit is shut down. Republican lawmakers in the US began criticizing the Central Intelligence Agency’s Center on Climate Change and National Security before it was even established, calling it a “misguided defense funding priority”. Concerted resistance by conservative lawmakers did not allow the program to stand on solid ground, and it now looks like the Center has actually closed down, having lost its most important supporter, former CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Ex-intelligence official: cyber espionage more dangerous than terrorism

November 27, 2012

Raymond Boisvert
A former senior member of Canada’s intelligence community has said that the threat of cyber espionage requires more resources that are currently being diverted to counterterrorism. Ray Boisvert, who retired last year from the post of Assistant Director of Intelligence for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), said in an assertive speech last week that cyber espionage is “fundamentally undermining [Canada’s] future prosperity as a nation”. Speaking on Friday in Ottawa, Boisvert compared cyber espionage to the climate-change debate, which has been marked by a series of ignored warnings, due to “some willful blindness on behalf of individuals”. As a result, he said, the need to establish essential security measures to protect worldwide electronic infrastructure is being neglected, while desperately needed resources are being diverted to counterterrorism. He explained the lack of action on three levels: first, the resistance emanating from technologically challenged decision-makers in the government and private sector, who simply do not understand the technical complexities of digital telecommunications security. Second, it is rooted in the government’s reluctance to invest the funds required to shield the nation’s communications infrastructure from espionage attacks. Finally, he placed the blame on the fragmentation and shortsightedness of the private sector, which owns and operates nearly 90 percent of Canada’s critical communications infrastructure and yet is too consumed by competition to sit around the same table on matters of security. In giving examples of the seriousness of the threat of cyber espionage, Boisvert cited the attacks last year on the computer systems of Canada’s Treasury Board and Finance Department, which compromised trade secrets of several national industries. He also mentioned the attacks on Nortel Networks Inc., which he said lasted for over a decade and may have contributed to the company’s 2009 demise. Toward the end of his speech, Boisvert said it would be a mistake to point the finger solely at China for such attacks. Although Beijing is behind some global cyber espionage, the former intelligence official said that several other countries, “even good friends” of Canada, were engaged in spying on Canadian government agencies and private companies, searching for financial information, intellectual secrets, as well as defense and diplomatic data. Like its southern neighbor, the United States, Canada is currently engaged in a public discussion about which government agency or agencies should be working with the private sector to try to secure civilian telecommunications infrastructure.

Muslim to head India’s domestic spy agency in historic first

November 27, 2012

Asif Ibrahim
For the first time in the history of India, a Muslim officer has been selected to head the country’s domestic intelligence agency. The Intelligence Bureau (IB), one of India’s most powerful intelligence organizations, will be led by Syed Asif Ibrahim, one of relatively few Muslim senior officers serving in the country’s predominantly Hindu security and intelligence apparatus. It will be the first time that the IB, which was formed in 1877 under British colonial rule, and today operates under the Ministry of Home Affairs, will be led by a Muslim. Formerly a senior officer in the Indian Police Service, Ibrahim, 59, has served for years in the IB’s Directorate of Operations, and recently served as the Bureau’s Chief of Station at the Indian High Commission in London, United Kingdom. His supervisory experience includes roles in the IB’s counter-cyberespionage and counterterrorism units. IntelNews hears that Ibrahim is widely seen by Indian intelligence officers as someone with a “crystal-clear understanding” of Islamic-inspired militancy inside the country. Ibrahim’s appointment was announced late last week by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, a senior government body lead by the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Following the announcement, observers noted that at least four IB officials, who had been tipped for the job of director and were above Ibrahim in terms of seniority, were assigned to positions outside the Bureau, ostensibly to clear the way for Ibrahim’s appointment. Mumbai-based news portal Rediff spoke to an unnamed Indian intelligence official, who said that, although Ibrahim is widely seen as a “professional and an outstanding officer with the widest range of experience […], there could be a debate on the issue of seniority”. Specifically, some in the IB believe that the criteria for seniority were used “selectively” in Ibrahim’s appointment. But India’s Muslim community appears to have welcomed the news. Rediff quoted Dr. Zafarul-Islam Khan, president of the All-India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat (the umbrella body of Indian Muslim groups), who sees Ibrahim’s appointment as “a new beginning” and hopes “it will help alter the image f the IB, which is normally seen as a bastion of upper-caste Hindus”. Ibrahim’s appointment is expected to be officially announced today, Monday. Ibrahim will formally succeed the IB’s outgoing Director, Nehchal Sandhu, on December 31. He is expected to remain on the post for at least two years following his appointment.

