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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Obama signs bill that includes added U.S. military assistance to Israel

  • Published 02:41 24.12.11 Latest update 02:41 24.12.11

Week's wrap-up: U.S. announces bounty of $10 million for information leading to the capture of al-Qaida financier Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil; Joshua Pollack tells Haaretz why he believes India is the 'fourth customer' of Abdul Qadeer Khan's nuclear know-how.

By Natasha Mozgovaya 

1. President Obama signed a bill Friday that includes a provision to expand U.S. military assistance to Israel. The bill, which was introduced in May and approved by Congress this week, would have the U.S. provide additional support to the annual $3 billion for ten years that the U.S. is already committed to under the Memorandum of Understanding.

Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ), a member of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, praised Obama's decision to sign into law "the highest levels of funding for the joint US-Israel missile defense programs in our history."

netanyahu obama - GPO - May 20 2011 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, May 20, 2011.
Photo by: GPO

Despite a tough economic climate and expected U.S. budget cuts - including drastic cuts to the U.S. military budget - U.S. lawmakers will provide $236 million in fiscal 2012 for the Israeli development of three missile defense programs: "Arrow-2", "David’s Sling", and "Arrow-3" medium-range interceptor. Some representatives described U.S. military support for Israel as an investment in "life-saving projects" and U.S. national security, since short- and medium-range missiles are becoming a widespread problem. The Israelis also view the funds as an investment in a common project, rather than financial aid.

Palestinian aid is on the budget, too, for the Obama Administration sees Palestinian funding crucial for stability and for Israel's security. However, funding is conditional upon the Palestinians putting an end to pursuing unilateral recognition at the United Nations. Israeli diplomats stressed that Israel supports aid to the Palestinians, but thanked lawmakers for temporarily freezing them in order to exert pressure on the Palestinians to return to negotiations.

2. The U.S. Department of State and Treasury Department announced a bounty of $10 million Thursday for information that leads to the capture of al-Qaida financier Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil (Yasin al-Suri). Khalil, who is based in Iran, succeeded in moving money and volunteers from the Persian Gulf region to al-Qaida in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, via Iran.

Robert Hartung, Assistant Director for the Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate at the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, said that the "Rewards for Justice" program "has been an effective tool in our fight against international terrorism. Since its inception in 1984, the program has paid more than $100 million to more than 70 people who provided credible information that prevented international terrorist attacks or helped to bring terrorists to justice".

3. Former head of the Israel Defense Forces Strategic Planning Division Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog wrote in a paper for The Washington Institute that it would be a mistake to think that bridging the gap on the Israeli-Palestinian territorial issue was even mildly easy.

In his paper, Herzog examines the significant difference between Israeli and Palestinian definitions. For instance, he says the 1967 "lines" and "borders" illustrate the Israeli position that the West Bank is "territory disputed rather than occupied, since no internationally recognized sovereign state existed there when Israeli forces seized it in self-defense in June 1967". He also discusses the religious significance of the land, and how the idea of land swaps first appeared in negotiations and what happened to it since. He concludes by saying, "[T]he basic narratives guiding their (Israeli and Palestinian) territorial viewpoints are still deeply at odds, as are the practical implications of these views".

4. In an article in "Playboy", Joshua Pollack identifies India as being the secret, unnamed "fourth customer" (after Iran, North Korea and Libya) to have purchased nuclear know-how from Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear program.

Pollack told Haaretz about the key reasons that he believes make India the most likely "fourth customer".

Firstly, he said, Khan often cheated his customers, and India bought centrifuge equipment from "any willing seller", so it is possible that the Indians were unaware of whom they were buying from. Secondly, said Pollack, there was one confirmed sale by Khan's network to the Indian centrifuge program, which took place in the late 1980s early 1990s, according to South African investigators.
Pollack's third reason was that India's centrifuge design resembles that of Pakistan's, which suggests they came from a common source. However, the centrifuges are not identical. "One possible reason for that is that the Indians didn't buy the designs from anybody at all, but tried to reconstruct them from open-source information, and just didn't do a good job. But another possible reason is that Khan sold them designs with pieces missing. He did this all the time to his other customers," said Pollack.
According to Pollack, a memoir by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Khan told interrogators that the Indians probably took his designs, and attributed this to an Indian spy within his network. Pollack says that in the context of circumstances surrounding the alleged spy, S. Mohammed Farooq, such a claim is "fishy".

Pollack's final argument revolves around the "special secrecy" of dealings with the "fourth customer." According to Pollack, members of Khan's network never referred to the "fourth customer" by name. Even when, in 2003 and 2004, Khan devolved the names of everyone he had ever done business with, he still did not mention the highly secret "fourth customer." Pollack said Khan acknowledged the Indians probably had his centrifuge designs, but blamed someone else for that.

"The fourth customer could be someone else. But the evidence is strongest for India," said Pollack.

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