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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Huge Asteroid to Pass Earth Tonight

A giant asteroid will make a flyby of Earth over the next few days, and armchair astronomers can watch the action live on their computers.

The near-Earth asteroid 4179 Toutatis, which is about 3 miles (5 kilometers) wide, will zoom within 4.3 million miles (7 million kilometers) of Earth during its closest approach early Wednesday morning (Dec. 12). That's too far away to pose any impact threat on this pass, but close enough to put on a pretty good show through top-notch telescopes, researchers say.

And some of those scopes will be tracking Toutatis' movements for the benefit of skywatchers around the world. The online Slooh Space Camera and Virtual Telescope Project, for example, will both stream live, free footage of the asteroid from professional-quality observatories.


Rare December Tornadoes Strike the South

As many as six tornadoes slammed four southern states on Monday. In Florida, at least 40 homes were reported damaged and 12 were completely destroyed.

The National Weather Service has also confirmed that storm damage in Birmingham, Ala., was caused by a tornado with maximum winds estimated at 90 mph.

Forecasters say the tornado hit at about 4:45 a.m. Monday near the Birmingham farmer's market.

Mayor William Bell says there are no reports of injuries. However, the storm damaged roofs and broke windows. He says the city provided tarps to residents whose roofs were damaged.

Tornadoes were also reported in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.

Despite this unusual uptick in tornadoes, 2012 still ranks as having the fewest tornadoes in the United States in a given year, with less than 890 confirmed as of November 25. In contrast, there were 1,897 tornadoes reported in the U.S. in 2011.


Turkey: Israel is playing with fire

Turkish President Abdullah Gul criticized Israel's plans for settlement construction in the contested E1 area in the West Bank, warning that "Israel is playing with fire."

Gul spoke Tuesday at a press conference in Ankara after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Turkish news agency Today Zaman reported.

Gul strongly condemned the plan, saying that "Israel has become a burden to its allies."

Israel's plans to build 3,000 housing units in the area have been internationally censured: The United States said it was "shocked" by the plan and the European Union issued a formal censure, saying it was "deeply dismayed" and warning Jerusalem of unspecified consequences.

The UN warned the plan will cripple the already-deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and the PA denounced it as a "war crime" and threatened to seek ICC action.

Gul and Abbas (Photo: AFP)

Abbas also appealed to the UN Security Council, asking it to force Israel to suspend the construction plans.

Speaking of the UN General Assembly vote, which granted the Palestinian Authority a nonmember state status despite the objection of the US and Israel, the Turkish president said that Israel "Should have sat down at the negotiation table in a peaceful manner" instead of opting for the "aggressive" announcement of its new plans.

Gul warned that Jerusalem's decision was "very dangerous" and that it "Aims at separating Palestinians in the West Bank.

“It is obvious that all of Israel's efforts will turn against it in the long run… Israel's settlement policies are like playing with fire."


Obama to start sending US F-16 fighter jets to Egypt

The Obama administration took a careful look at the political calendar before announcing that the first four F-16 fighter planes - of the 20 approved in a $1 billion US foreign aid package to Egypt - would be delivered Jan. 22.

The announcement came Tuesday, Dec. 11, as Cairo and other Egyptian towns were set for massive rival demonstrations for and against President Mohamed Morsi’s decision to hold a referendum on a pro-Islamist constitution Saturday. It therefore came in for rising criticism in Washington of the wisdom of sending the jets to an unstable Egypt in the grip of a strong political confrontation.

A broad range of opposition groups – pro-democratic, liberal, secular, women and Christian – are demanding that President Morsi cancel the referendum. The Muslim Brotherhood is mobilizing its supporters to counter this protest. As the first anti-Morsi groups began gathering in Tahrir Square Tuesday, nine were hurt by masked gunmen.

The opposition has clipped President Morsi’s wings once by making him annul the near-dictatorial powers he gave himself. Forcing him to forego the referendum would further undermine his authority.