Putting Together your Winter Emergency Car Kit

November 27, 2012

Between commuting to and from work, running errands, and schlepping the kids around to various activities, the average American spends over 200 hours a year in their cars.

This is more time on the road than we spend in vacation time in a year!

With all that time in your vehicle, the chances of you being stranded in your car due to a breakdown or inclement weather at least once in your lifetime is more likely than not. For that reason it’s an absolute must to have a Emergency Kit for you vehicle.

And with winter now fast approaching, having an emergency kit in your car is doubly important!

How to Put Together Your Winter Emergency Car Kit

What you decide to put into your car kit is really based on your needs, skill and desired comfort. In this post I’ll show you what I put in my kit but in doing so I’ll explain the core principles that you should follow. Ultimately, how you decide to fulfill those principles is up to you.

Throughout every season, I have two kits at all times in my car:

  • a core emergency-car kit and …
  • a watered down version of my Bug-Out Bag (BOB) — it’s more like a Get-Home-bag.

When winter rolls around I add some extra gear that would help me through the rougher weather if I were to become stranded.

Following the 5-Pillars of Survival (+ Tools) Approach to Building Your Vehicle Kit

For all my emergency kits (vehicle kit, Bug-Out Bag, Get-Home Bag etc) I organize them according to 5 principles of survival that I call the “5 Pillars”. Once I have all the pillars accounted for I then add extra “tools” that help make survival a whole lot easier.

Here are the contents of my emergency-car kit organized according to these “Pillars” (items with an ** are what I add for the winter season):

Personal Health & Security

Items in this category consist of anything that helps with keeping you safe, secure and healthy. Here’s what’s in my car kit:

  • small club – In addition to my carry pistol, I keep a small club near my seat as backup (this is actually not “with” my kit in the trunk for obvious reasons)
  • first-aid kit

Shelter

The shelter portion of your emergency car kit should contain all those things that help to protect you from the elements and keep your body at a steady 96.8°F. Here’s what I include:

  • **extra winter clothes (snow pants, gloves, hat, heavy wool sweater and winter jacket)
  • **winter boots
  • **sub-zero rated sleeping bag
  • 2 mylar emergency blankets (in the small BOB)
  • tarp tent (in the small BOB)

Water

The water component contains all those things that help to store, filter, collect, and purify water. It also includes, well, of course…water.

  • 1 gallon water jug
  • 2 quart bottles of water (in small BOB)
  • water purification tablets (in small BOB)
  • collapsible water containers (in small BOB)
  • small water filter (in small BOB)

Heat and Energy

This category contains all those items that you need to create fire, light and energy (including fuel). Here’s what I have:

  • matches (in small BOB)
  • firesteel (in small BOB)
  • flashlight (in small BOB)
  • road flares
  • portable 12V jump starter
  • extra batteries (in small BOB)
  • 1 gallon of gas – beyond keeping my tank always above 1/2, I pack a gallon of fuel just in case. This is rotated every few fillups
  • emergency car heater
  • extra 90% rubbing alcohol for the emergency car heater

Food

The food category includes food itself as well as items that might help you procure food. Here’s what I include:

  • Emergency food bars (in small BOB)
  • Ruger 10/22 rifle with 1000 rds .22LR ammunition

Tools

Once the 5 Pillars are met, you’ll also want to include some extras that help you beyond “just surviving”. This makes up the brunt of what I have. Here’s what’s in my “Tools” category:

