Monthly Archives: May 2012

Panetta: Pentagon ‘Ready’ to Attack Iran


Speaking today on ABC’s This Week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reiterated comments made in the past by other officials that the US is “ready” to launch a military attack on Iran and will do so as soon as President Obama decides to.

We will do everything we can to prevent Iran from developing a weapon,” Panetta added, ignoring that US intelligence agencies agree Iran is not attempting to do anything of the sort. Panetta claimed only last week that an attack was not being considered.

Panetta’s comments come just days after the end of the last round of diplomatic talks with Iran, which ended with no agreement, but a promise to meet for more talks next month in Moscow. An expected deal fell apart when the US announced that it would never accept Iran’s civilian uranium enrichment.

Panetta went on to say that the “international community’s been unified” on the move, and that the Pentagon is ready for any possibilities of an attack on Iran. Despite this claim, it seems clear that neither Russia nor China is “united” on the call to war.

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Iran–World powers of creating ‘difficult atmosphere’ in nuclear talks

Baghdad nuclear talks between Iran, world powers hit snag; Iran says wants immediate relief from economic sanctions as part of deal to stop higher-grade uranium enrichment.



Iran accused world powers on Thursday of creating “a difficult atmosphere” hindering talks on its atomic energy program, signaling a snag in diplomacy to ease a stand-off over fears of a covert Iranian effort to develop nuclear bombs.

The nub of the dispute was not immediately clear as the high-stakes negotiations in pursuit of a framework deal to stop a feared drift toward a new Middle East war went into a second day in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

But Iran had served notice that it wanted immediate relief from economic sanctions as part of any deal to stop higher-grade uranium enrichment, a pathway to nuclear arms, whereas Western powers insisted Tehran must first shut it down.

Iranian media close to Tehran’s delegation said it was insisting on a “principle of “reciprocity” of concessions they said was promised by the powers in preparatory talks in Istanbul last month but was not guiding the Baghdad negotiations.

“Iranian diplomats close to the negotiations believe that the (powers’) approach in Istanbul was more positive and encouraging than what is being seen in Baghdad,” the Iranian student agency ISNA reported.

“It remains to be seen whether Iran is prepared to continue negotiations in the ambiguous conditions that the West is following in the new round of talks, or not,” ISNA said.

Washington voiced cautious hope on Wednesday that Iran was finally engaging the powers on detailed, transparent ways of proving its nuclear work, after years of secrecy and evasions of UN investigations would be for peaceful purposes only.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, heading the powers’ delegation in Baghdad, met her Iranian counterpart on Thursday before the two sides resumed a full plenary session, a Western diplomat said.

But an Iranian delegate poured cold water on suggestions from Western diplomats that the two sides appeared to be finding common ground on proposals for an outline deal.

“What we heard in Istanbul was more interesting,” he said, referring to exploratory talks that ended a 15-month diplomatic deep freeze during which the West escalated sanctions to target Iran’s oil exports.

“We believe the reason (the powers) are not able to reach a result is America,” the official said, asking not to be named. “(They) came to Baghdad without a clear mandate so we think the atmosphere is difficult.”

A senior U.S. official said earlier the six powers had put specific gestures to lessen sanctions pressure on the table as part of a step-by-step confidence-building process.

A Western diplomat said that one element of the offer was an easing of restrictions to exports of aircraft parts to Iran – a relatively modest step unlikely to unblock the broader standoff.

After the Iranian criticism, another diplomat at the talks said none of the six powers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – were “‘rolling back’ on anything.

“By coming to Baghdad and putting on the table a forward-looking package, we are being pro-active, engaging and building on Istanbul. Any negotiation on an issue like this is never going to be straightforward, but it’s far too early to give a clear read-out of how things are progressing.”

Increasing tensions have thrust global oil prices upward as the West has extended sanctions to block Iran’s crude exports and the spectre of Middle East conflict has risen from possible Israeli strikes on Iran’s fortified nuclear installations.

Under the nervous scrutiny of oil markets and Iran’s arch-enemy Israel – believed to be the only Middle East country with nuclear weapons, the two sides met for a full day on Wednesday, negotiating deep into the night.

Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili presented a five-point package of proposals covering a wide range of nuclear and non-nuclear issues, according to Iranian media. But a European diplomat said: “We are not quite sure what these five points are. We are trying to find out. There are no details.”

The U.S. official said the dialogue revealed a “fair amount of disagreement, but we still have to come to closure about what are the next appropriate steps.”

Iran, the world’s No. 5 oil exporter, says it is enriching uranium only for electricity to serve needs of a burgeoning population, and for a medical research reactor.

The overall goal of the six countries jointly negotiating with Tehran is an Iranian agreement to limit uranium enrichment in a transparent, verifiable way to ensure it cannot be diverted to bombmaking. The Islamic Republic’s priority is to secure a swift end to sanctions isolating the country.

The powers’ main proposal was for Iran to halt its uranium enrichment to the higher fissile concentration of 20 percent.

That is the Iranian nuclear advance most worrying to the West since it largely overcomes the technical obstacles to reaching 90 percent, or bomb-grade, enrichment. Tehran says the 20 percent material will serve as fuel for a research reactor.

It has hinted at flexibility on higher-grade enrichment, although analysts say it would be unlikely to compromise much while sanctions remain in place.

In the absence of diplomatic compromise, Iran appeared to be putting “more facts on the ground” to boost its position.

A UN nuclear agency report due in the next few days is expected to show that Iran has installed more uranium enrichment centrifuges at an underground site, potentially boosting output capacity of nuclear work global powers want it to stop.

The Islamic Republic has repeatedly ruled out suspending all enrichment as called for by several UN Security Council resolutions, saying nuclear energy is a matter of national sovereignty and pride in technological progress.

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Amnesty International: Israel violates human rights

Rights group accuses Israel of torture, restricting movement, limiting freedom of speech, and a ‘siege that strangles 1.6 million people.’ According to the group, torture and abuse are also rampant in both the PA and Hamas governments


Amnesty International published on Thursday its human rights report for 2012, which provides a survey of the global human rights situation. The report addresses human rights in 155 nations over the course of 2011 and offers a macroview of international human rights violations.

The report, highlights of which were presented before journalists at Beit Sokolov on Wednesday evening, notes that as Amnesty International enters its sixth decade of work, the findings demonstrated not only the suffering of those living in the shadow of human rights violations, but also those who are inspired to work for human dignity.

An introduction penned by Amnesty International Israel Chairman Dr. Yishai Menuhin and general director of the group in Israel Yonatan Ger says that 2011 was not free from widespread human rights violations, but that looking back it was possible to say that human rights had never been so central a subject as they were last year. “If in the past tyranny was part of the reality of life in many countries, last year we witnessed unprecedented civil revolts in which citizens told their leaders: enough.”

Addressing the group’s activity in Israel, Menuhin and Ger said that AI continues to protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, fight ongoing housing discrimination against Palestinians, and prevent human rights violations stemming from the Israeli “occupation.”

The report addressed Israel’s ongoing closure on the Gaza Strip, saying that the situation, in existence since 2007, had created a humanitarian crisis for 1.6 million residents, most of whom were dependent on humanitarian aid. The report criticized the ongoing ban on exports, which it said “choked” the economy, as well as the severe restrictions on imports. According to AI, this has driven prices up, in effect a collective punishment, which contravenes international law and is particularly hard on children and the sick.

At least 36 Palestinians have been killed in accidents in smuggling tunnels or in Israeli Air Force attacks on the tunnels, Amnesty says. In addition the report addressed the several aid flotillas to Gaza stopped by the Israeli government. The organization noted that while in September 2011 the UN had decreed Israel’s naval siege on Gaza legal, it had not addressed the legality of the overall closure of the Gaza Strip.

Turning to the West Bank, the Amnesty Report noted that “over 500 checkpoints and military barriers continued to complicate Palestinians’ access to employment, schools, and hospitals, while Israel continued to build a 700-kilometer security fence. The fence, according to the report, is built mainly on Palestinian land and separates “thousands” of farmers from their land and water sources.

