New US National Intelligence Officer for Iran: Rachel Ingber

Share

The new U.S. National Intelligence Officer for Iran is Rachel Ingber.

Ingber takes over from Jillian Burns, who has moved to Afghanistan to become the new U.S. Consul-General in Herat.

Ingber most recently served as a senior US government Middle East analyst. Earlier in her career, in 1997, she served as a research intern at the Washington Institute for Near East  Policy, and compiled an Iran Research Guide at Columbia University. (Little of her recent writing seems to be available on the Internet.)

“As a member of the National Intelligence Council, the NIO/Iran will oversee Intelligence Community wide production and coordination of the full range of analytic assessments on Iran including strategic analysis on Iran … and, as appropriate and required, more focused, time-sensitive analysis for the most senior decision makers,” the National Intelligence Council job posting for the NIO/Iran position said.

Among the job’s responsibilities, “Provide warning to policymakers on emerging issues that could portend major discontinuities or affect significant US interests and opportunities,” it continued. Ingber is expected to bring on a new deputy.

 

Dennis Ross to JTA: No “split” with Obama

Former White House Iran strategist Dennis Ross has denied a report that he is distancing himself from President Obama’s Middle East policies.

“The idea of trying to get a sense that there is a split with the president is completely untrue,” Ross told the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) Tuesday.

Ross stepped down from the White House in December 2011 after serving three years in the Obama White House and returned to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The Washington Institute does not allow employees to work for political campaigns, and he has run out of leave he can take from the Institute while serving in the administration, he told JTA.

The Daily Beast reported Sunday that Ross’s absence from the campaign was a sign of his distancing himself from Obama’s Middle East policies that would be noted by pro-Israel American voters.

Ross told Al Monitor by email Sunday that such an interpretation was “spinning.”

Indeed, he continues to advise the White House and National Security Council on Iran policy. “I’m asked to give my advice from time to time [to the White House], and I give it,” he further told JTA. “I’m supportive of the president.”

“The one thing Israel cannot be or should not be is a partisan issue,” Ross told JTA. “Anyone who wants to turn it into a partisan issue is not helping Israel.”

(Photo: President Obama with Dennis Ross, third from right, in 2010. Pete Souza / The White House)

Syria’s top UK envoy defects: “No longer willing to represent this regime”


Syria’s top diplomat in the United Kingdom has defected and left his post at the Syrian embassy in London, the British foreign office said Monday. The defection of Syria’s UK Chargé d’Affaires, Khaled al-Ayoubi, is the fourth by a Syrian diplomat this month, and comes as talks are underway on a transition from Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

“Mr. al-Ayoubi has told us that he is no longer willing to represent a regime that has committed such violent and oppressive acts against its own people, and is therefore unable to continue in his position,” a British foreign office spokesman said in a statement Monday.

His departure is “another blow to the Assad regime,”  that “illustrates the revulsion and despair the regime’s actions are provoking amongst Syrians from all walks of life,” the spokesman said.

The UK-based diplomat’s defection follows those of three other Syrian ambassadors this month, including Syria’s ambassador to Iraq Nawaf al-Fares and Syria’s ambassadors to the UAE and Cyprus, a married couple, last week.

Various Syrian opposition representatives have been involved in transition planning talks  taking place in Cairo, under the auspices of the Arab League.

The United States is meantime expanding its assistance to the Syrian opposition, including non-lethal support to the armed Syrian resistance.

Among the new measures, the U.S. Treasury Department last week authorized the Syrian Support Group to provide financial and logistical assistance to the Free Syrian Army, Al Monitor reported last week. The authorization, contained in a letter from Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and signed July 23, came as the Free Syrian Army military command issued a “Proclamation of Principles” pledging support for multi-ethnic pluralism and democracy.

US officials have stressed the need for Syria’s opposition to demonstrate such ethnic inclusivity, in order to encourage more defections and to avoid a sectarian bloodbath.  “The future will include all Syrians of all backgrounds,” US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said in a statement posted to the embassy’s website July 27.

The United States is also urging Syrian rebels and opposition groups to avoid seeking an Iraq-style disbanding of Syria’s army, the Washington Post reported.

However, Syria’s rebels don’t support one figure reportedly eyed as a potential Syrian unity figure who could hold the army together, Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas, a close family friend of Assad who defected this month.

Tlas’s “road map is slowly taking shape,” Sabah’s Erdal Safak reported in a piece translated and published by Al Monitor Monday. “Never mind that a part of the opposition says, ‘There is no place for Baath officials or generals in the new era.’  Syria’s friends, definitely the US, see the Syrian army as the sole guarantor of integrity and stability of the country.”

(Members of a Syrian refugee family, who fled the violence in Syria, are seen at a garden in Port Said Square in Algiers July 30, 2012. More than 12,000 Syrians fleeing the violence in their home country have sought refuge in Algeria, a source close to the Interior Ministry said on Sunday. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi.)

Romney comments irk Palestinians


GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney told donors at a Jerusalem fundraiser Monday that Jewish culture is one reason that Israel’s economy has been more successful than the Palestinians’, remarks that Palestinian leaders denounced as offensive.