  • tool kit – for basic auto repairs
  • duct tape
  • hand axe
  • folding saw (in small BOB)
  • windshield washer fluid
  • antifreeze/coolant
  • 1 quart of oil & funnel
  • Fix-a-Flat
  • tire repair kit
  • **small snow shovel
  • **snow shoes – hey, you never know when you have to trek it home in a blizzard
  • **traction skids – you can also use two pieces of carpet, kitty-litter, or sand
  • **ice/snow scraper
  • jumper cables

A closer look

Here’s what detailed look at my car kit:

I keep my core car kit in a storage container for easy access:

Here’s what my kit looks like year-round in the trunk — plenty of space for extra things

When winter rolls around, I unfortunately have to sacrifice space for security. This is a trade-off I’m always willing to make:

Sudan arrests senior intelligence officials linked to foiled coup plot

November 24, 2012

Salah Gosh
Authorities in Sudan have announced the arrest of senior current and former intelligence officials over an alleged coup plot, which has reportedly been foiled. Spokesmen for the government of longtime Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said on Thursday that thirteen senior “military and civilian figures” had been arrested for “inciting chaos […], targeting leaders [and] spreading [false] rumors” about the President’s health. Among them is Lieutenant General Salah Gosh, who directed Sudan’s National Security and Intelligence Services for a decade before stepping down in 2009 to become President al-Bashir’s Senior Security Adviser. Gosh was widely considered a key member of al-Bashir’s inner circle in Khartoum until April of 2011, when he was unexpectedly fired, allegedly for having raised criticisms of the President’s policies. Those arrested in the early hours of Thursday reportedly include Brigadier General Mohammed Ibrahim, a Field Commander in the Sudanese Army, and Major General Adil al-Tayeb, a senior military intelligence official. Reuters reports that witnesses in Khartoum saw several army tanks and dozens of armored vehicles speeding down a central street that links the capital with the Khartoum International Airport, shortly before midnight on Wednesday. However, reports from Khartoum this morning suggest that the city appears calm and traffic patterns are normal. The country’s Minster of Information, Ahmed Belal Osman, told local media that “the situation is now totally stable”. President al-Bashir, whose reign over the oil-producing African country began in 1989, has ruled Sudan with an iron fist, based largely on strong support in Sudanese military and intelligence circles. However, the country’s economy has been severely hit by South Sudan’s independence declaration last year, which was supported by nearly all Western countries. The newly independent nation now controls the majority of Sudan’s former oil reserves, thus dealing a fatal blow to the Sudanese government’s finances. The severe economic downturn has led to a near-unprecedented increase food prices, and fuel shortages have become commonplace. Many opposition figures have called for an uprising to overthrow al-Bashir. Southern Sudanese sources, however, denounced news of the alleged coup as a government ploy “to impose additional restrictions on public freedoms and for harassment”.

Did US spies hack French government computers using Facebook?

November 23, 2012

The Palais de l'Élysée
A sophisticated computer virus discovered at the center of the French government’s secure computer network was planted there by the United States, according to unnamed sources inside France’s intelligence community. Paris-based magazine L’Express, France’s version of Time magazine, says in its current issue that the alleged American cyberattack took place shortly before last April’s Presidential elections in France. It resulted in the infection of the entire computer system in the Palais de l’Élysée, which is the official residence of the President of France. The French magazine cites unnamed sources inside the French Network and Information Security Agency (ANSSI), which is responsible for cybersecurity throughout France. The sources claim that the snooping virus allowed its handlers to gain access to the computers of most senior French Presidential aides and advisers during the final weeks of the administration of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, including his Chief of Staff, Xavier Musca. The article claims that the virus used a source code nearly identical to that of Flame, a super-sophisticated version of Stuxnet, the virus unleashed a few years ago against the computer infrastructure of the Iranian nuclear energy program. Many cybersecurity analysts believe that the US and Israel were instrumental in designing both Stuxnet and Flame. IntelNews understands that the alleged virus was initially directed at employees of the Palais de l’Élysée through Facebook. The targets were allegedly befriended by fake Facebook profile accounts handled by the team that operated the virus. The targets were then sent phishing emails that contained links to phony copies of the login page for the Palais de l’Élysée intranet website. Though that bogus website the hackers acquired username and password data of several Palais de l’Élysée staffers, which they subsequently used to gain access to the Presidential Palace’s computer system. Assuming that the virus planted on the Palais de l’Élysée intranet was similar to Flame in method and scope, it can be inferred that its handlers were able to spy on conversations taking place at the Palais using the infected computers’ audiovisual peripherals, as well as log keystrokes and acquire screen shots at regular intervals. The collected data was then routed through a host of different servers on five continents before reaching the hackers. L’Express says that then-President Sarkozy’s computer was not compromised by the virus because it was not connected to the Palais de l’Élysée computer network. The magazine sought the response of Janet Napolitano, US Secretary of Homeland Security, who refused to confirm or deny the allegations of American involvement in the alleged hacking. She sent the magazine a written statement, which said simply: “we have no greater partner than France, we have no greater ally than France”.