“Palestinians are forbidden to enter areas surrounding Israeli settlements, which were built and expanded in violation of international law,” the report states, adding that settlement construction was up. Amnesty puts the number of settlers living in the West Bank at the end of 2011 at over 500,000.

Moreover, the report continued, in 2011 over 620 Palestinian buildings in the West Bank had been demolished, causing 1,100 Palestinians to lose their homes, 80% more than in 2012. The group noted that Bedouin and other shepherds had been particularly affected and some were in danger of permanent dislocation due to restrictions on their movement.

Amnesty said that Israel’s demolition last June of 33 structures in Al-Hadidiya in the northern Jordan Valley had left several families without homes.

The IDF also came in for criticism, with the report citing “unnecessary violence” by troops against Palestinians in the West Bank and against demonstrators on the Lebanese and Syrian borders. Amnesty says that IDF forces killed 55 Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, including 11 children. While the army had set up investigative committees to look into some of these incidents, the report says, the panels were not transparent or independent.

The report also criticized Israel for not taking steps to investigate “war crimes” or “crimes against humanity” committed by Israel during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, and said that according to the Yesh Din organization nearly 90% of the police cases in which settlers were accused of violence against Palestinians were closed, and that only 3.5% of the Palestinian complaints about violence by IDF soldiers had led to indictments.

In addition, the Amnesty report claims, in 2011 at least 307 Palestinians from the West Bank had been held in custody in Israel without being indicted or tried. This was possible through the use of directives based on secret information.

Israel also continued its policy of not allowing family members of Gazan Palestinians to visit their relatives being held in Israel prisons, the report says, a policy that has been in place since June 2007. In some cases, according to Amnesty, the government also prevented family members of West Bank residents from visiting them in prison. Amnesty also cited a number of incidents of alleged torture and abuse.

Recent legislation was also cited in the report, with Amnesty arguing that the Knesset had passed laws limiting freedom of speech and assembly, including a law that criminalized calls to boycott Israelis or Israeli institutions or settlements. Amnesty also vilified the Nakba Law, which makes it illegal for Israeli institutions or local authorities to commemorate the Palestinian “Nakba.”

Finally, Amnesty addressed the issue of refugees and asylum seekers, saying that Israeli authorities continued to keep Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers from undergoing procedures that would declare them refugees. According to Amnesty, migrants from these two countries comprise 80% of the total 45,000 refugee seekers in Israel. Amnesty said that they had been issued temporary documents only and were not eligible to work or apply for public services.

Not only Israel was criticized in the Amnesty report. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza are guilty of condoning torture and violating civil rights, the group charges.

According to Amnesty, Palestinian security forces torture prisoners and abuse them freely with no ramifications for the perpetrators. Torture methods include beatings, suspension by the wrists or ankles, and forcing victims to stand or sit in painful positions. Amnesty says that four people in Gaza have died in “suspicious circumstances.”

Morever, in both Gaza and the West Bank civilians continue to be tried in Palestinian military courts, which are not independent. Hamas reportedly staffs these courts with judges and prosecutors without the appropriate education rather than judges appointed by the Palestinian Authority.

Amnesty adds that hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank have been jailed without trial for supporting Hamas, while Hamas forces in Gaza have arrested hundreds of Fatah supporters, most of whom were held without being allowed legal counsel, and some of whom were abused.

The Amnesty report also says that both the PA and Hamas government continue to quash freedom of speech, association, and assembly. Journalists are subject to harassment and even trial, as are bloggers and other critics. Islamic organizations are forbidden from holding meetings or demonstrations, and women and girls are subjected to discrimination and violence by family

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Neocons Assail Possible Compromise on Iran Talks

by Jim Lobe
Inter Press Service

As at least two days of talks on the future of Iran’s nuclear program got underway in Baghdad Wednesday, neoconservatives and other hawks escalated their campaign against any compromise agreement, particularly one that would permit Tehran to continue enriching uranium on its territory.