“And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” Romney, seated next to Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, told some 40 donors at a $50,000 per person breakfast fundraiser at the King David Hotel Monday, the Associated Press reported:

“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” he continued.

The remarks “not only offend Palestinians,” but are reminiscent of the stereotype that Jews are good with money, veteran US Middle East trouble shooter Aaron David Miller told Al Monitor Monday, adding: “Mitt Romney is no anti-Semite, he’s just not thinking before he talks.”

Palestinian leaders said the remarks were both uninformed and offensive.

“It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation,” Saeb Erekat, a senior advisor to Palestinian President Abbas, told the Associated Press.

“It seems to me this man (Romney) lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people,” Erekat added. “He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.”

Romney, on his two-day trip to Israel, evinced little interest in advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace. He declined to endorse the two-state solution–a long standing goal of US foreign policy going back 20 years. He also called Jerusalem the capital of Israel, but later equivocated on when the United States should move its embassy there from Tel Aviv. The matter is sensitive for Palestinians who consider East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state. Continue reading

US allows financial support for armed Syrian rebels


The U.S. government has authorized a U.S. group to provide financial and logistical support to the armed Syrian resistance, I report on the front page.

The waiver was received from the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) last week, Brian Sayers, of the Syrian Support Group, told Al- Monitor in an interview Friday.

“The OFAC decision is huge,” Sayers said. “It gets us the leeway to support the Free Syrian Army in broad terms.”

A photograph of the OFAC letter seen by Al Monitor showed that it was signed by a Treasury Department official on July 23. (The document has since been removed from the Internet.)

Sayers, an American who previously worked for six years in NATO operations in Brussels, was hired last spring by the Syrian Support Group to work Washington to “support the Free Syrian Army in different ways.”

But one Syrian source, speaking anonymously, suggested the Syrian Support Group’s mission is not only about lobbying the US government to provide support to the FSA, but also the reverse: to help turn the FSA into a more organized entity that could receive intelligence and other assistance from Western security agencies.

To that end, all nine members of the FSA’s military command this week signed on to a previously unpublished “Declaration of Principles” pledging their commitment to pluralism and democracy. “We believe in a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multi-religious society that honors and upholds freedom of expression, thought and conscience,” the document states. Continue reading

Romney to Israeli paper: Both Obama and I say nuclear Iran unacceptable


GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has given two interviews to Israeli newspapers ahead of his arrival in Jerusalem Saturday night.

“I would treat Israel like the friend and ally it is,” Romney told Israel Hayom, the newspaper owned by Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who has donated millions of dollars to Republican and Israeli causes. Adelson, who owns a home in Israel, may attend a $50,000 a plate fundraiser for Romney in Israel Monday.

“I cannot imagine going to the United Nations, as Obama did, and criticizing Israel in front of the world,” Romney continued. “You don’t criticize your allies in public to achieve the applause of your foes.”

So Romney learned first-hand in London Thursday, as his perceived criticism of preparations for the London Olympics got his three-nation foreign trip off to a quite rocky start.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson–both conservatives–fiercely defended preparations for the London Olympic Games after Romney told NBC Wednesday he found some reports of some pre-Games snafus “disconcerting.”

“If Mitt Romney doesn’t like us, we shouldn’t care,” railed the headline from the conservative UK Telegraph Thursday. London mayor Boris Johnson later mocked Romney in front of a crowd of 60,000 in Hyde Park, asking: “Mitt Romney wants to know whether we’re ready! Are we ready?” .

Romney also gave an interview in London Thursday to Israel’s liberal Haaretz newspaper. (Being on foreign soil when the interview was conducted, he told the paper he was trying to refrain from politicizing foreign policy.)

Asked about his Iran policy, Romney said he, like President Obama, have both said that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable:The military option is the least attractive option but should not be ruled out, he said.

“President Obama has said that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. I feel a nuclear Iran is unacceptable,” Romney told Haaretz. “The term ‘unacceptable’ continues to have a meaning: It suggests that all options will be employed to prevent that outcome.”

“I am personally committed to take every step necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability,” Romney said.

In Israel, Romney will hold a breakfast fundraiser Monday (July 30) at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. He will also meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu–an old friend from their days at the Boston Consulting Group; Israeli President Shimon Peres, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who served as the Obama campaign’s chief of Jewish outreach in 2008.

But even with the personal ties and partisan sympathies Romney shares with Netanyahu, the powers of his White House incumbent challenger to make policy, sign bills, and grab headlines are hard to match.

On Friday, President Obama signed “a new U.S.-Israel security pact …a move that could steal some of the headlines there” as Romney arrives,” Yahoo’s Olivier Knox noted.  Indeed.

Israeli leaders and American Jewish groups applauded Obama’s action Friday.

“The Government and the people of Israel express profound gratitude to President Barack Obama on his signing of the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act,” Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said in a statement Friday. It “sends an unequivocal message of support to the people of Israel at a time of great uncertainty throughout the entire Middle East.”

The security pact bolsters the “crucial” US-Israel security alliance “by extending loan guarantees…authorizing American military stockpiles in Israel, and improving military and intelligence cooperation, particularly in missile defense,” the Orthodox Union’s Nathan Diament said in a press statement.