The Gaza Conflict Reverberates in the West Bank and Jordan

November 20, 2012

Summary

 

A Palestinian who was wounded Nov. 17 during protests in the West Bank against Israel’s ongoing operations in the Gaza Strip has died from his injuries, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported Nov. 19. The West Bank has been calm in recent years, but significant protests have been taking place across the eastern Palestinian territory — which is ruled by Hamas’ secular rival, Fatah — in response to Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense. The protester’s death could widen that unrest.

These developments have implications in Jordan, where the regime of King Abdullah II is also struggling with political unrest. The duration of the Israeli-Gaza conflict will determine the extent of the brewing unrest in the West Bank and the toll it has on Jordan.

 
Analysis

Map - Jordan The ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel has generated a significant amount of sympathy for Hamas in the West Bank. In some parts of the territory, anti-Israeli youth protesters have thrown stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces patrols. The protests, while at a low level for now, complicate matters for the administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

While the Arab Spring created conditions that increased the power of Hamas, it also added to the woes of Fatah, which has been deteriorating for some time. The group suffers from an aging leadership, internal splits, corruption charges amid poor economic conditions in the West Bank and a failure to make progress toward Palestinian statehood in negotiations. Thus, it is no surprise that Fatah, despite its deep animosity toward Hamas, has come out in support of its rival and in solidarity against Israel. Fatah likely chose not to interfere with the West Bank protests to avoid aggravating matters, but it cannot allow the protests to spiral out of control.

Fatah is hoping that Hamas and Israel reach a truce as soon as possible. Indeed, the West Bank group is likely using its channels with the United States and Israel toward this end. Clearly, Fatah does not want protests in the West Bank to go from supporting Hamas and Gaza to turning against mismanagement in the West Bank. At the same time, this could be a reason why Hamas, which seeks a resurgence in the West Bank, would want to prolong the conflict somewhat.

The stirring of turmoil in the West Bank is very worrisome for Jordan, which neighbors the Palestinian territory and is home to a large population of Palestinian heritage that harbors anti-Israeli sentiments. The ruling Hashemites do not want to see the Gaza issue spill over Jordan’s borders and accentuate their own problems.

Jordan’s Problems

The effects of the Arab Spring have not really manifested themselves in Jordan, but the kingdom has not been stable either. Since the outbreak of the regional unrest in early 2011, King Abdullah II has replaced three prime ministers in response to low-level but steady protests. The dilemma that the Hashemites face is that unrest has spread into the ranks of the tribal forces (aka East Bankers), who until recently have served as the bedrock of the monarchy’s stability. At the same time, in urban areas, the country’s largest political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, has departed from its traditional role as the loyal opposition and begun demanding that the palace share power with parliament.

Meanwhile, the economic situation in the country has deteriorated to the extent that the government was forced to cut fuel subsidies earlier this month. The public backlash to the rising energy costs has intensified the protests. In the early months of the Arab Spring, there were isolated cases of tribal youths chanting slogans against the Jordanian king and queen. Such instances of public criticism — some even calling for the king to step down — appear to be growing.