Fearful that the U.S. and the other members of the so-called P5+1 (Britain, France, Russia, China, plus Germany) will strike an interim accord with Tehran under which it would agree to limit its uranium enrichment to 5%, they argued that Iran should instead be forced to comply with a 2006 U.N. Security resolution calling for it to stop enriching altogether — a position that most Iran experts believe is certain to kill any prospect for progress.

“Given the Iranian regime’s long-standing pattern of deceptive and illicit conduct, we believe that it cannot be trusted to maintain enrichment or reprocessing activities on its territory for the foreseeable future — at least until the international community has been fully convinced that Iran has decided to abandon any nuclear-weapons ambitions,” wrote three prominent pro-Israel senators in the Wall Street Journal Thursday.

“We are very far from that point,” according to Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham and independent Democrat Joseph Lieberman, the so-called “Three Amigos,” who often travel overseas together and have long argued that U.S. military action will likely be the only way to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

At the same time, two fellows at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) published an op-ed in The Washington Post warning against any agreement by the P5+1 that would permit Iran to enrich uranium up to 5% on its own territory rather than suspend all enrichment indefinitely.

Such a deal, according to FDD’s executive director, Mark Dubowitz, and former Central Intelligence operative Reuel Marc Gerecht, could result in the accumulation by Iran of enough fissile material to build a bomb and thus jeopardize Israel’s security.

“A new red line at 20% enrichment would leave Jerusalem two options: strike (Iran’s nuclear facilities) or give up,” they wrote. “For those who fear another conflagration in the Middle East, that ought to be a compelling reason to hang tough in Baghdad.”

Meanwhile, neoconservatives at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), who played a key role in mobilizing media and elite support for the 2003 Iraq invasion, released several new studies, apparently timed for Wednesday talks, one of which asserted that Iran could produce enough 90%  weapons-grade uranium within 42 days.

“Any outcome that does not include the verifiable dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and the removal of all nuclear material — at any level — will allow Iran to retain the ability to acquire nuclear weapons fuel in short order,” the study asserted.

A second study, by four AEI fellows, outlined Iran’s longstanding support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah and Hamas, and alleged backing for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“One of the greatest mistakes the United States can make is to imagine that Iranian activities in a given arena — the nuclear program, for example — are isolated from Iranian undertakings in another,” it concluded, suggesting the administration of President Barack Obama is too focused on reaching a nuclear accord.

The latest neoconservative blitz came amidst renewed optimism that progress can be during the Baghdad talks, which followed an initial round of talks last month in Istanbul.

During Wednesday’s sessions Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, reportedly exchanged proposals with his P5+1 counterparts and then met separately in bilateral talks with the Russian and Chinese representatives.

Prospects for progress were buoyed Tuesday by reports that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukio Amano, had reached an agreement in principle with Jalili during a visit to Tehran Sunday on how to clear up longstanding questions about alleged activities by Iranian scientists in the past that could be relevant to building a nuclear weapon.

Clearing up those questions, which include allegations that Iran tested a nuclear triggering device in a special chamber at its Parchin military base, has been widely seen as a essential element for any comprehensive accord between Iran and the P5+1 on Tehran’s nuclear program.

In the run-up to the Baghdad meeting, Iranian officials suggested that they were prepared to make a number of concessions — including suspending their 20% enrichment program and possibly transferring their stockpile of 20% enriched uranium out of the country, and ratifying the IAEA’s Additional Protocol that would permit the agency’s officials to conduct much more intrusive inspections, as well as clearing up pending questions about its past activities — depending on what was offered by the other side.

After the Istanbul meeting, Western officials suggested there could be some easing of economic sanctions against Iran — in particular, delaying an end-of-June deadline set by the European Union (EU) for a boycott of Iranian oil and Iran’s central bank by its members — as part of an interim agreement that they said might also include the suspension of all operations at Iran’s Fordow enrichment facility.

But during the past week, U.S. and Western diplomats appear to have taken a harder line. As of Wednesday, the only “carrots” reportedly on offer were swapping the 20% stockpile for fuel rods that can be used by Iran’s Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), providing safety measures and upgrades for Tehran’s other nuclear facilities, permitting it to buy spare parts for its aging commercial air fleet; and suspending a pending EU ban on insurance for ships carrying Iranian oil, a measure that would permit Asian refiners to continue buying oil from Iran.