So the president fought back by authorizing the military to secure state buildings and arrest civilians in the incendiary days leading up to Saturday’s referendum. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Monday, six Egyptian Air Force F-16 fighters flew symbolically over Cairo.

However, the 2nd and 9th Divisions stationed around Cairo stayed in their barracks and the only uniformed personnel visible on the street were the Republican Guard troops on permanent duty in the capital’s center.

By approving another 20 F-16 jets for Muslim-ruled Egypt on the day of the competing demonstrations, President Obama showed the Egyptian people that he stands foursquare behind President Morsi and that more US military aid is on the way.

The first four jets will arrive in Egypt the day after Barack Obama’s Jan. 21 swearing-in for a second term as US president at the Capitol – and not by chance. That date also coincides with Israel’s Jan. 22 general election.
Obama is therefore using those warplanes as a signpost for the Muslim-Arab Middle East – and the Israeli voter – to show them that he is sticking unswervingly to his policy of support for the region’s Muslim Brotherhood – and especially the Egyptian president - even if Morsi did slip up by a grab for sweeping powers that alienated most of the opposition.

The US promise of new fighter planes was also a recommendation to the Egyptian army to pick the right side and opt for President Morsi if they wanted US military assistance to keep coming. Washington was also ready to consider providing them with more high-tech items in addition to those already supplied.
At all events, President Obama has made his choice, opting for Egypt’s Islamists against the pro-democracy and liberal opposition – a choice that he might have found embarrassing when he campaigned for his second term.

Israel had a dark premonition of what was coming. Obama began laying the background for his strong alignment with Islamist Egypt last month with the dramatic announcement of a ceasefire in Cairo on Nov. 20, that was delivered jointly by Morsi and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

By this announcement – and by maneuvering Israel into abstaining from a ground operation in the Gaza Strip to complete its air operation against Palestinian terrorist targets – Obama pulled the Egyptian president out of his hat as a fully-fledged international figure ready to jump to the top of his newly-minted Sunni Muslim Middle East coalition. In addition to Egypt, its chosen members were to be Turkey, Qatar and the Palestinian Hamas. Israel was to be a secret partner and contributor of high-grade intelligence.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was ready to fit into the role cast Israel by the US president. He therefore chose to hold back from a ground incursion in the Gaza Strip and then agreed to the radical Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal visiting Gaza last week.
His reward came at the same time as Washington’s announcement of the 20 F-16 fighters for Egypt: The US has appropriated $650 million worth of ordnance to refill the Israeli arsenals depleted by the massive Pillar of Defense air offensive in Gaza.
Under this deal, the US will supply the Israeli Air Force with 6,900 satellite-guided “smart bombs;" 10,000 mixed bombs - including 3,450 one-tonners and 1,725 bombs weighing 250 kilograms - as well as two kinds of buster-bunkers - 1,725, GBU-39 bombs and 3,450 BLU-109s.


Moscow to Get Updated Missile Defenses

MOSCOW, December 11 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's anti-missile defense system covering Moscow and Russia's central industrial regions will be augmented by unspecified new systems in the near future, Deputy Defense Minister Oleg Ostapenko said on Tuesday.

"We have a range of new objects which we are obliged to defend, and we'll defend them. There are new developments in some fields, and I think they will be deployed in the near future," said Ostapenko, when asked when a new missile system would be fielded to replace the capital's ageing A-135 system.

"You will probably find out more about them in the near future," said Ostapenko, a former aerospace force commander before taking up his new appointment recently.

Russia's plans to update the system were announced by the former chief of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, Col. Gen. (Ret) Viktor Yesin in September.

“The missiles and other elements, including detection and tracking components, are being upgraded,” Yesin said then.

The A-135 system, development of which started in 1971, was first deployed in 1995. It uses the Don-2N battle management radar and two types of ABM missiles.

Two launch sites with long-range 51T6 (NATO: SH-11 Gorgon) exo-atmospheric interceptor missiles were deactivated in 2007 as the missiles became obsolete. They will be equipped with new long-range missiles and reactivated following modernization, RIA Novosti reported in September.