Still, neither the rural-based tribal principals nor the urban-centered Brotherhood appear to be interested in trying to topple the monarchy. Indeed, both have made it clear that they do not wish to see unrest turn into anarchy. But the problem is that neither institution seems to have a monopoly over the protests; youth groups and other non-brand entities are driving some of the agitation.

The Brotherhood, which has long called for the kingdom to cut ties with Israel, has once again raised this demand. Such calls have not gained traction in the past. But in the post-Arab Spring atmosphere — and now with the conflict in Gaza — the demand could become a tool for the Brotherhood to extract even greater concessions from the palace. Already, the king has been on the defensive, asking the Brotherhood to end its boycott of the political system and participate in upcoming parliamentary polls. Moreover, after restoring ties with Hamas earlier this year, the king has sought the mediation of Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal toward this end.

It is too early to tell what domestic political gains the Brotherhood could obtain by leveraging the fighting in Gaza. But the king’s persistently defensive approach could lead to apprehension within his camp about whether he has what it takes to steer the country out of its downward spiral. Any fissures within the ranks of the Hashemite state will lead only to greater instability. Over the longer term, instability in Jordan breeds the same in the West Bank, where the ruling Palestinian National Authority has been unable to resolve its own political problems.

Israel and Gaza: Then and Now

November 19, 2012

Four years ago on Nov. 4, while Americans were going to the polls to elect a new president, Israeli infantry, tanks and bulldozers entered the Gaza Strip to dismantle an extensive tunnel network used by Hamas to smuggle in weapons. An already tenuous truce mediated by the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak had been broken. Hamas responded with a barrage of mortar and rocket fire lasting several weeks, and on Dec. 27, 2008, Israel began Operation Cast Lead. The military campaign began with seven days of heavy air strikes on Gaza, followed by a 15-day ground incursion. By the end of the campaign, nearly 1,000 poorly guided shorter-range rockets and mortar shells hit southern Israel, reaching as far as Beersheba and Yavne. Several senior Hamas commanders and hundreds of militants were killed in the fighting. Israel Defense Forces figures showed that 10 IDF soldiers died (four from friendly fire), three Israeli civilians died from Palestinian rocket fire and 1,166 Palestinians were killed — 709 of them combatants.

The strategic environment during the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead was vastly different from the one Israel faces in today’s Operation Pillar of Defense. To understand the evolution in regional dynamics, we must return to 2006, the year that would set the conditions for both military campaigns

Setting the Stage

2006 began with Hamas winning a sweeping electoral victory over its ideological rival, Fatah. Representing the secular and more pragmatic strand of Palestinian politics, Fatah had already been languishing in Gaza under the weight of its own corruption and its lackluster performance in seemingly fruitless negotiations with Israel. The political rise of Hamas led to months of civil war between the two Palestinian factions, and on June 14, Hamas forcibly took control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah. Just 11 days later, Hamas kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalt and killed two others, prompting a new round of hostilities with Israel.

In what appeared to be a coordinated move, Hezbollah on July 12 launched its own raid on Israel’s northern front and kidnapped two additional soldiers, kicking off the month-long Second Lebanon War. As Israel discovered, Hezbollah was well-prepared for the conflict, relying on an extensive tunneling system to preserve its launching crews and weaponry. Hezbollah made use of anti-tank guided missiles, improvised explosive devices that caught Israel Defense Forces by surprise and blunted the ground offensive, and medium-range rockets capable of reaching Haifa. Hezbollah incurred a heavy toll for the fight, with much of the infrastructure in southern Lebanon devastated and roughly 1,300 Lebanese civilian casualties threatening to erode its popular support. Casualty numbers aside, Hezbollah emerged from the 2006 conflict with a symbolic victory. Since 1973, no other Arab army, much less a militant organization, had been able to fight as effectively to challenge Israel’s military superiority. Israel’s inability to claim victory translated as a Hezbollah victory. That perception reverberated throughout the region. It cast doubts on Israel’s ability to respond to much bigger strategic threats, considering it could be so confounded by a non-state militant actor close to home.