Meantime, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta plans to travel to Israel, as well as Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia next week, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

The bill signing, as well as the Pentagon chief’s Israel trip, come “as Mitt Romney nears a visit to Israel with no power to provide security aid, unlike the incumbent,” CBS’s Mark Knoller noted.

(Photo: U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to the press following his meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron and British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne outside 10 Downing Street in London, July 26, 2012.   REUTERS/Jason Reed.)

Iran envoy blames Israel for Bulgaria bus bombing


Iran’s UN envoy denied on Wednesday that Iran had any role in the July 18th Bulgaria bus bombing that killed five Israeli tourists, and charged Israel with plotting the attack. His comments came as Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor was in Israel to discuss the bombing probe, and as the chairman of the House intelligence panel said he believed Hezbollah carried out the attack under the direction of Iran.

“I believe there were certainly elements of Hezbollah [involved] and I believe it was under the direction of their masters in Iran,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) told The Hill newspaper Wednesday.

“I think the president needs to call Iran on the carpet very publicly and tell them what we know,” Rogers added. “This is his time to stand up and do something bold.”

Iran’s UN envoy Mohammed Khazaee said Iran condemned the Bulgaria bus bombing but then suggested it was part of an Israeli plot to blame Iran.

“The representative of the Zionist criminal regime leveled baseless allegations against my country on the issue of recent terrorist attack in Bulgaria and Iran’s peaceful nature of nuclear activities,” Amb. Mohammad Khazaee said at a UN meeting on the Middle East Wednesday, according to a statement sent to Al Monitor by the Iranian mission to the UN.

“Such terrorist operation could only be planned and carried out by the same regime whose short history is full of state terrorism operations and assassinations aimed at implicating others for narrow political gains.”

Israel’s deputy UN ambassador Haim Waxman said the comments are “appalling, but not surprising” coming “from the same government that says the 9/11 attack was a conspiracy theory,” UN correspondent Colum Lynch reported.

A spokeswoman for US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the office had no immediate comment. “Our position on the Bulgaria attack has been well documented so far I think,” Erin Pelton, a spokeswoman for Rice, said by email.

Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor John Brennan met with Israeli officials in Jerusalem Wednesday to discuss the Bulgaria bus bombing probe. Earlier in the week he  traveled to Bulgaria for briefings on the investigation. While he deferred to Bulgarian authorities to announce any findings to date, he did add that “there are clear indications that Hezbollah and Iran have been involved in terrorist plotting against innocents in many parts of the world,” he said at a news conference with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov July 24, the New York Times reported.

Analysts said Iran’s use of terrorism had become more aggressive over the past year. Continue reading

White House counterterror advisor in Israel to discuss Bulgaria bus bombing probe

Obama’s top counterterrorism adviisor John Brennan visited Israel Wednesday, after traveling to Bulgaria earlier this week to confer on the investigation into the July 18 Burgas  bus bombing.

Brennan visited Israel July 25 “to consult with senior Israeli officials about a range of shared security concerns, including the recent wave of terrorist plots against Israeli and other interests,” NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement Wednesday.  Brennan also met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said Tuesday after meeting with Brennan that Bulgarian authorities now believe the suspected suicide bomber in the Burgas bus bombing had been in the country for about a month, and had worked as part of a group with a high degree of discipline.

“These are extremely experienced people who observed absolute secrecy,” Borisov said at a press conference with Brennan July 24th, Agence France Press reported.

The July 18th attack, which targeted a bus of Israeli tourists who had arrived in the Black Sea resort town on a charter flight, killed seven people, including five Israeli tourists, their Bulgarian bus driver, and the suspected bomber.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel has rock-solid evidence the attack was perpetrated  by Hezbollah.

(Photo: US anti-terror adviser John Brennan (left) speaks during a joint press conference with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in Sofia on July 24. The suicide bomber who killed six people in an attack on Israelis had accomplices and may have entered Bulgaria from Europe’s Schengen passport-free area, Borisov said Tuesday. AFP Photo/Tsvetelina Belutova)

 

Iran judo athlete skips Olympics, avoiding possible competition with Israeli

Contrary to comments from Iran’s top Olympics official earlier this week, it looks like no Iranian and Israeli Olympians will be competing against each other in London after all.

Iranian judo champion Javad Mahjoub has cancelled his London trip, Iranian media reported July 22, citing treatment for a “critical digestive infection.”

“Mahjoub must use antibiotics during 10 days and he cannot compete in the Olympics,” Lotfali Pour-Kazemi, the head of Iran’s Sports Medicine Federation, said Sunday, according to Tehran Times.

If he’d gone to London, Mahjoub faced the prospect of competing against Israeli judo champ Ariel Ze’evi, who won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics.

“Mahjoob has said he’s thrown matches in the past to avoid fighting an Israeli,” Yahoo’s Eurosport/London Spy reports.  “His theory: It’s better to lose on purpose rather than withdraw from a fight against an Israeli, an act which could bring a four-year suspension.”

Continue reading