“There are no plans to build new launch sites as the mothballed ones will be reactivated,” Yesin said.

The short-range 53T6 (SH-08 Gazelle) endoatmospheric interceptor missiles are deployed at five launch sites with 12 or 16 missiles each. These are usually tested annually at Russia's Sary Shagan test site.

Russia's Aerospace Defense Force successfully tested a short-range anti-missile defense system in August, the Defense Ministry told RIA Novosti, but did not disclose the type of missile tested.

A previous test of a 53T6 missile was carried out in December 2011.

The A-135 system is compliant with the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty from which the United States unilaterally withdrew in 2002.

RIA Novosti

3,000 US troops secretly return to Iraq via Kuwait

According to our correspondent, the US troops have secretly entered Iraq in multiple stages and are mostly stationed at Balad military garrison in Salahuddin province and al-Asad air base in al-Anbar province.

Reports say the troops include US Army officers and almost 17,000 more are set to secretly return to Iraq via the same route.
All US troops left Iraq by the end of 2011, after nine years of occupation, as required by a 2008 bilateral security agreement between the two countries. The troops left Iraq for the neighboring Kuwait.

Washington decided to pull out all its troops from Iraq after Baghdad refused to grant legal immunity to the remaining US soldiers.

Washington claims that the only US military presence left in Iraq now is 157 soldiers responsible for training at the US Embassy, as well as a small contingent of marines protecting the diplomatic mission.

US-led forces attacked Iraq in 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein on the pretext of possessing weapons of mass destruction. But no WMD was ever discovered in Iraq. At the peak of the US-led military operation in Iraq, there were 170,000 US troops and more than 500 bases in Iraq.

More than one million Iraqis were killed as the result of the US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of the country, according to the California-based investigative organization Project Censored.

Press TV

Press TV

Dutchman launches scale replica of Noah´s Ark

The full scale replica of Noah's Ark in Dordrecht, Netherlands.

The inclement weather could not dampen to good mood of the ark's creator, Johan Huibers, who said the opening realised his 20-year dream to educate people about history and faith.

In the Biblical story, God orders Noah to build a boat big enough to save two of every animal, as well as his family, while Earth is covered in an enormous flood.

Mr Huibers interpreted the description given in Genesis to build his ark.

The ark comes in at a whopping 130 metres (427 feet) long, 29 metres (95 feet) across and 23 metres (75 feet) high.

It features life-sized displays of animals - including posed sculptures of tigers, giraffe, an elephant and bison.

There are also some live animals aboard, including parakeets, pheasants, peacocks and rabbits.

The ship, which has permission to receive up to 3,000 visitors a day, also has two cinemas for special events, plus a restaurant.

The Telegraph

Iranian helping as North Korea prepares to test launch rocket

Iranian agents are reportedly on the site of a planned North Korean long-range rocket launch, widely believed to be a cover up for a banned missile test.

Pyongyang is planning on launching the rocket, which it claims is part of the country’s fledgling space program, sometime between December 10 and 22. However, reports now indicate that the launch will be delayed by a few days.

The Iranian agents are offering technical assistance on the launch, South Korea’s Chosun Imbo newspaper reported Monday. The experts are from Iran’s Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, which developed the Shahab-3 intercontinental ballistic missile, the paper said, citing an unnamed Seoul official.

“Identifiable cars have been spotted traveling back and forth from the quarters to the missile launch site,” the government source was quoted by the paper as saying. “We believe they’re carrying Iranian experts.”

Iran and North Korea signed a technology and science cooperation agreement in early September, and according to Reuters, US officials believe that Iran acquired ballistic missile parts from North Korea in 2010.

According to the South Korean paper, Iran’s long range Shahab ballistic missiles are based on North Korean rockets and the two countries have cooperated on defense technology for decades.

Iran successfully test launched the Shahab-3, thought to have a range of about 1,200 miles, in July.