At that time, Hamas was contending with numerous challenges; its coup in Gaza had earned the group severe political and economic isolation, and the group’s appeals to open Gaza’s border, and for neighbors to recognize Hamas as a legitimate political actor, went mostly unheeded. However, Hamas did take careful note of Hezbollah’s example. Here was a militant organization that had burnished its resistance credentials against Israel, could maintain strong popular support among its constituents and had made its way into Lebanon’s political mainstream.

Hezbollah benefited from a strong patron in Iran. Hamas, on the other hand, enjoyed no such support. Mubarak’s Egypt, Bashar al Assad’s Syria, Jordan under the Hashemites and the Gulf monarchies under the influence of the House of Saud all shared a deep interest in keeping Hamas boxed in. Although publically these countries showed support for the Palestinians and condemned Israel, they tended to view Palestinian refugees and more radical groups such as Hamas as a threat to the stability of their regimes.

While Hamas began questioning the benefits of its political experiment, Iran saw an opportunity to foster a militant proxy. Tehran saw an increasingly strained relationship between Saudi Arabia and Hamas, and it took advantage to increase funding and weapons supplies to the group. Forces from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, along with Hezbollah, worked with Hamas to expand the group’s weapons arsenal and build elaborate tunnels under the Gaza Strip to facilitate its operations. Israel soon began to notice and took action toward the end of 2008.

Operation Cast Lead

Hamas was operating in a difficult strategic environment during Operation Cast Lead. Hezbollah had the benefit of using the rural terrain south of the Litani River to launch rockets against Israel during the Second Lebanon War, thereby sparing Lebanon’s most densely populated cities from retaliatory attacks. Hamas, on the other hand, must work in a tightly constricted geographic space and therefore uses the Palestinian population as cover for its rocket launches. The threat of losing popular support is therefore much higher for Hamas in Gaza than it is for Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. At the same time, operating in a built-up urban environment also poses a considerable challenge for the Israeli military.

During Operation Cast Lead, Cairo did little to hide its true feelings toward Hamas. Though Egypt played a critical role in the cease-fire negotiations, it was prepared to incur the domestic political cost of cracking down on the Rafah border crossing to prevent refugees from flowing into Sinai and to prevent Hamas from replenishing its weapons supply. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, then in the opposition, took advantage of the situation to publicly rally against the Mubarak regime, but its protests did little to change the situation. Hamas was boxed in by Egypt and Israel.

The rest of the region largely avoided direct involvement. Turkey was focused on internal affairs, and Saudi Arabia remained largely aloof. Jordan’s Hashemite rulers could afford to continue quietly cooperating with Israel without facing backlash. The United States, emerging from an election, was focused on shaping an exit strategy from Iraq. Many of Hamas’ traditional wealthy Gulf donors grew wary of attracting the focus of Western security and intelligence agencies as fund transfers from the Gulf came under closer scrutiny.

Iran was the exception. While the Arab regimes ostracized Hamas, Iran worked to sustain the group in its fight. Tehran’s reasoning was clear and related to Iran’s emergence as a regional power. Iraq had already fallen into Iran’s sphere of influence (though the United States was not yet prepared to admit it), Hezbollah was rebuilding in southern Lebanon, and Iranian influence continued to spread in western Afghanistan. Building up a stronger militant proxy network in the Palestinian territories was the logical next step in Tehran’s effort to keep a check on Israeli threats to strike the Iranian nuclear program.

In early January 2009, in the midst of Operation Cast Lead, Israel learned that Iran was allegedly planning to deliver 120 tons of arms and explosives to Gaza, including anti-tank guided missiles and Iranian-made Fajr-3 rockets with a 40-kilometer (25-mile) range and 45-kilogram (99-pound) warhead. The Iranian shipment arrived at Port Sudan, and the Israeli air force then bombed a large convoy of 23 trucks traveling across Egypt’s southern border up into Sinai. Though Israel interdicted this weapons shipment — likely with Egyptian complicity — Iran did not give up its attempts to supply Hamas with advanced weaponry. The long-range Fajr rocket attacks targeting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the current conflict are a testament to Iran’s continued effort.

