Iran

Drone warfare is coming home

Should we be worried about the planned introduction of surveillance drones into our daily lives?

 

Predator Drone © drsmith

 

The European Commission Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Panel recently met at the Ecole Royale Militaire, Brussels, to discuss using UAS – otherwise known as drones – in civilian settings in the future.

The European Union already uses satellites to monitor farmers’ compliance with farmer subsidies regulations, and check claims where some doubt exists as to their eligibility. Drones are currently under review.

According to the UK’s Rural Payments Agency (RPA), which handles subsidy claims, using remote technology to monitor farmland reduces visitation costs by more than half – from £310 to £115. And, the European Commission claims, it has reduced infringements.

Now officials and manufacturers are looking to branch out. The UAS Panel’s discussion booklet believes drones could be used in monitoring borders, combating drug trafficking and illegal immigration, or for use in rescue and disaster operations. The document says:

A civil/military approach for the coordinated R&D [research and development] (covering dual use UAS for e.g. reconnaissance, surveillance and communications) presents a significant opportunity for Member States and for the Union to address both civil and military capability needs in a coordinated, financially effective and efficient approach to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.

Time will tell how much of this comes true – some insiders believe it won’t be until 2012 that the EU negotiates supranational drone-friendly airspace.

In spite of this the UAS industry has already launched a comprehensive public relations campaign to change its “spy in the sky.” But it seems sensible to assume the majority of “civilian” drones will be used for surveillance and security.

So should we be worried?

After all, this comes only two months after Wikileaks released 287 files revealing the extent of what Julian Assange called the “international mass surveillance industry.”  The so-called “Spy Files” showed how private companies develop and sell surveillance technology to dictatorial regimes abroad and intelligence services at home. British companies (like BAE Systems, drone-manufacturers themselves) have already been implicated selling hacking equipment to Syria and Iran.

But in some settings, technology – like UAS – could probably work. Used properly, it could save lives in rescue operations and natural disasters, to locate people on the ground and deploy emergency services more accurately and quickly. In a “security” capacity, drones could find, and pursue, criminals from 20,000 feet – invisible from the ground.

The question that needs to be asked here is: just because we have this technology, does that mean we should use it?

 

Tom Rollins is a freelance journalist originally from Yorkshire, now based in London, writing about neo-imperialism, the Left and international relations. Don’t mention Brian Sewell. Read his blog Enlightenment Blues, or follow him on Twitter @TRollins88 

 

King of Bahrain speaks on the Arab Spring

King Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain speaks out on the Arab Spring and Bahrain’s own uprising…

 

© Al Jazeera English

 

Bahrain’s uprising was extinguished brutally and with great speed when on March 15, a state of emergency was declared, and a heavily armed force of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) soldiers descended on the country from Saudi Arabia.

Following the crackdown and numerous cases of rights abuses, a human rights report published in June led the king to promise to enact the recommended reforms. Here he gives an interview to Spiegel Online:

Hamad Al Khalifa on what would happen if people were to openly shout “Down with the king” on Bahrain’s streets:

They do shout it on the streets. As I emphasized in my speech last year, this is not a reason to imprison someone. It’s just a case of manners. But when they shout: “Down with the king and up with Khomeini,” that’s a problem for national unity.

On why GCC troops were called into the country:

We invited the GCC troops to come in to protect our strategic installations in case Iran became more aggressive. They were not visible on the streets, as the report of human rights expert Cherif Bassiouni confirmed.

His advice to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad:

The best advice for him is from the Syrian people.

Regarding the fact that the Bahraini royal family occupy most of the country’s top political positions:

Not because they are members of the royal family, but because of merit…I am not losing sight of my objective. Our objective is more reforms.

Read more at Spiegel Online

 

Israel using terror group in Iran attacks

US officials acknowledge Israel is working with Iranian mujahedin group to target nuclear scientists…

 

Will an air campaign follow the covert killings? © Israeli Defence Forces

 

Is the picture now becoming clearer on the mysterious deaths and explosions that have taken place in Iran over the last few years? US officials have told NBC News that attacks on Iran’s nuclear scientists are being carried out by a dissident group that is armed and financed by Israel’s security services.

