nuclear threat

Israel shoots down Hezbollah drone?

Israeli warplanes swooped low over Lebanese villages Oct. 7 in a menacing show of force apparently aimed at Hezbollah the day after a mysterious incursion by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The Israeli Air Force shot down the drone shortly after it crossed into southern Israel from the Mediterranean, passing "over settlements and military bases in the Negev," the IAF said. The craft's launch point is unknown. Israeli officials believe the UAV may have been on a mission to perform surveillance of the Dimona nuclear complex. Israeli politicians have been quick to draw their own conclusions. "It is an Iranian drone that was launched by Hezbollah," Knesset member Miri Regev, a former chief spokeswoman for the Israeli military, wrote on her Twitter feed. "Hezbollah and Iran continue to try to collect information in every possible way in order to harm Israel." (Slate, AP, Oct. 7; JP, Oct. 6)

Tehran protesters: 'Forget Syria!'

Calm returned to central Tehran on Oct. 4, a day after it was rocked by unprecedented protests over Iran's plunging currency. All money-changers and most shops were closed, and the Grand Bazaar—the normally bustling commercial heart of the city—was mostly shuttered, with only a few streetside shops open. In the nearby traditional money-changing district, police patrolled past closed exchange outlets. The previous day, hundreds of police and security personnel flooded central Tehran,  arresting unlicensed money changers—part of efforts by authorities to halt the dive of the rial, which is at an all-time low against the dollar. Scuffles broke out with stone-throwing men, and trash dumpsters were set alight. Opposition website said slogans included "Allahu akbar!" (God is great, associated with the 1979 revolution) and "Leave Syria alone, instead think of us!" (Middle East Online, World Bulletin, Turkey, Oct. 4)

Japan retreats from nuclear power phase-out

Japan's cabinet on Sept. 19 failed to approve recommendations of a special government-appointed panel to phase out nuclear power by 2040, in a move openly portrayed in the country's media as a capitulation to pro-nuclear businesses interests. The panel had called for a 40-year limit on the lifespan of nuclear power plants, no new plant construction, and no expansion of existing nuclear power facilities. The cabinet decision came on the same day that Japan launched a new body to oversee the industry, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which replaces the existing Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. But critics say the new agency lacks any greater powers than the old one, and protest that its head, Shunichi Tanaka, who oversaw decontamination efforts at Fukushima, is a nuclear industry insider. 

US, New Zealand restore military cooperation

Well, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has moved on from Japan to New Zealand, where has has secured an agreement to reinstate naval cooperation with the Kiwis. This was broken off in 1985, when New Zealand banned nuclear weapons from its territory, thus closing its ports to nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered US warships. The US shortly retaliated by suspending its defense pact with New Zealand, and barring the Pacific nation's warships from US ports or bases. Now Panetta in Auckland just announced that the ban has been lifted, and military cooperation will be restored. Although New Zealand remains officially a nuclear-free zone, which means nuclear-armed US ships will continue to be barred, that looks like it could be next to go. "While we acknowledge that our countries continue to have differences of opinion in some limited areas, today we have affirmed that we are embarking on a new course in our relationship that will not let those differences stand in the way of greater engagement on security issues,’" Panetta said. (VOA, Sept. 21; NYT, Sept. 20)

East China Sea flashpoint for Sino-Japanese war?

The prospect of an actual shooting war between China and Japan got a little realer this week as both sides raised the stakes in the showdown over the barren East China Sea chain known as the Diaoyu Islands to the Chinese and as the Senkaku Islands to the Japanese. Over the weekend, angry anti-Japan protests spread to 85 cities across China. In Beijing, protesters besieged the Japanese embassy, hurling rocks, eggs and bottles. Police fired tear gas and used water cannon on thousands of protesters occupying a street in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Protesters broke into a Panasonic plant and several other Japanese-run factories as well as a Toyota dealership in Qingdao, Shandong province, ransacking and torching. In Shanghai, hundreds of military police were brought in to break up protesters outside the Japanese consulate, who chanted: ''Down with Japan devils, boycott Japanese goods, give back Diaoyu!'' (China Digital Times, SMH, Kyodo, Sept. 17)

Unprecedented maneuvers in Strait of Hormuz

We have long been skeptical about incessant predictions from the Chicken Little crowd of an imminent US or Israeli attack on Iran. We've heard these predictions for years, and it still hasn't happened—yet none of those making the predictions ever seem to eat crow. And there has been plenty of evidence that the whole thing is a game of brinkmanship aimed at keeping Iran intimidated. But in recent weeks we have started to fear that the new circumstances in the Middle East may indeed be compelling the West towards war with Iran. Now, with two US warships headed for Libya, 25 nations led by the US are converging on the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz for naval maneuvers on an unprecedented scale. The idea seems to be to prevent Iran from closing off the strait in the event of war. Prominent partners in the 12-day exercise are the UK, France, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. (The Telegraph, Sept. 15)

India: police fire on anti-nuclear protesters

A months-long civil disobedience campaign against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) at Idinthakarai village, Tirunelveli district, in southern India's Tamil Nadu state, turned violent on Sept. 10 when the police used teargas and baton charges against protesters at a checkpoint near the plant. Protesters later massed at police stations, and set police barricades on fire at another checkpoint, and the uprising spread to neighboring districts. One man was killed when police fired on protesters who attempted to storm the police station in Manapadu village of Thoothukudi district.

Next: nuclear Taliban?

What great timing. On Aug. 16, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke to reporters at the Pentagon about a new report from the Congressional Research Service entitled "Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues" (online as a PDF at the Federation of American Scientists). Panetta said: "The great danger we've always feared is that if terrorism is not controlled in their country then those nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands." That same day, militants from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan attacked Minhas Air Force Base near Kamra, outside Islamabad—a site where aviation research takes place, and is believed to be closely linked to Pakistan's nuclear program. Nine attackers and one guard were killed, a senior officer injured, and a surveillance plane damaged. It was the fourth and most audacious attack on the base. Pakistan Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility, saying it was revenge for the death of leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone strike in 2009, and the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden last year.

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