The Current Geopolitical Environment

Hamas and Israel now find themselves in a greatly altered geopolitical climate. On every one of its borders, Israel faces a growing set of vulnerabilities that would have been hard to envision at the time of Operation Cast Lead.

The most important shift has taken place in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood carefully used the momentum provided by the Arab Spring to shed its opposition status and take political control of the state. Hamas, which grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood, then faced an important decision. With an ideological ally in Cairo, Egypt no longer presents as high a hurdle to Hamas’ political ambitions. Indeed, Hamas could even try to use its ties to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to achieve political legitimacy. When unrest spread into Syria and began to threaten Iran’s position in the Levant, Hamas made a strategic decision to move away from the Iran-Syria axis, now on the decline, and to latch itself onto the new apparent regional trend: the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist affiliates across the Arab world.

This rise of the Muslim Brotherhood spread from Egypt to Syria to Jordan, presenting Israel with a new set of challenges on its borders. Egypt’s dire economic situation, the political unrest in its cities, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s uneasy relationship with the military and security apparatus led to a rapid deterioration in security in Sinai. Moreover, a Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo on friendly terms with Hamas could not be trusted to crack down on the Gaza border and interdict major weapons shipments. A political machine such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which derives its power from the street, will be far more sensitive to pro-Palestinian sentiment than will a police state that can rule through intimidation.

In Syria, Israel has lost a predictable adversary to its north. The balkanization of the Levant is giving rise to an array of Islamist forces, and Israel can no longer rely on the regime in Damascus to keep Hezbollah in check for its own interests. In trying to sustain its position in Syria and Lebanon, Iran has increased the number of its operatives in the region, bringing Tehran that much closer to Israel as both continue to posture over a potential strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

To Israel’s east, across the Jordan River valley, pressure is also growing on the Hashemite kingdom. An emboldened Muslim Brotherhood has been joined by disillusioned tribes from the East Bank in openly calling for the downfall of the king. High energy costs are severely blunting the kingdom’s ability to contain these protests through subsidies, and the growing crisis in Gaza threatens to spread instability in the West Bank and invigorate Palestinians across the river in Jordan.

Beyond its immediate periphery, Israel is struggling to find parties interested in its cause. The Europeans remain hostile to anything they deem to be excessive Israeli retaliation against the Palestinians. Furthermore, they are far too consumed by the fragmentation of the European Union to get involved with what is happening in the southern Levant.

The United States remains diplomatically involved in trying to reach a cease-fire, but as it has made clear throughout the Syrian crisis, Washington does not intend to get dragged into every conflagration in the Middle East. Instead, the United States is far more interested in having regional players like Egypt and Turkey manage the burden. The United States can pressure Egypt by threatening to withhold financial and military aid. In the case of Turkey, there appears to be little that Ankara can do to mediate the conflict. Turkish-Israeli relations have been severely strained since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. Moreover, although the Turkish government is trying to edge its way into the cease-fire negotiations to demonstrate its leadership prowess to the region, Ankara is as wary of appearing too close to a radical Islamist group like Hamas as it is of appearing in the Islamic world as too conciliatory to Israel.

Saudi Arabia was already uncomfortable with backing more radical Palestinian strands, but Riyadh now faces a more critical threat — the regional rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamist political activism poses a direct threat to the foundation of the monarchy, which has steadfastly kept the religious establishment out of the political domain. Saudi Arabia has little interest in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood encouraging Hamas’ political rise, and Riyadh will thus become even more alienated from the Palestinian theater. Meanwhile Gulf state Qatar, which has much less to lose, is proffering large amounts of financial aid in a bid to increase its influence in the Palestinian territories.