  • The attacks have killed 5 scientists since 2007, in addition to targeting nuclear-related facilities
  • The dissident group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), was accused of attacks on American’s in the 1970s, and is designated as a terrorist organisation by the US
  • The unnamed officials said the Obama administration has no direct involvement, but is aware of the campaign of assassinations
  • The Iranian dissidents have reportedly travelled to Israel for operational ‘training’, however MEK has denied this, and denied any claims of involvement

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman:

As long as we can’t see all the evidence being claimed by NBC, the Foreign Ministry won’t react to every gossip and report being published worldwide.

Read more at MSNBC

 

See also:-

Tracking the secret war on IranMother Jones

Iran steps up war of words with the West

Iranian officials say new sanctions amount to ‘economic war’…

 

Mural of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei © Abode of Chaos

 

As pressure from the West grows on Iran over its nuclear programme, officials in the country have hit back over threatened sanctions. Responding to a proposed oil embargo by the European Union, Iran’s economic minister suggested it would tantamount to “economic war”, while foreign minister Ali Salehi said the country would be unbowed by such measures:

Iran, with divine assistance, has always been ready to counter such hostile actions, and we are not concerned at all about the sanctions

Despite the strong words however the sanctions will certainly hurt Iran, which is heavily reliant on oil exports. In addition to the proposed EU oil embargo, President Obama last week enacted measures against Iran’s central bank that cause further problems for the country’s exports.

The increased saber-rattling between the West and Iran follows recent Iranian threats to close the Straits of Hormuz, a key shipping lane.

British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, following a visit to the Pentagon, said that such a move would be unacceptable as he made a speech to the Atlantic Council think tank:

Disruption to the flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz would threaten regional and global economic growth. Any attempt by Iran to close the Straits would be illegal and unsuccessful.

He suggested that any attempt would be not just illegal, but would be met with force by the United States and Britain:

We have mine counter-measures capability, we have a frigate present there, and we are an integrated part of the allied naval task force in the Gulf…

One of the missions of that task force is to ensure that those shipping lanes remain open.

Though both Iran and the West have recently indicated that they are prepared to engage in talks again, the latest developments appear to show that a resolution on the nuclear issue is still far from being reached.

 

Iranian TV puts downed US drone on display

Iranian television has shown footage of what it claims is a downed US drone aircraft. Iran’s Press TV claimed that the drone had been brought down by the country’s “electronic warfare unit”, who hijacked it before steering it to the ground.

Such a claim may seem on the face of it unlikely, however the footage appears to show the drone undamaged and in perfect condition, backing their claims to an extent.

While Nato has acknowledged losing a drone over Afghanistan, the Iranians said it was intercepted over the city of Kashmar, 140 miles inside Iran, and have demanded an explanation and compensation from Washington.

The Iranian regime summoned the Swiss envoy -who handles US relations with Iran- and expressed its “strongest protest over the invasion of a US spy drone deep into its airspace”

The sophisticated RQ-170 Sentinel is one of America’s most closely-guarded aircraft, and the BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner said the high-flying craft is perfect for surveillance:

America’s RQ-170 Sentinel plane is the perfect stealth drone for peering into another country’s secret sites without being caught.

One was used in May to feed back live footage of the US Navy Seal raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.

So it is probably not the sort of hardware the CIA would ever like to fall into the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

It’s thought that the drone was involved in surveillance of Iran’s nuclear programme, and Pentagon officials have said they’re concerned about Iran getting access to such technology, a concern that’s only likely to grow after the emergence of the footage.

 

Bashar al-Assad still clinging on in Syria

The Syrian regime is relying on a few key allies to keep itself from falling…

 

© AbodeofChaos

 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has now been clinging to power for the best part of year, relying on a brutal crackdown against protesters by his security forces, and international support from Iran and Russia.

After appearing stronger in recent months, action now being taken by the Arab League, in addition to sanctions and international condemnation, would seem to be weakening the regime.

In addition to a public call for him to leave by Jordan’s King Abdullah, Syria has now been suspended by the Arab League, and is facing continuing pressure from its neighbour Turkey. However it appears Assad has little option other than to continue the course he’s followed so far. That will mean more repression, and an increasing reliance on threats to the international community of what will happen if the regime does fall.

For now Syria can count on the support of long-term ally Iran, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Russia meanwhile continues to protect what it sees as its ‘sphere of influence’. It condemned Syria’s suspension by the Arab League, and will likely continue to block measures at the United Nations.