A test launch of a rocket in North Korea in April failed seconds after lift-off and it is thought the Iranian experts are on hand to prevent a repeat embarrassment.

A successful launch means North Korea could develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the US mainland within two to three years, though the country would need many more years to acquire the technology to arm the missile with a nuclear warhead, said Chong Chol-Ho, a weapons of mass destruction expert at the private Sejong Institute near Seoul.

North Korean scientists had been pushing forward with final preparations for the launch from a west coast site but are considering “readjusting” the timing for unspecified reasons, an unidentified spokesman for the Korean Committee for Space Technology said in a dispatch released by North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency early Sunday.

It was unclear whether diplomatic intervention or technical glitches were behind the potential delay. A brief KCNA dispatch said scientists and technicians were discussing whether to set new launch dates but did not elaborate.

There were no signs of an imminent launch Monday, and North Korea’s state media has yet to follow up on Sunday’s announcement.

North Korea earlier said it would launch a three-stage rocket mounted with a satellite from the Sohae station on its northwest coast sometime between Monday and Dec. 22. Pyongyang calls it a peaceful bid to send an observation satellite into space, its second attempt this year. An April launch failed seconds after liftoff.

Word of a possible delay came just days after satellite photos indicated that snow may have slowed launch preparations, and as officials in Washington, Seoul, Tokyo, Moscow and elsewhere urged North Korea to cancel a liftoff widely seen as a violation of bans against missile and nuclear activity because the rocket shares the same technology used for firing a long-range missile.

Commercial satellite imagery taken by GeoEye on Dec. 4 and shared Friday with The Associated Press by the 38 North and North Korea Tech websites showed the Sohae site northwest of Pyongyang covered with snow. The road from the main assembly building to the launch pad showed no fresh tracks, indicating that the snowfall may have stalled the preparations.

However, analysts believed rocket preparations would have been completed on time for liftoff as early as Monday.

Some South Korean media, citing unidentified government sources in Seoul, speculated Monday that North Korea was facing unspecified technical problems. The Korean Peninsula has seen a string of snowstorms and frigid days.

A rocket can be launched during a snowfall, but lightning, strong wind and freezing temperatures could stall a liftoff, said Lee Chang-jin, an aerospace professor at Seoul’s Konkuk University.

The launch announcement captured global headlines because of its timing: South Korea and Japan hold key elections this month, President Barack Obama begins his second term next month and China has just formed a new leadership. North Koreans also have begun a mourning period for late leader Kim Jong Il, who died on Dec. 17, 2011.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Washington was deeply concerned about the launch, and urged foreign ministers from NATO and Russia to demand that Pyongyang cancel its plans.

North Korea has unveiled missiles designed to target U.S. soil and has tested two atomic bombs in recent years, but has not shown yet that it has mastered the technology for mounting a nuclear warhead to a long-range missile. Six-nation negotiations to offer North Korea much-needed aid in exchange for nuclear disarmament have been stalled since early 2009.

China, the North’s main ally and aid provider, noted its concern after North Korea declared its latest launch plans. It acknowledged North Korea’s right to develop its space program but said that had to be harmonized with restrictions including those set by the U.N. Security Council.

In Seoul, officials at the Defense Ministry, Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Foreign Ministry said they couldn’t immediately determine what might be behind the possible delay.

North Korea may hold off if Washington actively engages Pyongyang in dialogue and promises to ship stalled food assistance to the country, said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Seoul’s Dongguk University.

In February, Washington agreed to provide 240,000 metric tons of food aid to North Korea in exchange for a freeze in nuclear and missile activities. The deal collapsed after North Korea attempted its April launch.

Analyst Baek Seung-joo of the South Korean state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul said China must have sent a “very strong” message calling for the North to cancel the launch plans.