Whether those will be sufficient to induce Iran to make the kinds of concessions the West hopes for — or whether the P5+1 is prepared to put more on the table Thursday — remains to be seen.

In any event, U.S. officials have also suggested that Washington recognizes Iran’s right to enrichment for civilian purposes and is prepared to accept Iran’s continuing enrichment up to 5% as part of an interim or final accord. That position has been strongly opposed by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran unless it dismantles its enrichment program altogether.

“They have to stop all enrichment,” Netanyahu told CNN on the eve of the Baghdad talks, adding that Iran should also be compelled to “dismantle the underground bunker” at Fordow.

Neoconservatives and other hawks have faithfully echoed that position with growing urgency as the Baghdad meeting approached, arguing that any enrichment by Iran at this point would result in a nuclear-arms “capability” that should be considered unacceptable.

On Monday, the Senate, led by Lieberman and Graham, passed new sanctions legislation that described nuclear “capability” as constituting a “threat” to the United States and called for the administration to use “military planning” as one tool to prevent Iran from obtaining that capability.

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Forlitha starts 23/5/12

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Israeli Leadership Hardens Stance, Plans Iran Attack

‘It Is Going to Happen,’ Insists Top Official

I think they have made the decision to attack, it is going to happen.

That was the word from an unnamed top Israeli official, familiar with the ongoing conversation, in comments to Reuters. The debate within Israel over the attack, which reached a fevered pace just weeks ago, has come to a virtual halt, and the new coalition government has stopped talking about the upcoming war in public, apparently satisfied that they have won the argument.

“Nobody is saying anything publicly,” noted another official, who termed the situation a sort of “lockdown” for Israel’s cabinet leadership. Even the question of when the war will start seems to be answered, with officials pointing again to the weeks leading up to the US election.

“The window of opportunity is before the U.S. presidential election in November. This way they will bounce the Americans into supporting them.” Obama aides have likewise referred to the weeks before the vote as the “sweet spot” for the war.

It is this near certitude about the wisdom of starting a war that has Israeli officials scared to death of the P5+1 negotiations next week in Baghdad. Though the US is always around to try to foil any deals reached, the latest word has been that the sides are making serious progress, and could spoil Netanyahu’s crusade into Tehran.

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Iran attack decision nears, Israeli elite locks down

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits across from Defence Minister Ehud Barak during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem March 11, 2012. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

A private door opens from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in central Jerusalem directly into a long, modestly furnished, half-paneled room decorated with modern paintings by Israeli artists and a copy of Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence. It contains little more than a long wooden table, brown leather chairs and a single old-fashioned white projector screen.

This inner sanctum at the end of a corridor between Netanyahu’s private room and the office of his top military adviser, is where one of the decade’s most momentous military decisions could soon be taken: to launch an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program.

Time for that decision is fast running out and the mood in Jerusalem is hardening.

Iran continues to enrich uranium in defiance of international pressure, saying it needs the fuel for its civilian nuclear program. The West is convinced that Tehran’s real objective is to build an atomic bomb – something which the Jewish state will never accept because its leaders consider a nuclear armed-Iran a threat to its very existence.

Adding to the international pressure, U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro said this week American military plans to strike Iran were “ready” and the option was “fully available”.

The central role Iran plays in Netanyahu’s deliberations is reflected in the huge map of the Middle East hanging by the door of his office. Israel lies on one edge, with Iran taking pride of place in the centre.

Experts say that within a few months, much of Iran’s nuclear program will have been moved deep underground beneath the Fordow mountain, making a successful military strike much more difficult.


As the deadline for a decision draws nearer, the public pronouncements of Israel’s top officials and military have changed. After hawkish warnings about a possible strike earlier this year, their language of late has been more guarded and clues to their intentions more difficult to discern.

“The top of the government has gone into lockdown,” one official said. “Nobody is saying anything publicly. That in itself tells you a lot about where things stand.”