The threat to Assad’s survival likely lies with Turkey, the US and NATO. There have been suggestions of Turkey carving out a humanitarian zone, however on the likelihood of more hawkish action, Turkey PM Erdogan’s chief foreign policy adviser said such a move would not happen until:

hundreds of thousands of people…start migrating into Turkey.

So for the moment at least, without the loss of its allies or the serious threat of intervention, the Syrian regime may continue to hang on.

 

Read more at Foreign Affairs:-

How Assad stayed in power – and how he’ll try and keep it

Why the EU sanctions against Assad’s Syria will backfire

Hezbollah after Assad

 

 

 

UK warns Iran after embassy is stormed

UPDATE: Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague has ordered the immediate closure of Iran’s embassy in London, along with the expulsion of all Iranian diplomats in the country. He gave staff 48 hours to leave, saying that yesterday’s events involved “some degree of regime consent”.

Speaking in parliament Hague said:

If any country makes it impossible for us to operate on their soil they cannot expect to have a functioning embassy here,

——————————————————————————————————————————————————

The UK has threatened Iran with “serious consequences” following the takeover of its embassy in Tehran, along with the Qolhak Gardens area that houses British officials.

Following the incidents in which protesters along with basij militias -aligned to the Revolutionary Guards- broke into the compounds sending staff fleeing for their lives, the UK Foreign Office issued a statement:

We are outraged by this. It is utterly unacceptable and we condemn it. Under international law, including the Vienna Convention, the Iranian government have a clear duty to protect diplomats and embassies in their country and expect them to act urgently to bring the situation under control and ensure the safety of our staff and security of our property.

Prime Minister David Cameron later said that the attacks were “outrageous and indefensible”, while the Iranian Foreign Ministry expressed:

regret for certain unacceptable behaviour by a small number of protesters in spite of efforts by the police.

The relevant authorities have been asked to take the necessary measures and look into this issue immediately,

While Iranian authorities have now regained control of the compounds, the crisis represents one of the most serious threats to bilateral relations since the Iranian revolution over 30 years ago.

Further coverage:-

In pictures: UK embassy stormed

UK’s Tehran fortress falls to rising anger

Timeline: Iran/UK relations

 

Bahrain torture condemned in rights report

Independent commission finds evidence of torture, beatings, threats of rape…

 

Pearl Roundabout re-taken before protests were crushed © Al Jazeera English

 

The commission set up by Bahrain’s King Hamad al-Khalifa, charged with investigating rights abuses following protests earlier this year, has found that security forces committed a litany of abuses in the country.

Bahrain dictator al-Khalifa, head of the minority Sunni-ruled kingdom, set up the commission in response to widespread condemnation from rights organisations and the international community.

Commission chairman Prof. Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni said that during the crackdown aimed at clearing protesters, security forces used physical and psychological  torture. This included beatings with iron bars and batons, and threats of rape and electrocution.

Bassiouni said that those responsible for the abuses should be held accountable, no matter how high their position in the government.

In response the King said the country accepted the report and would try to meet international standards of human rights:

We are determined, God willing, to ensure that the painful events our beloved nation has just experienced are not repeated, but that we learn from them, and use our new insights as a catalyst for positive change,

The commission also found that there was no evidence of the idea -pushed by Bahraini authorities and the US administration- that Iran was involved in the protests:

Evidence presented to the commission did not prove a clear link between the events in Bahrain and Iran,

However it also found that there had been violence against Sunnis and foreign workers during the protests, and that a more peaceful outcome may have been achieved if the oppostion had accepted a Bahraini government initiative in March.

Read more at Al Jazeera

 

America’s new generation of weapons

US arsenal gains hypersonic flying bomb and a huge new bunker buster…

 

The B-2 bomber will deliver the 'Massive Ordinance Penetrator' © ExpertInfantry

 

The United States has taken delivery of a new 30,000 pound bunker busting bomb reports the Los Angeles Times. The Boeing-made Massive Ordance Penetrator is five tonnes heavier than anything else in the Air Force arsenal, and is designed to hit deeply buried underground facilities.

Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Melinda F. Morgan said of the new weapon:

The Massive Ordnance Penetrator is a weapon system designed to accomplish a difficult, complicated mission of reaching and destroying our adversaries’ weapons of mass destruction located in well-protected facilities,

The delivery of the first batch of bombs comes just a week after the latest IAEA report on Iran, and amid fears that the country is trying to move its nuclear operations beyond air strike capabilities.

In further news, it has been revealed that the US military has successfully tested a hypersonic flying bomb, capable of hitting a target anywhere in the world with one hour; a key tenet of America’s ‘Prompt Global Strike’ program. The Advanced Hypersonic Weapon can travel at least five times the speed of sound (the measure for hypersonic speed), and unlike a traditional ballistic missile can be manouevered in-flight.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the military has spend nearly $70m developing the AHW this year, and nearly $250m on the ‘Prompt Global Strike’ program.

 

The unmoved spectre of war

The IAEA report on Iran changes nothing…

 

© FutureAtlas

 

With the latest UN report on Iran’s nuclear programme, the sabre rattling is getting louder, yet the inevitability of an attack on Iran is far from certain.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report into the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons programme this week describes how several of the studies conducted by Iran into nuclear technology have no ‘application…  to anything other than a nuclear explosive’. It would appear that a critical moment has arrived for relations between Tehran and the West and in the days preceding the report, world leaders debated the issue at the G20 summit in Cannes. A White House spokesman confirmed that military intervention is ‘on the table’ and Israel conducted missile tests and a test of its emergency services. With the Greek eurozone tragedy seemingly shifting from centre stage, the spotlight will now surely fall back on Iran and how to proceed.

In a report as comprehensive as can be expected under conditions deliberately restricted by the Iranian government, the IAEA produced the clearest indications yet that Iran is investigating nuclear power for military use. While uncomfortable, it comes as no surprise. Israeli and American leadership in particular, but not exclusively, have suspected this for years; President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are unlikely to have been caught off guard by the findings. It is however, not clear that this publication in itself will have drastic long term implications and after initial attention and rhetoric, the debate will most likely remain the same as it ever was. Fresh economic sanctions are likely but the spectre of war will remain unmoved, no closer to dissipating, but not yet a reality.

There is speculation that Israel might engage in military action unilaterally but while Netanyahu looks anxiously east, he will be aware that without US involvement a preventative war against Iran would be dangerous and devastatingly costly. Israel could not reasonably expect to take up arms against its hostile neighbour as it did against Iraq in 1981; the Iranian facilities are better hidden and better protected and would not be susceptible to a surgical strike in the same way. Israel could not afford to commit alone to what could become a bloody and prolonged conflict, and it would be alone. The West acts only when it is expedient, with intelligence reports used to support action rather than a foundation for decision making; the famous ‘sexing-up’ of the dossier supporting the War in Iraq made this abundantly clear. Obama might be hoping that the report will provide his suspicions with external credibility but ultimately, if he wanted a war with Iran, American troops would be there now.

There are those that sympathise with Iran, that believe the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to be little more than an exercise in hypocrisy. While it is true that the NPT divides states into nuclear ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, it has been an effective means by which stability in a nuclear world has been broadly maintained and Iranian defiance of this treaty threatens to fatally undermine it. A nuclear Iran could spur a regional arms race because it is not just Israel that fears Iran, as wikileaks revelations made explicit.

A nuclear Iran is a frightening prospect but this is not primarily because of the potential for proliferation or even nuclear war. It is quite clear that launching a nuclear attack would be tantamount to suicide and Iranian President Ahmadinejad is surely more rational that he would like to appear. Rather, the protection afforded by a nuclear umbrella would enable Tehran to pursue conventional aggression and to strengthen its support for regional militant groups such as Hezbollah with relative impunity. It is entirely justifiable to deny nuclear weapons to a state that regularly threatens the very existence of one of its neighbours and has attempted to assassinate the diplomatic representatives of another.

This is a powder keg in the making. In the short term, the IAEA report may represent the peak of these tensions but they will continue to grow. The prevailing international consensus is clear that Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear military capability. It is therefore the responsibility of Western leaders to successfully persuade a stubborn and ideologically driven Iranian elite to abandon a programme that they have been committed to for decades. To win this diplomatic war before it becomes a military one, would be one of the greatest achievements of modern diplomacy and given the stakes, one of the most important.

 

David Miller is a politics graduate of Nottingham University