Iran, meanwhile, is working feverishly to stem the decline of its regional influence. At the time of Operation Cast Lead, Iran was steadily expanding its sphere of influence, from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. A subsequent U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf and an intensifying U.S.-led economic warfare campaign slowed Iran down, but it was the decline of the al Assad regime that put Iran on the defensive. An emboldened Sunni opposition in Syria, backed by the West, Turkey and the Arab Gulf states, could spill into Lebanon to threaten Hezbollah’s position and eventually threaten Iran’s position in Iraq. With each faction looking to protect itself, Iran can no longer rely as heavily on militant proxies in the Levant, especially Palestinian groups that see an alignment with Iran as a liability in the face of a Sunni rebellion. But Iran is also not without options in trying to maintain a Palestinian lever against Israel.

Hamas would not be able to strike Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with long-range rockets had it not been for Iran, which supplied these rockets through Sudan and trained Palestinian operatives on how to assemble them in Gaza. Even if Hamas uses up its arsenal of Fajr-5s in the current conflict and takes a heavy beating in the process, Iran has succeeded in creating a major regional distraction to tie down Israel and draw attention away from the Syrian rebellion. Iran supplied Hezbollah with Zelzal rockets capable of reaching Haifa during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Hamas was limited to shorter-range Qassam and Grad rockets in Operation Cast Lead but now has Iranian-made Fajr-5s to target Israel’s most cherished cities.

Hamas is now carrying the mantle of resistance from Hezbollah in hopes of achieving a symbolic victory that does not end up devastating the group in Gaza. Israel’s only hope to deny Hamas that victory is to eliminate Hamas’ arsenal of these rockets, all the while knowing that Iran will likely continue to rely on Egypt’s leniency on the border to smuggle more parts and weaponry into Gaza in the future. The Hamas rocket dilemma is just one example of the types of problems Israel will face in the coming years. The more vulnerable Israel becomes, the more prone it will be to pre-emptive action against its neighbors as it tries to pick the time and place of battle. In this complex strategic environment, Operation Pillar of Defense may be one of many similar military campaigns as Israel struggles to adjust to this new geopolitical reality.

Russian court paroles scientist convicted of spying for China

November 19, 2012

Valentin Danilov
A court in Siberia has issued a rare verdict to parole a Russian academic who was convicted in 2004 of conducting espionage on behalf of China. Russian physicist Valentin Danilov headed the Thermo-Physics Center at Russia’s Krasnoyarsk State Technical University (KSTU), which is located in Siberia’s third largest city. For several years prior to his arrest, he conducted research on the impact of solar activity on the condition and performance of space satellites. In 1999, Danilov was among the signatories of a lucrative contract between KSTU and the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, which is the main contractor for the Chinese government’s space program. The contract stipulated that KSTU was to help China Aerospace evaluate the performance of artificial satellites in real-life space conditions. Less than two years later, in February of 2001, Danilov was arrested by the FSB, the Russian Federal Security Service, and charged with conducting espionage in the service of the Chinese space program. In his trial, which took place in 2003, Danilov admitted selling to the Chinese information on satellite technology belonging to the Russian government. But his defense team argued that the information in question had already been declassified and available in public sources since the early 1990s. Largely due to this argument, the jury acquitted Danilov of all charges at the end of 2003. However, by the middle of June of next year, the physicist had been arrested again, after the Russian Supreme Court overturned his earlier acquittal. In November of 2004, another court found Danilov guilty of treason and sentenced him to 14 years in prison. He was supposed to be released in 2017. Last week, however, a court in Krasnoyarsk found that, since Danilov had served most of his prison sentence in good behavior, and since his health was weak, he would be released early.  The announcement was greeted by some Russian scientists and human rights campaigners, who have argued for years that Danilov should never have been convicted. In some cases, activists accuse the Kremlin of pressuring the court to convict Danilov for political reasons, namely to reinforce Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “attempts to intimidate academics with ties to other countries”. Danilov, who was born in 1951, has yet to comment on the three-year reduction of his sentence. He is expected to be released sometime this week, but he will officially remain obligated to abide by the terms of his parole until 2017, when his original sentence will expire.