Last week Netanyahu pulled off a spectacular political surprise, creating a coalition of national unity and delaying elections which everyone believed were inevitable. The maneuver also led to speculation that the Israeli leader wanted a broad, strong government to lead a military campaign.

The inclusion of the Iranian-born former Israeli chief of staff and veteran soldier, Gen. Shaul Mofaz, in the coalition, fuelled that speculation – even though both Mofaz and Netanyahu deny that Iran was mentioned in the coalition negotiations.

“I think they have made a decision to attack,” said one senior Israeli figure with close ties to the leadership. “It is going to happen. The window of opportunity is before the U.S. presidential election in November. This way they will bounce the Americans into supporting them.”

Those close to Netanyahu are more cautious, saying no assumptions should be made about an attack on Iran – an attack with such potentially devastating consequences across the volatile Middle East that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas even went so far as to predict in an interview with Reuters last week that it would be “the end of the world”.

Israelis particularly fear retaliation from Iran’s proxy militias – the Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon and the Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip. Both are believed to possess large arsenals of rockets which could hit major Israeli towns and cities.

Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem told Reuters in February that an Israeli attack on Iran would set the whole Middle East ablaze “with no limit to the fires”. “Gone are the days when Israel decides to strike, and the people are silent,” he said.

The Israeli Prime Minister and his key allies repeat for public consumption the mantra that economic sanctions against Iran must be given time to work and that now is not the time to speak about military options.

Top officials explain the new coalition on purely domestic grounds, saying it was needed to tackle the thorny and divisive issue of pressing Orthodox Jews into military service – in other words, that its formation has much more to do with the agenda inside Israel than abroad.


Diplomats are divided. “I think the Iran thing is a red herring,” said one senior Western envoy. “This is 98 percent about domestic politics”. Others are less convinced.

Mofaz himself refuses to speak about military action against Iran, even in the theoretical.

A military veteran with almost 40 years’ operational experience, whose office in the Israeli parliament displays a poster of Israeli warplanes flying low over the Auschwitz concentration camp, he scoffs at the idea that his Iranian descent gives him special influence on an Iran attack decision. He derides the idea any serious official in the know would talk to visiting journalists about such a sensitive military subject.

But behind the carefully evasive language of top officials, basic facts are clear. Time is running out. Iran’s nuclear program – regarded by Netanyahu as an existential threat to the state of Israel – will soon be buried deep enough underground to render an Israeli attack impossible. The Jewish state’s options are narrowing.

“I think they’ve gone into lockdown mode now,” the senior Western diplomat said. “Whatever happens next, whatever they decide, we will not find out until it happens.”

There are indeed those who see in Israeli posturing over Iran only bluff intended to press world powers into harsher sanctions and avoid war. Some military experts openly doubt how much damage Israel could inflict. The risk of a fiasco is big.

Perhaps the strongest clue as to Israel’s real intentions is to be found in Netanyahu’s private office, behind his desk. Officials say the Israeli premier was strongly influenced by his father, who died last month at the age of 102.

Benzion Netanyahu was a distinguished scholar of Jewish history and his strong sense of the past lives on in Benjamin, who laments to visitors that “most people’s sense of history goes back to breakfast time”.

On a shelf behind Netanyahu’s desk, along with pictures of his family, is a photograph of Winston Churchill. Netanyahu admires the British wartime premier because he saw the true dangers posed by Nazi Germany to the world at a time when many other politicians argued for appeasing Hitler.

The parallels with modern-day Iran are obvious and Netanyahu is explicit about the dangers he believes are posed by militant Islam: as he puts it, its convulsive power, its cult of death and its ideological zeal.

But Churchill, although eloquent on the dangers posed by the rise of Nazi Germany during the 1930s, ultimately failed to prevent Hitler’s ascent to power, the world war he unleashed or the Holocaust in which six million Jews were murdered.

Netanyahu, those who know him say, is determined to avoid going down in history as the man who shirked his opportunity to stop Iran going nuclear. (Additional reporting by Samia Nakhoul and Crispian Balmer; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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