The Times of Israel

The Mother of All Collapses

Al Qaeda may have chemical weapons, Spain's counter-terror chief

The head of National Police counter-terrorist intelligence, Commissioner-General Enrique Baron, told a strategic security conference in Barcelona that it was believed that the self-styled Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb - AQMI - could have acquired such arms in Libya or elsewhere during the Arab Spring last year. He also warned that the group was encouraging attacks against Spain.

Addressing the conference organised by the Foundation for Techniques for Defence and Security, Commissioner Baron told his audience: "The Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb has acquired and used very powerful conventional arms and probably also has non-conventional arms, basically chemical, as a result of the loss of control of arsenals."

The most likely place where this could have happened was in Libya during the uprising which overthrew the Gaddafi regime, said Commissioner Baron.

In his position as the head of Spanish National Police intelligence the Commissioner-General works closely with MI6, the CIA and other Western European intelligence services.

He told the one-day conference that AQMI, which is now occupying the northern part of Mali along with other fundamentalist groups and local Tuareg tribesmen, posed the greatest terrorist threat against Spain.

It had frequently said that a main aim was to "recover Al Andalus" - the name given to Spain when it was under Moorish occupation in the Middle Ages.

The Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb took its name with the full personal blessing of Osama bin Laden in Dec 2007, when a number of fundamentalist terror groups operating in Arab North-West Africa merged.

Dominating the new organisation is the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat - GSPC - which during the Algerian civil war in the 1990s butchered tens of thousands.

Since taking over northern Mali in April it has imposed strict Sharia law in the legendary desert city of Timbuktu and the surrounding region. A young couple were recently stoned to death for having a child out of wedlock and several thieves have had their hands and feet amputated.

Bin Laden frequently singled out Spain referring, in various videos filmed while he was in hiding in Pakistan, to his movement's desire to "liberate Al Andalus" as Spain was called by its Muslim rulers in the Middle Ages.

The Islamist fanatics showed what they could do in March, 2004, when four commuter trains were bombed almost simultaniously during the morning rush hour killing 191 people only four days before a general election. It remains the worst terrorist outrage on the European mainland.

The Intelligence Commissioner-General has only five other people above him in the National Police including the Director General who is a political appointment, not a police professional.

Aged 52, he has spent much of his career in police intelligence. In 1996 he became head of intelligence for the disputed region of Navarra, bordering the strife torn Basque Country and which has a large Basque minority and is claimed by ETA as a Basque province. Just over two years later he was transferred to the Basque region itself where he headed the fight against the separatist terrorists for six years as police intelligence chief.

After that he was appointed as the National Police chief for Madrid, a post he held until 2008, when he returned to intelligence duties.

Earlier this year he was tipped to be made Spain's spy master as Director-General of the National Intelligence Centre - Spain's still military dominated secret service - but in the end was not chosen.

However, he remains one of the country's leading intelligence officers and is at the forefront of combating Al Qaeda which has made Spain one of its priorities.

The Telegraph

Silver the Investment of this Decade!

Israel is the farthest our missiles need to reach, Iran’s commander says

A surface-to-surface missile is launched during the Iranian Revolutionary Guards maneuver in an undisclosed location in Iran, Tuesday, July 3, 2012 (photo credit: AP Photo/ISNA, Alireza Sot Akbar)

Iran’s air force commander said Tuesday that the distance between Iran and Israel is the maximum range that Tehran requires its missiles fly. Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh made the statement in response to a US intelligence report revealed last week that claimed Tehran is no longer on track to achieve an intercontinental missile by 2015.

“We don’t need missiles with more than a 2,000-kilometer range, even though have the technology to build them,” Hajizadeh told reporters. “Israel is our longest-range target.”

The US report, penned by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, cast doubt on a view long held by US intelligence agencies that Iran could test-fly an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015 if it receives “sufficient foreign assistance.”

According to the report, Iran is not receiving as much help as would likely be necessary, notably from China or Russia, to reach that goal.

It is also increasingly tough for Tehran to obtain certain critical components and materials because of international sanctions related to its disputed nuclear program, the 66-page report stated.

Times of Israel